Friday 3 March 2023


Aliss at the Fire by Jon Fosse (translated from Norwegian by Damion Searls)               $25
In her old house by the fjord, Signe lies on a bench and sees a vision of herself as she was more than twenty years earlier: standing by the window waiting for her husband Asle, on that terrible late November day when he took his rowboat out onto the water and never returned. Her memories widen out to include their whole life together, and beyond: the bonds of family and the battles with implacable nature stretching back over five generations, to Asle's great-great-grandmother Aliss. In Jon Fosse's vivid, hallucinatory prose, all these moments in time inhabit the same space, and the ghosts of the past collide with those who still live on.
"The Beckett of the twenty-first century." —Le Monde
"It is some measure of Fosse’s talents that he manages to weave such a compelling narrative from a largely static setting. Nothing really happens and yet there is something quietly dramatic about Fosse's meandering and rhythmic prose, aided by Damion Searls's limber translation, which has a strangely mesmerising effect. An intense reading experience." —Lucy Popescu, Independent
"Prose doesn’t have hooks, and Fosse’s incantations are as unexcerptable as Philip Glass symphonies or Béla Tarr tracking shots. On it goes, building layer upon layer of past and present, ancestors and loved ones, until you are immersed in that world and the prose conjures luminous glory flashing past like Blakean angels. Maybe it is convincing to say that Fosse is the only writer whose book has made me weep with emotion as I translated it." —Damion Searls
Privilege in Perpetuity: Exploding a Pākehā myth by Peter Meihana           $18
Many New Zealanders hold firm to the belief that Maori have been treated better than other indigenous peoples, and that they receive benefits that other New Zealanders do not. Some argue that the supposed privileges that Maori receive are a direct attack on the foundations of the nation. 'Privilege in Perpetuity' charts the eighteenth-century origins of this idea, tracing its development over time, and assesses what impact this notion of privilege has had on Maori communities. Central to this history is the paradox, explored by Meihana, of how Maori were rendered landless and politically marginalised, yet at the same time were somehow still considered privileged. The idea of privilege is revealed as central to colonisation in New Zealand and to the dispossession and marginalisation of Maori - and as a stubbornly persistent prejudice that remains in place today.
>>Maintaining power imbalances. 
Paris in Turmoil: A city between past and future by Eric Hazan            $28
Paris is constantly changing as a living organism, both for better and for worse. The gentrification and internal colonisation of poorer and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods are changing the city and causing new neighbourhoods to spring up elsewhere. In some thirty succinct vignettes, from bookshops to beggars, Art Nouveau to street sounds, Parisian writers to urban warts, Jacobins to Surrealism, from the Périphérique to Place Vendôme, its markets of Aligre and Belleville, its cafés and tabacs, its history from Balzac to Sartre, Hazan offers a host of invaluable aperçus that help us to see the social forces that are changing the city. 
The Looking-Glass: Essential stories by Machado de Assis (translated by Daniel Hahn)           $28
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis is widely regarded as among the greatest Brazilian writers of all time. He was born to a poor family in Rio de Janerio and, with little formal education, took work as a typographer's apprentice and began to write and publish at age 15. Machado went on to a successful career as a writer of romantic novels and government bureaucrat. In the late 1870s he suffered a severe bout of illness, after which he wrote the ironic, complex masterpieces for which he is now famous, including The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas and Dom Casmurro. This volume collects his best short fiction, in excellent fresh translations. 

"Machado De Assis is the writer who made Borges possible." —Salman Rushdie
"The greatest writer ever produced in Latin America." —Susan Sontag
"'Another Kafka." —Allen Ginsberg
"A great writer who chose to use deadly humor where it would be least expected to convey his acute powers of observation and his penetrating insights into psychology. In superbly funny books he described the abnormalities of alienation, perversion, domination, cruelty and madness. He deconstructed empire with a thoroughness and an esthetic equilibrium that place him in a class by himself." —New York Times
Machado de Assis was a literary force, transcending nationality and language, comparable certainly to Flaubert, Hardy or James." —New York Times Book Review
>>The greatest writer the world has never heard of

Solenoid by Mercea Cărtărescu (translated by Sean Cotter)         $45
Based on Cărtărescu's own role as a high school teacher, Solenoid begins with the mundane details of a diarist's life and quickly spirals into a philosophical account of life, history, philosophy, and mathematics. One character asks another: when you rush into the burning building, will you save the newborn or the artwork? On a broad scale, the novel's investigations of other universes, dimensions, and timelines reconcile the realms of life and art. The novel is grounded in the reality of late 1970s/early 1980s Communist Romania, including long lines for groceries, the absurdities of the education system, and the misery of family life. The text includes sequences in a tuberculosis sanatorium, an encounter with an anti-death protest movement, a society of dream investigators, and an extended visit to the miniscule world of dust mites living on a microscope slide. Combining fiction with autobiography and history—the scientists Nicolae Tesla and George Boole, for example, appear alongside the Voynich manuscript—Solenoid ruminates on the exchanges possible between the alternate dimensions of life and art, as various, monstrous dimensions erupt within the Communist present.
"Solenoid is a novel made from other novels, a meticulously borrowed piece of hyperliterature. Kleist's cosmic ambiguity, the bureaucratic terror of Kafka, the enchantments of Garcia Marquez and Bruno Schulz's labyrinths are all recognizable in Cartarescu's anecdotes, dreams and journal entries. That fictive texture is part and parcel of the novel's sense of unreality, which not only blends the pedestrian and the bizarre, but also commingles many features of the literary avant-garde. Although the narrator himself is largely critical of literature he also affirms the possibility inherent in the 'bitter and incomprehensible books' he idolises. In this way, he plays both critic and apologist throughout, a delicious dialectic whose final, ravishing synthesis exists in the towering work of Solenoid itself." —New York Times

Artificial Islands: Adventures in the Dominions by Owen Hatherley           $30
Artificial Islands tests the idea that Britain's natural allies and closest relations are New Zealand, Australia and Canada, through a good look at the histories, townscapes and spaces of several cities across the settler zones of the British Empire. These are some of the most purely artificial and modern landscapes in the world, British-designed cities that were built with extreme rapidity in forcibly seized territories on the other side of the world from Britain. Were these places really no more than just a reproduction of British Values planted in unlikely corners of the globe? How are people in Auckland, Melbourne, Montreal, Ottawa and Wellington re-imagining their own history, or their countries' role in the British Empire and their complicity in its crimes? Some in Britain see these countries as a natural fit for 'union' in the wake of Brexit, but would any of them be interested in such a thing? Interesting.
Doll by Maria Teresa Hart            $23

The haunted doll has long been a trope in horror movies, but like many fears, there is some truth at its heart. Dolls are possessed—by our aspirations. They're commonly used as a tool to teach mothering to young girls, but more often they are avatars of the idealised feminine self. (The word 'doll' even acts as shorthand for a desirable woman.) They instruct girls what to strive for in society, reinforcing dominant patriarchal, heteronormative, white views around class, bodies, history, and celebrity, in insidious ways. Girls' dolls occupy the opposite space of boys' action figures, which represent masculinity, authority, warfare, and conflict. By analysing dolls from 17th century Japanese Hinamatsuri festivals, to the '80s American Girl Dolls, and even to today's bitmoji, Doll reveals how the objects society encourages girls to play with shape the women they become.
>>Other books in the excellent 'Object Lessons' series. 

Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant by Cristina Sanders             $37
It’s 1866 and the three-masted sailing ship General Grant is on the southern route from Melbourne to London, with gold from the diggings secreted in returning miners’ hems and pockets. In the fog and the dark, the ship strikes the cliffs of the Auckland Islands, is sucked into a cave and wrecked. Only fourteen men make it ashore and one woman – Mrs Jewell. Stuck on a freezing and exposed island, the castaways have to work together to stay alive, but they’re a disparate group with their own secrets to keep and their only officer is disabled by grief after losing his wife in the wreck. A woman is a burden they don’t need. Meanwhile stories about the gold grow with the telling: who has it, where is it and how much went down with the ship.
>>Long-listed for the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards
Skateboard by Jonathan Russell Clark          $23
How did the skateboard go from a menacing fad to an Olympic sport? Writer and skateboarder Jonathan Russell Clark answers this question by going straight to the sources: the skaters, photographers, commentators, and industry insiders who made such an unlikely rise to worldwide juggernaut possible. Skateboarders are their own historians, which means the real history of skating exists not in archives or texts but in a hodgepodge of random and iconic videos, tattered photographs, and, mostly, in the blurry memories of the people who lived through it all. From California beaches to Tokyo 2020, the skateboard has outlasted its critics to form a global community of creativity, camaraderie, and unceasing progression.

>>Other books in the excellent 'Object Lessons' series.  

The Wondrous Wonders by Camille Jourdy                $45
Hurt by her parents' divorce and struggling to accept her new stepfamily, Jo decides to run away and live alone in the woods. But she soon discovers that she's far from alone. Jo stumbles into a fantastical world full of tiny elves, talking foxes, and mischievous, multicolored ponies known as the Wondrous Wonders. Her new friends are on a mission: rise up against Emperor Tomcat, the tyrannical leader who rules the enchanted forest they call home. Can Jo find the courage to vanquish an evil empire and get back to her family before dinnertime? A delightful graphic novel for children.
Fabric: The hidden history of the material world by Victoria Finlay        $28
How is a handmade fabric helping save an ancient forest? Why is a famous fabric pattern from India best known by the name of a Scottish town? How is a Chinese dragon robe a diagram of the whole universe? What is the difference between how the Greek Fates and the Viking Norns used threads to tell our destiny? In Fabric, Finlay spins us round the globe, weaving stories of our relationship with cloth and asking how and why people through the ages have made it, worn it, invented it, and made symbols out of it. And sometimes why they have fought for it. She beats the inner bark of trees into cloth in Papua New Guinea, fails to handspin cotton in Guatemala, visits tweed weavers at their homes in Harris, and has lessons in patchwork-making in Gee's Bend, Alabama — where in the 1930s, deprived of almost everything they owned, a community of women turned quilting into an art form. Finlay began her research just after the deaths of both her parents, and Fabric is also Finlay's own journey through grief and recovery. Now in paperback (but still available as a lovely hardback). 
Eve Bites Back: An alternative history of English literature by Anna Beer           $45
From the fourteenth century through to the present day, women who write have been understood as mad, undisciplined or dangerous. Female writers have always had to find ways to overcome or challenge these beliefs. Some were cautious and discreet, some didn't give a damn, but all lived complex, eventful and often controversial lives. Eve Bites Back places the female contemporaries of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton centre stage in the history of literature in English. From Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Aemilia Lanyer and Anne Bradstreet, to Aphra Behn, Mary Wortley Montagu, Jane Austen and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, this book will change the way you think about our literary heritage. 
"Essential reading." —Claire Tomalin
>>Meeting minds

Magicborn by Peter Bunzl            $17
The Curse is changed. You'll never know. The truth is lost. The lie will grow. The year is 1726 and the Royal Sorcerer of England is on the hunt for those who are Magicborn. When Tempest is captured, she is taken to Kensington Palace alongside a boy like her, Thomas. Trapped, Tempest and Thomas find their magic flickering to life and, with it, long-buried memories. For they are the lost prince and princess of Fairyland, bound by a deadly curse. But now the fairies are coming to get them, and with the truth revealed—can they both survive?

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