The Summer Reading Guide with Chloe Blades
Rewi: Āta haere, kia tere
by Jeremy Hansen and Jade Kake (Massey University Press, $75)
If every book was curated with as much aroha as Rewi: Āta haere, kia tere our shop would look like an art gallery. A major ode to the late architect Rewi Thompson (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Raukawa), this tome celebrates his unique architecture through a range of his stunning projects, painting a portrait of an innovative and visionary thinker who incorporated design with the human experience. From his influence on Point Chevalier’s Mason Centre Extension project, and how he incorporated a wharenui and considered te ao Māori perspectives in mental health design, to his exhibition for the Triennale Di Milano in 1996 where he displayed his large paper sculpture representing Te Tiriti o Waitangi, there’s a project detailed in here that will make you view New Zealand architecture with a whole new level of appreciation. Through interviews, colour photography, archived drawings, and plans, writers Jeremy Hansen and architectural designer Jade Kake have immortalised the life of a remarkable man in one of the most imaginative books. It’s been a consistent contender in our weekly Top 10 that’s published on The Spinoff, coming in fourth this week (Dec 1st) after Dolly Alderton and two Booker Prize heavy-weights, The Bee Sting and the winning novel Prophet Song. Rewi has set a whole new standard in publishing.
Art Class - Line and Colour:
Doodle your way to creativity with Bobby Clark (Thames & Hudson, $45)
The Summer holidays in New Zealand seem to go on forever, especially if you live in Auckland where there’s suddenly no traffic for two months and High Street is empty and cafes are closed. This means most of you are hopefully enjoying some downtime, perhaps by a beach, where these’s a window to sit at to learn a new skill or spend time with an old one. This is an art book that acts as inspiration for creative expression, working on even the most analytical minds, and will help you “develop a fundamental knowledge of techniques and tools to build trust in your intuition”. The paper quality and photography in this book are enough to get the creative juices flowing. She guides you through painting your own colour wheel and gives advice on what papers and materials to invest in. From blind doodling to shape drawing, light shades to gradual tones, and line portraits and geometric colour studies, this workbook feels like (I can only but imagine) an affordable self-taught summer holiday course at Elam. This book will leave you with a new portfolio of something to be proud of and in a more meditative and restored state of mind for 2024. I go to Studio Art Supplies in Grey Lynn for all my brushes, paints, knowledge and paper, where the staff are experts and no question is too silly or difficult for them to answer. Go on, give it a go.
Inhabiting the Negative Space
by Jenny Odell (Sternberg Press, $40)
Harvard University Graduate School of Design has produced a delectable little series called The Incidents, which documents mind-changing events that have taken place there. Published by Sternberg Press in London and bound by Grafiche Veneziane in Italy, each one is a work of spectacular beauty. This one, Inhabiting the Negative Space, is the virtual commencement speech that Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, gave to the School of Design graduates in 2020. Odell argues that it is in the periods of inactivity, the negative spaces of creativity, that a deeper, more meaningful approach to creativity can be had. Odell calls it “the dark matter of the artistic process: the part that doesn’t look like anything”. We live in a world where “time is an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on ‘nothing.’ It provides no return on investment; it is simply too expensive”, but she makes a very strong argument for everything that’s wrong with this idea. We should use the accidental days off and the moments staring into space doing nothing but observing, connecting and reframing what we think we know. It will take you into 2024 with a fresh perspective on doing nothing, all the while inspiring you with ways to reclaim your attention and live and create more meaningfully. I bought this while on a booksellers scholarship in San Francisco in August, so it’s not available in store but we can order it for delivery in 7-10 days.
How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney?
By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Walker, $35) - Kids
You’ve stood staring at the festive displays of modern children’s Christmas books and are wondering, which one should I get my child / grandchild / neighbour’s child, etc. This is the one. Firstly, it has Jon Klassen’s name on it who you will recognise from I Want My Hat Back and We Found a Hat - you can therefore guarantee it will be a read cheeky enough to entertain the adults too. Combined with Mac Barnett’s storytelling (from the ‘shape friends’ series) you have yourself a winner. This book tells an adorable tale about the many obstacles Santa faces on Christmas Eve to get down a chimney. Not only must we assume that every dog loves Santa and he knows just where to scratch them, but that as a fully grown adult he’s unlikely to fit down a chimney. Does a reindeer give Santa a kick when he gets stuck half way down? Does he turn into a ball of fire? Does he become as thin as paper and slide under the doors of houses without a chimney? Who knows. It’s a very sweet tale that is suitable for ages 2+
So Late in the Day
by Claire Keegan (Faber, $30) - Fiction
At the end of an uneventful day clock-watching at his Dublin office, regretting he didn’t take a walk at lunchtime, Cathal commutes home with his mind fixated on a woman from his past after getting a whiff of a woman’s perfume on the bus - “it occurred to him that there must be thousands if not hundreds of thousands of women who smelled the same”. He’d met Sabine in Toulouse, and as we jump in and out of his head to his house with only his TV, cat and champagne for company, you realise she’s gone. With powerful yet scarce prose typical of Keegan, there’s a repressing sense of interchangeable what-ifs concerning the life-changing and the mundane. This miniature asks if it's a lack of generosity that ruins what could be between men and women, and across a mere 47 pages it makes a compelling argument. I’m sure you’ve read Keegan’s masterpiece, Small Things Like These, a novella shortlisted for the Booker Prize that confronts the Magdalene laundries, where an estimated 30,000 Irish women were incarcerated between the 18th and 20th centuries. It’s told from the perspective of a coal merchant, Bill Furlong, who has a wife and five daughters and, just like So Late in the Day, it ponders the narrow boundaries between happiness and ruin.
How to Speak Flower
by Molly Williams (Hachette, $30) - Kids
If there’s a budding florist in your family or even a young person with an interest in the outdoors, this compact child-friendly guide to the language of flowers will give them the knowledge to blossom. Floriography is the way to communicate using flowers - they’re not just pretty little mood-lifters, it seems. There are simple guides on how to arrange cut flowers, make flower bath-bombs, create flower crowns, and make potpourri, among other things, all arranged next to radiant illustrations that are sure to inspire. Learn the symbols of camellias, carnations, dahlias and roses (love), and meanings of colour such as light pink, which speaks of grace, admiration and elegance. Discover dangerous flowers like Brugmansia, Angel’s Trumpet, which if ingested can cause disturbing hallucinations, memory loss and paralysis, and can make the heart stop. Equip oneself with fun facts like “several centuries ago in Holland, tulips were more valuable than gold”. It’s certainly a magical book, a unique gift that will offer something meditative, educational, and colourful to the minds of children - or even adults looking for a new interest.