Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ho ho hic

Here's our very own household Santa snapped last year delivering [escaping with?] some useful gifts. He's otherwise known as my husband Ian, and this is how we give our gifts on Xmas Day. Santa sits by the tree and gets wiggly Ned and giggly Grandmas and all the rest of the rellies and gathered friends on his red-clad Warehouse-issue knees, as he hands out whatever the tree elf passes to him [this is often Uncle David in an appropriate hat.]

The littlies love it, and so too do the giggly Grannies. For years my Dad did it and he's got the build and beard of a Santa, but a lean Santa with cotton-wool beard and checked boxers over the Santa pants seems to do the trick, too.

Let's hope Santa brings me a lovely book or two - Auster's Invisible would be nice, and so would Damien Wilkins' Somebody Loves Us All. It's been a great year for books for me. I keep a note of the best ones I've read - for review and for pleasure  - down the side column of this blog with links to posts I've written on this blog or reviews done. But I see I've left a few of the heavy-hitters off, and will have to update it in the New Year. Meanwhile, below is an edited and updated list which becomes a kind of 'best of' list of books published this year. Almost all are what I consider four or five star books, with five stars being the best. Some are books I loved just because they hit the right spot [using the 'search' box above left will help you find posts on some of these.]

I know there are some marvellous books that should be on a 'best of' list that I haven't got to yet, and I hope to read them in the hammock over the holidays - Elizabeth Knox's Angel's Cut and Alison Wong's As the Earth turns Silver are two of those.

First, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all who regularly visit my blog and others who just pop by now and then. And a big thank you to those visitors who also write their own blogs which give me so much to think about and enjoy. My side column has links to those as well. Meanwhile, I will try and blog over the holidays from our rural idyll to the north, and I will be fully back on deck around mid January.

O Audacious Book Best Books 2009 
[in no particular order - and all novels unless otherwise stated]
Singularity by Charlotte Grimshaw [short fiction -Random NZ], The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels [Bloomsbury], The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan, The 10 PM Question by Kate de Goldi [Longacre], The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton [VUP], The First Touch of Light by Ruth Pettis [Penguin], Corvus, A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson [Granta], Mirabile Dictu by Michele Leggott [poetry - AUP], Novel about My Wife by Emily Perkins [Bloomsbury], Ithaca Island Bay Leaves - a mythistorima by Vana Manasiadis [poetry - Seraph],  Beside the Dark Pool by Fiona Kidman [memoir - Vintage], Further Convictions Pending: Poems 1999-2008 by Vincent O'Sullivan [poetry - VUP], The Blind Singer by Chris Price [poetry - AUP], JAAM 27 - Wanderings ed. by Ingrid Horrocks [JAAM], Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, Etymology by Bryan Walpert [poetry], The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands [memoir - Granta], Magpie Hall by Rachael King [Vintage], Misconduct by Bridget van der Zijpp [VUP], A House on Fire by Tim Upperton [poetry], Too much Happiness by Alice Munro [short fiction - Knopf], Glory by Fifi Colston [children - Scholastic].

A Late Entry read after Xmas - Somebody Loves Us All by Damien Wilkins [VUP]

Postscript. And before I go, I have rather belatedly discovered the astonishing blogging of Jolisa Gracewood - the award-winning reviewer who blew the whistle on the plagiarism in Ihimaera's Trowenna Sea. Her detailed run-down on what's happened with this book is mind-blowing for the sheer scale of its coverage. Check out the previous post, too. Definitely worth a read if you've been following the Trowenna Sea story. Meanwhile, here's hoping Witi gets some time out over Christmas. Peace and Good Will and all that.

Slime balls and fire balls, it's Under the Mountain

Like the director's sister, my daughter tried out for the part of Rachel (the film not the TV series), but was too young and didn't have red hair. It was too late, she was already smitten by the Maurice Gee book, the upcoming movie and the passion of the director, Jonathon King, whom we heard speak at Te Papa. She's been waiting to see Under the Mountain the movie ever since and the two of us went along tonight and really enjoyed ourselves.

The script is smart and funny, the red-headed twins [apologies for not knowing their names] are fantastic together, their cousin and his girlfriend are nice comic relief, Sam Neill does a good turn as a fading fire-maker, the setting [Auckland] is pretty damn cool with the water and the volcanoes... and there is a nice contemporary feel to the movie from the million dollar plus seaside concrete home to Rach reading Elizabeth Knox's The Dreamhunter to the cuz having a poster of The Flight of the Conchords on his wall....

I had some quibbles with the slimy aliens - it felt abit late 70s/early 80s to me. I know Gee wrote them like that, but getting these slimeballs onto the screen three decades on could have led to a facelift [perhaps a digital one? deal to all that dripping? but then again the die-hard fans might have objected.] And I also felt there needed to be a bit more happening than there was - more glimpses of the baddies, more bad guesses, more creeped out kids, more chasing..... Issy, on the other hand, had no quibbles. Oh and we both love that scene when Rachel turns into a great ball of fire and unites with her flaming bro.

If you didn't follow the link above.... Jonathon King's sister is award-winning writer Rachael King who writes on her blog about her love for Under the Mountain, and her brother's success with the movie. And it is a success, I reckon - a great Christmas/New Year/Holiday movie to take the whole family to.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Body Thinking - the real sixth sense

Many - most? - all? - writing tutors will talk about using all five senses to write, because it's in the particulars of sensory experience, which is actually the only way that we can encounter the world, that we persuade readers that everything else we've invented is authentic too. So, next time you're imagining a scene, don't just think of the smell of the Gauloises or the taste of the coconut milk, the rattan of the café chair under your thighs, let alone the colour of the doves wheeling around the belfry or the feathery rattle of their wings. Here comes the lover, or the enemy: how does your body feel the move forwards, the spring up, the knees straightening and the ground newly hard under your feet as you stand, with your hand still pressed onto the table, to steady your heart.
More on the need to include 'body thinking' or proprioception in sensory writing on Emma Darwin's blog This Itch of Writing. My daughter is a dancer and she's just been accepted into a select dance crew following an audition on Saturday [she's only 13, but this crew rehearses after school]. I am fascinated by the way her body so effortlessly embraces and remembers movement, and yet she has trouble remembering mathematical facts or even what month it is.

Friday, December 18, 2009


There are days when a bus full of people heading off the motorway down a ridiculous ramp - too narrow, surely, too slight - on its way to the crush of the city, fills me with joy. Joy for the jostle of people, the collective optimism that where they're going they will get to, the precarious nature of living and yet how boldly we cling, the way the bus seems, briefly, to take wing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story

I'm back from Paradise - turquoise sea glimpsed through skinny manuka and beech trees, golden beaches, ineffable bush tracks, waterfalls, fantails around my tent ... no internet, no cell, no TV, no alcohol, no showers ... swimming in the sea as the sunrises, dancing on the sand in the evening, kayaking in the open water, marvelling at the courage and curiosity of children and the strength and patience of the best sort of adult  ... and I've discovered the rest of the world has moved a little closer to Christmas....

Now there are presents to buy, menus to plan ...  and books to review... It's a bit of a ramble but nonetheless here's the link to a review I did today on radio about this lovely book - Paul Auster's Auggie Wren's Christmas Story. Auster, with his writer characters and his stories inside stories, always ties me up in knots when I have to explain them, and this book was trickier than usual, despite being a slight 41 pages long. This is because it has had two previous incarnations: as a short story in the NY Times on Xmas Day in 1990, and as part of the marvellous movie Smoke which director Wayne Wang and Paul Auster collaborated on. It's one of my favourite movies - I blogged on it here. In fact, this story has also been published in book form once before, but this new edition is illustrated with verve by Argentinian illustrator Isol and is charmingly produced.

As I said in the review, this is an unsentimental Christmas story about truth and lies, giving and taking, trust and goodness. It's also about taking the time to see ... and to be. A lovely gift - the sort you'd get out each Christmas and read and be renewed by. But then again, I was a fan before I'd even opened it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Paper Cuts

Watch this. Paper Animation of Maurice Gee's Going West made by the NZ Book Council to encourage books and reading. Viewed more than 330,000 times on youtube. More on the Scoop Review of Books. The animation was by Andersen M Studio in London: animator - Line Andersen, photography & lighting - Martin Andersen.

This will have to keep my blog regulars going for a week as I'm off on my daughter's school camp until next Friday. No internet, no cell phones, no laptop. Just my tramping boots and a book and fifty 12 and 13 year olds for entertainment. - still deciding which book to take. Something light, I think.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ithaca Island Bay Leaves

This intricate, clever, warm , irreverent book of poems was launched last night in Wellington. Vana flew in from Crete for it.

As author and our shared MA tutor, Damien Wilkins, said upon launching: Vana wonderfully conflates the ordinary with the heroic and mythical [he said it better than that]. You find people called Nestor and Hector out and about in Beramphore or Greymouth, and the story - for it is a story - stretches back over the oceans and through the history of the Manasiadis family.

It's about the stuff of being Greek back then and now, over there and over here, and all at once... The gorgeous cover by Marian Maguire is about that too. Being part Greek, this collection has always excited me - back in 2005 when it was Vana's thesis for the MA, and now it's been polished up for publication.

It was a wonderful launch last night by Seraph Press in amongst Maguire's works in the Adam Gallery at Victoria University. Good independent bookstores will stock it I'm sure [they should].
Kali tihi, Vana!

Postscript:: Vana's publisher Helen Rickerby says if a bookshop doesn't have Ithaca Island Bay Leaves they can order it in, or email her direct for a copy: