Our Reading Doctor is back!
We introduced our Reading Doctor service last year and we welcome your questions again in 2021.
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Without entering the murky distinctions between biography and history, memoir, autobiography and creative non-fiction, I offer these books as a way into imagining and understanding the lives of significant figures in our literary and cultural history.
· Sarah Laing sets her own life as a writer against Katherine Mansfield’s dramatic, sometimes tortured, career in Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir.
· The first volume of Witi Ihimaera’s memoir is Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood, in which it becomes apparent that his formative experiences in real life have both shaped him as a writer, and have also directly inspired his fiction.
· Perhaps the most famous New Zealand writer you’ve never heard of is Greville Texidor, variously a Bloomsbury insider, a chorus-line dancer, an addict and an anarchist, who began writing after her arrival in New Zealand as a refugee in 1940: Margot Schwass’ recent biography, All the Juicy Pastures, tells of her extraordinary life.
· Writer Elspeth Sandys’ travelogue of her trip to China to mark the 90th anniversary of her cousin’s arrival in Shanghai in A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley is also a memoir and a literary commentary, intertwining the stories of the subject and the author.
· Stephanie Johnson looks to the West Island of New Zealand to examine the lives of five 20th-century New Zealand writers and artists who chose to make their lives in Australia, reconsidering their place in our national narrative.
· My Father’s Island is Adam Dudding’s poignantly balanced memoir of his complex father, Robin Dudding, the most influential literary editor of his generation; it’s a social and cultural history, as well as the portrait of a marriage, with cameo appearances from iconic literary figures.
· A collaboration between writer Paula Morris and photographer Haru Sameshima, Shining Land: Looking for Robin Hyde examines three locations important to the work of this ground-breaking writer: poet, fiction-writer, journalist and war correspondent.
· Small and perfectly formed is Albert Wendt’s BWB text Out of the Vaipe, the Deadwater: A Writer’s Early Life, in which he recounts a childhood split between Samoa and New Zealand, while casting into doubt the notion of autobiographical truth.
· Janet Frame’s three-volume autobiography, beginning with To the Is-land, deserves its reputation as astounding, in both form and subject: she was born in Dunedin to a working-class family which prized intellect, was misdiagnosed as mentally ill, enduring horrific hospitalisations and barbaric treatment, won international acclaim, travelled widely and shunned publicity.
· Defying the boundaries of genre, Fiona Farrell draws on then exceeds her personal experiences of the devastating Christchurch earthquakes in her two volume work examining the rebuilding of a city, through the twinned lenses of non-fiction (The Villa at the Edge of the Empire) and fiction (Decline and Fall on Savage Street).