Book Review: I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus

cv_i_love_dickAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

First published in 1997, I Love Dick was a landmark publication in the world of feminist literature, cleverly mixing memoir with fiction to create what the author called “lonely girl phenomenology”, and what the critics call “radical” and “gossipy”. The public loved it and I can totally see why.

The Dick of the title is a man – a sociologist and media theorist who dazzles the author throughout the book, captivating her like a shiny thing catches the eye of a kea. As time passes and she negotiates her way through the art world with her husband by her side, she encounters various movers and shakers some real life figures, some not, some possible “names changed to prevent a law suit”… And always Dick.

There are undoubtedly some disturbing aspects to the book. The idea that a married woman would “crush” on a single man, who seems uninterested to the point of asking her to leave him alone, and convinces her husband to help pen letters to him seems cruel, possibly fantastical. Does she love Dick that much or is it the idea of Dick? Of what he represents?

Sharp eyed and sarcastic, Kraus spares no one, least of all herself, brutally dissecting the feminist movement of the 90s, both within the academic world and the fickle arts scene where individuality is heralded as new and brave, but only if it can be marketed in an acceptably formulaic fashion.

A performance artist on the rise, married to a successful man, her feminist world view takes on a distinctly Dick-shaped lens, one she’s aware of but unsure whether it’s a gift or a handicap in a post-modernist world.

And who is Dick? Is he a real person? And what really happened between the author, her husband and Dick?

Dick’s real identity is now known – but don’t go searching for it until you’ve read this book. Reading it for the first time is something to treasure. The fact it’s not as well-known as non-fiction feminist texts is a shame, a crime! This is a book every independent, intelligent woman (or man who likes them) should read. It’s not fluffy. It’s certainly not a beach read. But it’s witty, satisfying and good for the soul – like a night out where the wine is as good as the conversation and you know your plan to take over the world is solid.

I’ve added I Love Dick this book to my “Annual Read” list. So should you, because I think you’ll love Dick just as much as I do.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

I Love Dick
by Chris Kraus
Published by Serpent’s Tail
PB ISBN  9781781256480
HB ISBN 9781781256473

Book Review: Girls of the Drift, by Nina Powles

Available from selected booksellers nationwide.

cv_girls_of_the_driftNamed after a 1928 political pamphlet by the same name, Girls of the Drift is a defiantly pink debut from emerging poet, Nina Powles. Weaving real and fictional accounts of women’s stories, it is wrapped in the brightest pink imaginable. To encounter such historical poetry contained within its pages, particularly the delicate feminine portraits, is incongruous at first.

About her poem ‘Josephine’, based on Katherine Mansfield characters, Nina says she was interested in the way ‘the world opened up to [the women] in small moments of colour and brightness.’ The cover is more than just a moment, but perhaps that is the point. It is interesting to note that the women, from the story ‘Daughters of the late colonal’ are symbols of the opressed feminine, who came into themselves only after the death of their imposing father. Nina says she is drawn to thinking about ‘people and places stuck in the in between, caught in phrases of transition.’

The title poem is literally at the heart of the book, a 1929 letter from one poet to another (New Zealand poets, Jessie Mackay and Blanche Baughan) that references the above pamphlet and urges her friend to write again (she put down her pen after a period of illness). The reader is immediately thrown into a sensual experience here from the first line:

I pressed a sprig of manuka into the envelope…

Can you smell it? The wild, dry
dust-honey smell of summer in the gorge.

It is fitting that the green twine holding the chapbook together is like holding the sprig there in your hand. There is something reminiscent of tying a string around your finger in order to remember something important. In this letter, it is the girls of the drift, the ones who might drift into domesticity with barely an education, that Blanche promises to remember through her activism. This thought is echoed in the strings, knots and ribbons that pepper the poems. These symbols can of course also refer to apron strings and matrimonial bindings.

The continual reference to birds is a metaphor for the ability of women to soar above and beyond these traditiional constraints. These conditions are likened to sticky jars filled with bitter marmalade and honey (a trap?) in several poems. This is brought home distinctly (and in capitals no less) in the poem ‘Burn Back’:


With this reading in mind, the book becomes essentially feminist and a reflection on what it is to be a woman on the verge in a colonial context. The two prophetic wise owls on the cover could be the two poet friends, casting a wise, watchful eye over the girls of the drift.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Girls of the Drift
by Nina Powles
Published by Seraph Press
ISBN 9780473308438

Book Review: Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter, by Michèle A’Court

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

I usually approach books by comedians with some trepidation. The reality is, many cv_stuff_i_forgot_to_tell_my_daugthercomedians aren’t actually that funny. Worse is the fact that the label ‘comedian’ is being slapped on all kinds of people who don’t qualify on a good day let alone in 200 pages of print. Thankfully, Michèle A’Court is the real deal.

Within 5 pages of Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter, I was laughing out loud, already making mental notes of what I should share with my mum. 75 pages in, I knew I’d just buy Mum her own copy. By the end of the book the list of people I’ll buy this for had expanded to my 18 year old “little sister”, good friends who are mums to my goddaughters and my little brother who is about to become a dad.

A mix of anecdotes, salient advice for life and considered musings on what it means to be a modern woman in NZ, A’Court’s style is a genuine delight to read. Never too hefty even when tackling “serious issues”, she’s wise, honest and undeniably funny.

Michèle A’Court is not the kind of comedian to crack jokes with punchlines. She’s the kind of comedian who knows how to tell a great story, how to share information of all types in a way that’s engaging and memorable. A natural born entertainer, she’s a natural born writer as well.

As far as I’m concerned, buying this is the natural choice for Mothers’ Day.

by Sarah McMullan @SarahMcMullanNZ

Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter
by Michèle A’Court
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9781775540519

We recommend buying any book from your local Paper Plus, independent bookshop, or The Warehouse. All are members of Booksellers NZ.

Changing Times: New Zealand Since 1945, by Jenny Carlyon & Diana Morrow

Available at bookstores now.

I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Jenny cv_changing_times_nz_since_1945Carlyon and Diana Morrow’s previous Auckland-centred Histories and I can say that this book was just as good. Their previous books have been in the Coffee Table book format and while I was not initially sure that I liked the paperback format for this book, I can say that on reading it, the publisher went with the right format.

A big book, it’s spread is wide and it’s topics many and varied.

Taking us back in time, we start at the end of WWII with a somewhat sleepy nation that has awoken to the fact that change is in the air, facilitated by both the demands placed on New Zealand by the just-ended war, and the unspoken role reversal that occurred in many industries as a result of the male populace going overseas…Rosie the Riveter may have been acknowledged but accept her filling this role in peace-time: no way.

Well written and very well researched, the book takes it’s reader on a journey that covers every aspect of New Zealand life from Culture and Character, Leisure and Popular Pastimes, Political Ferment, Feminism and Gay Rights, Race Relations, the huge transformation brought to the Government owned industries and their employees when these were sold off, the 1981 Springbok Tour that so divided us. It really covered every major and minor event that has shaped us since the end of WWII. When reflecting back on the book, I couldn’t help but think how powerful the change of mind set in the women of New Zealand was, and even though it was many years before it was acted on, the seed had been planted.

This is a very readable book, it does what it set out to do especially in showing why change was needed and illuminating the forces that brought change and the people and places that carried change forward, rightly or wrongly. It is not simply a book of people, places and facts, it is a shared journey type of book, it will get you thinking. It has great illustrations and I would like to see a copy of it in every school library in New Zealand, it is a great resource.

Thank you to Auckland University Press and Booksellers NZ for my copy of this book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Changing Times: New Zealand Since 1945
by Jenny Carlyon & Diana Morrow
Published by Auckland University PressISBN 9781869407827

Email digest: Wednesday 7 August 2013

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The Ladies’ Litera-Tea on Sunday 25 August looks delicious!

Check out the programme of events for next month’s Going West Books and Writers Weekend here

Book News

BiteTheBook Guest Post: Why bookstores are the future, not the past by Chris Allen

Congratulations to the authors and publishers shortlisted for the 2013 Davitt Awards (for Australian female crime writers)

New Releases

Just got the first two books in the new ‘New Zealand Girl’ chapter book series by Penguin Books. Looking good.

A different sort of alphabet book…

Author Interview
Q&A with Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest

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Our CEO Lincoln Gould’s grandson reading on the way home from school…