What We're Reading

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Neil

From The Centre: A Writer's Life, by Patricia Grace (Penguin 2021)

Patricia Grace is one of NZ's preeminent writers. She has published 7 novels, 7 short story collections and a number of books for children, and won numerous awards since her first book in 1975. She was the first Māori woman to publish a story collection. Now, late in life (she is 84) she brings us a fascinating memoir, written in a chatty, intimate style. She discusses racism, family, writing and landscape, her formative experiences, her activism, what it is to live as a Māori through the 20th Century and into the 21st.

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Neil

Bourdain In Stories, by Laurie Woolever (Bloomsbury 2021)

The food writer, TV presenter and chef, Anthony Bourdain, took his own life in June 2018. He was 61. A long-time collaborator, Laurie Woolever, has interviewed 90-odd people who had worked with Bourdain in various capacities, his wives and his brother, to try to understand his life and what might have led to his choice to end his life. It's chronological, and has contributions of varying length from all the interviewees at various stages of his life.

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Slow Road to San Francisco: Across the USA from Ocean to Ocean, by David Reynolds (Muswell Press 2020)

David Reynolds drives across the USA on Highway 50, from Ocean City, Delaware to San Francisco, California. This is not a particularly likely route, as it passes through some isolated and unfashionable parts of the States, but it serves Reynolds purpose very well. He's driving back roads as John Steinbeck did in Travels With Charlie, and William Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways, better to meet with 'real Americans', and take the pulse of the nation by going to cafes and bars, and finding Trump supporters and haters.

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Neil

Taste: My Life Through Food, by Stanley Tucci (Fig Tree/Penguin 2021)

This charming, wry, and very funny book charts Stanley Tucci's life as a food lover and keen cook. It includes a number of delectable family recipes and hilarious anecdotes from his life as an actor, and concludes with his moving description of his experience and recovery from cancer of the tongue, which threatened his ability to appreciate food. He's a very good writer, self-effacing, sophisticated and insightful. A lovely, lovely book!

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Neil

These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury 2021)

This is a wide ranging collection of personal essays by one of America's leading novelists of the last 20 years. It's a delightfully warm and humorous collection, although it deals with some serious subjects, and it is at times almost unbearably moving. Patchett is a very astute observer of human behaviour and motivation, and a reflective thinker. I found this difficult to put down, it's quite brilliant.

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Neil

Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel (Picador 2014)

I came late to this magnificent novel, just as the TV adaptation was screening, and I found myself watching it and reading it simultaneously. I think this was probably a mistake, as they are quite different in detail, but not in mood and intent. It's set 20 years after a pandemic has devastated society, killing 99.9% of the population, and follows a group of survivors struggling to get by in an unrecognisable world. The most powerful sections are the flashbacks to the days and years after the pandemic, when it's really driven home just what the characters have gone through to survive.