Scoop Review of Books

Archive for January, 2010

People’s Historian Dies

The great historian Howard Zinn has died.

The author of A People’s History of the United States inspired historians around the world to look at history through the eyes of the down-trodden and not to be afraid to take a stand. In his book You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train he wrote: “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

Over the next days, weeks and months screeds of obituaries and tributes will be written for Zinn – so here’s a taste of things to come.

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Searching the Bookshelves

Laura Kroetsch picks out the best books to read in preparation for the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week in March

One of the odd preoccupations of my life has been an overwhelming desire to have those around me read what I’m reading. So, it is no surprise that I’ve found my way to managing New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week, a splendid exercise in allowing one group of readers to select a bunch of books and their writers for another group of readers. For 2010 I think we’ve done a bang-up job, and as I read and re-read my way through the list, I smile, and then worry that our readers will miss something. So by way of preventing any near misses, here are some of my thoughts on what you might like to read to get ready.

Writers and Readers, like any good bookshelf, is a place to find familiar voices as well as some that are new and unexpected. A perhaps familiar voice is that of American novelist Susanna Moore. For those who don’t know her, I suggest you start with her first novel, the hauntingly beautiful My Old Sweetheart, a story about a little girl who loves her mother – a woman slowly succumbing to madness among the night jasmine on the island of Hawaii. Moore’s is a voice so filled with wisdom you ache for her characters and lament the landscape of her forgotten world. Once smitten, go on to Sleeping Beauties.

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Murder, Taxidermy and Tattoos

Magpie Hall by Rachael King
Vintage, $35. Reviewed by KERRY TANKARD

I went to the Wellington book launch of Magpie Hall, and wasn’t disappointed; many friendly, talented people contributed to make it an awesome evening for Rachael, including the Brunette Mafia, her writing friends from VUW’s Institute of Modern Letters writing programme. Bill Manhire, the head of the programme, was present, along with a scattering of the Wellington litterati.

So, on to the book; a second novel often comes with a lot of baggage from the first one, especially in terms of readers expectations. This novel is no exception, and I expect, from the smattering of reviews in New Zealand that I’ve read, I’m not the only reviewer to have found the gothic novel form as appealing as the contemporary family narrative woven into this historical mystery.

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East Meets West (Coast)

Golden Prospects: Chinese on the West Coast of New Zealand by Julia Bradshaw
Shantytown (West Coast Historical & Mechanical Society Inc.), 294 pp. $55. Reviewed by SIMON NATHAN

A large number of Chinese men emigrated to New Zealand during the gold rushes to Otago and the West Coast in the 1860s. Most came seeking to make money and return to their families in China. Some were successful, but many died unmarried, without descendants. Julia Bradshaw has undertaken a long-overdue project in researching the story of the Chinese on the West Coast. It was not an easy task as there are few people of Chinese descent living on the West Coast today. Their story has been largely overlooked. For example, in the article on the Chinese in New Zealand in Te Ara, the West Coast gets only a passing mention.

Most of the Chinese came from a small area in the Guandong Province. Life was difficult there in the 1860s, and young, single men were often chosen by their families to travel overseas and send money home. They were generally unwelcome on the goldfields, and often the subject of prejudice and ridicule. But the suspicion was not entirely one-sided. The Chinese made little attempt to fit in with local communities as they did not plan to stay any longer than necessary.

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Memorial Service for J C Sturm


Just before New Year’s, the Kapiti Coast lost one of the most respected and loved members of the Paekakariki community: Jacquie Baxter, also known as recognised poet and short story writer JC Sturm.

This coming Friday 22 January at 2pm all are invited to a community memorial service and celebration of Jacquie Baxter’s life and writing at the Memorial Hall on The Parade, Paekakariki.

The service will include performances and readings from celebrated local poets and musicians including Glen Colquhoun, Hinemoana Baker, Apirana Taylor and Michael O’Leary. Attendees are asked to bring a flower towards the farewell, and a plate of food towards afternoon tea.

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