What We're Reading

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Neil

Towards Compostela: Walking the Camino de Santiago, by Catharina Bohemen (The Cuba Press 2020)

This brilliant book has been a long time in the gestation. Van Bohemen walked the 850 kilometre pilgrimage trail across northern Spain in 1998, and kept a journal which forms the core of this evocative and powerful book. Gregory O'Brien's illustrations add atmosphere to a book which is about many things. At its heart is the walk with its blisters, bad weather, aggressive dogs, but also charming companions along the way, all described beautifully.

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Neil

Bug Week & Other Stories, by Airini Beautrais (VUP 2020)

This brief book of 13 stories in 180 pages carries a weight and power far out of proportion with its physical scale, and unusually for a short story collection, won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction in 2021, beating off a short list of novels. It immediately reprinted a number of times, and has been a significant seller, a triumph for a previously undiscovered book. It's by turns eccentric and surreal, discomforting, disturbing, moving and always superbly, economically written. Airini Beautrais has previously published 4 poetry collections, and writes prose with a poets eye.

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Neil

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney (Faber September 2021)

Sally Rooney's success is widely known. Her 2 previous novels, Conversations With Friends, and Normal People (made into a hugely successful TV adaptation) have been huge sellers, critically acclaimed, and read by a very wide range of now devoted fans. It's been quite a wait for this 3rd novel, and anticipation and expectation is high. Can she do it again? Yes she can! BWWAY, is a stunningly brilliant account of 4 friends , their lives, hopes and dreams, inner worlds and desires and beliefs. It's seemingly effortlessly profound and resonant with terrific and flawed characters.

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Neil

Imagining Decolonisation, by Bianca Elkington et al (BWB Texts, 2020)

This little book carries resonance far greater than its modest size, which is apparent by its steady sales over a long period. It's very timely given the subject matter, and will be a key book for all NZers who are concerned and interested in where we are going and the future of race relations, Treaty of Waiting issues, inequality etc etc. There are 5 essays defining and explaining decolonisation - what it is, whit it might look like, the role of Pākehā, etc. It's an introductory text to an issue that demands more reading, and action. A vital book.

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Neil

The Commercial Hotel, by John Summers (VUP, 2021)

This is a charming collection of essays and reportage by a writer of great sensitivity and insight. He covers a wide range of subjects in some quite short and some more extended essays, all very readable and thought provoking. He is able to take familiar aspects of NZ life, be it Arcoroc mugs, Norman Kirk, an Elvis impersonator, and make the reader see them through fresh eyes. Set largely in small town Wairarapa and around Wellington, it's not at all constrained by the local setting, but has terrific general appeal.

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Neil

Where We Swim, by Ingrid Horrocks (VUP 2021)

Books about swimming are very fashionable in recent times, so this book is entering a quite crowded field. Ingrid Horrocks does use this watery memoir to highlight other issues of concern to her - environmental and ecological issues are prominent, but she writes movingly about family life, travel and adventure and our collective responsibilities in these areas. She is a fine and evocative writer, and this book covers a lot of ground in a compelling, episodic narrative.