Hefty Tomes

Dull weather today and a great opportunity to get stuck into these great books.

I used part of a book voucher given to me on my retirement by my department colleagues to purchase We are Here. Thank you! I want to use the voucher for books which will give me years of enjoyment and interest. This one is sure to do just that. It is informative and beautiful to look at; deservedly on the shortlist of the illustrated non-fiction section of the Ockham Book Awards. I am pleased to see Wild Honey, previously reviewed on this blog, is shortlisted in the general non-fiction section. I like the Table of Contents pages in We are Here. It’s like the formatting of websites where you can choose list view or icons. Here you get both simultaneously. There’s a ribbon page marker too.

There is a lot of written text in the book, but the illustrations make it particularly captivating and informative in an accessible way about all manner of aspects of Aotearoa from living things to a musical timeline.

The knowledge and creative energy which have gone into this book are astounding.

As I write this, I can feel the earth stretching and rolling below the house – a 3.2 quake, 12 km deep, 5km east of the city, according to Geonet. Such events are featured in the book.

The other “hefty tome” is Frances Hodgkins European Journeys which accompanies the touring exhibition, currently at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. This book came free from the Listener when I renewed my subscription last year. I cruised lightly through the exhibition a week ago intending to read the book and then re-visit. The book is fascinating. I’ve read a lot about Katherine Mansfield heading off to Europe to pursue her art at about the same time. Rather than her being all alone in that pursuit, albeit prose and poetry rather than painting, this book records lots of artists from New Zealand doing the same. Hodgkins’ work was, perhaps, more sociable than the necessarily isolated work of the writer. She made friends of fellow artists who worked together in London, Europe, North Africa and Cornwall and who supported one another. Like Mansfield, Hodgkins was fierce in sticking to what she was good at rather than being swept up by current trends – although these were influential too. “It is a difficult game I am playing but I must play it my own way though it is hard sometime to keep one’s head level & ones heart brave – but I feel my work must win in the long run” Hodgkins wrote to her mother in 1907 – with her idiosyncratic spelling (p73). She resisted abstract art. The book is beautifully illustrated, showing how her style developed.


I like the still life with watermelons. (Watermelons are available now and they are delicious, cool and palate-cleansing. The chooks like them too.) Hodgkins’ still life paintings are interesting in the way they use colour and light and shape or form rather than realistically reproducing objects – and they place interesting views behind, such as the view through the window, so you have still life and landscape at once.

You can explore more of Hodgkins’ work and life here.

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