Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
This is one of those books like a pregnant women. When you’re lugging the great lump around, so, it suddenly seems, is everyone else. The thing is everywhere. In the course of one week my son recommended it, my husband was reading it, I met a bloke on a tramp who couldn’t look up at the trees because his head was in the book and his girlfriend said it changed her life. Yeah, yeah. I got a copy.
Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind is a big book. Lots of pages, yes, but I mean big in the sense that every chapter is packed with some thought provoking perception. I didn’t agree with all Harari’s ideas but they were all interesting enough to make me rest the book on my lap for a while and think…hmmm…maybe he’s right. This is designed to be a life changing book. Bill Gates and Barack Obama both recommend it on the cover. It claims to be the “thrilling account of our extraordinary history—from insignificant apes to rulers of the world,” Quite the thesis.
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Optimism for over the hill runners
You’re born, you run, you die.
Somewhere in the middle there’s a peak when it all comes together: age, training, body, everything adding up to the perfect run where you hit the hills and can run for hours. God, I miss it!
I will never run that well again. I am over the hill, as it were.
So what’s to do? I’ve never been one for analysis. I don’t record my times and speed, I do different trails all the time, always off-road. It’s difficult to compare times when the track’s washed away or the dog’s decided to avoid the zigzag and go cross-country for a change. But even so, it is hard not to consider that once I ran Te Mata Peak, fast and furious, without falling over. Obviously the sensible thing, as we age, is to continue to run, consistently, patiently, accepting the fact that as you slide from “peak you”, every run will be that little bit less. “Good for your age” people will say, but it will be a challenge just to stay on the path of steady decline. Look, I’ve drawn it for you:
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Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan
This book delivers everything it promises on the cover: a surreal balloon ride through a tropical jungle, a black boy holding fast with no control over things and an pith-helmeted explorer with a telescope looking like he knows where he’s going.
Washington Black, as the name suggests, is a slave boy and the explorer is the eccentric brother of his owner on a slave plantation in Barbados. They are drawn together, Titch because of the boy’s uncanny drawing ability and Wash for the enticement of freedom. But what is freedom?
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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
I’ve included Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop because a dear friend says it’s her favourite book ever, and I am pretty sure she’s not alone in that.
It’s set in a fading record shop in a bypassed street where the owner, our Frank, magically recommends exactly the music that people need to make them feel fine. Nice idea. Bit of a fantasy.
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Before we were yours, by Lisa Wingate
This novel contains two stories that we know will connect. We can guess, but don’t know the full details until the end. It is based on shameful historical fact that makes us keep reading through the slightly klutzy text in the hope that, bloody hell, if this is true let’s make sure it never happens again. It goes on my “good holiday read” shelf. Probably wouldn’t take it to book club.
The interesting story is the one of a twelve-year-old river kid in Tennassee in 1939. Her mother is birthing twins on the houseboat and the black midwife walks out because she doesn’t want a dead white woman on her hands. When her father leaves for hospital in the skiff, the girl and her 4 siblings are kidnapped. This is a retelling of a bogey story as old as the hills (stabs me in the heart every time), with an orphanage, cellars, beatings, gruel, death and starvation until the cute blond kids get sold off to wealthy but infertile couples. The kids’ past disappears like the river and there is no psychological help for them ever apart from what they can cobble together themselves. It’s horrible.
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The Adventures of Tupaia, by Courtney Sina Meredith and Mat Tait
Tupaia has shot to fame these last months as the pin-up boy of our history. Neither Māori nor Pakeha, the Tahitian ‘ariori (priest) and navigator who travelled with Cook bridged two very different cultures in 1769. If we approach the study of Aotearoa/New Zealand history through his eyes we develop a fresh understanding of our first encounters.
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Call Me Evie, by J P Pomare
Generally speaking I avoid books with red and black covers and an image of a traumatised girl. So much crime/horror treats murder, rape, kidnapping of young women as entertainment.
But I met the intelligent and likeable J P Pomare at the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival and realised all the fuss about his book might suggest I have my genres confused. “A top-rate psychological thriller,” said a friend in the know. “Literary suspense” said another. I decided to overcome my prejudice. I picked up red-and-black Evie.
I realised at once I had opened an unusual book.
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