Hot summer books
Hera Lindsay Bird
My favourite New Zealand poetry collection this year is Gregory Kan's incredible debut This Paper Boat, published by AUP. This collection is part personal poetry, part family history and part séance of the ghost of Robin Hyde.
The different voices are fluid and unnamed and you're not always sure who's speaking, but it's a staggeringly beautiful book about memory, ghosts and forgiveness.
I'm also loving Four Reincarnations which is a book of poems by a young American poet called Max Ritvo published by Milkweed Press. Ritvo died of cancer shortly after the publication of this book, and this collection chronicles his experiences of having a terminal illness, but this is no tender-hearted Fault in Our Stars' poetic blockbuster. This is gruelling and intelligent and supernaturally beautiful, closer to John Berryman than anyone I've read since.
My third pick for the summer is the hilarious Bukowski in a Sundress which is a collection of essays, or memoir with a short attention span, by American poet Kim Addonizio. I love the personal essay, but I'm occasionally fatigued by all that depth, nuance and pathos, and I just want someone who's not afraid to litter the highway with dick jokes. The pieces in this collection chronicle her sex life, drinking habits, writing tragedies and relationships with her 20-something daughter and ailing mother. It's disarming and original and wild and I haven't read anything like it in a long time. Too long.
Behind Her Eyes, by my friend Sarah Pinborough, is a classic example where you don't want to say too much about it for fear of giving something away. You're all going to be hearing about it the same way we all heard about Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. It's about a woman who starts having an affair with a married man, but at the same time becomes best friends with that same married man's wife. It's tense, it's creepy, and as its twitter hashtag says, #WTFThatEnding.
City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, the third in his Passage trilogy, is amazing. If you haven't read the others, then you should – these are, without a doubt, the best books I've ever read – and City of Mirrors doesn't disappoint. It's so incredibly beautiful, the writing flawless, and it wraps up the trilogy in the perfect way. What is the book about? Well, it's about Vampires. Kind of. In an epic, wonderful way.
I'm currently reading Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born To Run. I'm a huge Springsteen fan – some of my books have been written with him blasting from my stereo annoying my cats and my neighbours, and one of the coolest experiences I've ever had was seeing him live in concert in Dublin. His writing is beautiful, it's lyrical, you are right there with him growing up in Jersey, you're with him during his highs and lows, you're with him when he's creating music. Whether you're a fan of his music or not, this is an incredible book.
The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carre. Le Carre's reminiscences are very flavourful. The vignettes here range from his early years as a junior spook in Cold War West Germany, to his later career as the bestselling author of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, The Constant Gardener et al. They include drily hilarious accounts of hobnobbing with Yassar Arafat and a memorably awful lunch with Margaret Thatcher, as well as his various brushes with Hollywood, including an early stint babysitting Richard Burton. Le Carre is such good company that you forgive him for never really lifting the lid on his intelligence work, or indeed telling the reader any more about himself than he wants you to know.
My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Deceptively simple writing that packs a devastating punch. This story, narrated by the titular Lucy, is all the more affecting for being so quietly told. Lucy goes to hospital - she has an infection doctors cannot diagnose. Three weeks into her hospital stay, her mother turns up at the foot of her bed. She and Lucy have not seen each other for many years. She tells her stories of the tiny town where Lucy grew up, in desperate poverty in the American midwest. Six months since I read it, sentences from this novel still echo in my head.
Labour spokesperson for Maori Development and Corrections
I'm a John Grisham fan, and more so after what I've come to learn about our justice and corrections system. I picked up The Innocent Man thinking it was a work of fiction and almost put it down as the police and prosecution lawyers, the trial judge and witnesses were just too corrupt, implausible or incompetent. Then I realised it was a real-life case about a man falsely accused of murder, who spent years on death row coming within days of execution.
Tautoro: Te Pito o Toku Ao by Hone Sadler is a book for any Ngapuhi people keen to learn our history, whakapapa and karakia. It is written in Maori and English and provides a wealth of Ngapuhi centric knowledge and information. It is quite a heavy read and requires a number of readings to absorb. For a busy person during the year, the summer break is really the only opportunity available to spend the time required to take it in.