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Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature
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Ōtepoti He Puna Auaha, Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature

Debbie Lancaster-Gordon —

Reviews of select reads of the season from our City of Literature collection

Winter Time Laurence Fearnley

Set in the Mackenzie Basin, this vivid novel is about familial love, friendship and how our lives touch, connect and impact upon one another. This is a great read, hard to put down and a book I will be recommending to many.

Returning to the Mackenzie Country to deal with the unexpected death of his brother, Roland has many things on his mind. Dealing with a cantankerous neighbour, the lack of support of his partner back in Australia and the discovery that someone is impersonating him online, stirring up the locals against him, provide the scenario for home truths.

Set in winter the weather is hostile, rendering roads impassable and his old home is freezing, the fire offering little warmth from outside. Lack of warmth has been a theme of Roland’s life and cocooned in a snow-muffled landscape, he can confront who he is and who his friends are.

A real treat and highly recommended.

Shooting Folly as it Flies, The Life and Lines of New Zealand’s First Political Cartoonist James Brown Ian Dougherty

It is always fun to stumble across a book that informs about someone or something you knew nothing about. James Brown, 19th century Dunedin engraver, artist and cartoonist was one of the earliest settlers to Dunedin’s shores. Travelling from London on the migrant ship Larkins in 1849, James and his wife Ann arrived at Port Chalmers after 96 days at sea. They were among the first wave of European settlers who emigrated to Otago under a scheme to establish an exclusive Free Church of Scotland settlement in association with the colonising New Zealand Company.

With a lot of material and stories provided by descendants of James and Ann Brown, the writer engagingly provides a snapshot of how life was for the family. Many of the artworks, engravings, cartoons and photographs displayed throughout the book are held by Hocken Collections and they make fascinating viewing. The early cartoons in particular show that political cartooning is nothing new and it is fun trying to interpret the settler politics in Dunedin that inspired them at the time!

Martin Thompson Henry Feltham, Stuart Shepherd and Robyn Maree Pickens

This gorgeous little book containing a selection of Martin Thompson’s extraordinary art is a wonderful tribute to a highly revered Dunedin artist who passed away in 2021. Martin’s art, popular with New Zealand collectors, became more desirable when in 2005 he was included in a five-artist exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) in New York. Thompson remains the only New Zealander to be collected by this prestigious institution.

With insights from three writers who explain how the works are produced, the driven determination and absolute preciseness that is required to produce something visually beautiful yet mathematical is compelling. Highly recommended!

Surprised by Hope John Gibb

This is the third book of poetry by Dunedin writer John Gibb, who recently retired after more than thirty years as a science and university reporter at the Otago Daily Times.

The poems throughout this book are refreshing and different in style to a lot of other poems I have read. Very observational with questions about how, why, where or when, they are immensely thought-provoking.

‘Wind Fluttered’

Wind fluttered round the house, before midnight.
The launch of his first book had changed his life.
He’d stepped through a life-transforming
doorway: nothing would be the same, but
the weather remained uneasy. Naggingly high
winds seemed to doubt his literary virtues.
And most of the world carried on, exactly as if
his overwhelmingly big moment had never arrived.

Sheep Truck Peter Olds

Sheep Truck is a collection of 29 new poems by veteran Dunedin poet Peter Olds. Recently honoured with a plaque in the Dunedin Writers Walk, fans will not be disappointed. Always peppered with humour, Peter Olds’ writing has been important to poets and other readers of New Zealand poetry since the 1970s, bringing to the centre of attention the unidentified, unclaimed, the marginal, the dispossessed, the trespasser, but also the exuberant, the childish, the lively and the conversational.

Sheep Truck is full of wonderful observations (aging, not wanting to get out of bed, and pondering the world and his life in it). Regular visitors to the library will be delighted by ‘Spotting Bukowski’

Now … the library security
walks slow like John Wayne
has a face like
Charles Bukowski
is dressed in black
like Johnny Cash
but mostly looks like
Charles Bukowski ….

Highly recommended!

The Bookseller at the end of the World Ruth Shaw

Ruth Shaw runs two tiny bookshops in Manapouri and this rich memoir weaves together stories of the characters who visit her bookshops, musings about favourite books and stories from Ruth’s full life.

Ruth Shaw’s history is crammed with incredible adventure, and at times, like others, she has dealt with devastating tragedy. “There have been pirates, and prostitutes, and protests, and pig farming; gold mining, gambling, and grief.” This honest, and ultimately redemptive autobiography will engage readers from the first page. Her trials and tribulations are all laid bare in an elegant, easy-to-read well designed hardcover book which is bursting full of lifelong adventure.

An honest portrait of a life that does not make excuses or apportion blame, but rather chronicles events, people and places bringing an extremely interesting personal journey to our attention. It is not hard to see why her bookshops are so popular with visitors, and how by dropping in you would receive a friendly welcome (perhaps even a hot drink) and almost certainly some wonderful book recommendations.