If you have been wondering where I have been the past few weeks, I have been visiting family and friends in my old hometown of Wellington, New Zealand. And of course, I have been book shopping as well.
As is typical, when I lived in New Zealand I was probably guilty of neglecting books written by my fellow countrymen and not learning as much as I could of the rich history and literature on offer. Now that I am an expat, I have greater regard and am more eager to indulge. I have also been keeping somewhat up to date with the latest literary developments back home which helps. Another impetus was going to see New Zealand Booker Prize winning author Eleanor Catton speak and hearing her talk of some of the books that inspired her when she was a child.
So, even before I left for my holiday, I already had a list of books I wanted to find in mind. Sure, I could have just ordered them online, but I wanted the experience of browsing some of the stores I used to frequent when I lived in Wellington.
First up was Whitcoulls on Lambton Quay. I was a little surprised to see Whitcoulls still around and thriving. Once upon a time I used to show considerable restraint in my book buying. It was after the GFC, when the big chains were struggling and closing down, that I took advantage of the savings on offer and built up my collection and since then I have not been able to stop. Borders and Dymocks in the CBD are long gone, so I was a little surprised to see that every mall seems to have a Whitcoulls and most have a Paper Plus as well. Whitcoulls were offering good discounts after Christmas and I splurged a little.
One thing I have been on the lookout for is a good biography of Captain Cook. There are plenty that are now out of print and unavailable while there are always new ones coming out. In the end, not finding anything different, I decided to go with one by Rob Mundle; ‘Australia’s master of maritime history’.
Also at Whitcoulls I found two beautiful hardcover books that were not at all on my radar but I just could not leave without. The first is Science: A History in 100 Experiments by John and Mary Gribbin. Followers will know of my love of science from a historical perspective and this will be a nice addition to the ones I already have. It is a beautiful book, wonderfully illustrated, covering world-changing experiments from Archimedes to the Large Hadron Collider and it seems to have been updated at the last minute with experiment 101 for the detection of gravitational waves last year.
The second is Ghosts of Gondwana by George Gibb. It is a book on the evolution of New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna. Again, it is impressively and beautifully illustrated and looks a lot more technical than most science books you may find in a popular book store.
Also at Whitcoulls I got Peter Gossage’s telling of Maui and other Maori Legends. It is a book that I hope my daughter will enjoy when she is older though it was a bit pricey.
I also checked out their latest Top 100 List. Back in the day I would look over it to see what books other people love. The current list is a little disappointing to someone of my tastes. It is loaded with pop fiction novels that will be forgotten about in a few years, barely a classic novel to be found.
The highlight of the trip, as far as book shopping was concerned, was meant to be a visit to my favourite independent bookstore; Unity Books on Willis Street. Unfortunately I was unable to find the New Zealand novels that were on my list. I did however find some of the non-fiction books I was interested in. There was a book on the New Zealand gold rush era called Diggers, Hatters and Whores by Stevan Eldred-Grigg. There was Outcasts of the Gods? by Hazel Petrie about slavery in New Zealand and the factors that led to its end. But I decided to go with Entanglements of Empire by Tony Ballantyne which is about the engagement of Protestant Missionaries with Maori in New Zealand. Those of you who have read my review of Michael King’s History of New Zealand will know of my interest in this subject.
I also got The Age of Genius by AC Grayling. After hearing AC Grayling speak on the subject, I could not help but add this book to those I would seek.
But as I say, classic New Zealand fiction was more difficult to find. At Arty Bee’s, Wellington’s most popular second-hand bookstore, I managed to find one I was after; Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee. So, I went back to Unity and placed an order for some of the ones I could not find, namely Maurice Gee’s O Trilogy. These young adult novels by Gee are classics in New Zealand that I had never got around to reading. That and hearing Catton speak of their influence on her writing lit the fire that saw me eager to find them now. Fortunately, my order came in before we left the country and I did not go home empty handed.
I had read some Barry Crump when I was in school in New Zealand, but not his more popular works. On another trip to Whitcoulls, my wife picked up a copy of the Barry Crump novel Wild Pork and Watercress, now best known for its adaptation into the movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople which became Empire magazine’s 2016 film of the year.
I wanted to find Crump’s first and most popular novel A Good Keen Man. Late in the trip, when in Rotorua, I came across a copy in a second-hand store. It was only $10 and in good, but not great, condition. Already feeling like I had done plenty of book shopping on this trip, I let this find go. Then, on return to Wellington, with my wife having enjoyed Wild Pork and Watercress and eager for more Crump, we discover that second-hand copies of A Good Keen Man are not easy to find and have high asking prices online. Were we too late? Well we found an email address for that Rotorua store, Atlantis Books, and in just a couple of days the book was in our mailbox for just $10 plus postage!
The reason we were up near Rotorua at all was because my wife wanted to visit Hobbiton, which turned out to be a treat. Especially for the ale made on site and served at The Green Dragon!
By now, even I had felt that I had done far too much shopping and was worried about how I would get all these books home in my luggage (plus a bunch more books that my parents had borrowed and were done with!). But then I found two more. One I found at a Paper Plus store. Back when I lived in Wellington, I wouldn’t go to Paper Plus for books because their range was limited to whatever was popular. We only went in because my wife wanted a 2017 diary. Yet I found a book on my list I had not found anywhere else; A Few Hares to Chase by Alan Bollard.
The book is a biography of Bill Phillips; a man who, despite humble origins, became a leading original thinker on economics, best known for introducing the ‘Phillips curve’, along with other lesser known accomplishments. The author, Bollard, is also an economist who served as Governor of the New Zealand Reserve Bank from 2002-2012.
Finally, I could not help myself, I found a copy of Tom Keneally’s Booker Prize Winner, Schindler’s Ark. My wife already has a well-worn copy (you can see it in the background of the photo!) but it is a film-tie-in version with the film cover and title. I’ve wanted one with the original title, and at just $8 at The Warehouse, it was an easy choice.
And we just managed to bring these all home without paying excess baggage – we were lucky our tickets allowed 40kg each! Though with so many, not to mention the large load of presents our 20-month-old got over Christmas, we needed an extra bag!