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

Advertisements

Book Review: Splish, Splash, Ducky! by Lucy Cousins

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_splish_splash_duckyThis large format picture book is great to read along to young children. With its simple illustrations and cute little Ducky Darling, this book is sure to become a favourite. (And as it’s quite short, adults shouldn’t groan when it’s pulled out again at bedtime!)

Ducky Darling loves to find all the things he can do with his friends when it’s raining, such as playing with frogs, worms bugs and slugs (which he loves to hug). He plays in the pond with the swans, swims with the fish, and shakes his feathers with the other birds – all the while going quack, quack, quack.

The simple rhyming text is kept to a couple of lines per page opening, and there’s lots of words for young ones to repeat – drip, drip, plip, plop, etc.

But then the rain stops – oh no, what will Ducky Darling do now? He goes to see his Dad and he tells him not to be sad, because all the butterflies get to have fun in the sun.

Simple and colourful illustrations on every page will put a smile on everyone’s face.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Splish, Splash, Ducky!
by Lucy Cousins
Published by Walker Books Ltd
ISBN 9781406376791

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: Drawn Out, by Tom Scott

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_drawn_out.jpgTom Scott is probably better known for being a cartoonist rather than a writer, but his memoir, Drawn Out, proves he’s just as witty with words as he is with pictures.

The book tells the funny, heart-warming and often sad tale of his life and goes some way towards explaining where he got some of the material for his cartoons and plays.

When people say they had a hard time as a child, they probably don’t mean as hard as Scott’s. His father could be cruel and it’s pretty clear Scott wasn’t his favourite child. Cartooning and acting up in class were ways for him to express his feelings, but rather than pursuing any of those creative endeavours he decided to train as a vet. As an animal lover, after reading some of the things he and his mates got up to, I’m glad he gave up on the idea of being a vet!

Drawn Out provides some fascinating insights to major events that happened in New Zealand as Scott illustrated or wrote about most of them. He riled bosses and prime ministers alike (he was famously banned from going on an overseas trip to China by then prime minister Robert Muldoon), but he obviously got on well with many of those he came across in his working life, some of whom became close friends.

Scott has a knack of bringing people to life in his writing. You feel sorry for the cards many of them got dealt – Scott included – and the background he offers helps provide a better understanding of why certain decisions were made. However, some of the anecdotes about people still living do at times come across as a tad gratuitous, as do the snippets of plays and scripts that are dotted here and there.

There is no doubt Scott is a talented writer, but the book could have done with some judicious editing as it wanders and backtracks a bit. He has been there and done that, but it’s a bit hard to keep track of all the people, events and memories. One person is mentioned early on in the book and I hazarded a guess as to who they were, but it wasn’t until page 295 that this was confirmed.

Overall, Drawn Out is a good yarn in the style of Barry Crump. If you’re interested in the people who made the news and the lives of those who reported on them, you’ll enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Drawn Out
by Tom Scott
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781877505911

Book Review: The Camera in the Crowd, by Christopher Pugsley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_camera_in_the_CrowdI was amazed to find that the first films reached New Zealand in 1896 – I knew it had been around in the early 20th century, but hadn’t realised it went that far back.

The Camera in the Crowd focuses on the 25-year period that followed film’s introduction, using footage from Nga Taonga Sound & Vision, our national film archive. (An organisation I have a great deal of admiration for after they sent me the link to a documentary my late mother appeared in about 30 years ago.)

The book talks about the early days of film and of the cameramen and theatre owners who brought the world to life for New Zealanders. When I was a young child, friends of my parents had their own home theatre and we used to enjoy going there to see movies – something we took for granted in the 1960s but which looking back was something pretty amazing for a time when not every home had a television.

Reading about the early pioneers of film was fascinating – for a start, I had no idea the Salvation Army had been heavily involved in filming New Zealand’s history.

Christopher Pugsley is a leading historian with many titles under his belt and this book is meticulously researched. It’s the type of book you will dip in and out of as the mood takes you rather than one you’ll read from start to finish. It focuses on New Zealand’s history, both at home and during our many military campaigns overseas.

Some items have a little movie camera icon next to them and that indicates the footage can be found online by going to Nga Taonga’s website and entering the title number. I urge you to take the time to look at these videos as they bring our past to life in a way the book on its own is unable to do.

While this is not a complete history of the period in time The Camera in the Crowd covers, it does feature some very interesting and important events, including royal visits and New Zealanders at war. There’s everything from whaling to sports to culture.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this book will only appeal to history buffs because it deserves a much wider audience that that. Those with an interest in early movie making will find it illuminating (pardon the pun), while those with an interest in society and how it evolved will enjoy reading the historical reports and items from newspapers of the time.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Camera in the Crowd
by Christopher Pugsley
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN  9780947506346

Book Review: Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father, by Diana Wichtel

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_driving_to_treblinkaImagine saying goodbye to your father in Canada, expecting him to soon follow your family to New Zealand, and never seeing him again. That is what happened to Diana Wichtel and it’s something that had a profound effect on her life.

Wichtel grew up in Vancouver, Canada, with her brother and sister. Her mother was a Catholic New Zealander, her father a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. When Wichtel is 13, her mother returns to New Zealand and she is told her father will follow them later.

Her father never arrives and the family eventually moves on without him, but Wichtel often thinks of him. The years pass and finally she decides she has to know what happened to him.

Driving to Treblinka is the story of her search for her father, but it is so much more than that. It is a story of courage, hope and survival in the face of cruelty and terror. It is the story of a family torn apart by war and the actions of the Nazis, and what survivors had to do to stay alive.

Part historical memoir, part search for anything that could shed light on her much-loved father, Driving to Treblinka is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. Most of us take life for granted, but those who lived through the Holocaust had to fight for everything, expecting it to be snatched from them at any moment.

This book will make you smile as you read the stories about family life that are so familiar and heart-warming, but it will also make you cry – and possibly make you angry – reading about the millions who needlessly lost their lives during the Holocaust.

Wichtel’s father may have been seen as lucky because he survived, but often surviving is harder because it means living with the past every day of your life.

The search for her father is all consuming for Wichtel, but with the support of her extended family she learns more about his life and what happened to him after the family moved away from Canada.

I have always enjoyed Wichtel’s writing and this book is all the better for her sensitive handling of it. It is funny and sad, and it’s hard to accept what Benjamin Wichtel had to endure and what his daughter went through in order to find him and tell the story of his life.

Driving to Treblinka is an excellent book that deserves to be read and talked about.  In the weeks since I finished it, I have often found myself stopping and thinking about Benjamin and his family and the love that bound them all together.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father
by Diana Wichtel
Published by Awa Press
ISBN 9781927249406

 

Book Review: Dragons Under My Bed, by Kath Bee, illustrated by Lisa Allen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dragons_under_my_bedWhen I was a child, I was sure once the light went out in my room that strange creatures lurked under the bed and in my wardrobe. If I’d been given a copy of Kath Bee’s book, Dragons Under My Bed, I’m sure I would have slept better!

Illustrated beautifully by Lisa Allen, this book tells of the adventures of a family of dragons who come out to play under a young boy’s bed once his mother turns out the light.

First of all he hears giggling, then sees glowing red eyes… followed by puffs of smoke and deep breathing. He hasn’t got just one dragon under his bed, oh no, he’s got a whole family!

He’s quick to say they don’t hurt him, but they do seem to be responsible for making one heck of a mess on his bedroom floor. Strangely enough, they seem to do all the sorts of things little boys do in their rooms, like throwing clothes, books and toys on the floor.

When his mother comes along the hall to see what’s making all the noise, wouldn’t you know it, the family of dragons disappears back under the bed and you can imagine who gets the blame for the mess!

This book is great as a read-along as well as a picture book for younger children. There are lots of things to spot on each page – especially the one with all the books, as it features a book titled How to Build a Dragon-fired Pizza Oven!

The simple, colourful illustrations will delight children and can be used to help them identify different objects. The book has a downloadable link to an accompanying song, providing even more fun and value.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Dragons Under My Bed
by Kath Bee, illustrated by Lisa Allen
Published by David Ling Publishing
ISBN 9781927305355