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Archive for December, 2017

Daily Dawn

Book Review
Me – You: A Diary
by Dawn French (Penguin Random House $45)
Reviewed by Wendy Montrose

french_mediary_webcoverI have to confess to a possible bias here. I’m a fan. The Vicar of Dibley is one of my favourite TV shows and this is classic Geraldine Granger. It makes me think that who we saw in the series was the real Dawn French.

This book is the real Dawn French, it invites the reader into her life, to share the private moments. It’s more an interactive autobiography, than a diary with each month preceded by Dawn’s take on the season and anecdotes about her life and family. She talks about her marriages and her children, her parents and her childhood; she tells us how she was shaped into the person she is now, how she views ageing and how she is making peace with herself:

“I started like a lot of us, as a baby. A red-spotted lump of a baby, with scarlet fever, apparently. My two year old brother thought Mum had given birth to a giant screaming strawberry. It was a lengthy, complicated birth, Mum liked to remind me. She also wanted me to know that in those days of poor dental care, little info about calcium and no fluoride in the water, she donated her top teeth to my bro, and her bottom teeth to me.”

There is a smattering of photographs from her family album, and some clever illustrations by Chris Burke, a notable London cartoonist and caricaturist. There is room for the diarist to write in appointments or thoughts, and Dawn has included lists of ‘silliness’ like ‘Would be Valentines’ and ‘some thinking’ like ‘Good Questions to Ask and Answer’, and she provides places for the reader to join her. It’s a fun way to keep a diary.

Dawn is best known in New Zealand for TV shows French and Saunders and The Vicar of Dibley, but her career spans much more: numerous television, movie and theatre roles and, who knew she is also a novelist? Her first three novels, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, Oh Dear Sylvia and According to YES are all Sunday Times bestsellers.

As a northern hemisphere year, the seasons in this diary don’t match up with ours but the reader is likely to dip in and sample Dawn’s writings a morsel at a time so that won’t really matter. It is a delightful read. It’s like getting two for the price of one and as Dawn says, it’s a guilt free zone, you can’t get it wrong. And at the end of the year, you’ll feel as though you have found a new friend.

Take Flight

Book Review
Bird Words: New Zealand writers on birds
Edited by Elisabeth Easther (Vintage $35)
Reviewed by Wendy Montrose

bird_words_cover_webBirds excite a kind of joyful melancholy in us; from the humble sparrow to the lofty eagle we are in awe and envious at once of their gift of flight. They feature in myths and legends, on nation’s crests and money and we identify with them; we can be as proud as an eagle or wise as an owl. We mourn the loss of species and go to great lengths to save the ones we have left because without birds, we would be much poorer.

Bird Words takes the reader on a New Zealand journey on the wings of its birds both native and introduced. Starting with an extract from Witi Ihimaera’s Sky Dancer on the legendary origin of our birds, we travel through man’s arrival and exploitation of the pristine wilderness he stumbled upon at the bottom of the world to finally reaching the realisation of what he has and what the future would be like without them. The poems, short stories, articles and extracts from longer works, by 62 New Zealand writers from the past 150 years, almost mirror the journey we have made as a nation.

There is a wide selection of material from famous and lesser known writers, Sam Hunt rubs shoulders with 12-year-old Abby Mason, and from contemporary and historic writers, David Hill with Herbert Guthrie-Smith. Informative articles like Hal Smith’s exposition on the fight to save the black robin, alternate with fanciful ditties, Jon Gadsby’s Moa, reflective verse from the likes of Owen Marshall in his poem Refuge about where birds go in the wind, and thought provoking prose from past and present. You will discover which of our endangered birds were kept as pets, how naturalists discovered the Haast’s eagle, what made it easy for sparrows to spread throughout the country, why it’s dangerous to cycle in spring and which birds you will find on Tiritiri Matangi. You could dip in and sample each titbit but I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end.

A small book. Bird Words is beautifully presented with reproductions of Lily Daff’s illustrations, commissioned by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand in the 1920s, scattered throughout. And the front and back inside covers feature the collective nouns of birds; round of robins, muster of storks, scoop of pelicans. It adds a nice finish to a book any bird fancier would love to own.