Book Review: Exposed, by John Wareham

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

John Wareham now lives in Wellington, New Zealand,cv_exposed after many years of living in New York. He is a corporate consultant, prison reformer, novelist and poet.

While living in New York, Wareham received an email from a Head of Department from his old school, Palmerston North Boys High School, asking if he would kindly share a few inspiring words with 40 boys from the commerce class that they were bringing to visit the New York Stock Exchange.

Before sharing his response, John Wareham reflects on his life leading up to and including his time as a boarder at Palmerston North Boys High School. Wareham says at the beginning of this book that this is a memoir, not an autobiography. He tries to revisit and make sense of the boy he used to be, the events that marked and life and stoked his imagination. Some names are changed but how much truth, if any should he tell? 1950’s schools were a different breed than today’s schools with discipline often being meted out with the cane.

It was after his parent’s marriage broke up that John Wareham was sent to a boarding school. With parents and schoolmasters’ help, he discovers a passion for photography. Many friendships are made while ganging up on Masters that the boys thought would do better elsewhere pursuing another careers.

Knowing nothing about the author before I started reading this book, I’m not sure I am any the wiser as to his character or what actually happened during his years at Palmerston Boys High School. Memory is a wonderful thing – sometimes how we perceive events and how others do can often result in conflict. I will say that this book is an interesting and amusing read.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Exposed – How a lost boy bucked the system and found his voice
by John Wareham
Published by Welcome Rain Publishers (US)
ISBN 9781566493598

Book Review: Real Modern – Everyday life in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s, by Bronwyn Labrum

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_real_modern.jpgWhat a wonderful piece of work this book is! For those of us who lived through these decades as kids and teenagers, every page has something which rings a bell. We did think we were the cat’s pyjamas in our ever-changing fashions, and so hip and cool with all the new music.

For Gen X and Y, and on, it’s a wonderful way to get an idea of what your parents and grandparents read, listened to, watched, ate, played and so much more. As a social commentary, it works very well indeed. The layout and the gazillion photographs really bring the years to life.

I found that so many of the entries and comments triggered great memories – the section on Manual Training which happened in Intermediate schools in the late 50s reminded me of my fearsome cooking and sewing teacher who, being of vitriolic temperament, would hurl kitchen implements at us when we did not get things right. Once, even more memorably, she chased a friend around the cooking room with a carving knife for some perceived act of insubordination.

I remember the revolting dental chair – as a preschooler I had terrible teeth and spent far too much time in that horrible chair, with the foot-driver grinding drill.

As a student, I visited Wellington, and delighted in the Monde Marie coffee bar which was the heart of the folk music scene.

I “managed” a group of school students from Christchurch to Auckland  on the Interisland overnight ferry and the overnight train and can vouch for the sections on those modes of transport. The clothes, the shoes, the picnics beside cars on the side of the road, all so true of NZ “way back when!”

It’s a book to return to, with delight, and recognition, and amusement if you are old enough to remember 40-50 years back. And if you’re not, it’s still a great delight. I recommend it hugely – will make a wonderful talking point for family occasions, too!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Real Modern: Everyday life in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s
by Bronwyn Labrum
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994104175

Book Review: Expecting Miracles, by Peter Bland

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_expecting_miraclesPeter Bland’s Expecting Miracles is a collection of poetry that explores the many emotions tied to memory. By touching on subjects of loss that are close to the heart, Bland crafts a nostalgia that invites the reader to also reminisce.

‘Expecting Miracles’ is also the title of the opening poem, a piece of work that was written in memory of Bland’s wife. Through snippets of recollection, Bland fondly crafts this memory back to life. His language brings meaning and grandeur to even the most commonplace occurrence, from a game of cricket, to the image of blonde hair streaming back in the wind. This is where his work finds strength: creating a strong picture by focusing on specific moments in time and place.

From this opening piece, the poet becomes the primary narrator of the collection. Through his memories, the reader learns the people and places he treasures. The grandeur of his language emphasises this connection to the great loves of his past, when he was “young / and the road never-ending”.

Bland’s poetry also explores other characters beyond the poet. Through these characters, his writing also experiments with a magical realism that is both haunting and striking. In ‘The portable pond’, a man carries around a remnant of his past—a pond near his childhood home—and is never quite able to get rid of it. This childhood love is what stops him from being able to truly start a new life. These stories are, in a way, alternate forms of expressing the poet’s preoccupation with memory. I most enjoyed these touches of fantasy as they allowed a distinctive outlook on a common theme.

However, there were only a few works of prose poetry such as ‘The portable pond’. I felt that these pieces were the strongest and found myself savouring them much more as they best-suited Bland’s style of storytelling. His works of prose poetry felt significantly smoother compared to the constant use of enjambment in his works of verse. I felt that this was jarring against the nostalgic atmosphere that Bland had so effectively set up at the beginning.

Due to this, sometimes I felt a lack of coherence in Expecting Miracles. Although I could identify main themes such as memory, the order that Bland’s poems followed on from each other was not strongly linked. The beginning worked well as it asked questions about remembering, about hoping for things that had come to pass, but I felt this theme got a bit lost in the middle; there were an array of memories from different standpoints with no concrete order.

However, the collection gained traction again with an ending that attempted to find a solution these questions. In this way, Expecting Miracles finds strength in its beginning and ending. At its end, it turns again both to magical realism and the real. It then delves back to even older memories and what to do when, in the end, all you have left is recollection.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Expecting Miracles
by Peter Bland
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9781927242902