Monday 30 August 2021

Friday 27 August 2021

#244 (27.8.21)

Read our latest newsletter and find out what we've been reading and recommending, and other book-related news.


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura     {Reviewed by STELLA}
Lockdown sees you reaching for the tried and true recipes — the Edmonds Cookbook is the go-to for biscuits, and your favourite chefs are on call for inspiration as you look to see what you have left in the fridge and what clever recipes will require the least ingredients. And being in the winter season for vegetables, it’s always interesting to see which of your cookbooks is best at creating dishes from these sometimes seemingly uninspiring staples. Like last year, when Ostro became a favourite inspiration for home cooking, Jula Busuttil Nishimura's recipes are being made and consumed in our household, and her second collection, A Year of Simple Family Food, is making it onto the kitchen table on a regular basis. Firm favourites are anything pie! I never imagined that I would be a great fan of pies, but her pastries are perfect every time (ditto her focaccia bread recipes) — just the right proportions and clear instructions for getting the right texture for your dough. In Ostro, the Leek and Potato Pie is now a regular dish (and it doesn’t matter what cheese you have — I have used cheddar, feta, a combo of parmesan and other, and it’s always been delicious). In A Year of Simple Family Food, the pumpkin pie  (there is plenty of pumpkin right now!) was surprisingly light — that great pastry again —  and tasty (herbs and spices, as well as filling). And it looked excellent — that wonderful orange glow. Arranged around the seasons, the cookbook is easy to navigate, allowing us to match recipes to ingredient availability across savoury to sweet. While rhubarb was missing from our stash, that didn’t hold us back from consuming the Spiced Rhubarb Crumble Cake. Substituting frozen berries (thank you freezer!) for the rhubarb worked a treat, and the orange zest in the cake base lifted this out of ordinary crumble shortcake style territory. With recipes from her Maltese heritage making an appearance and the influence of her Japanese partner coming through, there is a wonderful variety, from pies, crumbles, and pasta (both lighter spaghetti-and-sauce style and hearty baked dishes) to noodles and Japanese breakfast. There are also hearty meat dishes with Mediterranean, as well as Asian influences. And a good smattering of fish and seafood. What stands out about her cookbooks is the sheer pleasure Busuttil Nishimura has for food, both its preparation and its eating. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


The Coming Bad Days by Sarah Bernstein    {Reviewed by Thomas}
“The truth is that sometimes we just want the worst to happen,” she writes, he supposes because there is no other way that we can be conclusively relieved of our fear that the worst may happen. Until such relief arrives, he thinks, we attempt to suppress our fear with whatever means we have at our disposal. “When we probed underneath everyday life,” she writes. “When we pressed on to the other side of the ordinary, did we not after all conclude that boredom was a form of anxiety, if not of sheer terror? When one acted out of boredom, it was an effort to forestall the worst taking one by surprise.” We learn very little about the narrator of this book, he thinks, we learn very little and the very little that we do learn is eventually taken away. The narrator sheds rather than accrues character, the things that happen to her are either without consequence or with no consequence other than being later undone, the narrator ends up less connected to any of the other characters, so to call them, than she was when she had not yet met them, she continuously makes observations and intimations but these observations and intimations are strangely devoid of content, they are structures with no core. The nameless narrator takes a post at a nameless university in a nameless city prone, seemingly, to flooding. Someone puts portentous notes under her door, but don’t expect to learn why or who. She develops an enduring fascination with Clara, the wife of the Department Chair, who leaves her husband, who knows why, and moves into the narrator’s cottage, who knows why, and then moves out again, who knows why and who knows where, certainly the narrator doesn’t seem to know why or where. “Our turning towards each other … might best be understood as an orientation towards an ideal, and it is for that very reason that the whole enterprise suggested devastation from the start. It contained within it the seeds that made its own realisation impossible,” she writes. It is unclear what the relationship between Clara and the narrator could be, the narrator doesn’t seem able to relate to anyone on any level, the two are almost complete opposites in every way, but, judging from hurts that the narrator is intent upon receiving from this relationship, if it even is a relationship, we could do worse than to speculate that Clara, one of only two characters who have been given a name, is mostly a projection of the narrator, a masochistic fantasy, a tool for self-harm. “Clara suggested that I had allowed myself to descend further and further into the realms of abjection in an effort to make myself interesting. Perhaps, she said, it was for the best that I could not write, for if I could not write, I would not then compromise myself in the ways that I had previously described to her — that is, in ways that were, when one looked closely, actually relatively shameful. … Although I may at one point have been a good thinker, this was evidently no longer the case.” After Clara leaves, something happens to her, there have been intimations of physical threats towards women throughout the novel, though we don’t know exactly what. “I did not want to think about what had happened to Clara. I did not want to think about what had happened. I did not want to think that what had happened to me had happened to her.” This is the only time that the narrator hints at a reason behind her evident self-loathing and abjection. Some unfaceable trauma has left her believing that abjection is her due, left her without faith in the possibility of any continuity or reciprocation, “sure to be found out for transgressions I did not recall having committed but was nonetheless guilty of.” She believes herself fated to endless loss and misfortune, “merely because one found oneself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Merely because, increasingly, it seemed to me, there was no right place or right time, still less did the two together exist anywhere, hard though one looked.” The narrator is unable to achieve anything or believe in anything closer than an immense distance between herself and her material, the sort of distance a narrator might maintain from the details of the story of another character in another book or of the story or some other personage unknown to them but narrated by another character, but in this book the material from which this degree of remove is maintained is herself. There is no past, and there is hardly any present either, and, turned upon itself, the narrator’s text sometimes almost eliminates any excuse for its production. At other times, often when taking a more casual attachment to the material, such as the story of a woman sitting on a park bench in Helsinki, perhaps when the material itself is at sufficient remove, Bernstein’s precise, cool, devastating prose takes on a Cuskian quality in highly memorable passages balancing dismissal, sympathy and unsparing humour. Bernstein’s sentences often have an aphoristic quality, sometimes unsettlingly at odds with their purported content. Her prose prickles. “What was absolute was not necessarily unconditional.”


Our Book of the Week is Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle's Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life,  a very enjoyable book of vignettes concerning a depressed young woman’s heroic efforts to achieve not very much and the degrees of shortness to which those efforts fall. The book is at once funny and pathetic and terribly sad. 
>>Read Thomas's review
>>There must be more to life than who to blame
>>"Hi" sounds so passive-aggressive. 
>>From the discomfort of my own home. 
>>Wearing neutral colours
>>"You don't seem like and INFP."
>>"You don't look sick."
>>Usually the practitioner sits in the seat closest to the door.
>>Other things to read. 
>>Autobiography of a Marguerite
>>Instagram has ruined my life
>>Your Nostalgia Has Ruined My Life

Thursday 26 August 2021


Brief Lives of Idiots by Ermanno Cavazzoni           $32
A parody of the medieval Lives of the SaintsBrief Lives of Idiots offers us a perfect month of portraits of idiots drawn from real life, from overly realist writers to fringe-belief obsessives. This roll call extends the ridiculous to melancholic extremes, introducing us to such exemplary fools as the father and husband unable to recognise his own family, the Marxist convinced that Christ was an extraterrestrial, the would-be saint who finds a private martyrdom through the torturous confinement of a pair of ill-fitting leather oxfords, and the man who failed to realise that he had spent two years in a concentration camp. This is a display of myriad idiocy, discovered and achieved by hook or by crook, be it through paranoia, misapplied methodology, religious hallucination or relentless diarrhea. But Cavazzoni engages in neither finger pointing nor celebration. If saints can be counted, idiots cannot: idiocy is ultimately the human condition.
The Liquid Land by Raphaela Edelbauer (translated by Jen Calleja)           $40
A town that doesn't want to be found. A countess who rules over the memories of an entire community. A hole in the earth that threatens to drag them all into its depths. When her parents die in a car accident, the highly talented physicist Ruth Schwarz is confronted with an almost intractable problem. Her parents' will calls for them to be buried in their childhood home—but for strangers, Gross-Einland is a village that remains stubbornly hidden from view. When Ruth finally finds her way there, she makes a disturbing discovery—beneath the town lies a vast cavern that seems to exert a strange control over the lives of the villagers. There are hidden clues about the hole everywhere, but nobody wants to talk about it—not even when it becomes clear that the stability of the entire town is in jeopardy. Is this silence controlled by the charming countess who rules the community? And what role does Ruth's family history, a history she is only just beginning to uncover, have to play?
>>An interview with the translator
Alexandria: The quest for the lost City Beneath the Mountains by Edmund Richardson             $33
For centuries the city of Alexandria Beneath the Mountains was a meeting point of East and West. Then it vanished. In 1833 it was discovered in Afghanistan by the unlikeliest person imaginable: Charles Masson, an ordinary working-class boy from London turned deserter, pilgrim, doctor, archaeologist and scholar. On the way into one of history's most extraordinary stories, Masson would take tea with kings, travel with holy men and become the master of a hundred disguises; he would see things no westerner had glimpsed before and few have glimpsed since. He would spy for the East India Company and be suspected of spying for Russia at the same time, for this was the era of the Great Game, when imperial powers confronted each other in these remote lands. Masson discovered tens of thousands of pieces of Afghan history, including the 2,000-year-old Bimaran golden casket, which has upon it the earliest known face of the Buddha. 
"Full, extraordinary, heart-breaking, utterly brilliant." —William Dalrymple
>>Richardson on RadioNZ
A Luminous Republic by Andrés Barba          $23
One day, the children begin to show up in the subtropical town of San Cristobal, unwashed and hungry. No one knows where they have come from or where they disappear to each night. And then they rob a supermarket and stab two adults, bringing fear to the town. So begins a thrilling morality tale that retraces the lines between good and evil, the civil and the wild, dragging our assumptions about childhood and innocence out into the light.
"Engaging, at times playful, wholly compelling." —Colm Toibin 
"At first you will feel fear, but what you feel next is something much deeper, disturbing and luminous." —Samanta Schweblin
Eve by Una              $38
In the near future, in a world that seems just like our own, Eve grows up in a loving family that is increasingly threatened by a society which seems to be sleepwalking into totalitarianism. After a catastrophe that changes everything, Eve must set off on her own to try to survive and find a new way to live. Eve is a powerful graphic novel of mothers, daughters, human relationships, trust and community, human weakness, conflict, hopeful futures and painful pasts. 

Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell               $33
Intimacies charts the steps and missteps of young women trying to find their place in the world. From a Belfast student ordering illegal drugs online to end an unwanted pregnancy to a young mother's brush with mortality; from a Christmas Eve walking the city centre streets when everything seems possible, to a night flight from Canada which could change a life irrevocably, these are stories of love, loss and exile, of new beginnings and lives lived away from 'home'.
"Precise and beautifully controlled fictions but with strange, wild energies pulsing along just beneath the surface. A tremendous collection." —Kevin Barry

Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban              $26
On an ordinary day in a strangely unfamiliar London, Kleinzeit is fired from his advertising job and told he must go to hospital with a skewed hypotenuse. There on Ward A4, he falls in love with the divine, rosy-cheeked Sister and is sent spinning into a quest involving, among other things, a glockenspiel, sheets of yellow paper, Orpheus, the Underground and that dirty chimpanzee, Death.
"Kleinzeit, is a sort of holy fool, a fierce, lonely intelligence desperately trying to make sense of a hopeless world. A tour de force. Entirely delightful." —Auberon Waugh

Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism by Mark Hussey             $55
Clive Bell is perhaps better known today for being a Bloomsbury socialite and the husband of artist Vanessa Bell, sister to Virginia Woolf. Yet Bell was a highly important figure in his own right- an internationally renowned art critic who defended daring new forms of expression at a time when Britain was closed off to all things foreign. His groundbreaking book Art brazenly subverted the narratives of art history and cemented his status as the great interpreter of modern art. Bell was also an ardent pacifist and a touchstone for the Wildean values of individual freedoms, and his is a story that leads us into an extraordinary world of intertwined lives, loves and sexualities.
Ten Acceptable Acts of Arson by Jack Remiel Cottrell               $30
Cottrell's fiery, fey, finely-tuned fictions leap from sci-fi to fantasy, comedy to horror, literary realism to romance, and to hybrids of all of these. Featuring sport, friendship, love, health, family, climate change, artificial intelligence, desire, magic, Greek gods, ghosts, peanut butter, cyber pranks, racial prejudice, and creepy medical advances, his stories play with the allure of the past, the disturbances of our own times, and the dangerous idealism of our future technologies - each one in fewer than 300 words.

Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill                $26
Dorothy Never - fat - lives alone in New York, eats and works the night shift as a proofreader. Justine Shade - thin - is a freelance journalist who sleeps with unsuitable men. Both are isolated. Both are damaged by their pasts. When Justine interviews Dorothy about her involvement with an infamous and charismatic philosophical guru, the two women are drawn together with an intense magnetism that throws their lives off balance. 
"What makes Gaitskill scary, and what makes her exciting, is her ability to evoke the hidden life, the life unseen, the life we don't even know we are living." —The New York Times

Europe Against the Jews, 1880—1945 by Götz Aly             $40
The Holocaust was perpetrated by the Germans, but it would not have been possible without the assistance of thousands of helpers in other countries: state officials, police, and civilians who eagerly supported the genocide. If we are to fully understand how and why the Holocaust happened, we must examine its prehistory throughout Europe. We must look at countries as far-flung as Romania and France, Russia and Greece, where, decades before the Nazis came to power, a deadly combination of envy, competition, nationalism, and social upheaval fueled a surge of anti-Semitism, creating the preconditions for the deportations and murder to come. Now in paperback. 
Beirut 2020: The collapse of a civilisation, A journal by Charif Majdalani          $33
Majdalani's reportage through the months of 2020 bears witness to the ways in which an ancient civilization slowly, then rapidly, descends into the abyss: corruption and vice infect the corridors of power; currency plummets into freefall, rats scurry between piles of rotting rubbish that grow higher along the pavements. Born from the rancour of existential pestilence, violence erupts and Beirut's citizens find themselves in high-voltage stand-offs with law enforcement. Then, the unexpected, Beirut collapses under the explosive force of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. The blast kills hundreds and injures thousands. But through the rubble and the sirens, a people finds its strength to survive and its heart to unite. 
Sentient: What animals reveal about our senses by Jackie Higgins          $38
Through their eyes, ears, skins, tongues and noses, the furred, finned and feathered reveal how we sense and make sense of the world, as well as the scientific revolution stirring in the field of human perception. The harlequin mantis shrimp can throw a punch that can fracture aquarium walls but, more importantly, it has the ability to see a vast range of colours. The ears of the great grey owl have such unparalleled range and sensitivity that they can hear twenty decibels lower than the human ear. The star-nosed mole barely fills a human hand, seldom ventures above ground and poses little threat unless you are an earthworm, but its miraculous nose allows it to catch those worms at astonishing speed – as little as one hundred and twenty milliseconds. Here, too, we meet the four-eyed spookfish and its dark vision; the vampire bat and its remarkable powers of touch; the bloodhound and its hundreds of millions of scent receptors, as well as the bar-tailed godwit, the common octopus, giant peacocks, cheetahs and golden orb-weaving spiders. Each of these creatures illustrates the sensory powers that lie dormant within us. 
From Cornwall to the Cairngorms, James explores British landscapes to coax these much-maligned creatures out from the cover of darkness and into the light. Moths are revealed to be attractive, astonishing and approachable; capable of migratory feats and camouflage mastery, moths have much to tell us on the state of the nation's wild and not-so-wild habitats. As a counterweight to his travels, James and his young daughter track the seasons through a kaleidoscope of moth species living innocently yet covertly in their suburban garden. Moths may be everywhere, but above all, they are here

Switch by A.S. King          $24
 Time has stopped. It's been June 23, 2020 for nearly a year. Frantic adults demand teenagers focus on finding practical solutions to the crisis. Sixteen-year-old javelin-throwing prodigy Tru Becker lives in a house with a switch that no one ever touches, a switch her father guards every day by nailing it into hundreds of larger and larger boxes. Somehow, from box seven, Tru has to deal with her troubled brother in box eleven. And in her science class at school she's supposed to come up with a solution to the world's problems in her science class. But why was her sister sent away, and will her mother ever return? Will anyone ever feel emotions properly again? Tru has a crowbar, and one way or another, she's going to see what happens when she flips the switch. 
The Stubborn Light of Things by Melissa Harrison            $33
A Londoner for over twenty years, moving from flat to Tube to air-conditioned office, Melissa Harrison knew what it was to be insulated from the seasons. Adopting a dog and going on daily walks helped reconnect her with the cycle of the year and the quiet richness of nature all around her: swifts nesting in a nearby church; ivy-leaved toadflax growing out of brick walls; the first blackbird's song; an exhilarating glimpse of a hobby over Tooting Common. Moving from scrappy city verges to ancient, rural Suffolk, where Harrison eventually relocates, this diary maps her joyful engagement with the natural world and demonstrates how we must first learn to see, and then act to preserve, the beauty we have on our doorsteps - no matter where we live.
"A writer of great gifts." —Robert Macfarlane
"A nature writer with a knowledge and eye for detail that recalls Thomas Hardy and John McGahern. —The Times
The Rome Zoo by Pascal Janovjak         $35
The Rome Zoo is a place borne of fantasy and driven by a nation's aspirations. It has witnessed - and reflected in its tarnished mirror - the great follies of the twentieth century. Now, in an ongoing battle that has seen it survive world wars and epidemics, the zoo must once again reinvent itself, and assert its relevance in the Eternal City. Caught up in these machinations is a cast of characters worthy of this baroque backdrop: a man desperate to find meaning in his own life, a woman tasked with halting the zoo's decline, and a rare animal, the last of its species, who bewitches the world. Drifting between past and present, The Rome Zoo weaves together these and many other stories, forming an evocative tapestry of life at this strange place. This novel is both a love story and a poignant juxtaposition of the human need to classify, to subdue, with the untameable nature of our dramas and anxieties.
Mother of Invention: How good ideas get ignored in an economy built for men by Katrine Marçal             $38
Why did it take us 5,000 years to attach wheels to a suitcase? How did bras take us to the moon? And what would the world be like if we listened to women? Bestselling author Katrine Marçal reveals the shocking ways our deeply ingrained ideas about gender continue to hold us back. Every day, inventions and ideas are side-lined in a world that remains focussed on men. But it doesn't have to be this way. From the beginning of time, women have been pivotal to our society, offering ingenious solutions to some of our most vexing problems. More recently, it is women who have transformed the way we shop online, revolutionised the lives of disabled people and put the climate crisis at the top of the agenda. Despite these successes, we still fail to find and fund the game-changing ideas that could alter the future of our planet, giving just 3% of venture capital to female founders.
The New Nomads: How the migration revolution is making the world a better place by  Felix Marquardt         $38
Suggests that our times require more migration rather than less, and that the reality of a new generation of nomads should cause us to rethink prejudices and presumptions reflected to us by the media. 
The Art of Patience: Seeking the snow leopard in Tibet by Sylvain Tesson           $33
In 2018, in the company of leading wildlife photographer Vincent Munier and two companions, Tesson headed up to the high plateaux of remotest Tibet. There, at 5,000 metres and in temperatures of -25C, the team set up their hides on exposed mountainsides, and occasionally in the luxury of an icy cave, to await a visitation from the almost mythical beast. This tightly focused and tautly written narrative is simultaneously an account of an exacting journey, an apprenticeship in the art of patience, a meditation on what happens when time slows right down, an acceptance of the ruthlessness of the natural world and, finally, a plea for ecological sanity. From the author of Consolations of the Forest
The traces of much of human history and that which preceded it lie beneath the ocean surface; broken up, dispersed, often buried and always mysterious. This is fertile ground for speculation, even myth-making, but also a topic on which geologists and climatologists have increasingly focused in recent decades. We now know enough to tell the true story of some of the continents and islands that have disappeared throughout Earth's history, to explain how and why such things happened, and to unravel the effects of submergence on the rise and fall of human civilisations.
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio       $33
One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. She finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers. The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival.
Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon         $26
A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements around the world, Black Skin, White Masks is a study of black responses to a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in 1952, establishing Fanon as a revolutionary thinker, it remains relevant and powerful today. New edition. 
White Skin, Black Fuel: On the danger of fossil fascism by Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective                        $55
In recent years, the far right has done everything in its power to accelerate the heating- an American president who believes it is a hoax has removed limits on fossil fuel production. The Brazilian president has opened the Amazon and watched it burn. In Europe, parties denying the crisis and insisting on maximum combustion have stormed into office, from Sweden to Spain. On the brink of breakdown, the forces most aggressively promoting business-as-usual have surged always in defense of white privilege, against supposed threats from non-white others. Where have they come from? The first study of the far right in the climate crisis, White Skin, Black Fuel presents an eye-opening sweep of a novel political constellation, and reveals its deep historical roots. Fossil-fueled technologies were born steeped in racism. None loved them more passionately than the classical fascists. Where will it end? 
Blackface by Ayanna Thompson            $24
Why are there so many examples of white public figures, entertainers, and normal, everyday white people in blackface? And why aren't there as many examples of people of color in whiteface? This book explains what blackface is, why it occurred, and what its legacies are in the 21st century. "There is a filthy and vile thread—sometimes it's tied into a noose—that connects the first performances of Blackness on English stages, the birth of blackface minstrelsy, contemporary performances of Blackness, and anti-Black racism." Blackface examines that history and provides hope for a future with new performance paradigms. 
This Land: The struggle for the Left by Owen Jones            $26
The British Left's last attempt to upend the established order and transform millions of lives came to a crashing halt on 12th December 2019, when Jeremy Corbyn led the Labour party to its worst electoral defeat since 1935. In This Land, Jones provides an insider's honest and unflinching appraisal of a movement—how it promised to change everything, why it went so badly wrong, where this failure leaves its values and ideas, and where the Left goes next in the new world we find ourselves in.
Ergo by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwartz               $30
Ergo wakes up and sets about exploring her world. She discovers her toes. She discovers her wings and her beak. She has discovered EVERYTHING! But then she considers the wall. And something outside the wall goes BUMP. What could it be? The only way to find out is to peck peck peck through to the other side...

Friday 20 August 2021


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Being a mother of an active and non-sleeping toddler who refuses to sleep in his own bed can drive the best of us into a frenzy of frustration and hopelessness. Combine this with a husband who as the bread-winner is claiming a special dispensation from the trials of day-to-day care and you start to see a picture emerge. Add in the fact that the mother has abandoned her plan to be a multi-tasking goddess who can work, create and nurture all in one gulp and you have the perfect storm. Yoder isn’t telling us anything new about motherhood, but she is providing a hilarious take on the soul-destroying tiredness of parenthood. When the mother notices a rough patch of hair at her nape, a pointed sharpness to her teeth and a certain canine fascination, she is at first disturbed, then embraces it, dubbing herself Nightbitch. Embracing her feral self gives new dimensions to her mothering and her role as a wife, much to her husband’s surprise. There are some excellent and very funny moments in this novel. Embracing her doggy-ness gives her, and by extension her son, a playfulness in her interactions with the world and her child. They bark, chase, tumble and playfight to their hearts’ content. Her appetite for meat, red meat, is endless and there is an excellent scene at the local cafe. Nightbitch piles up her plate with meaty treats and starts eating, initially with her fork, then with her hands, until in full animal mode she is face down, chomping up her lunch. It’s all a glorious game to her young son. Yet this isn’t a novel with only hilarity: even while Yoder cleverly pokes fun at the middle classes, the ‘mummy sets’ and the social mores perpetuated by media and peer pressure, not to mention familial expectations, there is always an undercurrent of the danger. The monster or more precisely the beast within, and depending on your take of this situation whether you read Nightbitch as ‘real’ or an animalistic psychological state, the beast outed, is liberating and controlling. It gives the mother a sense of freedom but also expels her from part of herself, and her relationship with her son and husband is on the brink of disaster on several occasions.  Nightbitch is not for the faint-hearted. Think fluffy cats and innocent bunnies. Violence is never too far from the heart of the mother’s new persona—a violence born out of anger and desperation. Anger at the curtailed life of clean, wash, tidy and constant care of a small human, who she does adore. And desperation at her seeming failure to keep all her ambitions, particularly her independence and creative practice, alive. Like a Kafkaesque exploration, yet more in line with some of Angela Carter’s feminist writing, Nightbitch is ambitious with its desire to come to grips with the female psyche under pressure. The ability to find a way out of the mayhem is at the core of the changing roles of women as they confront the wall that demarks the moment of before and after motherhood. Enjoy and wallow in its humour but watch out for the bite that comes with this joyous bark!



 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


The Cheap-Eaters by Thomas Bernhard (translated by Douglas Robertson)   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Not so much a mental cripple, as Douglas Robertson has translated whatever Thomas Bernhard wrote in German, not so much a mental cripple as an intellectual cripple, he thought, not someone who is crippled mentally as the phrase mental cripple might imply but someone who is a physically crippled intellectual, perhaps even someone physically crippled by their intellectuality, crippled by their mentality, maybe the translation is alright, someone who has allowed themselves to be physically crippled, in the instance of Koller in this book The Cheap-Eaters, someone who could be thought to have willed, if unconsciously willed, if that is a possibility, or whose fate rather accords somewhat with their will, which is the best we can be sure of, that a dog has mauled their leg to such an extent that it has had to be amputated, the dog of an industrialist, no less, in Koller’s case, in order to secure a settlement from the said industrialist which enables them to live, exclusively, the life of the mind, so to call it, to pursue, without the interruption of quotidian or practical concerns, his intellectual interests “to their utmost limits”, in Koller’s case a treatise on physiognomy, not that there is any interest these days in a treatise on physiognomy, not that Koller has even begun to write his treatise on physiognomy, though, he tells the unnamed narrator of the book, he is now ready to do so, having observed over many years a group of individuals who, like him, order only the cheapest food at the Vienna Public Kitchen, which observation will inform the central chapter of his treatise on physiognomy when he comes to write it, not that we learn anything about the physiognomy of these cheap-eaters or about any way in which Koller’s observation of these cheap-eaters or their physiognomies, if these can be distinguished, could inform any part of a treatise on physiognomy, even though Koller summons the narrator to meet him at the narrator’s regular café, the God’s Eye, to expound on the contents of the said central chapter of his yet-to-be-written treatise on physiognomy Koller never even begins to expound on this as he fills the entire period at the God’s Eye expounding and ranting on the circumstances that led him to be in a position to write his treatise on physiognomy, the treatise he never actually writes and of which we and the narrator receive not the slightest inkling of its thrust or what it might contain. Neither Koller nor the narrator consider that they may have mistaken Koller’s obsession for genius. “His existence had also always been a more perilous one than mine, the abysses into which he had gazed were undoubtedly always deeper, the altitude at which he existed had always been a much loftier one and a vertiginous one most of the time, an altitude for which I had always lacked each and every basic qualification.” The narrator, who is writing as a way of making “Koller’s communications clear to myself, in other words, of recollecting his recollections,” has known Koller since their high-school days, they had met at a pharmacy when picking up prescriptions, in the narrator’s case for a sore throat, in Koller the visionary’s case for inflamed eyes, but their relationship has always been been a very unequal one and the narrator had always been in awe of Koller: “I had to reconcile myself to the fact that from the moment at which he entered my life onward I would always have to be second best. … From my perspective, his presence very soon ceased to be able to have any other function than to weaken me, whereas he, thanks to the fact of my availability, had been able to climb higher and higher, and to the same extent that I had been weakened, to strengthen himself.” The narrator, an ordinary, well-balanced person, an unremarkable person, possesses none of the qualities that he mistakes for genius in Koller. “Koller had never wanted to be a different person, whereas I had very often wanted to be a different person. I had very often wanted to be him, but he had never wanted to be me. All his life he had remained himself, just as I had remained myself, but he had always remained himself more consistently though just as logically as I remained myself. … In point of fact he had never been a victim of his own insecurity, whereas I for my part had very often been a victim of my own insecurity.” And possibly it is only this insecurity that saves us from the monomania which has isolated and ultimately destroyed Koller without even granting him his desperate impossible treatise on physiognomy. Thought expends itself and leaves nothing. “These people who are preoccupied with their thoughts and who actually exist only through their thoughts descend little by little into total isolation, in which they think their train of thought and intensify it and ignore everything but this train of thought until they are overwhelmed and asphyxiated and annihilated. … Koller was an exemplary practitioner of such a lethal procedure. Finally everything within him and having to do with him was no longer anything but thought and intolerability.” But for Koller there was no alternative to his obsession: “To salvage so important an singular an essay as my Physiognomy, the writer of such an essay must under certain circumstances gradually withdraw from all people, must renounce all ties, must cut himself off completely, must cease to exist except on his own, so he said. … Anybody who did not from a very early age devote the majority of his energy to pushing back against the madness of the masses would ineluctably fall victim to feeblemindedness, so he said. … Life or existence was nothing other than the unceasing and actually uninterrupted and hopeless attempt to extricate oneself from everything in every possible department and drag oneself into the future, a future that time and again had nothing to offer but a renewal of this selfsame unending lethal process.” The individual may struggle against the masses but they will ultimately fail and be reabsorbed by those masses, they will ultimately fail and until their failure is incontrovertible they will pay the price of utter isolation in order to make a difference that is no difference other than the appearance of a difference. We learn from Koller that either we surrender to our own annihilation or we struggle against it and are annihilated nonetheless, but, really, this is the wrong lesson. The narrator is a person capable of friendship whereas Koller was not capable of friendship. The narrator may not be capable of writing a world-shaking treatise on physiognomy or whatever but Koller was ultimately also incapable of doing so and paid an unbearable price for what was ultimately nothing. This is possibly the wrong lesson, too. 

Meticulously researched, beautifully designed, and full of important information, our Book of the Week is He Ringatoi o ngā Tūpuna: Isaac Coates and his Māori portraits by Te Tau Ihu historians Hilary and John Mitchell. Between 1841 and 1845 Coates painted portraits of 58 Māori in the Nelson, Marlborough and Wellington areas. This superb book reproduces the portraits and provides whakapapa and biographical details of the subjects, as well as new information on Coates's own story.
>>Find out more about the book
>>Hilary and John discuss the book on Radio NZ
>>Some of the portraits
>>Dawn Smith was instrumental in identifying Coates as the artist behind many of the portraits
>>Read the authors' speeches that were to be given at the book's launch (which was cancelled due to the pandemic): >Hilary's speech. >John's speech

Thursday 19 August 2021


He Ringatoi o ngā Tūpuna: Isaac Coates and his Māori portraits by Hilary and John Mitchell             $80
Isaac Coates was an Englishman who lived in Wellington and Nelson between 1841 and 1845. During that time he painted watercolour portraits of 58 Māori from Nelson, Marlborough, Wellington, Waikanae and Kapiti. Some of these portraits have been well-known for nearly 180 years, although their creator was not definitively identified until 2000. The discovery in 2007 of a Coates book of portraits in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University added many previously unknown images to his body of work. The portraits depict Māori men and women from chiefly whakapapa, as well as commoners and at least one slave. Coates's meticulous records of each subject's name, iwi and place of residence are invaluable, and his paintings are strong images of individuals, unlike the more stereotyped work of some of Coates's contemporaries. Whānau, hāpu and iwi treasure Coates's works because they are the only images of some tūpuna, and they are reminders of those who risked their lives to bring their people to a better life in the Cook Strait regions of Kapiti coast, Wellington, Nelson and Marlborough. In He Ringatoi o ngā Tūpuna Te Tau Ihu historians John and Hilary Mitchell unravel the previously unknown story of Isaac Coates, as well as providing biographical details and whakapapa of his subjects, where they can be reliably identified. Meticulously researched and beautifully presented.
I Couldn't Love You More by Esther Freud           $33
"Freud’s ninth novel is about mothers, daughters and secrets, telling the story of three generations of women: the men they love and the choices they make. There’s Aoife, in contemporary Cork, who relates to her dying husband Cashel the story of their long marriage; pregnant Rosaleen in 60s London, in love with bohemian sculptor Felix; Kate, an artist 30 years later, with a difficult partner, a small daughter and a desperate desire to know where she has come from. 'How do we even know we’re not dead?' little Freya asks Kate. This book is how. We know we’re alive because of the stories we tell each other, and the things we make, and the people we love, and that’s all we ever get. Freud knows that, and it is good in this bleak year to be reminded." —Guardian
>>"I didn't learn to read until I was about ten."
The Inheritance by Armin Greder               $33
A powerful picture book calling out the greed of those contributing most to the destruction of nature. "All this will soon be yours, respect what I have built and make it prosper." These are the last words of the old industrialist before dying. While the three brothers discuss how to fulfil their father's wishes, the sister lists for them the disastrous consequences that would follow: disease; marine pollution; deforestation; the destruction of the landscape; pollution of skies and rivers.
>>Some other picture books by Greder

Seek You: A journey through American loneliness by Kristen Radtke           $50
Shameful to talk about and often misunderstood, loneliness is everywhere, from the most major of cities to the smallest of towns. In this remarkable graphic memoir, a wide-ranging exploration of our inner lives and public selves, Radtke digs into the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains. Through the lenses of gender and violence, technology and art, Radtke ushers us through a history of loneliness and longing, and shares what feels impossible to share. Ranging from the invention of the laugh-track to the rise of Instagram, the bootstrap-pulling cowboy to the brutal experiments of Harry Harlow, Radtke investigates why we engage with each other, and what we risk when we turn away. 
>>Read an extract
The Child by Kjersti A. Skomsvold          $28
A young mother speaks to her newborn child. Since the drama of childbirth, all feels calm. The world is new and full of surprises, even though dangers lurk behind every corner; a car out of control, disease ever-present in the air, the unforgiving speed of time. She tells of the times before the child was born, when the world felt unsure and enveloped in darkness, of long nights with an older lover, of her writing career and the precariousness of beginning a relationship and then a family with her husband, Bo. A portrait of modern motherhood, The Child is a story about what it means to be alive and stay alive, no matter how hard the journey.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate histories of riotous Black girls, troublesome women, and queer radicals by Saidiya Hartman               $28
At the dawn of the twentieth century, black women in the US were carving out new ways of living. The first generations born after emancipation, their struggle was to live as if they really were free. These women refused to labour like slaves. Wrestling with the question of freedom, they invented forms of love and solidarity outside convention and law. These were the pioneers of free love, common-law and transient marriages, queer identities, and single motherhood - all deemed scandalous, even pathological, at the dawn of the twentieth century, though they set the pattern for the world to come. 

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann          $26
Bold, angry, despairing and very funny, these essays cover everything from matriarchy to environmental catastrophe to Little House on the Prairie to Agatha Christie. Ellmann calls for a moratorium on air travel, rails against bras, and pleads for sanity in a world that hardly recognises sanity when it (occasionally) appears.
"Joyously electric." —Guardian
>>Read Thomas's review of Ducks, Newburyport
Outrageous Horizon by Adrien Bosc           $33
March 1941. A converted cargo ship, the Paul-Lemerle, left Marseille on a voyage to the Caribbean, fleeing Vichy France and the devastation of the war. The ship was filled with immigrants from the East, exiled Spanish Republicans, Jews, stateless persons and decadent artists. Among them were Claude Levi-Strauss, the painter Wifredo Lam, the writers Anna Seghers and Andre Breton, and the Russian revolutionary Victor Serge. Mixing the documentary techniques of history, the imaginative leaps of fiction and the cool analysis of the essay, Bosc takes us from Marseille to Casablanca to Martinique and on to New York, to tell an evocative story of migration, cultural crisis and the intellectual cost of the rise of fascism.
"Outrageous Horizon is an erudite, brilliantly imagined odyssey into exile that weaves historic narrative, psychological writing, and cultural history. With his immersive portrait of a distinguished cast of mid-20th century refugees, Adrien Bosc guides us into the choppy seas of our own present moment where catastrophe, once again, meets opportunity." —Kapka Kassabova
The Cookbook of Common Prayer by Francesca Haig              $33
A heart-rending tale of a family in turmoil after the death of a child is kept secret from one of his siblings. When their eldest son drowns overseas, Gill and Gabe, desperate to protect their unwell teenaged daughter from the news, decide they must hide the truth from her at all costs - a decision that has ripple effects throughout their family. Told through alternating perspectives, with frequent flashbacks to the past, the story unfurls, revealing the key moments that have shaped each character into the people they are today. 
Neither Vertical Not Horizontal: A theory of political organisation by Rodrigo Nunez             $43
A decade ago, a wave of mass mobilisations described as "horizontal" and "leaderless" swept the planet, holding the promise of real democracy and justice for the 99%. Many saw its subsequent ebb as proof of the need to go back to what was once called "the question of organisation". For something so often described as essential, however, political organisation remains a surprisingly under-theorised field. In this book, Rodrigo Nunes proposes to remedy that lack by starting again from scratch. Redefining the terms of the problem, he rejects the confusion between organisation and any of the forms it can take, such as the party, and argues that organisation must be understood as always supposing a diverse ecology of different initiatives and organisational forms. Drawing from a wide array of sources and traditions that include cybernetics, poststructuralism, network theory and Marxism, Nunes develops a grammar that eschews easy oppositions between "verticalism" and "horizontalism", centralisation and dispersion, and offers a fresh approach to enduring issues like spontaneity, leadership, democracy, strategy, populism, revolution, and the relationship between movements and parties.
The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey             $37
Erica Marsden's son, an artist, has been imprisoned for homicidal negligence. In a state of grief, Erica cuts off all ties to family and friends, and retreats to a quiet hamlet on the south-east coast near the prison where he is serving his sentence. There, in a rundown shack, she obsesses over creating a labyrinth by the ocean. To build it - to find a way out of her quandary - Erica will need the help of strangers. 
Winner of the 2021 Miles Franklin award. 
"A deeply meditative book. Lohrey's writing here is beautifully layered, rich in imagery and meaning, without ever being laboured. The Labyrinth offers a pull towards the unknown and a comfort in solitude. It is a sharply tuned novel, a sprawling narrative that resists rigid expectations, instead allowing those who inhabit the pages to surrender themselves to the mode of 'reversible destiny' that it is constructed around." —Guardian
The Last Man Takes LSD: Foucault and the end of revolution by Mitchell Dean and Damiel Zamora        $43
In May 1975, Michel Foucault took LSD in the desert in southern California. He described it afterwards as the most important event of his life, and it led him to turn away from his critique of power relations and focus instead on the experiments of subjectivity, and the care of the self. Through this lens he would re-evaluate his political positioning and incline towards the apparent mechanisms of autonomy inherent in a new force on the French political scene: neoliberalism(!).
"Michel Foucault saw neoliberalism as an opportunity to think about the revitalisation of civil society. The authors Daniel Zamora and Mitchell Dean explain why he lost sight of its authoritarian dimension." - Woz
Patented: 1000 deign patents edited by Thomas Rinaldi        $70
An unprecedented, essential field guide to more than a century of fascinating product and industrial design. From legendary classics to anonymous objects that are indispensable in homes and offices, this collection of original patent documents celebrates the creative genius of designers, inventors, creators, innovators, and dreamer, including Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Ettore Sottsass, Raymond Loewy, and George Nelson, alongside everyday designs for tape dispensers, pencil sharpeners, food processors, desk fans, and drink bottles.

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota            $35
Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days hard at work in the family's ‘china room’, sequestered from contact with the men. When Mehar develops a theory as to which of them is hers, a passion is ignited that will put more than one life at risk. Spiralling around Mehar's story is that of a young man who in 1999 travels from England to the now-deserted farm, its ‘china room’ locked and barred. In enforced flight from the traumas of his adolescence — his experiences of addiction, racism, and estrangement from the culture of his birth — he spends a summer in painful contemplation and recovery, finally finding the strength to return home.
What Artists Wear by Charlie Porter             $30
In the hands of artists, garments reveal themselves to be tools of expression, storytelling, resistance and creativity. In What Artists Wear, style luminary Charlie Porter takes us on an invigorating, eye-opening journey through the iconic outfits worn by artists, in the studio, on stage, at work, at home and at play. From Yves Klein's spotless tailoring to the kaleidoscopic costumes of Yayoi Kusama and Cindy Sherman; from Andy Warhol's signature denim to Charlotte Prodger's casualwear, Porter's roving eye picks out the magical, revealing details in the clothes he encounters, weaving together a new way of understanding artists, and of dressing ourselves. 

The Promise by Damon Galgut              $37
A taut and menacing novel that charts the crash and burn of an Afrikaans family, the Swarts. Punctuated by funerals that bring the ever-diminishing family together, each of the four parts opens with a death and a new decade of South African history. As we traverse the decades, Galgut interweaves the story of a disappointed nation from apartheid to Jacob Zuma.
"The Promise is fully rooted in contemporary South Africa, but the novel's weather moves into the elemental while attending also to the daily, the detailed and the personal. The book is close to a folktale or the retelling of a myth about fate and loss, about three siblings and land, a promise made and broken. The story has an astonishing sense of depth, as though the characters were imagined over time, with slow tender care." —Colm Toibin
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead      $37
In 1920s Montana, wild-hearted orphan Marian Graves spends her days roaming the rugged forests and mountains of her home. When she witnesses the roll, loop and dive of two barnstorming pilots, she promises herself that one day she too will take to the skies. Years later, after a series of reckless romances and a spell flying to aid the British war effort, Marian embarks on a treacherous flight around the globe in search of the freedom she has always craved. She is never seen again. More than half a century later, Hadley Baxter, a troubled Hollywood starlet beset by scandal, is irresistibly drawn to play Marian Graves in her biopic, a role that will lead her to probe the deepest mysteries of the vanished pilot's life."Thoroughly clever." —Guardian
What a Submarine Sees: A fold-out journey under the waves by Laura Knowles and Vivian Mineker        $28
This charming concertina book follows the journey of a little submersible on a voyage beneath the waves, down into the deep ocean and back again. Folding out to nearly 2.5 metres, children can look at all the different things the sub sees on its way, as it travels past a shipwreck, through a coral reef, near to a pod of orcas hunting for their lunch, past a leatherback turtle feasting on jellyfish, and past some rather strange fish as the ocean gets deeper and darker.
The Bedside Book of Birds: An avian miscellany edited by Graeme Gibson          $95
Sumptuously illustrated and ranging through literature, mythology and natural history, The Bedside Book of Birds is an unexpected and fascinating treasure trove of paintings, drawings, essays and scientific observations. It conveys the hope, the longing and the enchantment that birds have evoked in humans in all cultures and all times. With an introduction by Gibson's widow, Margaret Atwood. 

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris             $35
In the dying days of the American Civil War, newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss find themselves cast into the world without a penny to their names. Forced to hide out in the woods near their former Georgia plantation, they're soon discovered by the land's owner, George Walker, a man still reeling from the loss of his son in the war. When the brothers begin to live and work on George's farm, the tentative bonds of trust and union begin to blossom between the strangers. But this sanctuary survives on a knife's edge, and it isn't long before the inhabitants of the nearby town of Old Ox react with fury at the alliances being formed only a few miles away.
"Better than any debut novel has a right to be." —Richard Russo
"Gardening, then, is a practice of sustained noticing." In this collection of essays, fourteen writers go beyond simply considering a plot of soil to explore how gardening is a shared language, an opportunity for connection, something that is always evolving. Penelope Lively trains her gardening eye on her gardens past and present; Paul Mendez reflects on the image of the paradisal garden; Jon Day asks whether an urban community garden can be a radical place; and Victoria Adukwei Bulley considers the power of herbs and why there is no such thing as a weed.
A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson              $37
Clara's sister is missing. Angry, rebellious Rose had a row with their mother, stormed out of the house and simply disappeared. Eight-year-old Clara, isolated by her distraught parents' efforts to protect her from the truth, is grief-stricken and bewildered. Liam Kane, newly divorced, newly unemployed, newly arrived in this small northern town, moves into the house next door – a house left to him by an old woman he can barely remember — and within hours gets a visit from the police. It seems he's suspected of a crime. At the end of her life Elizabeth Orchard is thinking about a crime too, one committed thirty years ago that had tragic consequences for two families and in particular for one small child. She desperately wants to make amends before she dies. Set in Northern Ontario in 1972, A Town Called Solace explores the relationships of these three people brought together by fate and the mistakes of the past.
 Adam Sedgwick was a priest and scholar. Roderick Murchison was a retired soldier. Charles Lapworth was a schoolteacher. It was their personal and intellectual rivalry, pursued on treks through Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Devon and parts of western Russia, that revealed the narrative structure of the Paleozoic Era, the 300-million-year period during which life on Earth became recognisably itself.
"A joyful collision of science, history and nature writing, The Greywacke shines a light on the almost superhuman feats of endurance, the unglamorous physical realities, the many, many hours of patient labour that the science of geology is built upon." —Helen Gordon
The comparative study of the southern Polynesian islands and Rapa Nui provides a thematic examination of movement and migration, adaptation and change, and development and expansion to offer an optimal means of understanding Polynesia during this period, in an account that incorporates oral traditions, historical analysis and archaeology.