The 100 best books of 2010

by Listener Archive / 11 December, 2010
Get away with a book this summer as the <i>Listener's</i> team of reviewers brings you New Zealand's most comprehensive guide to what to read.

Novels

THE ASK, by Sam Lipsyte (Picador, $39.99). American satire is alive and kicking against the pricks (see also, Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, p31). The targets are many in The Ask - academia, the art world, America itself, not to mention modern parenting. Lipsyte is especially acute on the ways 21st-century identities are super-mediated ("they were happy, or seemed happy, or were blogging about how they seemed happy"). His prose style is high-wire brilliant, and if he sometimes falls ignominiously to the ground, he's soon back up there with another dazzling spectacle.

BLACKLANDS, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam, $38.99). Life is bleak for 12-year-old Steven Lamb and his impoverished family in Bauer's assured and chilling debut, winner of the UK's prestigious CWA Gold Dagger. Two decades ago, Steven's uncle Billy was snatched - a tragic stake in the ground to which his family remains tethered. Naive yet determined, Steven digs windswept moors, hoping to find Billy's body - and closure, even healing. Desperate, he writes to an imprisoned paedophile, opening Pandora's Box. Ostensibly simple in prose and storyline, Blacklands delves deeply into character and human frailties, gives convincing "voice" to both child and child killer, and ably depicts far-less-than-bucolic English village life.

BLOOD MEN, by Paul Cleave (Black Swan Crime, $36.99). Cleave is our own master of murder and mayhem. Blood Men, his fourth novel set in a malevolent Christchurch, is his best yet. Edward Hunter is a family man trying to forget he's the son of a serial killer. When a violent robbery fractures his world, a vengeful quest has him teetering, frightened that deep down he's like his father. The novel is vividly, almost viciously written. We empathise with deeply flawed Edward, and are both compelled and repelled. Brutal. Bloody. Brilliant.

BY NIGHTFALL, by Michael Cunningham (Fourth Estate, $34.99). Cunningham has perfected the contemporary novel of manners with his sensitive eye, precise ear and meticulous language. By Nightfall has a simple premise: what happens when a decent, privileged, marginally bored and slightly cynical Manhattan gallery owner is tempted by forbidden desire for his pampered directionless young brother-in-law. A very quiet, very sexy novel, it is haunted by Thomas Mann's Death in Venice in the same way Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hours was inspired by Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.

C, by Tom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape, $39.99). Set between 1898 (during the emergence of radio) and 1922 (the year the BBC was established, and also when The Waste Land and Ulysses were published), C is, as the Guardian's books podcast is wont to say, a Marmite novel - you either love it or hate it. Listener reviewer Anthony Byrt fell into the latter camp, decrying it as "an ice-cold theoretical exercise". But for others it is a challenging yet alluring novel, its anti-humanist approach dynamic and invigorating. We include it here if only in protest that it was beaten to the Man Booker Prize by the stale comedy of Howard Jacobson's The Finkler ­Question.

THE COLLECTOR'S DREAM, by Pierre Furlan (VUP, $30). In this exhaustively researched, effortlessly written novel, it is mid-20th century and Will Bodmin is a collector intent on owning a pamphlet written in the 1830s to expose atrocities committed by tyrannical governor of New South Wales Ralph Darling. Will stalks "his Darling" around the globe and through the years as obsessively as the squirrel-rat chases his nut in the Ice Age films. His story is told by a French writer visiting New Zealand who stumbles upon tales of the Bodmin family, which launches him on his own obsessive search.

THE FALLEN, by Ben Sanders (HarperCollins, $32). Edinburgh has John Rebus, Los Angeles has Harry Bosch, Chicago has VI Warshawski, and now Auckland may have the makings of its own signature cop. Sean Devereaux, hero of uni student Sanders's debut, is more than a list of his appealing traits: smart, instinctive, loyal, tough, more caring than he wants to be. The slaying of an "Epsom princess" and the stalking of Devereaux's neighbour power an intriguing and slickly told story. But it's the rich characterisation, plus the vividly evoked local setting, laconic observations and welcome vein of humour, that elevates The Fallen.

FREEDOM, by Jonathan Franzen (Fourth Estate, $38.99). Franzen's long-awaited follow-up to 2001's The Corrections was the most talked about novel of the year - initially admiringly, but then the naysayers kicked in. The Listener remains in the pro camp. Like The Corrections, Freedom is set in Minnesota with a middle-class marriage at its heart. But this time the overall story is bigger, the narrative more sophisticated and the message more hopeful. It is a brilliant, funny, generous exploration of a culture created by a people indoctrinated into and seduced by the idea of personal liberty.

GIFTED, by Patrick Evans (VUP, $30). It was one of the most significant interludes in our literary history: Frank Sargeson's mid-1950s sheltering of aspiring writer Janet Frame in the army hut behind his Takapuna house. In Gifted, Evans reconstructs the writers' relationship in an inventive and frequently amusing novel that emphasises their less-than-flawless natures and in so doing makes both seem more completely human. However, it is Sargeson's relationship with his beloved but footloose friend Harry Doyle that goes to the heart of the matter.

HICKSVILLE: A COMIC BOOK, by Dylan Horrocks (VUP, $38). Hicksville takes its title from the East Cape hometown of its mysterious comic creator Dick Burger - the town being a veritable comic Shangri La. Rightly described by VUP's Fergus Barrowman as "one of the fugitive classics of New Zealand fiction", this graphic novel has for the past 12 years been much discussed, much admired, but very hard to find. For this new edition, Horrocks has completely redesigned the book, using the original artwork but with larger pages for a more spacious feel.

HUNTING BLIND, by Paddy Richardson (Penguin, $29). Dunedin author Richardson opens her third novel with a pretty picture of a lakeside picnic in 1980s Wanaka. Then she drops a stone in the pond; the perfect day shatters when little Gemma Anderson vanishes. Ripples expand: panic, fear, finger-pointing, families torn asunder. Seventeen years later, Gemma's sister Stephanie is a psychologist, healing others' wounds while ignoring her own. When a new patient reveals a strikingly similar story, she's spurred to traverse the South Island to uncover what really happened. Expertly melding family drama with psychological thriller, Richardson delves into the oft-unseen aftermath of high-profile tragedies long after the media circus leaves town.

IN A STRANGE ROOM, by Damon Galgut (Atlantic, $36.99). This Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel compels uninterrupted reading, such is the driving power of prose that is as quiet as it is powerful, as delicate as it is searing, as seductive as it is sad. The narrator, sometimes the author, (perhaps) sometimes another, takes three journeys in different global locations. These varying voices raise questions: is this fiction or memoir? Or travel writing? Is it all of these?

THE LONG SONG, by Andrea Levy (Headline Review, $38.99). In Levy's novel - also Man Booker Prize-shortlisted - about the last decades of slavery in Jamaica in the early 19th century, the narrator is wonderfully bossy elderly former slave July, although from the first pages it's clear different characters are going to compete for control of the story. Levy handles the end of slavery and the ex-slaves' struggle for self-determination with a light touch, and despite some horrific material, the novel is often very funny.

MATTERHORN, by Karl Marlantes (Corvus, $38.99). Matterhorn is the doorstop-sized result of Marlantes's 35-year struggle to turn his Vietnam experiences into fiction. Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas is an Ivy League graduate who has to lead a platoon of poor, uneducated kids - a disproportionate number of whom are black - in pointless assaults on Matterhorn, a hill near the North Vietnamese border that his superiors one day deem strategically important and the next call a waste of time. The novel is predictably gruesome, overwritten in places, and probably too long. But these flaws are forgivable, for its portrayal of Vietnam's transformative impact on American racial politics, and its timely evocation of how an unwinnable war breaks the hearts and bodies of the young men charged with fighting it.

NEMESIS, by Philip Roth (Jonathan Cape, $49.99). Roth has been prolific in the past couple of years, some would say too prolific. Nemesis, however, is as good as anything from his extended late period, as he returns to the Newark Jewish community of his youth to tell the story of serious-minded 23-year-old playground director Buck Cantor during the summer of 1944, when the children in his care start to succumb to a polio epidemic. This sets off a long chain of misfortune and self-recrimination that ultimately sees Cantor become the victim of his own resolute decency.

THE PREGNANT WIDOW, by Martin Amis (Jonathan Cape, $39.99). This self-described "blindingly autobiograph­ical" novel features a bevy of beautiful young women and indolent young men, over-educated, over-sexed and over there (Italy) in a definitively louche 1970 summer. The title comes from Alexander Herzen, who observed that revolutions leave "not an heir, but a pregnant widow" - the revolution here being the sexual one, the pregnant widow feminism. Amis gamely hoped the novel would scandalise feminists, but although there's a shimmer of misogyny, he's an equal-opportunity misanthrope, and most of the loathing is of the self kind. The prose is amiable, sharp and funny, the vibe is nostalgic and apologetic.

PRIVATE LIFE, by Jane Smiley (Faber and Faber, $39.99). After falling off the pace for a while, Smiley is back on form. When Margaret Mayfield marries Andrew Early in 1905, she feels lucky to have avoided that worst of fates - becoming an old maid. But her problems are only just beginning: Andrew, a naval officer and an astronomer, seems quite a catch, but it soon becomes clear his obsessive devotion to science borders on the insane. As the title suggests, Private Life is very much focused on the private, but what makes it more than just a domestic novel is Smiley's historical sweep.

THE REVERSAL, by Michael Connelly (Allen and Unwin, $39.99). No one beats Connelly for chronicling contemporary Los Angeles, the physical and human geography of a city as complex and layered as his characters. While some bestselling writers turn formulaic as their bibliographies expand, he continues to evolve, raise the bar and weave gripping tales from superb thread. His 22nd novel teams LAPD cop Harry Bosch, the hopeful cynic, with wisecracking lawyer Mickey Haller, who "crosses the floor" to act as independent prosecutor in the tabloid-fodder retrial of Jason Jessup, released after 24 years in prison thanks to questionable DNA evidence.

ROOM, by Emma Donoghue (Picador, $39.99). Donoghue's Man Booker-shortlisted novel is the story of five-year-old Jack, whose entire world is the 12 square feet of Room, where he was born and is imprisoned with his mother, snatched from the street seven years earlier when she was 19. The novel is told entirely in Jack's voice, from a perspective fascinating for its queer mixture of innocence and knowledge. Imprisonment, or even victimhood, is not the subject of Room; it is about Jack and his mother's relationship, and despite the monstrous context that produces that relationship, much in this powerful portrayal is simply ­beautiful.

SETTLERS' CREEK, by Carl Nixon (Vintage, $29.99). Nixon's second novel is a fascinating portrayal of Box Saxton, a man alone in the midst of a complex cultural conflict when his teenage stepson commits suicide and his body is forcibly taken from a funeral home so he can be buried in his biological father's ancestral lands. Box says "sometimes it's nothing except personal", and the conflict is expressed in racial terms only by marginal, unattractive characters who are emphatically disavowed; yet the novel carefully maps the larger cultural and political nuances of Box's experience, as Nixon explores a very contemporary issue with great story­telling.

SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY, by Gary Shteyngart (Granta, $35). Shteyngart's dystopian third novel unleashes his sharp satiric style onto the quirks of modern society. It pictures a near-future in which smartphones transmit your financial/sexual ranking to anyone else present, anyone over 30 is over the hill, and teenage girls wear see-through trousers to get noticed. Our hero, Lenny Abramov, is more interested in classic novels and writing lyrical entries into his diary, so he's immediately on the back foot when he falls in love with the modern-minded Eunice Park (whose perspective is given only through vacuous online-chat conversations).

SURRENDER, by Donna Malane (New Zealand Society of Authors, $20). A compelling heroine with a fresh narrative voice packed with insight, humour and personality; it's obvious why Malane's debut thriller was winner of the inaugural NZSA-Pindar Publishing Prize. Missing persons expert Diane Rowe treads the seamy backstreets of Wellington searching for those ultimately responsible for her sister's murder, after her prime suspect turns up killed in an eerily similar way. Malane weaves in a gritty and clever plot, creating a terrific novel of suspense and action, but at its core Surrender is just as much about its well-drawn characters and the complexity of human relationships.

THE SURRENDERED, by Chang-Rae Lee (Little, Brown, $38.99). Set during the Korean War and also more than 30 years later in New York, Lee's fourth novel reaches into its reader's chest and squeezes. With seemingly effortless prose, he takes on the corporeality of war, cancer's ugly hunger and our inevitably destructive natures. Equally gripping and repulsive, The Surrendered is a feat of storytelling and humanity, a novel unafraid of life's greatest terrors but equally engaged with its unexpected acts of mercy.

SYDNEY BRIDGE UPSIDE DOWN, by David Ballantyne (Text, $33). Some novels stand the test of time. This is certainly true of Sydney Bridge Upside Down, a neglected and long out-of-print New Zealand classic returned to us by Australian publisher Text. Forty years after its initial publication and 25 years after Ballantyne's death, its dark plot, crisp prose and realistically dysfunctional cast feel startlingly contemporary. Kate De Goldi provides an insightful new introduction.

THEIR FACES WERE SHINING, by Tim Wilson (VUP, $30). Wilson's novel about a devout middle-aged mother from the American Midwest left behind when the Rapture occurs is a smart literary page-turner that wrong-foots the reader every step of the way: featuring wry comedy but also flashes of unexpected violence; having a high old time satirising America's response to the Rapture but also infused with moral seriousness ("The lesson is how to be on earth"); taking us into the midst of disaster but resisting the lure of the lurid; keeping us guessing about the outcome until the very end. It's not an easy novel to pull off, but while he wrong-foots the reader, Wilson is never less than sure-footed himself.

TO THE END OF THE LAND, by David Grossman (Jonathan Cape, $42.99). On the day her son voluntarily returns to the army for a major offensive, Ora sets off with former lover Avram on a hike across Israel, believing that by not being at home she can somehow ward against her son's death. Over the long course of their walk, Ora's projected grief and terror for her son becomes a lament for Israel; its founding idealism increasingly obscured by endless wars and the aggressive bombast of a self-styled military identity. Grossman's magnificent novel is dream-like, urgent and immensely sad, and overshadowed in retrospect by the death of his own son in Lebanon in 2006.

TRAITOR, by Stephen Daisley (Text, $40). Daisley's debut is a confident and haunting exploration of the nature of betrayal and signals an important new talent. The novel focuses on Kiwi soldier David Monroe: on Gallipoli, on the Western Front and after World War I on a sheep station. It poses several questions about betrayal. Who is the "traitor"? Monroe, for helping a Turkish doctor he befriends escape? The army, for ignoring his humanity and beliefs and court-martialling him? His country, for condemning so many young men to die as a consequence of its muddled thinking?

TRESPASS, by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus, $38.99). Tremain is one of the great contemporary storytellers. In Trespass, set in the south of France, she works her skill on what is at heart a gothic tale of crime and revenge. Cruelty, betrayal, self-loathing, neediness, love and hate are as finely graded and carefully woven as the silk threads in the tapestry her antique dealer character, Anthony Verey, loves best of all his "beloveds" - the expensive pieces he collects to sell. And the framing sets it off: the Cevenol countryside with its perilous roads, grim beauty and isolated farms. A place "infected with a colossal silence".

Short stories

THE COLLECTED STORIES OF LYDIA DAVIS, by Lydia Davis (Hamish Hamilton, $62). It was Nicholson Baker who grabbed all the attention in the 1980s and 90s for sweating the small stuff, but two years before he made his debut with The Mezzanine, Davis published the first of her four short-story collections, Break It Down (1986), and showed the somersaults you could really turn if you put your mind to an idea, a worry, a neurosis, an obsession. Jonathan Franzen, who along with Dave Eggers, Joyce Carol Oates and Rick Moody sings Davis's praises on the cover of this Collected Stories, calls her "a magician of self-consciousness". For those yet to encounter these stories - some a couple of paragraphs, some a few sentences, the shortest just five words - she will be a ­glorious revelation.

THE EMPTY FAMILY, by Colm Tóibín (Picador, $37.99). The perfect title for a collection of Tóibín stories. And they're all set in typical Tóibín territory. You could play a good game matching each of these nine stories to a previous Tóibín title. Several take place in Wexford, showing families (often mothers and sons) coping with loss. Lady Gregory stars in another, and Henry James has a cameo role. One is narrated, in graphic detail, by a young Irishman encountering the gay scene in Barcelona; another by a boy encountering sex at his Catholic boarding school. Tóibín's musical prose is mostly pared-down but there's more flesh than usual in some of these vivid tales.

FRANK SARGESON'S STORIES, introduced by Janet Wilson (Cape Catley, $47.99). A smart piece of publishing, this, coinciding as it did with the release of Patrick Evans's Gifted. Sargeson looms large over New Zealand literature and yet nowadays is probably not actually read by many people. Those coming to him for the first time would do well to strip away all the critical framework (the cultural nationalism, the Queer Theory), because what you're left with is the writing, and writing this good does not date. Most of the stories here - which include 13 not previously collected - are as fresh as anything else published this year: immaculately stylised yet with a verisimilitude of voice; witty and ironic but morally engaged; stories with the constant capacity to surprise ... and sometimes shock.

GOLD BOY, EMERALD GIRL, by Yiyun Li (Fourth Estate, $32.99). Li, a guest at May's Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, has spoken often of her admiration for William Trevor, and we can only assume contact has been made, because the acknowledgements for this second collection of stories end: "Mr. William Trevor, for his generosity and kindness." You can see why he would approve, for Li, modelling herself on the Irish writer, renders the lives of her characters in contemporary China in the same simple, sympathetic, unsparing ­language.

A MAN MELTING, by Craig Cliff (Vintage, $29.99). Cliff examines all the big questions of life - birth, infancy, adolescence, violence, parenthood, death - in fresh and intriguing ways in this debut. He might belong to a new generation of New Zealand writers, but his concerns and formal composition remind one of a previous age. Themes of masculinity and conformity bear comparison with early Frank Sargeson, and he illustrates a talent for examining complex New Zealand issues, such as alienation and belonging, in a startlingly concise and evocative manner.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AOTEAROA, by Tina Makereti (Huia, $30). Metamorphosis is one of this collection's binding themes and tricks, with stories that read as if Maui has cast humorous spells on tales you've heard all your life. The stories divide into refurbished myths, smuggled-in social commentary and mash-ups of life and lore. Although well-known characters and plots appear, it would be foolish to place bets on what happens next.

Poetry

DEAR SWEET HARRY, by Lynn Jenner (AUP, $24.99). Jenner gives us a single sustained poetic sequence that weaves together scraps of found material, family history, speculation and archival research pertaining to Harry Houdini, Mata Hari, Jewish history, the poet's grandfather's World War I experiences, Katherine Mansfield, early treatment of tuberculosis, locomotive whistle-signal codes and god knows what else into a kind of fun-house mirror-world evocation of the early 20th century.

This is poetry that is pushing at the boundaries of what we think poetry can be, or do, and it is simply exhilarating to read.

HUMAN CHAIN, by Seamus Heaney (Faber and Faber, $36.99). Colm Tóibín says this is Heaney's "best single volume for many years, and one that contains some of the best poems he has written". Heaney is in his seventies now, and these memorable "late" poems are a kind of riposte to Philip Larkin's "man hands on misery to man". Heaney's parents are strongly present, in recall of their "love that's proved by steady gazing/Not at each other but in the same direction" and in intimate and unsentimental poems about their dying. Every poem is lit up by a sensibility "alive and ticking like an electric fence". There is great pleasure and solace to be found in this book.

THE MIRROR OF SIMPLE ANNIHILATED SOULS, by Kate Camp (VUP, $25). Camp is the very antithesis of the clichéd notion of "poet". Her work is forthright rather than febrile, earthy rather than exalted - which is not to say it lacks erudition. But's it's the crackling energy of her style and her wry, sometimes ribald vision that have most clearly characterised her work so far. The hallmarks of her earlier writing are still present in this fourth collection, but one senses a sea-change is taking place. With a more sombre atmosphere, a steadier pace and an increasingly confident linguistic control, this is poetry of true maturity.

99 WAYS INTO NEW ZEALAND POETRY, by Paula Green and Harry Ricketts (Vintage, $44.99). Green and Ricketts, both poets themselves, aim to make accessible the mass of New Zealand poetry in English: an extraordinary undertaking, with the mainstream being so wide. Not only do they take a comprehensive view of current work, and of writing by last century's self-consciously nationalist (and self-consciously internationalist) poets, but they base their categories and observations on the much larger inheritance of English poetry generally. There are nods, as well, to literature in other languages, including Maori. The result is a shrewd, knowledgeable winner.

STEAL AWAY BOY: SELECTED POEMS OF DAVID MITCHELL, edited by Martin Edmond and Nigel Roberts (AUP, $34.99). Author of Pipedreams in ­Ponsonby, one of the best-known and bestselling poetry books of the early 1970s, and founder of the pioneering Poetry Live event in Auckland in 1980, Mitchell is a poet who gradually ran out of puff, beginning to fall silent as a poet in the mid-80s and then later literally losing the ability to speak because of the degenerative condition of supranuclear palsy. Steal Away Boy rescues and rehabilitates this lost voice, whose poems remain as alive and vital as ever, exhibiting both bitter comedy and painterly primitivism, with verbal textures that still sing.

THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING, by Bill Manhire (VUP, $30). In a typical Manhire poem, words are treated as objects - each having a specific weight - while the narrative of the poem leads a life of its own, subverting "meaning" by multiplying possible meanings. The effect is by turns perplexing, amusing, enlightening. Circular and self-referential language suggests hermetic poetry for an in-crowd clued in to oblique references, but if The Victims of Lightning at first glance proffers the poem as a sealed envelope, at second glance you see the envelope is addressed to you the general reader.

Memoir & biography

THE BRIDGE, by David Remnick (Picador, $44.99). The Democrats' hammering in the recent mid-term elections, not to mention staggering government indebtedness, has taken some of the gloss off Barack Obama's presidency but this book is still a must-read for anyone with more than a passing interest in the remarkable life-story of the 44th President of the United States. Written by the editor of the New Yorker, it artfully covers the civil rights history that Obama had to learn and adopt to be a credible candidate for black Americans. It also offers a reminder that not only innate political talent but also sheer luck played a big part in his meteoric rise.

CONVERSATIONS WITH MYSELF, by Nelson Mandela (Macmillan, $69.99). This collection of personal letters, diary entries, memories and conversations, many from Mandela's prison years, is a compelling, at times savagely affecting, glimpse of the human being behind the legend. Included is what may be one of the world's great love letters, from Mandela to his wife Winnie in 1969, when she was imprisoned indefinitely and subject to torture. Mandela sustains his impeccable poise at all times, even in the most private and painful moments.

THE FRY CHRONICLES: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, by Stephen Fry (Penguin/Michael Joseph, $46). This second volume of autobiography finds Fry coming into his own as an actor, comedian and writer in the 1980s. Coming into his own, but never settling in his skin, and revelations of self-hatred abound. Revelations that help you (at least partially) forgive the smug exterior he so candidly acknowledges along with his addictive personality and craven craving for fame. Fry can be too clever by half sometimes, including painful puns, but he is good company: frighteningly intelligent and full of arresting thoughts (happily none on women and sex here); frighteningly articulate, too, and full of arresting phrases.

HITCH-22: A MEMOIR, by Christopher Hitchens (Allen and Unwin, $39.99). A person does not necessarily have to be likable to be readable and Hitchens perhaps proves the point. He is a clever, intelligent and amusing writer - the latter alone would forgive any literary sins, not that "Hitch" seems to commit any. As a left-wing political activist, then a journalist - he now writes for Vanity Fair - he is unashamedly opinionated, but can always justify his stands. Reviled by the left for his support for the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, he is spirited in his own defence. He writes about himself well - perhaps because that is his favourite topic.

JUST KIDS, by Patti Smith (Bloomsbury, $49.99). The pre-fame romance between Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe amid the blast of 70s New York counter-culture centered on their passion for art and experience. This candid memoir, winner of the US's National Book Award for Non-Fiction, recounts the bohemian glory of their hungry years and is a first-hand account of that scene. Starting as a love story, it ends as an elegy. Incredibly crafted, funny, but also poignant, it is an illuminating tribute from the high priestess of punk to her dear friend - one of the great photographers of the 20th century.

KATHERINE MANSFIELD: THE STORY-TELLER, by Kathleen Jones (Penguin/Viking, $67). Jones takes two extraordinary gambles that pay off amply in this richly detailed and compelling biography: cutting back and forth between Mansfield's life and that of husband John Middleton Murry after her death; and relating Murry's sections in the past tense but Mansfield's in the present. Drawing on a mass of new material, she writes with insight and verve, and an intelligent sympathy not only for Mansfield but for her entire cast.

NAVIGATION: A MEMOIR, by Joy Cowley (Penguin, $45). For all Cowley leaves out in this edited-highlights version of her seven-decade backstory, no one could put much more of themselves between the covers. This is not just a likeable book, or an eloquent and concisely written book, or a must-read for anyone interested in New Zealand's children's literature. It's a radiant book, with many wonderful set-pieces: forming a friendship with Roald Dahl; half-recog­nising her American editor's pleasant new colleague and then realising it was Jackie Onassis; having to tell a child that no, she wasn't Margaret Mahy.

NO FRETFUL SLEEPER: A LIFE OF BILL PEARSON, by Paul Millar (AUP, $59.99). Millar's lively biography shines a contemporary light on author and activist Pearson. For Pearson, being a homosexual writer was "the brick around a swimmer's throat" and in many ways this entire book runs counter to the breezily self-confident Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand (2008), which posited that New Zealand gay men often seemed to flourish in an underground of hot contact. The full and dreadful weight of the following Millar sentence is almost buried mid-chapter, yet on it rests the pivot of Pearson's life: "Although he survived as a man when he returned to New Zealand [from London], he perished as an artist."

THE PAST AWAITS: PEOPLE, FILM, IMAGES, by Vincent Ward (Craig Potton, $69.99). As one might expect in the memoir of a film-maker as visually precise and ambitious as Ward, pictures play as big a part as words - opulently presented pictures, some private, but mostly stills and set photographs, as well as extensive artwork from that most visually ambitious of all his films, What Dreams May Come. Ward writes revealingly, although sometimes with teasing discretion (who was that porn-obsessed American playwright, that "Spanish actress" he had a failed love affair with?), about the absurdities and compromises of life and movie-making in Hollywood, about the people and themes that have given rise to his most personal projects - and, of course, about directing River Queen on the Whanganui River with Samantha Morton.

REBEL WITH A CAUSE, by Ray Avery (Random House, $39.99). Before he could legally have a pint at the pub, Avery already knew what it was like to be abused, abandoned and living under a bridge in London. As a boy, he took refuge in mad scientific experiments and precocious entrepreneurialism. These days, the 2010 New Zealander of the Year saves lives in the Third World with inventions - an intravenous drip clamp, a low-cost incubator, a super-protein food supplement - cooked up in his garage in Mt Eden. His story is ghost-written but irrepressibly Avery - unflagging, devoid of self-pity, slightly evangelical and often very funny.

REPORT ON EXPERIENCE, by John Mulgan (VUP, $40). It's been a good year for Mulgan, with his 1939 novel Man Alone now available as a Penguin Classic and the reissue, simultaneously in New Zealand, the UK and the US, of his other book, the posthumously published Report on Experience. Report is one the shrewdest, most eloquent accounts you can read of the political and social scene in New Zealand and the UK both before and at the outbreak of World War II; of the war itself, in Egypt and as Mulgan fought alongside partisans in Axis-occupied Greece; and of the envisaged world after the war. As welcome as the reissue itself is editor Peter Whiteford's carefully annotated restoration of Mulgan's original text, including remarks critical of commanding officers removed when the book was published in 1947.

SOUTH-WEST OF EDEN: A MEMOIR, 1932-1956, by CK Stead (AUP, $45). The value of a memoir like this lies both in what it reveals about the development of its author's character and personality and what it says about the country he lived in; Stead swerves towards the latter - at the end of the book, we know quite a lot of what he did, but aren't much wiser about who he is. All the same, South-West of Eden lightens the world we once lived in, with Stead writing of a full, rich youth of striving and achievement in what sometimes seems a different New Zealand, and the book is worth reading for his portraits of literary contemporaries alone.

STORYTELLER: THE LIFE OF ROALD DAHL, by Donald Sturrock (HarperPress, $39.99). Dahl's truth is certainly stranger than fiction - including his autobiographies Boy and Going Solo. "I don't lie. I merely make the truth a little more interesting ... I don't break my word - I merely bend it slightly ...," he wrote - and Sturrock, who first met Dahl as a fledgling BBC doco-maker, has little trouble finding out his fibs. With access to every family resource (including over 900 letters kept by Dahl's mother) after daughter Ophelia, the nominated biographer, bowed out, Sturrock has written a fat volume that makes riveting reading - and not only for those with an interest in the outsider's extraordinary books for children.

WAIT FOR ME! MEMOIRS OF THE YOUNGEST MITFORD SISTER, by Deborah Devonshire (John Murray, $45). Do admit: when it comes to the Mitfords, too much is never enough. Debo, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, now 90, has rehearsed much of this material - tea with Hitler; closeness with JFK; obsession with Elvis - in earlier works. But her account of losing four babies and of husband Andrew's alcoholism are all the more affecting for the stiffness of the upper lip with which they are told. Also painful, and ultimately futile, are her attempts to bathe in the glow of sisterly devotion to her most problematic siblings - Führer-fixated goose-stepper Unity and unrepentantly fascist Diana. But there's much to charm, including such priceless Mitford lines as "You are NOT to mention those eunuchs at dinner."

History

AT HOME: A SHORT HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE, by Bill Bryson (Doubleday, $65). Bryson attempts to trace the past two centuries' development of households and possessions, of furniture and plumbing, of hygiene and the culinary arts, of botanical exploration and garden design, and of sundry accoutrements like wallpaper and lawnmowers and mousetraps. Because he can't resist an astonishing fact or a comic anecdote, he detours a lot, just for the fun of it. And sometimes there are detours off his detours. Readers would do well to forget about the destination and just surrender to the joyous rollercoaster.

HOME: CIVILIAN NEW ZEALANDERS REMEMBER THE SECOND WORLD WAR, by Alison Parr (Penguin, $52). This is an oral history of our own "home front". As a former radio and television journalist with a psychology degree, Parr gets beyond "the constructed stories" people often tell to reach "another layer of memory, of reflection". She divides 18 interviews (done for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's From Memory War Oral History Project) not as life histories but into chapters exploring themes, to give a representative picture in a handsome volume full of photographs.

READING ON THE FARM: VICTORIAN FICTION AND THE COLONIAL WORLD, by Lydia Wevers (VUP, $40). The lending library of 19th-century Wairarapa sheep station Brancepeth is Wevers's entrée into not just colonial reading habits but a farming world that is like a novel in itself. "It has all these things going on in it - the scandals and the deaths and the financial difficulties and reversals and the wills and the legacies and the missing people," Wevers told the Listener. Her route to it was the scribbled remarks and annotations in the books, and the station's diaries and ledgers, full as they are of the opinions, observations and caustic comments of estate clerk John Vaughan Miller.

TRUTH: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE PEOPLE'S PAPER, by Redmer Yska (Craig Potton, $49.99). Yska claims the legacy of his two stints as a reporter on Truth is that he is now unable to write a sentence longer than 10 words. This is plainly said in jest, as a quick dip into this book will attest. Yska writes history in a very readable style; he has an eye and ear for a quirky or insightful personal story, and a deft touch in retelling it. Truth was for a long time New Zealand's bestselling newspaper and this book should appeal to not only media people but also those with an interest in New Zealand's social history.

Current affairs

CRISIS: ONE CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR & THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL COLLAPSE, by Alan Bollard with Sarah Gaitanos (AUP, $29.99). It is unusual for a serving central banker to write a book such as this; the founders of the Reserve Bank would certainly have been surprised at how explicit it is. Although Bollard says all the material is available under the Official Information Act, Crisis also contains much personal detail, showing that behind the scenes there is a very human story. Discretion means some bits of the story cannot be told, especially the close involvement of the Treasury, but there remain surprising perspectives and admissions.

FREEFALL: FREE MARKETS AND THE SINKING OF THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, by Joseph Stiglitz (Penguin/Allen Lane, $40). There were no shortage of books this year about the 2008 global financial collapse (see above), but Stiglitz's had the most intellectual heft, while also being best at describing what happened after the collapse and outlining an agenda for change. He argues that the crisis was caused fundamentally by a rottenness at the core of the operation of capitalism over the past 30 years and the ideological extremism that underpinned it. A view shared by ...

ILL FARES THE LAND: A TREATISE ON OUR PRESENT DISCONTENTS, by Tony Judt (Penguin/Allen Lane, $36). The Memory Chalet, a collection of political historian Judt's moving final personal essays, has just come out overseas, but Ill Fares the Land is the last book published in his lifetime, before he died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in August. There is an unmistakably elegiac quality to the book, which is both a lament for what we have lost - in terms of a whole and healthy society, a functioning democracy and a set of non-materialist values - and a polemic that rails against the course of the past 30 years.

RACE OF A LIFETIME: HOW OBAMA WON THE WHITE HOUSE, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (Penguin/Viking, $38). This account of the 2008 US presidential election, by New York magazine's Heilemann and Time's Halperin, is like a double bacon and cheese burger: you wolf it down, loving every greasy moment, then, five minutes after, you feel soiled. And you wonder why grown adults, when they campaign to lead the world's only superpower, behave in a manner that would shame reality-show contestants.

WAR, by Sebastian Junger (Fourth Estate, $35). This is an evocative, frequently terrifying account of life at a remote American outpost in Afghanistan. The book provides nerve-wracking impressions of a year spent on the front line, delivered with the skill Junger's readers have come to expect; judicious secondary research further lifts the narrative into a convincing exploration of the bonds, emotions and beliefs that allow human beings to endure the terror of combat.

Science

THE GRAND DESIGN: NEW ANSWERS TO THE ULTIMATE QUESTIONS OF LIFE, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (Bantam, $37.99). Hawking has revoked God - or so the world's headlines would have us believe. It's creationism that really cops it, though; God survives as science's straw man. The Grand Design is about M-theory, "the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe", a pluralist physics that involves distinct but overlapping explanatory models. Despite the quarks and bosons and p-branes, the book is impressively - almost suspiciously - comprehensible, sweetened by jokes, diagrams and historical asides. Indeed, the clarity of writing emphasises how counterintuitive contemporary physics really is. Far from spoiling life's mysteries, The Grand Design broadens the scope of the marvellous.

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, by Rebecca Skloot (Picador, $42.99). Lacks was a poor American black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Cells taken from her cancer - without permission - became the first "immortal" human tissue: grown, cultured and sold to laboratories around the world, they helped to develop the polio vaccine and chemotherapy drugs, have been used in cloning experiments and even went up in space. This moving and fascinating tale combines the scientific advances that have emerged from work on her cells with the story of Lacks and her unwitting descendants.

NORTH POLE, SOUTH POLE: THE EPIC QUEST TO SOLVE THE GREAT MYSTERY OF EARTH'S MAGNETISM, by Gillian Turner (Awa Press, $40). Turner's gift for storytelling and depth of knowledge turn the story of magnetism into a highly enjoyable tale. It begins with the ancient Greeks, who knew about magnetised rocks, and meanders through history to the arrival of the supercomputers that finally helped scientists make sense of centuries' worth of observations and geological records. The focus is on the people behind the physics, and the reader learns with the scientists as they grapple to understand Earth's magnetism and in the process unravel many other scientific mysteries.

REQUIEM FOR A SPECIES: WHY WE RESIST THE TRUTH ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, by Clive Hamilton (Allen and Unwin, $29.99). There's no hope - and yet we shouldn't give up. It's the kind of premise that could quickly become knotty, but Aussie ethicist Hamilton has a light touch when it comes to global warming doom and gloom. His previous book on the subject, 2007's Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change, was an excoriating polemic; with Requiem, he's come to accept political inaction has committed the world to inevitable climate change, his anger replaced with a lucidly jaded point of view that somehow still makes the case for continuing the fight. Bleak, but important.

SEEING FURTHER: THE STORY OF SCIENCE & THE ROYAL SOCIETY, edited by Bill Bryson (Harper Press, $56). Seeing Further marks the 350th anniversary of the longest-running scientific institution, which has fostered some of the most challenging ideas human minds have had and witnessed some of science's most dramatic feuds. In this lavishly illustrated book, some of today's best-known scientists and writers explore the historic and scientific milestones since the foundation of the Royal Society by a dozen "ingenious and curious gentlemen" in 1660.

Art & photography

ANDREW DRUMMOND: OBSERVATION/ACTION/REFLECTION, by Jennifer Hay, et al (Christchurch Art Gallery, $89.99). An encyclopedic overview of the work of Christchurch sculptor Drummond, Observation/Action/Reflection brings together the formative themes of more than three decades of art practice, including performance art, sculpture, installation, drawing, photography and technology. The depth and breadth of this artist's oeuvre, evident in this year's exhibition with the same name at Christchurch Art Gallery, is characterised by a deeply allegorical approach to human interaction with the land, to transformation and to the heartbeat of kinetic movement, and is here addressed in a number of essays, an interview with John Finlay and a catalogue of images made remarkable by the arcane elegance of their subject.

ANGELS & ARISTOCRATS: EARLY EUROPEAN ART IN NEW ZEALAND PUBLIC COLLECTIONS, by Mary Kisler (Godwit, $75). Angels & Aristocrats is, in effect, a general history of early European art - but one told from the margins of other general histories' focus, featuring, for the most part, not the works of art's A-list but those of the lesser-known contemporaries held by New Zealand galleries. Lesser-known but eminently rewarding, especially when your guide is Kisler, so well does she blend human interest with accessible scholarship and bring alive the art she discusses.

ARTISTS@WORK: NEW ZEALAND PAINTERS & SCULPTORS IN THE STUDIO, by Richard Wolfe and Stephen Robinson (Penguin, $72). Wolfe and Robinson pull aside the curatorial curtain to show us artists in their own habitat, their thinking and techniques freed from the intervening obfuscations of art-speak. Wolfe's writing and lines of inquiry are wonderfully accessible, but it comes as no surprise to read the idea for Artists@Work came from Robinson, because the star of the book is his photography, a model of beautifully lit clarity, of the well-observed moment or detail, of how to capture both the artist and the work.

BRIAN BRAKE: LENS ON THE WORLD, edited by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press, $99.99). "Photographers are often criticised for having a cruel lens, but Brian had a gentle one," McCredie quotes Brake's London agent John Hillelson. Hillelson doubtless meant it as a compliment but for McCredie it is just one of several marks against "essentially a pictorialist, a romantic", a photographer who lacked a "critical attitude" towards his subjects. There is certainly no lack of a "critical attitude" in this book, which accompanies a career-spanning Te Papa exhibition of Brake's work. There is plenty of the work for us to make up our own minds, but within the essays doubts are sown, and an interesting tension established. Unusual, and bracing, for a high-end coffee-table production.

HAUAGA: THE ART OF JOHN PULE, edited by Nicholas Thomas (Otago, $120). Hauaga, Niuean for arrivals. It is the title of this extensive monograph on Pule, as well as the name of this year's exhibition at City Gallery Wellington and the troubled theme of two decades of Pule's work. Essays by Thomas, Peter Brunt and Gregory O'Brien, a selection of Pule's writing and more than 100 coloured plates provide an appropriately multifarious approach to a poet and artist whose work straddles past and present, collective memory and cultural clash, arrivals and departures - depictions of dislocation jolted out of historic platitudes by words and images both ­graphically frenetic and lyrically tender.

NEW ZEALANDERS IN FOCUS: THE DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY OF PETER JAMES QUINN, introduced by Vaughan Yarwood (Kowhai, $69.99). No one could accuse Quinn of being a pictorialist (à la Brian Brake). His photographs offer "a warts-and-all reflection of the country without pretence or make-up", writes James Frankham, his editor at New Zealand Geographic. The photograph on the cover of a Greymouth mine rescue team, blackened around the eyes by coal dust, staring to camera beneath breathing apparatus, is unwittingly haunting in the wake of the Pike River tragedy. The book is full of such unvarnished images, straddling every facet of New Zealand life.

STILL LIFE: INSIDE THE ANTARCTIC HUTS OF SCOTT AND SHACKLETON, by Jane Ussher, with essays by Nigel Watson (Murdoch, $89.99). White of ice, black of rock - the stark palette of Antarctica is dramatically contradicted by the sumptuous light of photographer Ussher's detailed record of the huts used by Robert Scott's and Ernest Shackleton's expedition teams. Introduced by the Antarctic Heritage Trust's Watson and interwoven with report and diary entries written by members of the 1910-13 and 1914-17 expeditions, Still Life provides evidence of the day-to-day minutiae of survival - the boots and buckles, the ropes and tins, the stencilled boxes, the rough craft of twine and wood and canvas revealed here with a nostalgic sense of human courage.

TIVAIVAI: THE SOCIAL FABRIC OF THE COOK ISLANDS, by Susanne Küchler and Andrea Eimke (Te Papa Press, $64.99). Many New Zealanders know the colourful patchworks embroidered by women of the Cook Islands, both at home and in Aotearoa. This substantial volume, first published last year by the British Museum Press, combines scholarship with lively biographies and vibrant images of the textiles, their makers and the islands. Küchler is an anthropologist; Eimke lives on the volcanic island of Atiu, where she is founder and director of the Atiu Fibre Arts Studio. As textiles take their rightful place in the design spectrum, this overview of tivaivai - the first in nearly a decade - will be welcomed not only by academics, but by all who love fabric.

WAYNE BARRAR: AN EXPANDING SUBTERRA, by David L Pike, et al (Dunedin Public Art Gallery, $55). "It is not clear when people first began to document underground space," begins essayist Pike in an excellent introduction to Barrar's photographic exploration of human life and work under the ground. These are unsettled spaces - a surge chamber, a dive site, homes carved out of former opal mines, whole work stations sitting in bizarre proximity to rock walls or the dank darkness of excavated space. Mostly devoid of people, the works are nevertheless redolent with human presence: the hard hat, the chart, the mural - suggestions of normalcy within the mad scale of geological industry or the strange fact of subterranean habitation.

Music

BLUE SMOKE: THE LOST DAWN OF NEW ZEALAND POPULAR MUSIC 1918-1964, by Chris Bourke (AUP, $59.99). Bourke has described Blue Smoke as a prequel to John Dix's Stranded in Paradise. The story it tells reaches back to the first stirrings of jazz in New Zealand and ends with the arrival of the Beatles and the changes they wrought. The exhaustive labour of love the book was is evident on every page, not only in Bourke's evocation of the various musical scenes (along with the dance halls, radio stations and record companies that served - and in some cases ill-served - them), but also in the many archive pictures he tracked down. Topping it off is a particularly generous design from AUP.

BOB DYLAN IN AMERICA, by Sean Wilentz (Bodley Head, $59.99). Does the world really need yet another book of Dylanology? Only if it is as rigorous, original and readable as this one. Wilentz, a Princeton University professor, combines a scholar's view of American history with a passion for Dylan's music. Dylan's place in history is examined, but Wilentz also shows how history has shaped and informed Dylan's art. The connections he makes are unexpected and intriguing (ever considered the connections between Dylan and Aaron Copland?), while his focus on the less-explored corners of Dylan's work is rewarding, particularly the chapters on his late-career album cycle.

LIFE, by Keith Richards (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $59.99). A notable feature of Life is 67-year-old Richards's nostalgia and yearning for the years before superstardom, with memories of becoming a boy scout and his pride in graduating to patrol leader in three months. Keef's sweet and shy side is one of many revelations. Another is that the world's most "elegantly wasted" human being always used heroin intramuscularly - ie, not straight into the bloodstream. In drug circles, this is seen as a sissy, almost wholesome way to use the narcotic. It is as if a legendary heavy smoker turned out to have smoked one cigarette a day.

LIVE: GIGS THAT ROCKED NEW ZEALAND, edited by Bruce Jarvis and Josh Easby (HarperCollins, $89.99). Rock musicians and photographers are natural-born partners: show-offs need an audience, and a Nikon lens loves a show-off. Live draws on the images of more than 50 photographers across more than 50 years, capturing the flamboyant visitors in our midst (and a smattering of locals), from Gene Vincent and Johnny Cash in 1959 to Lady Gaga this year.

SERIOUS FUN: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF MIKE NOCK, by Norman Meehan (VUP, $50). Nock was saved from a difficult childhood by the piano and helpful mentors, then survived gritty, bohemian 1960s international jazz scenes and his artistic risk-taking to enjoy 25 productive and stable years teaching and performing in Sydney. Contemporary jazz is an elusive art to capture, and the Ngaruawahia-born Nock a mercurial character. Luckily, the dedication of the subject is matched by that of the author. Meehan refreshingly concentrates on Nock's music-making, but doesn't ignore his driven personality: anecdotes from Nock's restless life are interspersed with analysis of his art. The result is compelling and illuminating.

Lifestyle

CLASSIC: THE REVIVAL OF CLASSIC BOATING IN NEW ZEALAND, by Ivor Wilkins (Godwit, $95). Carbon fibre - it might have the speed, but where's the class? Wood, that's where, and the classic boats whose history, restoration and continued use are celebrated in this book by maritime writer and photographer Wilkins. It won't be for everyone, but judging by the interest expressed around the Listener office, it will be for boaties, even (especially?) those with the most modest vessels. And if they ever tire of Classic, they could always put it to sea itself, so sizeable and sturdy is it.

THE DRESS CIRCLE: NEW ZEALAND FASHION DESIGN SINCE 1940, by Lucy Hammonds, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Claire Regnault (Godwit, $75). The commonly held belief that fashion in New Zealand began in 1999 when the New Zealand Four (Zambesi, Karen Walker, Nom*D and World) showed their ranges in London "sat uncomfortably" with The Dress Circle's authors. The result is a book that qualifies as NZ Fashion 101, although the focus on the personalities who shaped the fashion scene is what really drives the narrative, which is not so much a history of fashion as of the people who gave a hoot about being stylish and fabulous.

GROUP ARCHITECTS: TOWARDS A NEW ZEALAND ARCHITECTURE, edited by Julia Gatley (AUP, $75). Gatley edited 2008's Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture 1904-1984 and here brings into tighter focus one of the leading lights of that book, mid-20th century Auckland collective and later practice the Group, "the most mythologised architects in the country", as one of the essays here puts it. It's an essay that queries how the Group's canonical status came about and is representative of the 360-degree examination the Group undergoes, starting with Gatley's introduction, which places it at the heart of the 1940s intellectual milieu that sought to create New Zealand idioms while absorbing the influence of international modernism.

A HISTORY OF GARDENING IN NEW ZEALAND, by Bee Dawson (Godwit, $49.99). Dawson tells

the story of gardening in New Zealand from initial Maori settlement to the 21st century, in an immensely entertaining book that is well-researched, well-written and magnificently illustrated. She describes how humans have interacted with soil, climate, terrain and nature in this remote land, her chronicle reflecting changes in how we have gardened and how those changes have in turn helped shape our community. The book blurs the boundaries between garden and agriculture, but is better for doing so.

HOME WORK: LEADING NEW ZEALAND ARCHITECTS' OWN HOUSES, by John Walsh and Patrick Reynolds (Godwit, $75). So, this is what that Dr Seuss-like Ian Athfield house spilling down the hill towards the Wellington motorway looks like inside ... now it makes (some) sense. Athfield is one of 24 architects featured here, along with, as a result of differing domestic arrangements, 20 homes. They are, as Walsh points out, a varied lot (an earth-covered dome home on the Kapiti Coast, anyone?), with each of the private projects being "the expression of a personality". Walsh pokes around the minds that designed them, while Reynolds, whose architectural photography is unsurpassed, pokes around the homes themselves.

Food & drink

CHANCERS AND VISIONARIES: A HISTORY OF WINE IN NEW ZEALAND, by Keith Stewart (Random House, $49.99). This isn't the comprehensive history of the modern, postwar wine industry that New Zealand still awaits, but it does offer a long and enjoyable read. Stewart brings the 1960s and 70s - when New Zealand wine started to be fashionable - vividly to life. He demonstrates the extent to which the fledgling industry was hampered by the temperance movement and the political influence of beer barons, and offers the most detailed portraits yet of several early-mid 20th-century winegrowers.

THE FREE RANGE COOK, by Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $59.99). Whether or not you are a fan of Langbein's TV show, in which the food writer performs various acts of domestic goddessery, expect to succumb to the book of the series. The recipes are sensational, and Langbein's healthy, pared-back approach to cooking shines through in every dish. She is perhaps the country's best recipe writer - with an unerring sense of what home cooks need to know about cooking methods, ingredient substitutions, storage and shortcuts - and her enthusiasm for fresh, seasonal food is infectious. The food photography - often a weak point in New Zealand cookbooks - is stunning.

A GOOD SPREAD: RECIPES FROM THE KITCHENS OF RURAL WOMEN NEW ZEALAND (Random House, $34.99). At a time when cookbooks are increasingly long on glossy photos and short on actual recipes, A Good Spread bucks the trend by offering recipes for hundreds of dishes prepared in homes, halls, woolsheds, churches and sports clubs around rural New Zealand. These are tasty, filling, unpretentious dishes made with seasonal produce and with an eye on the budget. The names alone are an absolute delight: Bunnies on a Hill, Toby Water, Afternoon Tea Dainty, Admiral's Hats, Baked Pencils and the slightly salacious-sounding Four-Way Sponge.

KITCHEN: RECIPES FROM THE HEART OF THE HOME, by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, $75). How Nigella does rabbit on! Even diehard fans must eventually tire of her telling us, yet again, about the pleasure to be had from the rhythmic stirring of cupcake batter or the gluttonous thrill of wolfing left­overs straight from the fridge. And will there be any reader who, turning to the page titled "Slut's Spaghetti", does not expect to see a photograph of Nigella wearing a slinky red silk dressing gown? That said, this book's 190 recipes are as beguiling as ever, and seem both simpler and thriftier than in previous books.

MARTIN BOSLEY, by Martin Bosley (Godwit, $90). Listener food writer Bosley is a force to be reckoned with on the Wellington restaurant scene, and his eponymously titled book features dishes from the two restaurants he has been most associated with. Bosley's much-copied cedar-planked salmon is here, as are many other dishes Wellington diners will recognise. This is elegant, refined cooking, and some recipes will challenge the home cook. The hard-to-read type is unfortunate - as are the 15 pages that were duplicated in our copy of the book - but it's hard not to be tempted by dishes such as Crayfish with Truffled White Peach, Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parsley Ice Cream, and Feijoa Tarte Tatin with Mascarpone.

THE NEW ZEALAND VEGETABLE COOKBOOK, by Lauraine Jacobs, Ginny Grant and Kathy Paterson (Random House, $49.99). Vegetables have only rarely been the star of New Zealand recipe books since the classic Digby Law's Vegetable Cookbook was first published in 1978. Here to remedy this omission is The New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook. Helpfully arranged by season, this beautifully produced book features easy and delicious side dishes, entrées and pastas as well as main course recipes that put vegetables firmly back at centre stage.

PINOT NOIR: THE NEW ZEALAND STORY, by John Saker, with photography by Aaron McLean (Random House, $49.99). Saker profiles 35 top producers, but it's the lead-in chapters that make this book so special. Like the "inquisitive, uncompromising, delightfully obsessed" winemakers he writes about, Saker loves pinot noir - and has researched his topic well. After pondering the worship of the wine ("its ability to trip off an emotional response") and tracing its history back to the first of the Valois dukes of Burgundy, he focuses on its origins in New Zealand in the 19th century and the resurgence of interest since the 1970s.

TENDER: VOLUME II - A COOK'S GUIDE TO THE FRUIT GARDEN, by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate, $59.99). No one writes about food like Slater.

No one writes as well, or as thought­fully, or with as much curiosity about the essential qualities of every single ingredient and every single dish. This book and its earlier companion volume, Tender: Volume I: A Cook and his Vegetable Patch, chronicle his 10-year experiment with turning an unwanted lawn at his London house into "a garden laden with sensual pleasures". As an extra treat, Jonathan Lovekin's photography is almost as luscious as Slater's writing.

Sport

THE AWA BOOK OF NEW ZEALAND SPORTS WRITING, edited by Harry Ricketts (Awa Press, $40). Ricketts uses a wide definition of sports writing in this excellent anthology, taking in writing from the periphery of sport (notably relations between New Zealand and South Africa) and even writing about sports writing itself. There is fiction and there is poetry - including a poem Ricketts "found" in a list of injuries sustained by Chris Cairns in the cricketer's auto­biography.

MANA, by Nick Danziger and James Kerr (Hodder Moa, $99.99). Danziger is the British photojournalist who, among other career highlights, spent 30 days with unprecedented access to Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq War; even the most ardent rugby fan would concede it wasn't quite such a pivotal period, but in June this year he and London-based New Zealand writer Kerr were given similar access to the All Blacks. Kerr lays on the mana and Maori lore a bit thick (as perhaps only an expat Pakeha could), but Danziger's black-and-white photographs present a down-to-earth, unheroic picture of team life before and after those 80 minutes on the pitch.

Miscellaneous

THE POSSESSED: ADVENTURES WITH RUSSIAN BOOKS AND THE PEOPLE WHO READ THEM, by Elif Batuman (Text, $31). Batuman suggests an encounter with Russia and its literature inevitably involves incidents as incredible and bizarre as those produced by Nikolai Gogol's imagination or Russian history. Does the study of Russian attract weirdos and eccentrics or does it induce weirdness? This is a question she addresses in her final chapter. Essentially autobiography and memoir, this ­informative, clever and highly entertaining book traverses history, biography, literary theory and criticism.

REALITY HUNGER: A MANIFESTO, by David Shields (Hamish Hamilton, $36). Shields is a novelist who no longer likes novels. In fact, he hates such words as plot, place and character. He doesn't like genre, either. Words he does like include fragment, mash-up, remix, sampling, appropriation, homage, collage, montage, bricolage, mosaic and assemblage. His case is advanced through 618 numbered paragraphs, well over half of which were written by other people. The appendix supplies us with most of the attributions, but without Shields's endorsement and only because lawyers insisted, for this is also a book about appropriation and plagiarism ("Reality cannot be copyrighted"). A fine ­provocation.

THE TASMAN: BIOGRAPHY OF AN OCEAN, by Neville Peat (Penguin, $62). Natural history writer and photographer Peat's "biography" is an encyclopaedic, lavishly illustrated

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