Beetles and Bates’s Bookstore, by Steve Braunias

Steve Braunias shared this reminiscence of a Mt Maunganui summer spent near Bates’s Bookstore with us, in honour of NZ Bookshop Day. 

beetlesThere was a curious plague of beetles one summer when I was growing up in Mt Maunganui. They appeared in their thousands. They were like black rain. They warmed themselves on pavements, and I crunched over them on the way from my house to the Central Parade shops, where I walked every Monday of my childhood to buy the latest copies of Shoot!, Goal, Tiger, and the Woman’s Weekly at Bates’s Bookstore.

I saw my friend Simon Tulip. I said, “What are they?”
He said, “Beetles.”
I said, “I know that. I mean – what’s going on?”
He said, “I don’t know.”

Their shells were shiny in the bright sun. We picked them up, and inspected their legs writhing in the air. We were standing outside the electric power board building, a long, low kind of bungalow, very stylish with its red brickwork and its venetian blinds which were always drawn. A low electric hum came from deep within.
He said, “Are you going back to school next year?”
I was 16. “Yes,” I said. “Are you?”
“Yeah, course,” he said, “but I just wondered if you were.”
Had I told him about my School Certificate exam results? Or did someone else tell him? How else would he have known? Was that what he was getting at – or did he have the inside track on something else? Was it to do with my home life?800px-Mount_Maunganui

Mt Maunganui was flat as a plain, except for the mountain at the end of the beach. You could see it everywhere. It was the central fact of life in town – that, and the sea, and the wharf. I shielded my eyes from the hot sun and looked towards the mountain. I pretended to take a great deal of interest in it because I wanted to change the subject about whether I was returning to school.

“See you later,” he said.
“Yep,” I said.

tiger_roy_of_the_roversI walked around the corner to the shops, and to Bates’s Bookstore. I always felt safe in there, and excited, too, because of the prospect of reading the latest copies of Shoot!, Goal, and Tiger. Sometimes I read my mother’s Woman’s Weekly. It was okay. Shoot! had columns by Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore, Goal had the results, line-ups, and attendance records of every game in England’s four divisions, and Tiger featured the adventures of Roy of the Rovers, the greatest football comic strip of all time.
“Hello, Mr Bates!”, I said.

His name was Alan. I finally plucked up the courage to call him that when I was about 30. He was a lovely man, with black hair combed to the side, and a taste for cardigans. He laughed and joked, and I always thought of him as sophisticated: he sold literature. I liked him more than anyone in Mt Maunganui outside of my family.

I read Tiger on the way home. I crunched over the beetles on the pavement, but I’d forgotten about them. I was in the inky, dramatic world of Roy of the Rovers, courtesy of Mr Bates of Bates’s Bookstore in Central Parade.


Steve Braunias is an award-winning journalist, and the author of many bestselling non-fiction books, including Civilisation: Twenty Places on the Edge of the World (Awa Press), which won Non-fiction Book of the Year at the 2013 NZ Post Book Awards. His most recent book, The Scene of the Crime (HarperCollins NZ) was released into bookshops on 29 October.

Book Review: From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, by Kate De Goldi


This book will be launched tonight at Unity Books Wellington, from 6pm. It will be available in bookshops nationwide from tomorrow.  

I had to slow myself down while reading this book, to better savour the words inside. Halfway through, I already knew I wanted to re-read it. Kate De Goldi is a spectacular wordsmith. Her main characters, Ren and Barney, are alive on the page, so alive that to read their story is to experience it. I certainly experienced a craving for Sultana Pasties, Barney’s favourite biscuit, while reading each evening.

Barney Kettle, as you can probably tell from the cover and title of the book, is a filmmaker. He lives and breathes “thethrillingalchemyofthecreativeprocess”. Though he is only 12, he is certain a successful career as a film director is in his future. After all, he has already produced three 15-minute films. His teacher mum thinks he is a megalomaniac, but also thinks that this is a good thing for a film director to be. He loves nothing more than to be called ‘Maestro’. His 11-year-old sister Ren is his ‘Slash’. She plays the role of producer / assistant director / casting director / set designer / costume manager / location scout / caterer in all of his grandly schemed films.

We enter the world of Barney and Ren from the perspective of an unnamed man in a hospital bed. He begins the story twice, and the story is written, though not strictly alternately, from Barney then Ren’s points of view. The perspectives of each sibling bring a different colour to their story of the street they live on; for their fourth film is to be a documentary called the Untold Story, and it is about the Street and its residents, each of whom comes alive as they are filmed. Bambi, a Canadian acrobat, is just one of these residents: ‘She had performed with a triple trapeze in countless Big Tops; she had lived closely with clowns.’

280px-ChristchurchBasilica_gobeirneAs well as being the story of Barney, this is the story of Christchurch’s High Street prior to the earthquake. I lived in the Catholic boarding school next to the Basilica mentioned in this novel, attending there once a week for mass (and once walking inside the top of the domes). I often walked to town via High Street, and first became aware of how beautiful certain periods of architecture were while walking down it. Kate writes incredibly immersive books – as with the character of Frankie in The 10pm Question, you feel you want to jump up and down with Barney when he is excited, and your emotions plunge with Barney’s as glitches in his grand plans arise.

As well as the story of the Street, there is a mystery, which begins concurrent to the Untold Story with a simple white envelope marked ‘YOU’. We follow the siblings through the homes of their friends, filming as we go, and keeping an eye out for another envelope. One brilliant filming session happens in Montgomery’s, the community bookshop. Suit drops in to purchase his weekly book – a day early – and the siblings ask him what he likes about the shop.

Oh, it’s the ambience…. Then there is the endless potential in the books, the warmth they seem to exude, their heady aroma. The filtered light. And the hush of absorption. The holy feeling of a republic of readers. And the presiding magus – the person who brings us all this. Without Gene’s dedication, and Sarah’s and Billie’s, of course, where would we be? We would be a lesser Street.’

I feel richer for having read about the people of De Goldi’s High Street, from the bookshop to the Nut Shop, the junk shop the kids’ dad runs, to the Living History Museum – an echo of the website created by ex-High Street inhabitants, High Street Stories. I urge everybody to go and get this book and read it, no matter your age. This ode to the Christchurch of yore is phenomenally good.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle
by Kate De Goldi
Published by Longacre Press / Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775535768

What a bookshop has, that a website doesn’t

Reproduced in its entirety from the Otago University Book Shop’s facebook page:

To the customer who, regarding the wonderful changes in our store, said “I don’t know why you bother – you won’t exist within a year”, a right of reply from us. We’re not sure if she thinks it’s because of the online threat, or because of threats from other leisure pursuits; either way here are seven real UBS Otago reasons why we do bother! Feel free to add some of your own – I’m sure my wonderful staff would love the support. (Phillippa Duffy)

1. We love our customers; we ring ambulances for them when they are unwell, and send get well cards after the ambulance has taken them from our shop to hospital. Your online shopping basket can’t do that for you.reading_builds_a_stairway

2. Books power imaginations; imagination powers inventions; inventions power the world.

3. Nothing beats the look of sheer joy on a child’s face when they stand on tiptoes and buy their own self-selected book, with money from grandma. You don’t get that feeling when you click ‘confirm’ on the web.

4. Thirty-two years on I can still remember that exact same experience buying ‘Winter Story’ by Jill Barklem in London Bookshop in Invercargill’s H&J Smith’s. I still have the book, and luckily even now she’s 85, I still have the grandmother. Books and family are inextricably linked. Downloads?… not so much.

5. Pursuits of a bookish 8 year-old: I have read them in a car; I have read them near or far; I have cut, to share, in half; I have read to my pet calf. (With apologies to Dr Seuss.)

6. Our customers find joy in our books and in browsing, particularly those who are really young, really old, really lonely, really blind, or really infirm. The social importance of what we do for some customers is not lost on us.

7. We help source books for people touched by devastating health news, and after some of the inevitable outcomes, books on grief and coping with loss. Other times we are sharing in the birth of a child or grandchild, or other joyous life milestones. Our service comes with a smile, but sometimes support and sympathy.

I’ve marked October 24 2014 in my diary and look forward to re-confirming our existence in a year’s time!

Philippa Duffy, Manager, UBS Otago

Words of the Day: Monday, 14 October 2013




This is a digest of our Twitter feed that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews
Book Review: The Factory World, by Joseph Edward Ryan

Read an extract from The Circle, the new novel by Dave Eggers

We are giving away tickets to the preview showings of Tim Winton’s The Turning on FB & by email.

Wairarapa readers – hear Steve Braunias, winner of 2013 NZ Post Book Award, in Featherston this Saturday, Oct 19

VUP Books launch Te Mātāpunenga tonight at National Library foyer – a work more than ten years in the making.

Book News
Massey University’s Ngā Kupu Ora Aotearoa Māori Book Awards have been announced.

Karen Healey is featured in CHC Press on writing & creativity. But…not a fulltime mum. Odd.

Readers are encouraged to vote for the 2013 Kobo/NZ Authors e-publishing prize

Nine to Noon is showcasing Katherine Mansfield in celebration of her birthday this week, every day at 10.45am

Booker News
Here are the Man Booker short-listed authors, fresh off the stage after a wonderful event at the South Bank

Booker shortlist ‘best list ever?’ Well at least the one with the least scandal…

From around the internet
E-books are changing reading habits say USA Today 
Last year, the Literature Board of the Australia Council gave literary magazines around $500,000 in grants – envy Oz? 

Some interesting ideas here – Bookshops in Europe take a stand against Internet rivalry

The five finalists in the PANZ awards for best cover take you inside their pages in Idealog. Brilliant!

Short story ‘Fiction’ by Alice Munro, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature

‘Will the book sell? Your guess is as good as mine.’

Book window displays