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Archive for January, 2016

Blue Prints

Thing Explainer: complicated stuff in simple words
by Randall Munroe (John Murray, 2015)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Thing_ExplainerRandall Munroe gave us the curiously named web comic xkcd and the bestseller What If? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions, which explains laws of science with cartoons. Now he offers a nice list of “the ten hundred words people use the most” and uses them to describe lots of interesting things – but what people are these, who use these words the most? Not my locals or whānau, methinks.

Included are: gun, horse, church, cigarette, beer, officer, soldier, village, yard, apartment, sex, love, shoot, god – and lady but no gentleman. And the other 985 words the author’s “people” use most. But in Thing Explainer – which explains things, even though I’m not sure what some of the things actually are because he doesn’t tell me in language I understand – the author left off four-letter words that are very common, because “some people don’t like to see them” and he “didn’t want to use those words anyway”.

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Written from Memory

Creeks and Kitchens: A childhood memoir
by Maurice Gee (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Gee_CoverOur family always went camping for Christmas, because my father was a teacher and we escaped the city for the entire summer holidays. There was always a creek to set the red Christmas jelly in a billy held firm by stones and boulders; my dam-buiding skills were put to festive use. Our creeks usually had willows to camp under and the shade aided seeing the ‘bullies in the creek and helping them move house into empy Wattie’s fruit salad tins. I never did see a naked man washing himself in a pool, as did Maurice Gee, but I did see a young couple standing in the water kissing and felt very strange and dizzy – I think their standing in “my” creek felt like a violation, along with something I, aged seven, didn’t understand.

My mother’s kitchen was tiny, and not very welcoming. With two doors in a tiny room that was a throughway between the wash-house/loo and living area, there was no chair or table, just a little stool she sat on by the open door of the oven early winter mornings with her first cup of tea. Gee and I share the view of our mothers as the essential touchstones of our departures and returns, but his kitchen sounds more like the hub of the house, with its “black stove and drying rack, its brown lino, its worn mat and wooden table, the Philco radio on the mantelpiece.”

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