What We're Reading

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Neil

Mana Whakatipu, by Mark Solomon (Massey August 2021)

Mark Solomon was head of his iwi, Ngāi Tahu, for 18 years through their Treaty settlement that has made them a major economic player. His boldness, energy and common sense have allowed him to guide and be guided through a critical period in Aotearoa's cultural history. It reads very directly, as though he's speaking aloud, and it's made up of 30-odd short pieces on different aspects of his life, influences and experiences. It's a very inspirational book from a man who came from humble beginnings to become a major leader of one of the largest and wealthiest iwi in New Zealand.

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Neil

Love and War in the Apennines, by Eric Newby (HarperPress 2010, first published 1971)

One of Eric Newby's classic works, this tells the story of his experiences in an Italian prison camp in 1943, and his escape and evasion of the advancing German army. He was sheltered by an informal network of Italian peasants in the Apennines, and the book is a tribute to those idiosyncratic characters whose courage allowed him to evade capture. During this time he meets and falls in love with Wanda, who would later become his wife. It's an evocative book, beautifully written, and provides an insight into a way of life little known by the outside world. A deserved classic.

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Neil

Cruising Paradise, by Sam Shepard (Vintage 1997)

A mosaic of short stories, dialogues and fictional diary entries, set mostly in New Mexico, and characterised by their sensual muscularity reminiscent of Hemingway. His characters are mostly lost, searching for redemption but failing to find it, searching for a fictional American Dream. It's a sad but powerful read, the stories are mostly just a few pages, but carry a real sense of place and character.

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Neil

New Mexico, by Sam Shepard, photos by Ed Ruscha (Lawless Media 2020)

This limited edition book brings together a selection of writing related to New Mexico by the late Sam Shepard, drawn from various novels, short stories and memoir; and atmospheric photos of gas stations in New Mexico taken in the early 1960s. It's a fitting tribute to the restless Shepard, who lived in Santa Fe in the 1980s and from 2010-15. The writing is powerful, searching and masculine, and has sent me on a quest to acquire the books excerpted here, and the photographs add a nostalgic sense of place.

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Neil

I Am An Island, by Tamsin Calidas (Doubleday 2020)

In this somewhat contentious book, the author and her husband move from high flying jobs in London to a remote, unnamed island in the Scottish Hebrides, buy a croft, and attempt to live an idyllic life. Nothing goes to plan, her marriage breaks down, she fails to make connections with the hostile locals, but is eventually redeemed through ocean swimming and nature. It wasn't well received in Scotland, where the island concerned was quickly identified, and the actions of the locals she described in the book were denied, and there was a minor controversy.

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Neil

A Small Place in Italy, by Eric Newby (HarperCollins 1994)

This is a kind of sequel to his earlier account of his war time experience in Italy: Love and War in the Apennines. After the war, he and Wanda, now his wife, buy a small ruined farmhouse in the Apuan Alps on the border of Tuscany and Liguria. This book chronicles the next 25 years of sporadic visits to this very isolated house, it and the farm's restoration, and their relationship with the charming and eccentric locals.