Scoop Review of Books

Archive for September, 2014

No Longer an Island

Zealandia: Our Continent Revealed
by Nick Mortimer and Hamish Campbell (Penguin, $60)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

Z cover-001Looking back over my geological career, I realise how lucky I was to be a working scientist during the later part of the twentieth century when ideas on the nature of the Earth underwent a revolution. When I was a student in the early 1960s, the idea of continental drift was regarded by many people as laughable. Twenty years later the concept of plate tectonics was widely accepted, and it started to be appreciated that the older rocks in New Zealand were a fragment of the ancient Gondwana continent. This book is an excellent account of how New Zealand is part of  the largely submerged continent of Zealandia, now the world’s seventh continent, extending from New Caledonia in the north to Campbell Island in the south.

In reviewing this book, I should note at the outset that I know the authors, which is hardly surprising in the small geoscience community in this country. Indeed, as both of them have played a leading role in developing ideas on the nature of continental New Zealand, it would be difficult to find a reviewer who did not know them, and many of the other scientists who feature in this volume.

Zealandia and the other six continents.

Zealandia and the other six continents.

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‘A Little of What You Fancy’

The Colour of Food: a memoir of life, love & dinner
by Anne Else (Awa, $35)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

The Colour of Food_Print_V14.inddThis celebratory feast of birth, death, food and life is much more than the descriptors – it’s a beautifully balanced multi-course meal, with ingredients sourced from the acreage of Anne’s life and spiced with her ready wit. Seriously good writing is Anne’s staple, with well-blended handfuls of humour, social commentary and a couple of dozen recipes included.

Although I chortled at her childhhood memories of “hectic yellow custard” and cookery classes where she “carried home a procession of sad little enamel pie dishes”, I can’t relate to Anne’s success with schoolgirl French but still use Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Honest enough to admit that, long ago, she “revered French food not because it was good but because it was French”, Anne leads us through the development of her culinary skills and appreciation of good food against a backdrop of serious social and political issues.

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Gains and Losses

by Laurence Fearnley (Penguin, $38)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Reach_CoverRisk management, hazards, opportunities created by risk-taking – in my professional life I’m familiar with these terms. But I wouldn’t have thought Fearnley’s latest novel explored “risk-taking and the ways in which creativity, struggle and danger enrich people’s lives”, as the Penguin blurb would have it. The risks Fearnley’s characters take are typical of the world’s characters everywhere, both fictional and real. And there’s no such thing in life as zero risk.
I found Reach slow to engage with at first, but as with a new acquaintance, the rewards came with patience, in the manner of main character Quinn’s inked etching plates being exposed. The underwater theme running through the story is also a good analogy for this novel; sometimes it’s hard to see where you’re heading and what you’ll find, and need to struggle your way out of seaweed tendrils to see the light shining on something, previously hidden, right in front of you.

The three main characters are appropriately flawed human beings, who both aggravate and engage the reader with their behaviours and beliefs. Artist Quinn is an unusual woman by any measure; Marcus is more sympatico with animals than with people; Callum, who prefers the underwater world, is the wild card interacting with them both as he comes and goes from their lives.

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Don’t Eat the Fish

The Catch: How fishing companies reinvented slavery and plunder the oceans
by Michael Field (Awa Press, $40)
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch

The_CatchYou know those lists! The ubiquitous click-bait “listicles” like “5 Foods To Help You Live Longer”, or “10 Things You Should Eat Every Week”. Well, here’s another one: “2 Items All Food Listicles Must Have”:
1. How many slaves were involved in producing that food? (If the answer is anything above “0”, don’t eat it.)
2. How many threatened species were driven that much closer to extinction in the harvesting or production of that food? (If the answer is anything above “0”, don’t eat it.) I could go on: 3. How much did the getting that food to your mouth contribute to climate change? 4. How much pollution did it cause?

True, there won’t be all that much left to eat using this kind of decision tree, but as Michael Field makes clear in his disturbing new book, The Catch: How Fishing Companies Reinvented Slavery and Plunder the Oceans, we the great mass of consumers very much need to be asking these questions. We need to ask them privately, of ourselves, and publicly of policy makers and legislators and food companies and stores and our fellow humans. Then, we need to act on them.

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Of Leopards and Mums

Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard
by Steve Cole, illustrated by Bruce Ingman (Random House)
My Mummy is Magic
by Dawn Richards, illustrated by Jane Massey (Random House)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Go_To_SleepChildren are renowned for “trying it on” with babysitters, and in Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard, Ellie and Joe do just that. During their testing time they fight mattress monsters, wrestle with wild wardrobes and get caught in carpet whirlpools – the word games are as much fun as the illustrations. But threats of sending them to the moon in a spaceship, getting a robot to zap them with a sleep ray, and putting a naughty-child-nibbling plant in their room faze Ellie and Joe not a jot. But they’ve never had a babysitter who wanted to let loose a leopard. And after that threat, there are a few pages of extremely entertaining surprises for both adults and children.

Steve Cole writes for children ranging from pre-schoolers through to young adults, his previous books including two chapter-book series called Cows in Action and Slime Squad. Children aged 3-6 will enjoy Cole’s Go to Sleep, which is humorously enhanced by artist-writer Bruce Ingham’s zany take on the illustrations. Babysitting will never be the same again. Read more »

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