I’ve been reviewing books for www.groovefm.co.nz and Booksellers.co.nz for about 3 years. Since 2010 I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a number of fantastic books for my page “The Adventures of the CoffeeBar Kid“. In a number of cases I interviewed the authors, too. This gave the show extra colour. Authors are always as, or more passionate about their work, than musicians.
Recently, I started an independent book review site call The Groove Book Report . This site has all my latest reviews plus some audio interviews with authors, as well.
Here’s a selection of my favourites.
Toddlers are readers, too! The Groove Book Report: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers Harper Collins rrp $17.50
It may have been coincidence, or serendipity that the rep at Harpers sent me this delightful little tale. For the first time in many a years the back of my house in Alicetown was knee deep in snow! And, that night on the news Wellington’s own Antarctic hero, Happy Feet was preparing for his journey back home on NIWA’s next vessel to the pole. All this provided great context for the littlest readers in the household. Lost and Found proved to be an immediate favourite. The simple, beautiful, watercolour illustrations and enchanting story have won over the two year old on the first sitting. I can understand why it won the Blue Peter Book of the Year 2006.Oliver Jeffers using an economy of line and colour and focuses most of his message in the subtle expressions of his two characters. This is unusual in a book designed for such a young readership. Normally the template approach is big and bold colours, simple colours, references to shapes, colours and family surrounds. Repetition in the manuscript and a reinforcement of ideas and laces usually wins over a two year old. It also helps if the book works when read out loud.Jeffers doesn’t really do any of this, yet the charming story, two line per page speaks volumes in the silence between the words. It requires the reader and the listener to prompt each other about what’s happening. I like that. The young missy and I have spent much time talking about the details of each page – where is the penguin going; why did he leave; what do concepts like ‘lonely’ and ‘love’ mean and what is the value of a hug?
A bonus – the book is now available for in toddler friendly board format so the youngest generation can enjoy this unforgettable story about friendship and the search for a home.
Worth a look is Jeffers own website, where you can see his latest projects, his stunning art and find out about more of his writing.
You can see Oliver Jeffers work at: http://www.oliverjeffers.com/
And, don’t forget Happy Feet is now on his way to the pole. You can track his journey at: http://www.ourfarsouth.org/Track-Happy-Feet.aspx
For some, inexplicable, yet compelling reason, I feel the need to tell you about this book before I finish it. In fact, it’s imperative that I do it now because I’m not sure I can keep the ending to this intense, fast paced thriller a secret for very long.
This is North Shore resident Ben Sanders’s second effort. His first, written in his late teens, proved him to be a master of economical, witty, visual prose. With just enough paint to set the scene he encourages his reader fill in the white spaces. A script writer would hate this. Where’s the dimesional characterisation; the detailed settings and the fabrics of familiarity that usually drape a good crime novel? Detective Sean Devereaux is not your average alchoholic, cigar chewing, alimony laden, pussy whipped, cheeto muncher in a dirty mac, with the boss on his heals for beating up witnesses and an ex-call girl for a girlfriend. Nope. No cocaine addiction. He doesn’t frequent bars or drive a Jag. At the end of a night Devereaux heads home, puts on some quality music (he, or is it Sanders, is a bit of an aficionado), claims a Mac,s Gold from the fridge and opens a case file. No TV screams out from the corner, the unit is quiet. This is a shared quiet time between himself and the house. Only one step up from a very sad Plod, he could be just a bit little boring. Like you and me, perhaps?Unlike the other characters and the events around him.Friday rush hour a lone shooter fires from across a crowded street and slays an operating bus driver.Across town, a mother daughter murder suicide occurs, with the father as the main witness. And downtown a woman is abducted from a bar in front of an ex-cop with street smarts and a ’78 Escort. The pace quickens as the ex-cop makes all the investigations, follows all the clues and hunts down the kidnappers, whilst Devereaux ponders, ums and ahhs.
He’s the perfect realistic Kiwi cop. No heroics, no violence and no pastel lounge suits. He goes about his work, methodically working through the clues, almost in an oblivious juxtaposition to the speeding narration of murders, violence, chases and rapid fire clues that literally spit venomously off the page. Gritty and page turning this sure is. But more effective is the distinct Kiwi accent that is present in every page. I almost get the feeling this novel wouldn’t work anywhere but Auckland. The details are accutely accurate. Sanders is a keen observer, right down to the placement of CCTV cameras and the socio–economic product selection of a tavern’s clientele.
It’s true we love to read and see stories about ourselves, no matter what the scenario. But this one is a little creepy. The flesh is a little to close to the bone. “By Any Means” is a stunning piece of contemporary crime fiction, a real ‘worth it’ read.
And, no, I wont tell you how it ends, even when I get there. You’ll have to do that yourself!
About the Author:
Ben Sanders is a 21-year-old university student who lives on Auckland’s North Shore. He has been a keen writer since his early teens and his debut novel, The Fallen, was published to high acclaim in 2010. This is his second Sean Devereaux novel.
For more check out http://www.harpercollins.co.nz/
The Groove Book Report:New Zealand By Design: A History of New Zealand Product Design by Michael Smythe (Godwit Press – $65.00)
Right. Let’s get this out there. This is not a cheesy book about Kiwiana. That period of cringe has gone. New Zealanders are magical innovators and the creation of manufactured objects and solutions that enhance our environment streches well beyond any No.8 mentality. Accornding to author Michael Smythe, that while the concept of design embraces all the elements of form and function truly great design almost exists un-noticed. In this comprehensive volume he surveys many of the products that have documented the ordinary in our in our society from pre-European times until now. Begining with ingenious Maori tools, traps, lures and weaponry he moves through to pioneer-era inventions, the industrial and agricultural inventions, and entreprenuers like Hayes Machinery and the housewife’s friends – Shacklock and Fisher & Paykel (his former employer), to our modern era with products as varied as electric fences, Crown Lynn china and NavMan GPS.There are so many cool, brainy and quite frankly gutsy approaches to the design and manufacture of local products. Smythe, in a recent interview, summed it up by suggesting when a Kiwi is asked to make a product on par with an international label that inventive lil’ bird thinks harder and broader. Kiwis are just not content to reproduce facsimilies of existing products they RE-INVENT, with bells on, to suit their own dreams and aspirations. Smythes book is abundant with examples such as Shacklock’s response to overseas examples of coal ranges. These units not only burnt poorly and were not suited to NZ’s coal supplies but were cumbersome to install. Shacklock chose to re-design, building a coal range that ran on local coal AND had it’s own flu system allowing it to be installed any where without the need to fit to an existing fireplace. Years later Shacklock was saved by the great f&p who, out of a doomed Dunedin factory, invented the energy and water saving dish draw units we all have for our dirty dishes. And there are thousands more examples.Smythe’s mandate was ‘designed by New Zealanders’, regardless of where the final product is actually made. Examples are abound – sophisticated products such as the Yike bike and Formway furniture, products which hold their own in international company. Oh, and there’s even a wee story about the Trekka and the personal rocket thingy, as well as wool pressers, bathroom sinks, petrol cans, bicycles, stoves, washing machines, electric kettles, TVs and radios, crockpots, rocking chairs, industrial dredges, dishwashers, forestry tools, spinning wheels, office chairs, outdoor seating ,rubbish bins, children’s toys, heaters, electric fences, stock drenching guns, gumboots, buses and guitar pedals.As I said out in the outset this is an exhaustive, and by no means definitive conversation. There are many messages here, yet the one that sticks out, despite it’s corny overtones is this: A Kiwi saw; was frustrated with the current product. Took it apart. Made it better. Gave it more than it ever had before. And in time that product became the standard to which all Kiwis measure other imitations. By Kiwi Designed products. Buy Michael’s book!
Check out Michael’s ongoing discusion about design history at: http://designarc.org.nz/
See a sample on the Random House Web Site: http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/data/media/documents/sample%20pages/NZ_By_Design_SP.pdf
Read more about Michael: http://www.blogger.com/profile/01355715663605253230
Further reading: http://www.betterbydesign.org.nz/default.aspx
Eden was born Barbara Jean Morehead in Tucson, Arizona.. Her parents divorced when she was three; she and her mother Alice moved to San Francisco where later her mother married Harrison Connor Huffman, a telephone lineman. Barbara’s mother entertained the children by singing songs. This musical background left a lasting impression on the actress, who began taking acting classes because she felt it might help her improve her singing. At no stage is Eden bitter about this, always looking at oppotunities as a gift – at times that’s a little saccahirine, but endearing on the whole.Her first public performance was singing in the church choir. She was always doing the solos. When she was 14 she was singing in local bands for $10 a night in night clubs. At age 16 she became a member of Actor’s Equity.She studied singing at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco and acting with the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre. She graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco in 1949 and went one year to the City College of Theatre in San Francisco. Then she was elected Miss San Francisco in 1951. Barbara also entered the Miss California pageant, but did not win.Eden made featured appearances on television shows such as The Johnny Carson Show (as “Barbara Morehead” and “Barbara Huffman”), The West Point Story, Highway Patrol, Private Secretary, I Love Lucy, The Millionaire, Target: The Corruptors!, Crossroads, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, December Bride, Bachelor Father, Father Knows Best, Adventures in Paradise, The Andy Griffith Show, Cain’s Hundred, Saints and Sinners, The Virginian, Slattery’s People, The Rogues TV, and the series finale of Route 66 playing the role of Margo. She guest starred in four episodes of Burke’s Law playing different roles each time. She was an uncredited extra in the movie The Tarnished Angels with Rock Hudson, in partnership with 20th Century Fox studios. She then starred in the syndicated comedy How To Marry A Millionaire Eden’s co-stars were Merry Anders, and Lori Nelson. After 39 episodes, Lori Nelson left the show and Lisa Gaye joined Barbara and Merry Anders from the 40th episode to the final 52nd segment.The show was based on the movie of the same name about 3 girls looking for millionaires to marry.Discovery in the Hollywood sense came when she starred in a play with James Drury. Film director Mark Robson, who later directed her in the movie From The Terrace, had come to the play and wanted her for 20th Century Fox studios. Her screen test was the Joanne Woodward role in No Down Payment. Though she did not get the role, the studio gave her a contract. Eden did a screen test for the role of Betty Anderson in 1956 for the movie Peyton Place, though Terry Moore got the role. She had minor roles in Bailout At 43,000 Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Wayward Girl and then became a leading lady in films and starred opposite Gary Crosby Barry Coe and Sal Mineo in A Private’s Affair and had a costarring role in Flaming Star (1960), with Elvis Presley.The following year, she played in a supporting role as Lt. Cathy Connors in Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, with Frankie Avalon playing the trumpet while she danced in one of many successful science fiction outings by the so called “Master of Disaster.” She starred in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm a George Pal-directed Cinerama film for MGM, and another Irwin Allen production for 20th Century Fox Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962). Eden was also the female lead in the 1962 20th Century Fox comedy Swingin’ Along, starring the comedy team of Tommy Noonan and Peter Marshall, in their final joint screen appearance. She did a screen test with Andy Williams for the 20th Century Fox movie State Fair, but didn’t get the role.Her last film for 20th Century Fox was The Yellow Canary (1963). She left Fox studios (due to budget cuts) and began guest-starring in shows such as Saints And Sinners and also doing films for MGM, Universal, and Columbia. She played supporting roles over the next few years, including The Brass Bottle, and the notable, if odd, movie 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, both with Tony Randall. In The New Interns, she co-starred with Michael Callan. She starred in the beach movie Ride the Wild Surf playing the role of Augie with Fabian.
Whew! That’s a mess of work. Yet despite all this – It’s I Dream of Jeannie that won her audience and out hearts. She signed to become “Jeannie,” a genie in a bottle rescued by an astronaut in the television sitcom I Dream of Jeannie and played this role for five years and 139 episodes.
As nearly everyone knows, …Jeannie is the sitcom tale of a genie set free from her bottle by astronaut and USAF Captain (later Major, then Colonel) Anthony Nelson, played by Larry Hagman (played by Wayne Rogers I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later). Interestingly, Eden was initially passed over for the role as she was blonde and of small stature, but Sidney Sheldon called on her when he was unable to find a suitable brunette to play the part. Eden is very nonchalant about this. She, again, is graceful about this fate. I Dream of Jeannie was a mild success in the ratings, and it ran from 1965 until 1970, and during this time Eden was nominated twice for Golden Globe Awards. Ironically, it’s become a cable/re-run classic. The appeal is in the nostalgia and the cheese factor cannot be underestimated either. Eden was a little apprehensive, as she illustrates in her book, abot reprising her Jeannie role in two made-for-TV reunion movies (I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later in 1985 and I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1991), both which bombed, alas. Worth You tubing is the Jeannie appearances in TV commercials (AT&T, Lexus, Old Navy). I Dream of Jeannie has gone on to international syndication and finally found it’s eternal place in TV Sitcom Heaven.
Her book isn’t really a great revelation, most of it is on the web, in other books, or in print somewhere. But it’s a great package. She’s kind to her three husbands, and never blames her upbringing, or any one else, for that matter. There’s a lengthy narrative around meeting actor Michael Ansara in October 1957, as part of a blind date arranged by her studio and publicist Booker McClay. They married in St Nicholas Church in Hollywood January 17, 1958. Eden had difficulty conceiving and her first pregnancy in 1961 ended in miscarriage. This, she whimsically blows off as an oppotunity missed, like a cue. The show goes on, the audience forgets and focuses only on the action on stage right now. And so the same is for her. Later, and successfully, her son, Matthew Ansara, was born, in 1965, shortly after filimng the 11th episode of the first season of I Dream of Jeannie. Sneakily, to conceal her obvious pregnancy the directors of the show covered her with veils, and filmed only above her waist. The heartache continued with her third pregnancy, in 1971, ending in a stillbirth and Ansara and Eden divorced three years later. It’s all a light tocu for what really was a desperate survival from an abusive, cocaine-addicted husband. Later the drugs emerge again to cause her “emotional breakdown” following the loss of her only son, Matthew Ansara, due to drugs
Eden was married to her second husband, Chicago Sun-Times executive Charles Donald Fegert, from September 1977 to 1983. And with little commentary she marries fro the third timeto Los Angeles real estate developer Jon Trusdale Eicholtz in 1991. Both of thse seem to be a bit prefunctionary, as Eden prefers to focus on the set and TV work around this time than on her nuptuals.
I’m not sure if this really is the tell-all memoir we were promised. Whilst it describes Eden’s public and private tragedies that came with her Hollywood fame. The book includes intimate details about her two failed marriages.
Overall, this is a graceful, intimate and honest memoir of personal tragedy and a legacy of work. It is with some candor that Eden reflects on the challenges she has faced and the joys she has experienced. All through she has maintained her humor and optimism. It’s obvious the Jeannie magic is still there.
The Groove Book Report: “How to Make Gravy: A mongrel Memoir” By Paul Kelly – Penguin Books rrp $60.00
One constant is Kelly’s love and respect of 80’s trailblazers like Died Pretty, the Go-Betweens and the Triffids. These are all bands that circled around him during his early days, emerging in pubs and working man clubsand inspiring his own songs, challenging him to go on. In describing the origins of “Careless”, Kelly talks first about the influence of these bands before flying out on an obscure trajectory about the importance of writing a good ‘circle song’. This is a song that is useful in a jam session with strangers because it’s repetitive. On goes the yarn to include an all out WOMADelaide jam session on the Nullabor plains. Add in failed sessions to learn said Go-between numbers, a touch of african drummingand an interlude with despression and then he skillfully, the trail cycles back to how “Careless” got written. It’s this free, pseudo-rambling prose that makes reading this book such a joy. It’s not prescriptive or even ordered, aside from the alphabetising. Ideas just seem to pop in and out like christmas tree lights, yet some how it all, unexpectantly, comes together.
Kelly has charted the human condition like no other with songs like “Dumb Things” and the tear jerker “To her door”, which he outlays his decision to tell a tale of a broken man and his climb back to the love of his wife and family. But at times he’s chooses political subjects like Aboriginal land rights, as in “From little things, big things grow”. Outside Yothu Yindi and Midnight Oil few artists would take on Australia’s bigoted 80’s White man culture. It’s in the book we find out more about the history behind the history. The unofficial and the personal history of these landmark incidents. For that alone, he deserves praise this side of the ditch.When Kelly tours he’s always asked about his involvement with heroin. At the book launc in October, (http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/paul-kelly-how-to-make-gravy-book-launch), he remembered “I wanted to write about it, as being addicted to heroin is very different to using it on and off for a very long period of time”. He claimed he didn’t need it, not like an addict, yet it affected those around him and his life anyway. Such revelations seem more honest, than the overbloated excesses of America’s glam musos and England’s lad rockers simply because he seems to be such a down to earth kinda guy – someone you may know or know off.
Listen to This – By Alex Ross (Pub. Fourth Estate) RRP $39.99
In his first book The Rest is Noise Alex Ross took on the history of Music in 20th Century. This time the premise is that music, no matter what kind, is still just ‘music’. So put away your clasifications, your little baskets and board up those pidgeon holes. Music in it’s own context, in it’s own space is just that – Music. It livens the senses, recalls the memory, enthralls us, creates critique and narative to our lives.
Opening with his own background, Ross talks about his early dalliances with the Classical Genre and pledges his allegiance to a label he, himself, struggles to identify with. As a critic with the New Yorker it seems Ross has been thrown up against the literary wall a few times over the years and challenged to defend the psuedo-snobbery and faux-haute that surrounds classical music. A term, Ross acknowledges, looks to the past and discounts all the recent composers of the genre such as Phillip Glass. It is from this position that Ross embarks on his sprawling journey with out a map and no intention of stopping to ask directions.
Essentially “Listen…” is a collection of essays covering the question “What is Music?” from a vast array of view points. The answers come from the most unlikely set of respondents: The late Mezzo-Soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson tears out her metaphorical heart over a Bach Cantata. Bob Dylan arrives gruff and abusive to a collective of inebriated Minosotans and loose hippies. Why can’t they just accept artistic directions change and go electric like him? There’s a predictably nerdy piece about a Vermont based band camp for Chamber Musicians – minus any flute jokes, thank goodness. It’s almost twee in it’s praise of the students plaid and polyester dedication to their cause, but he’s forgiven on that! Then, just to prove his hipness, Ross stands in the rain at a Radiohead gig in Oxford to check out the origins and output of the new “brainy’ pop the kids are listening to these days.
All this proves what a great party guests Ross could muster the next time there’s a few cocktails at his Manhattan Loft. But, intellectual pursuits aside it seems Ross has, as an essentially Classical critic, missed the boat when it comes to measuring the cultural weight that modern music has impacted upon us all. Now more, than any time music, especially those elements that could loosely affiliate with the classical genre, have found ways into every crack of our lives. From advertising to movie soundtracks to mobile phone tones, there is some kind of music invading the silence, telling us what to think, how to behave and even when to wake up. Ross does briefly look at the impact of the recording industry on how we listen to music and how we consume it. And further hints come with his experiments with an ipod shuffle, allowing Steve Jobs to randomly DJ mix “The Rites of Spring” with Louis Armstrong. But what misses is a companion essay on how it ‘consumes’ us.
Ross is most comfortable talking about how artists and composers borrow, steal and beg from the genres, as if we hadn’t noticed this before. Yet the diversication of musical consumption in the 21st century can not be dismissed, no matter how fervently one writes about Bjork’s primal associations with Callas or the adoption of atonal music into pop by The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. Where is the reviews of composition for computer games, ringtones, or other digital medium? Perhaps the windows in the offices of the New Yorker are a little foggy up there in those lofty ivory heights.
Still, down on the street I can’t deny this is a great cerebral work out. Ross is a literary craftsman. His turn of phrase and depth of knowledge into all his subjects makes this a pleasure to read, even if you don’t come from a classical background. Entertaining, witty and overflowing with insight you will listen more closely and more widely after reading this. And that has to be a good thing.