Book Review: Go Girl – A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women, by Barbara Else

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_go_girl.jpgIn the vein of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls comes Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women. It is written by well-regarded New Zealand author Barbara Else and illustrations are provided by nine New Zealand artists. This hardback edition is boldly coloured and the contemporary illustrations further enhance this attractive book. In what I hope becomes standard practice in kiwi publishing, macrons are correctly used for words written in Māori.

My daughters (aged seven and eleven) jumped on this book. They then searched the book to see if their favourite high profile women were included. Having completed that, they then searched out stories of women they were unfamiliar with.

Beatrice Tinsley was a profile that particularly resonated with the girls, I had not heard of her astrophysics achievements prior to reading this book. Hūria Mātenga, the famous rescuer of the shipwrecked boat Delaware was an amazing story of strength and bravery.

Barbara Else provides tips at the end of the book for further research on the women covered and we had a fascinating time looking up the Te Ara website for further biographical information. There is a timeline at the back of the book with each woman plotted to show when she was born. This provides a great way of ‘re-ordering’ the stories, which are provided in alphabetical order in the text.

This is a wonderful book. The writing style is clear, and reads like a bedtime story, so is very appealing. Often, the writing style will further reflect the woman portrayed – I particularly enjoyed Margaret Mahy’s profile! I loved the wide range of subjects. With nearly 50 stories, and a range of historic and contemporary women across a variety of disciplines, this is a great book for New Zealand children.

I’m sure that this book will appeal widely in New Zealand homes and schools, quickly becoming a standard resource. It makes a fantastic gift.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Go Girl – A Storybook of Epic New Zealand Women
by Barbara Else
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9780143771609

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Book Review: Aging for Beginners, by Doug Wilson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_aging_for_beginners.jpgAs I’m fast approaching 60 myself, I was eager to check out Doug Wilson’s book, Aging for Beginners – getting older in today’s world – what it means for you.

Aimed at those aged 60 and above as well as those who have every intention of living to that age and older, the book is a sort of workshop manual for keeping things ticking along in good order. The difference is, it’s your body the information is about, not that of your car.

Wilson’s parents both lived until their late 90s, so he’s possibly got a head start as far as good genes go, but his advice will help everyone to make the best of however many years they have got left.

Some parts of the book are a tad depressing. Let’s face it, we all know things slow down or start to wear out as we age, and some things that will happen are unavoidable. But forewarned is forearmed and Wilson doesn’t pull any punches when discussing the things that will or may happen as we age, and what we can do to slow them down or make them more bearable.

All the bad stuff is in the health and aging section, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, arthritis, etc, but knowing what can happen means you won’t get any nasty surprises as 60 is left behind in the rear view mirror.

Not surprisingly, Wilson says exercise and a good diet are important, and stress isn’t ignored either, as he’s well versed in the effects stress can have even on healthy people.

There’s a section on adjusting to life for the over 65s as retirement can mean huge upheaval for many. The tough stuff isn’t forgotten either, with mentions of separation, divorce, elder abuse, and the dying phase.

The final section of the book is entitled ‘The Plan’ and in it there is advice on the things you need to be doing early if you want to live a long and healthy life – bearing in mind all the things you can’t change about your life.

The book isn’t intended to be a bible on getting old, but it’s a good launching pad for seeking more information and putting some of those good ideas (like exercise and a healthy diet) into action.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Aging for Beginners
by Doug Wilson
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995103221

Book Review: Pursuing Peace in Godzone: Christianity and the Peace Tradition in New Zealand, edited by Geoffrey Troughton & Philip Fountain

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pursuing_peace_in_godzone.jpgThe active pursuit of peace is something we probably all aspire to. As New Zealanders, we might like to think we are a peaceful nation. But do we actually engage in peacemaking? This book looks closely at the activities involving a wide range of Christian groups, in the pursuit of peace. From a local to a national level, there are active groups working towards peace in our time since the Second World War.

This book follows Troughton’s earlier title, Saints and Stirrers: Christianity, Conflict and Peacemaking in New Zealand, 1814-1945. Most of the 16 chapters are developed from papers delivered at a conference in 2015. Perhaps this is what makes the book so readable. Each chapter looks at a different aspect of the issue and so varied styles, focus and passion are part of the writing. The book may be read in chapters to allow time to think and even discuss the ideas presented. I was so taken by the content that I read the whole thing over a day. My family have indulged my interest by joining in discussions about the ideas presented. My own family tradition is very much Catholic Social Justice and this book follows many of our experiences, from Springbok tour, to Nuclear free, from Parihaka to Quakers.

Elizabeth Duke writes about the ongoing work of the Quakers in the pursuit of peace. She outlines the background of the group and how healing the wounds since WW2 is part of their experience. Penal reform and an active part in the Defence inquiry are also included. She writes honestly and shows the personal experience as well as the group focus.

Perhaps most interesting for me, was the story of the Taranaki Cathedral by the former Dean Jamie Allen. New Plymouth is the site of much early Māori-Pākehā contact. The Taranaki Wars and the Parihaka conflict are on the doorstep. This chapter speaks of reconciliation between Māori and Pākehā in the establishment of the cathedral in 2010. It is a personal story that resonates with all New Zealanders. It moved me to tears.

Pursuing Peace in Godzone is a real treasure. The role of Christians in bringing peace to all is described beautifully in the 16 diverse chapters. Peace studies are an important part of the Senior School Curriculum and this book would support students in many ways. It also lends itself to wider community discussions about the role we each play in being peacemakers. Sometimes it is good to read something different, something that makes us look at or own lives and ask how we can be better. This is the book.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Pursuing Peace in Godzone: Christianity and the Peace Tradition in New Zealand
edited by Geoffrey Troughton & Philip Fountain
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561827

 

 

 

 

Book Review: A Way with Words – A Memoir of Writing & Publishing in New Zealand, by Chris MacLean

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_way_with_wordsChris MacLean is the author of some of our most successful non-fiction books. His foray into publishing came about in a roundabout way, though his family business was books – his mother being from the well-known Whitcombe family (of Whitcombe and Tombs fame).

In the 1950’s and 60’s New Zealand’s main publishers were A.H & A.A Reed and Whitcombe & Tombs. Improvements in technology changed how books were written – by hand to using typewriters, then computers. It was often a long and laborious process.  As technology progressed even further reproducing photos, drawings and paintings via scanning, made the process even easier.

Chris MacLean began his career as a writer in 1980 when as a designer of stained glass windows, he published a book in collaboration with his friend, historian Jock Phillips, called Stained Glass Windows in New Zealand Houses. This began a long publishing career.

I hadn’t realised until reading this book how many of Chris MacLean’s books that he went on to write and publish that I was familiar with – an interesting discovery.

A Way with Words lets the reader in on the extensive research and work that goes into writing and producing his wonderful non-fiction works.  From the biography of the climber and outdoor adventurer John Pascoe (I share the same family name) to the wonderful story  Tararau – The Story of a Mountain Range to Classic Tramping (I grew up tramping from an early age) and many more others.

For anybody interested in books, publishing or any of the subject matters Chris MacLean has written about, this book is a gem.  I loved it from the first chapter to the last.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Way with Words – A Memoir of Writing & Publishing in New Zealand
by Chris MacLean
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503604
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Book Review: The Expatriates, by Martin Edmond

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_expatriates.jpgReading The Expatriates reminded me of my high school years and how I loved history because I had a teacher who made the subject come alive. Martin Edmond has that same talent and I found myself getting caught up in the stories he tells of four New Zealanders who achieved fame in Europe.

Some of the material Edmond based his book on came from the late James McNeish.

Although this book is closer to a textbook than anything else, Edmond writes well, apart from an annoying habit of referring alternately to people by their first and last names, which can be confusing.

The four profiled are Harold Williams, journalist and linguist; Ronald Syme, spy, libertarian, and historian of ancient Rome; John Platts-Mills, radical lawyer (he once defended notorious gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray) and political activist; and Joseph Burney Trapp, librarian, scholar and protector of culture.

The most interesting to me – and possibly Edmond too, as he devotes the largest section of the book to him – was Harold Williams.

The son of a Methodist preacher, Williams became fascinated by foreign languages and mastered a large number. After moving overseas he worked as a correspondent for various publications and reported on conflicts and politics, moving in exalted circles due to his incredible command of languages.

Williams lived and worked in Russia during the turbulent years of Lenin, Trotsky and Rasputin. He married a Russian woman, Ariadna Tyrkova, and devoted much of his life to researching and recording Russia’s history.

Each man has a fascinating life story, and in the case of Platts-Mills, an equally fascinating family. His mother was one of the few female registered doctors in New Zealand in the early 1900s. I’m hoping Edmond may turn his attention to writing a similar book about New Zealand women who achieved fame overseas last century.

This book is a great tribute to four men who went on to make a success of things overseas, and a great reminder that New Zealand has always produced brilliant and revolutionary people.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Expatriates
by Martin Edmond
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781988533179

 

Book Review: Feverish, by Gigi Fenster

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_feverishFeverish is a fascinating memoir. Gigi says early in the book that while she wanted to write a memoir, she did not think anyone would be interested in reading about a middle-class, middle-aged white South African living in New Zealand. Furthermore, she seemed to be in some kind of creative slump. So she thought she needed some kind of inspiration to drive her to create something far more appealing – inducing a kind of fever such as that which often drives performance artists or other writers and poets.

That’s where it begins, but where it goes is far-reaching, wide-ranging and thought-provoking.

The breadth and depth of her internal exploration into what is significant is quite remarkable. But what to me is more remarkable is how she turns this into a fascinating, detailed and lively memoir of life as a young woman growing up in apartheid South Africa, with family who escaped the Holocaust – but not only the young woman, also the mature parent living with her husband and daughters in New Zealand. Her family – particularly her parents – spring off the page with their compassion and intellect and consideration for others. Her relationships with her siblings and her friends will probably ring bells of recognition in many. Her conversations with her teenage daughters are frequently hilarious. You do feel as though you know her family through the stories, throwaway comments and serious discussions which abound.

Her exploration of fever and how it might, or might not, work for her permeates the book with a sense of urgency (she was writing this for a PhD thesis, so I imagine there was time pressure!) but along with that, a sense of discovering what is really important to her.

I am not about to give away the results of her internal journey into the effects of fever on the creative mind, but I will say that I read this book once fast, and then a second time a great deal more slowly and I think it’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s funny, clever, intellectually demanding, and it really makes the reader think  about what is important in life, and in our interactions with the people  in our lives – whether they are friends, relatives or colleagues does not matter. What does matter is how we see them and interact with them.

In all, I think it’s a great read, and the hoorey-goorey antennae will stay with me for a long time to come!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Feverish   
by Gigi Fenster
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561803

 

Book Review: Kai and Culture – Food Stories from Aotearoa, edited by Emma Johnson

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

We need to come back to eating what’s available and sustainable. We need to remind people where food comes from. …Respect is what we need more of – for each other, our land and our food.
Fleur Sullivan – p. 32-33

cv_kai_and_cultureThis is a thought-provoking book exploring New Zealanders’ connections with kai. It encourages reflection on the social, cultural, historical, ethical and environmental issues linked with the food we grow, import, export, and eat.

The introduction explains that Kai and Culture covers ‘a range of ideas, projects and stories through essays, profiles and recipes’. The narratives incorporate multicultural perspectives, including reference to the mahinga kai central to Ngai Tahu identity that focuses on how and where traditional food and other natural resources are gathered. There’s also a profile of the Māori-owned Yellow Brick Road sustainable seafood company whose business is based on kaitiakitanga principles (of guardianship, protection and preservation) that focus on preserving New Zealand’s seafood resources. This ‘involves responsibility, respect, a deep connection to place and knowledge of provenance’ – such as knowing who caught the fish, when and how.

There’s discussion, too, of the positive impact that immigrants have had on the food grown, purchased and eaten in New Zealand homes and restaurants. Historically this includes the new varieties of vegetables established by Chinese market gardeners, and the parmesan cheese and olive oil introduced by Italian immigrants. As we are a multi-cultural nation, there continues to be many influences on what we grow and eat. For example, the book tells of a restaurant that honours and celebrates Pasifika food, and describes the innovative Middle Eastern meals prepared by refugees who cook for the non-profit social enterprise Pomegranate Kitchen.

Kai and Culture challenges our thinking about our interactions with food, including not only what we prepare and consume but what we waste, and why. Most of us know that seasonal variations influence the quality and availability of fresh produce – but do we consider where out-of-season produce has come from and how it was handled along the way? We learn about the skills and resources required to plant and nurture a self-sufficient fruit and vegetable garden, and whether or not this is a realistic goal for the average New Zealander. Kai and Culture also outlines alternative ways of gathering food, such as foraging – for wild parsley and other herbs, fungi or edible seaweed, for example – as a complement to fishing and hunting.

The book raises the issue of whether consumers have a right to know which country the food they are buying came from. (It’s a yes from me: I’m irritated by the fine print on many packaged foods declaring that the product was ‘packed in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients’, with no further information provided.)

Contributors include chefs, architects, writers, film-makers, academics, producers and restaurant-owners. Most sections are well-written (with references included if you’d like to learn more), although some of the longer sections would have benefited from tighter editing. There’s a fine balance between describing a business model or venture objectively and sounding like an advertisement or product endorsement. I would like to have heard more of the voices of individual contributors, instead there’s a certain sameness to the writing style across many sections.

Photos accompany most stories. The strangest depicts four adults bobbing in a spa pool full of heated milk. (You’ll have to read the book to find out why.)

There’s an unconventional mix of both narrow and wide margins throughout the book and a somewhat pedestrian two- and three-column layout and font. I found the typographic ornaments (swirly icons and the like) accompanying the heading of each section a distraction. Few seem to have any relation to the section content.

The 30 recipes at the end of Kai and Culture were provided by contributors to the book and most have links to particular sections. I wonder whether the recipes might have been more appropriately placed together with the associated story. This would mean, for example, that the simple pasta with tinned tomatoes recipe might have sat alongside Rebekah Graham’s essay about families that struggle to afford nutritious food, which she argues is a human right.

Some recipes include foraged ingredients, such as beach spinach. At the other end of the scale several recipes involve expensive or unusual ingredients and complicated methods. I’m keen to prepare the Ika Mata recipe for marinated raw fish, one of the more straightforward recipes, based on techniques and ingredients shared by people from the Cook Islands.

I can imagine Kai and Culture being used by secondary school teachers as part of a food and nutrition module, or as assigned reading for a tertiary education course that focuses on food production and consumption. It could also appeal to people interested in challenging and changing how they source, grow and/or use particular foods, and consumers wanting to make more informed and responsible purchasing decisions at supermarkets and even restaurants.

The topics and issues discussed in Kai and Culture have given me a greater appreciation of the efforts made by New Zealand growers, farmers and other food producers and of the challenges they face in providing us with healthy and sustainable food.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Kai and Culture: Food stories from Aotearoa
Edited by Emma Johnson
Published by Freerange Press
ISBN 9780473412241