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Read your way into 2017
It is not too late to make reading resolutions for the new year, and to give the gift of reading resolutions to others, too. We can help. 
Would you like to recommend and discuss the books you have enjoyed? We have had requests for a book review forum, and are pleased to launch MY VOLUME, an on-line book group where you can tell others about the books you have enjoyed, and discuss the books you have read in common. This site belongs to our customer community, so the more enthusiasm you contribute to it, the better it will be!  Sign up now (and invite your friends!).  

Starting in February we will be running two after-school book groups, one for 9-to-12-year-olds, and one for 13+. Let us know now if you are interested!
(Don't worry! We are planning to start book groups for younger children and adults later in the year.)


Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin has a great premise. It’s Germany, 1956, and Hitler has won the war. Yael, an eighteen-year-old woman, is part of the Resistance and she has a mission – a dangerous one – she is charged with assassinating Hitler. As a child, Yael was in a camp and experimented on – the experiment, which was successful, has given her a gift that can be used against her enemies. In 1956 a famous motorcycle race, for the crème de la crème of youths, crosses Hitler’s Europe. After years of training, Yael is ready to join this often-dangerous race, where allegiances are necessary to survive and to win is difficult. But win Yael must so she can get to the Victors’ Ball.  This novel draws you in slowly and then grips you with its teeth and doesn’t let up until the end. While sometimes you have to suspend belief, on the whole this is a fast-paced, suspenseful novel with plenty of grit and a brave, admirable female protagonist. Follow this with the sequel, Blood for Blood.

 Last year I read Mislaid by Nell Zink, the story of Peggy who assumes a new identity for herself and her daughter after her very unsuitable marriage breaks apart. Moving to an abandoned hut on the fringe of a small community Peggy, now Meg, plays out her new role in life without a misfire until it all implodes. Mislaid explored what makes a family, what constitutes a relationship and what is real and what is pretentious. Zink’s writing, with its overtones and undertones (plenty of sly digs at cultural norms and hilarious metaphors about relationships), was appealing, fresh and surprising. I’ve just read her latest novel, Nicotine. Again, here, she explores family and relationships in her own surprising way putting her characters through the paces, not letting up on them and playing with society’s concepts of capitalism, pragmatism and ‘spirituality’. Enter Penny, the unemployed business school graduate, daughter of Norm, the Jewish shaman who is famous for his healing clinics and extreme spiritualism, and Amalia, a Kogi, the young second wife rescued from the poverty of South America, who has become a very successful corporate banker. With parents like this, you know from the beginning that Penny carries some baggage. When her aged father dies, Penny is distraught and is left with more questions than answers about her family. Needing distraction, her family decide that she needs something to do and send her to rescue her grandparents’ long-abandoned home in a dodgy suburb of New Jersey. So, we enter Nicotine, the home of squatter activists whose common cause is the right to smoke. Penny is intrigued by the squatters and attracted to Rob, the very good-looking bicycle mechanic. Rather than throw them out of the house, she finds herself part of their group, developing relationships with all the home dwellers that will change not only her life, but theirs too. Penny, despite her seeming uselessness, becomes the catalyst for change for all, with many hilarious machinations and sly digs at social conformity on all sides along the way. Zink is a ‘naughty’ writer – toying with her reader and her characters, constantly making fun of both in a very appealing and clever way. If you like to look at life a bit sideways then you’ll enjoy her style, playfulness and reflections on people – their gullibility, as well as their backbone.

Mansfield and Me is a beautifully produced book from New Zealand novelist, graphic designer and zine-maker Sarah Laing. This is a story of Katherine Mansfield, a journey about becoming a writer, a tale of growing up in New Zealand in the 80s, and the balancing act of family and creativity. A memoir, a history lesson and an honest account of being a woman who wants to write and be taken seriously, whether that is Mansfield or Laing. The stories are wonderfully interlinked, with Katherine often scoffing off to the side of Sarah’s endeavours (but mostly not). Mansfield’s story is delightfully drawn in images and text. If you haven’t ventured into the world of the graphic novels this is a great place to start: the text is great – Laing writes well with a strong sense of voice, and the drawings are charming – full of playfulness, wit and sensitivity. I’ve read Laing’s previous novels and seen some of her art work before, but in Mansfield and Me she has hit the mark, bringing all her talents together with this satisfying, inspiring and thoughtful graphic memoir.


by the same author by Jack Robinson
A book exists. It has a reader. It has several readers, or many readers, some of whom at some point may well meet each other, perhaps in a circumstance in some way related to the book. People give the book to other people. Some people might steal the book (and other books). People interact with other people because of the book. The book has an author, whose relationship to the book is different from the readers’ relationship to the book, and whose relationship with the reader is different from the readers’ relationships with each other. The book has a publisher (or several publishers), a designer (ditto), a critic (several critics); the author has, perhaps, a biographer (and the biographer some readers of their own (though probably, in the main, readers shared with the author of the book (a subset of the readers of that book))). Things happen in the world because of the book that would not have happened if the book did not exist, or which would have happened differently if the book did not exist or had been a different book. This particular book, by the same author, by Jack Robinson (not his real name), is a book about what books are, how they touch upon our lives and how our lives touch upon them and upon each other because of them. The book is charming without being cloying, joyful whilst remaining critical, brief yet universal, profound yet light, pellucid whilst wary of the devotion we direct towards these portable vectors of something made by a stranger yet somehow integral to ourselves.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
An immensely poignant portrayal of the impact of a woman’s sudden death on her sons and husband (a Ted Hughes scholar), and of their visit by Crow, all beak, flint eye and feathers, who stays with them through their mourning (grief being its own cure). An eloquent exploration of the liminal zones opened up by loss, awkward where awkwardness subverts cliché, poetic, dark, playful (the passages narrated by Crow are infused with the personality of this corvid psychopomp), unflinching and, ultimately, hopeful.
    >> You can hear the author reading the book here.  

Vertigo by Joanna Walsh
I first read Joanna Walsh in Hotel, in which she recounts her experiences as a hotel reviewer at a time when her marriage was falling apart. The movement in that book is from the particular to the personal to the theoretical, and Walsh succeeded in picking large enough holes in what at first seems like continuous thought to fall through, and to leave us on the brink with a feeling of vertigo. In Vertigo, a collection of short short stories, vignettes almost, Walsh reverses the current. Here the theoretical forces itself through the grille of the personal to induce the particular. The resulting text is perhaps flatter, less nuanced, than Hotel, but the stories are immediate, often pointed, and filled with sharply selected details which puncture, and thus reveal the emptiness of, the characters and situations her protagonist(s) encounters. When all that is left are the ordinary particulars of everyday life, and, as these particulars shrug off any ‘meaning’ draped over them, what is there to suppress the panic that arises when we question our relationship to those particulars?

Vertigo by W.G. Sebald
Addressing (however indirectly or even ironically) loss, exile and insufficiency in a world composed entirely of residues (lingering or fading, or unstable and even strangely malleable), Sebald’s patient and melancholy prose, not fiction nor autobiography nor travelogue nor essay (but perhaps something more than all of these), is unlike much else: it is as if he is edging his way around ripples still moving outwards from past events that are unregraspable and unapproachable, often too awful to be more than circumambulated, charting for us the patterns of interference that occur when these ripples meet the ripples from other events or are disturbed by wholly submerged cultural or personal traumas.
>> We've got new editions of Sebald, with covers by Peter Mendelsund.

Spurious by Lars Iyer
“What can we, who are incapable of thought, understand of what the inability to think means for a thinker?” If Waiting for Godot’s Estragon and Vladimir were young philosophy lecturers instead of aging tramps, one of them might have written this book about their friendship and about their failures to gain existential traction (either because of personal insufficiency or philosophical impossibility (mostly personal insufficiency (or at least the cultivation of the excuse of personal insufficiency)). Lars and his friend W. consign themselves to the lower rungs of intellectual achievement by seemingly expending their efforts verbally greasing those rungs. They have been born too late for great thought, even if they had been capable of great thought. Damp and then mould spreads through Lars’s flat but, consistent with the stagnation they claim for themselves, nothing happens or develops in the novel (if it is a novel). The book is very funny, and retains its buoyancy by the fact that the narrator, Lars, only appears as described by W. “’Your problem is that you fear empty time’, says W. as we head back to the city. ‘That’s why you don’t think’. And then: ‘Thought must come as a surprise, when you least expect it’. Thought, when it comes, always surprises him, says W. But he’s ready with his notebook, he says, which he keeps in his man bag. ‘That’s why I need a man bag’, he says, ‘in case thought surprises me’. But I fear the empty time which makes thought possible, says W., so I don’t need a man bag.” 


15 Church Street / PO Box 364, Nelson 7010, New Zealand
telephone: 03 9700073
txt: 0211970002


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VOLUME · 15 Church Street (Radio House) · PO Box 364 · Nelson, 7010 · New Zealand

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