The play’s the thing – Literature picks for March

Well so said Hamlet, and this month’s picks certainly seem to reflect this. We feature two collections of New Zealand plays and the prize -winning playscript on which the Oscar winning film “Fences” was based. Also on offer are books about Alice Munro, Maya Angelou, Jan Morris and Jonathan Swift – a rich harvest indeed.

Syndetics book coverMaya Angelou : adventurous spirit / Linda Wagner-Martin.
“A comprehensive biographical and critical reading of the works of American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Linda Wagner-Martin covers all six of Angelou’s autobiographies, as well as her essay and poetry collections, while also exploring Angelou’s life as an African American in the United States, her career as stage and film performer, her thoughtful participation in the Civil Rights actions of the 1960s, and her travels abroad in Egypt, Africa, and Europe.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe map and the clock : a laureate’s choice of the poetry of Britain and Ireland / edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke.
The Map and the Clock is a celebration of the most scintillating poems ever composed on our islands. Curated by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and by Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales, this anthology gathers fourteen centuries of extraordinary verse – beginning with the first writings from the old languages of England and Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and culminating in some of our most recent poets.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDeaths of the poets / Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.
“From Chatterton’s Pre-Raphaelite demise to Keats’ death warrant in a smudge of arterial blood; from Dylan Thomas’s eighteen straight whiskies to Sylvia Plath’s desperate suicide in the gas oven of her Primrose Hill kitchen or John Berryman’s leap from a bridge onto the frozen Mississippi, the deaths of poets have often cast a backward shadow on their work.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA double sorrow : Troilus and Criseyde / Lavinia Greenlaw.
“When Chaucer composed Troilus and Criseyde he gave us, some say, his finest poem, and with it one of the most captivating love stories ever written. A Double Sorrow, Lavinia Greenlaw’s new work, takes its title from the opening line of that poem in a fresh telling of this most tortured of love affairs.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAlice Munro : Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage ; Runaway ; Dear life / edited by Robert Thacker.
“The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Canadian writer Alice Munro in 2013 confirmed her position as a master of the short story form. This book explores Munro’s work from a full range of critical perspectives, focussing on three of her most popular and important published collections: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001), Runaway (2004), and her final collection Dear Life (2012).” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBats plays / Ken Duncum & Rebecca Rodden.
“Six seminal plays from Ken Duncum and Rebecca Rodden, whose playwriting partnership powered the vibrant theatre scene round Wellington’s BATS Theatre in the 1980s and 90s. These collected plays are boldly inventive, darkly comic and ceaselessly imaginative.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAriel : a literary life of Jan Morris / Derek Johns ; drawings by Jan Morris.
“Jan Morris is one of the great British writers of the post-war era. Soldier, journalist, writer about places (rather than ‘travel writer’), elegist of the British Empire, novelist, she has fashioned a distinctive prose style that is elegant, fastidious, supple, and sometimes gloriously gaudy.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFences / a play by August Wilson ; introduction by Lloyd Richards.
“Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. In his work, Mr. Wilson depicted the struggles of black Americans with uncommon lyrical richness, theatrical density and emotional heft, in plays that give vivid voices to people on the frayed margins of life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJonathan Swift : the reluctant rebel / John Stubbs.
“Born in Ireland in 1667, Jonathan Swift defiantly clung to his Englishness. He refused to relinquish this attachment even as corruption and injustice gradually led him to turn against the English government. In a long life, Swift proved a reluctant rebel, though one with a relish for the fight, and implacable when provoked – a voice of withering disenchantment unrivalled and a conscientious Anglican minister.” (Syndetics summary)

Image from Amazon.comStage journeys : 10 short plays from New Zealand / by Paula Crimmens, Tim Hambleton, Richard Prevett, Kerrie Anne Spicer, Rex McGregor, Richard Bull, June Allen, Richard C. Harris, Nataliya Oryshchuk.
Stage Journeys is a collection of 10 award-winning New Zealand plays, each 10 minutes long with no more than 3 onstage characters. This collaboration, written by 9 talented New Zealand playwrights, offers a tantalising selection of genres and styles, suitable for all audiences. Each writer promises to take you on a rollercoaster ride of theatrical delight-from comedy through to drama and beyond.” (Syndetics summary)

Our Katherine was a poet too – Recent Literature picks

Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s best known writer, but it’s for her short stories we remember her. It now emerges that she was a significant poet too. Claire Davison has arranged the poems chronologically in a beautiful little book so that we can chart her development, her experimentation with different forms and see the themes which preoccupied her throughout her writing life.
At the other end of the spectrum are two amusing little books, one of limericks written by Michael Palin and the other an imaginary look at what celebrities might carry in their handbags.

Syndetics book coverThe collected poems of Katherine Mansfield / edited by Gerri Kimber & Claire Davison.
“This edition is made up of 217 poems, ordered chronologically, so that the reader can follow Mansfield’s development as a poet and her experiments with different forms, as well as tracing the themes – love and death, the natural world and the seasons, childhood and friendship, music and song – that preoccupied her throughout her writing life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA sackful of limericks / Michael Palin ; illustrated by Tony Ross.
“If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the young fellow from Malta who bought his grandfather an altar … If you’re concerned about the camper called Jack who found a huge snake in his pack … And if you suspect that an eccentric landowner called Grey spent Christmas a very strange way but aren’t sure precisely what that entailed … Then a dip into Michael Palin’s Sackful of Limericks will provide all the answers – and a lot of fun besides.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWords are my matter : writings about life and books, 2000-2016 with a journal of a writer’s week / Ursula K. Le Guin.
Words Are My Matter collects talks, essays, introductions to beloved books, and book reviews by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of our foremost public literary intellectuals. Words Are My Matter is essential reading. It is a manual for investigating the depth and breadth of contemporary fiction — and, through the lens of deep considerations of contemporary writing, a way of exploring the world we are all living in.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOne thousand things worth knowing / Paul Muldoon.
“Paul Muldoon’s new book, his twelfth collection of poems, is wide-ranging in its subject matter yet is everywhere concerned with watchfulness. Heedful, hard won, head-turning, heartfelt, these poems attempt to bring scrutiny to bear on everything, including scrutiny itself. One Thousand Things Worth Knowing confirms Nick Laird’s assessment, in the New York Review of Books, that Paul Muldoon is ‘the most formally ambitious and technically innovative of modern poets, [who] writes poems like no one else.'” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe man who invented fiction : how Cervantes ushered in the modern world / William Egginton.
“In the early seventeenth century, a crippled, graying, almost toothless veteran of Spain’s wars against the Ottoman Empire published a book. It was the story of a poor nobleman, his brain addled from reading too many books of chivalry, who deludes himself that he is a knight errant and sets off on hilarious adventures. That book, Don Quixote , went on to sell more copies than any other book beside the Bible, making its author, Miguel de Cervantes, the single most-read author in human history.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCarry this book / Abbi Jacobson.
“With bright, quirky, and colourful line drawings, Jacobson brings to life actual and imagined items found in the pockets and purses, bags and glove compartments of real and fantastical people-whether it’s the contents of Oprah’s favorite purse, Amelia Earhart’s pencil case, or Bernie Madoff’s suitcase. Carry This Book provides a humorous and insightful look into how the things we carry around every day can make up who we are.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLittle grey cells : the quotable Poirot / Agatha Christie ; edited by David Brawn.
“A charming, beautifully designed collection of bite-sized wisdom from Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot–delightful, witty, and perceptive quotations and bon mots to stimulate every fan’s little grey cells.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow to be idle : a loafer’s manifesto / Tom Hodgkinson.
“From the founding editor of The Idler, the celebrated magazine about the freedom and fine art of doing nothing, comes not simply a book, but an antidote to our work-obsessed culture. In How to Be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson presents his learned yet whimsical argument for a new universal standard of living: being happy doing nothing. He covers a whole spectrum of issues affecting the modern idler–sleep, work, pleasure, relationships–while reflecting on the writing of such famous apologists for it.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA woman looking at men looking at women : essays on art, sex, and the mind / Siri Hustvedt.
“As well as being a prize-winning, bestselling novelist, Siri Hustvedt is widely regarded as a leading thinker in the fields of neurology, feminism, art criticism and philosophy. She believes passionately that art and science are too often kept separate and that conversations across disciplines are vital to increasing our knowledge of the human mind and body, how they connect and how we think, feel and see.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA poet’s Dublin / Eavan Boland ; edited by Paula Meehan and Jody Allen Randolph ; with photographs by Eavan Boland.
“Written over years, the transcendent and moving poems in A Poet’s Dublin seek out shadows and impressions of a powerful, historic city, studying how it forms and alters language, memory, and selfhood.” (Syndetics summary)

The art of war: the First World War in paintings, photographs, posters and cartoons

By 1916 Britain, Australia and Canada had each established official war art programmes to document their country’s activities in the First World War and to use for propaganda purposes. Muirhead Bone was appointed Britain’s first official war artist in May of that year in an unprecedented act of government sponsorship for the arts. New Zealand lagged behind its allies on this issue because its wartime government considered war art unnecessary and expensive, but in April 1918 Nugent Welch was taken on as New Zealand’s divisional war artist.

Art:
Syndetics book coverArt from the First World War.
“Throughout World War I, the British government employed a diverse group of artists to produce a rich visual record of wartime events. But the art from this important collection often far exceeds this objective, giving voice to both the artist and the soldiers who are depicted. Art from the First World War contains more than fifty images chosen from among the Imperial War Museum’s impressive collection of works by war artists. Art from the First World War features some of the most well-known British artists of the twentieth century, from the brothers John and Paul Nash to William Orpen, Stanley Spencer, and John Singer Sargent, whose Gassed shows a line of wounded soldiers blinded by a mustard gas attack. On the occasion of the centenary, the Imperial War Museum is bringing this book out in a new edition.” (Syndetics summary)

Portraits:
Historically portraits of military leaders were more common then the portraits of the ordinary serviceman. The depictions of other aspects of war such as the suffering of casualties and civilians has taken much longer to develop.

Syndetics book coverThe Great War in portraits / Paul Moorhouse ; with an essay by Sebastian Faulks.
“In viewing the Great War through the portraits of those involved, Paul Moorhouse looks at the bitter-sweet nature of a conflict in which valour and selfless endeavour were qualified by disaster and suffering, and examines the notion of identity – how various individuals associated with the war were represented and perceived.” (Syndetics)

Women artists:
There were no officially commissioned women war artists in the First World War. Women artists were excluded from the front line – the fields of domesticity and social and industrial subjects were considered to be their metier. However women served as nurses, nurse aides and ambulance drivers. Many of them were accomplished informal artists and were able to record their experiences in several mediums.

 

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Left: ‘A Grenadier Guardsman’ by William Orpen, 1917. Right: ‘A bus conductress’ by Victoria Monkhouse, 1919.

Syndetics book coverBeyond the battlefield : women artists of the two World Wars
“World Wars I and II changed the globe on a scale never seen before or since, and from these terrible conflicts came an abundance of photographs, drawings, and other artworks attempting to make sense of the turbulent era. In this generously illustrated book, Catherine Speck provides a fascinating account of women artists during wartime in America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and their visual responses to war, both at the front lines and on the home front. In addition to following high-profile artists such as American photographer Lee Miller, Speck recounts the experiences of nurses, voluntary aides, and ambulance drivers who found the time to create astonishing artworks in the midst of the conflict.” (Syndetics)

Posters:
Posters were recognised as a powerful recruiting tool with simple slogans and strong graphic imagery designed to appeal to the working class who fuelled so much of the machinery of war. They were also used to stir up patriotic feeling, influence women to send their menfolk to the front and to take up positions in service, farms and factories. They were also used to justify the war, raise money, procure resources and to promote good standards of behaviour.

Syndetics book coverBritish posters of the First World War
“During the First World War the authorities emulated the simple slogans and strong graphic imagery of advertising posters to create a form of mass communication that was easily and instantly understood by the British public. They were aimed at the mostly illiterate working class who did more than their share to feed the machinery of war. This book looks at the art of these posters and explores the themes that emerged throughout the course of the conflict.” (Syndetics)

Photography:
Photography in the First World War was made possible by earlier developments in chemistry and in the manufacture of glass lenses, established as a practical process from the 1850s onwards.The ability of photographers to document events was limited to what they could literally see at a certain time, while the quality of their work was hampered by the limited manoeuverability of their equipment. War artists had much greater flexibility as documenters of war, particularly in the difficult conditions of the trenches.

Syndetics book coverWorld War I in colour : the definitive illustrated history with over 200 remarkable full colour photographs
“Up to now, World War I has only been seen in black and white. At the time, it was the only way pictures from the front and scenes recreated for the camera could be filmed. Now, for the first time, rare archive footage in black and white from worldwide sources, including Russia, Germany, France, Italy, the USA and the Imperial War Museum, London, has been recast into colour with the greatest care and attention to detail. The results are breathtaking, bringing a remarkable immediacy and poignancy to the war which consumed the lives of 10 million soldiers and civilians.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverImages of war : World War One : a photographic record of New Zealanders at war 1914-1918
“In this photographic collection from the archives of the Waiouru Army Museum, renowned military historian Glyn Harper has selected and annotated the story of Kiwis at the front during the First World War.” (Syndetics)

Cartoons:
For many confronted with the effects or aftermath of the war’s violence, photos were too graphic for daily consumption. Caricatures and cartoons served as a release valve—allowing citizens to make fun of politicians, or the enemy, to offset the dire realities of the day. The period was a high point for illustrated magazines, and cartoons were contemporary commentaries.

Syndetics book coverWorld War I in cartoons
“Using images from a wide variety of international wartime magazines, newspapers, books, postcards, posters and prints, Mark Bryant tells the history of World War I from both sides of the conflict in an immediate and refreshing manner that brings history alive. The book contains more than 300 cartoons and caricatures, in colour and black and white, many of which are published here in book form for the first time. Artists featured include such famous names as Bruce Bairnsfather, H.M.Bateman, F.H.Townshend, Alfred Leete, E.J. Sullivan, Lucien Metivet and Louis Raemaekers, with drawings from the Bystander, London Opinion, Daily Graphic, Punch, Le Rire, Simplicissimus and Kladderadatsch amongst many others.” (Syndetics)

Art and medicine:
Drawings, portraits and photographs were used to help the four pioneering plastic surgeons of the two world wars to reconstruct the faces of disfigured servicemen and civilians.

Syndetics book coverReconstructing faces : the art and wartime surgery of Gillies, Pickerill, McIndoe & Mowlem
“The two world wars played an important role in the evolution of plastic and maxillofacial surgery in the first half of the 20th century. This book is about four of the key figures involved. Sir Harold Gillies and Sir Archibald McIndoe were born in Dunedin; McIndoe and Rainsford Mowlem studied medicine at the University of Otago Medical School, and Henry Pickerill was foundation Dean of the University of Otago Dental School.” (Syndetics)

How the First World War shaped the future of Western art:
The First World War utterly changed the way artists looked at the world. Throughout Western art, the grim realities of industrial warfare led to a backlash against the propaganda and grandiose nationalism that had sparked the conflagration. Cynicism toward the ruling classes and disgust with war planners and profiteers led to demands for art forms that were honest and direct, less embroidered with rhetoric and euphemism.

Syndetics book coverEsprit de corps : the art of the Parisian avant-garde and the First World War, 1914-1925
“In analyzing the changes in modern art between the outbreak of World War I and the Paris Exposition des Arts Dcoratifs of 1925, Kenneth Silver shows that the Parisian avant-garde was deeply involved in French society and its dominant values and relationships. He radically reinterprets masterpieces of modern art, from Matisse and Picasso to Léger and Le Corbusier, demonstrating how their creators all refer, consciously or not, to the Great War and its aftermath.” (Syndetics)

The pen and the sword – First World War poetry, letters and memoirs

541px-Poppy-closeupIs the pen mightier than the sword? In a physical sense alas no — otherwise the celebrated war poets would not have been so cruelly cut down in their prime — but the curious phenomenon about this terrible episode in our history is that it produced a magnificent flowering of the written word. Many of those fighting at the front were highly educated men, well versed in the classics and literature. Poetry — considered the highest of the literary forms — was the natural medium in which to express not the pity and the horror of this dreadful war but also a heightened sense of the beauty of life. It is the poignancy of this mix, coupled with the youth of the poets, which has the power to move us so profoundly today.

“The Great silence” followed The Great War — a period when everybody wanted to forget about it and nobody wanted to talk about it. Memoirs were slow to come, and many have only just been produced using letters and diaries as source material.

There are many many books about this war to end all wars — and this being the centenary year of the conflict there are likely to be many more. Those we have chosen below are a guide to what is held in each category. Have a read!

Poetry:

Syndetics book cover1914 : poetry remembers / edited by Carol Ann Duffy.
“The First World War holds a unique place in the nation’s history; the poetry it produced, a unique place in the nation’s hearts. To mark the centenary of the First World War in 2014, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has engaged the most eminent poets of the present to choose the writing from the Great War that touched them most profoundly: their choices are here in this powerful and moving assembly. But this anthology is more than a record of war writing. Carol Ann Duffy has commissioned these same poets of the present to look back across the past and write a poem of their own in response to the war to end all wars.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverFirst World War poems / edited by Andrew Motion.
“The First World War produced some of the most haunting and memorable poetry of our age. In this compelling anthology, the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion guides us through both the horror and the pity of that conflict, from the trenches of the Western Front to reflections from our own age. With a selection of our best-known war poets, this collection also returns lesser known pieces to the light and extends the selection right through to the present day. The text serves to remind us how poetry of that time has, more than any other art from, come to stand testament to the grief and outrage occasioned by World War I” (Summary from Global Books)

Biographies & memoirs:

Syndetics book coverTestament of youth : an autobiographical study of the years 1900-1925 / by Vera Brittain ; with an introduction by Mark Bostridge ; and a preface by Shirley Williams.
“In 1914 Vera Brittain was eighteen and, as war was declared, she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life – and the life of her whole generation – had changed in a way that was unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain’s account of how she survived the period; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverThe Englishman’s daughter : a true story of love and betrayal in World War I / Ben Macintyre.The Englishman’s Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War One
“In the first terrifying days of World War I, four British soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines on the western front. They were forced to hide in the tiny French village of Villeret, whose inhabitants made the courageous decision to shelter the fugitives until they could pass as Picard peasants. The Englishmans Daughter is the never-before-told story of these extraordinary men, their protectors, and of the haunting love affair between Private Robert Digby and Claire Dessenne, the most beautiful woman in Villeret. Their passion would result in the birth of a child known as The Englishmans Daughter.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverFor king and country : voices from the First World War / edited by Brian MacArthur.
“Far more than an anthology, this gripping collection of writings tells the story of World War I from the perspective of those who endured its horrors both at home and abroad. From the men who served in Europe comenbsp;accounts of fear, tedium, horror, and occasional joy, while those on the home front describe the pain ofnbsp;waiting for news of their loved ones. Along with selections from letters, diary entries, and memoirs, famous songs sung in the trenches as well as poems from soldiers and noted authors alike are also included.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverFighting on the Home Front : the legacy of women in World War One / Kate Adie.
“Bestselling author and award-winning former BBC Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie reveals the ways in which women’s lives changed during World War One In 1914 the world changed forever. When World War One broke out and a generation of men went off to fight, women emerged from the shadows of their domestic lives. Now a visible force in public life, they began to take up essential roles – from transport to policing, munitions to sport, entertainment, even politics. Kate Adie charts the seismic move towards equal rights with men that began a century ago and asks what these women achieved for future generations. This is history at its best – a vivid, compelling account of the pioneering women who helped win the war.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverTickled to death to go : memoirs of a cavalryman in the First World War / edited by Richard van Emden.
“Tickled to Death to Go is no ordinary memoir. Illuminated by Ben Clouting’s lively sense of humour and healthy disrespect for petty restrictions, it is a remarkable story told in his own words” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverAnzac girls : the extraordinary story of our World War I nurses
“By the end of World War I, 45 Australian and New Zealand nurses had died on overseas service, and over 200 had been decorated. These were the women who left for war looking for adventure and romance, but were soon confronted with challenges for which their civilian lives could never have prepared them. Their strength and dignity were remarkable. Using diaries and letters, Peter Rees takes us into the hospital camps and the wards and the tent surgeries on the edge of some of the most horrific battlefronts of human history. But he also allows the friendships and loves of these courageous and compassionate women to enrich their experiences, and ours.” (Summary from Global Books)

And a novel which reads like a memoir (you will not believe it’s fiction!):

Syndetics book coverDiary of an ordinary woman / Margaret Forster.
“Margaret Forster presents the ‘edited’ diary of a woman, born in 1901, whose life spans the twentieth century. On the eve of the Great War, Millicent King begins to keep her journal and vividly records the dramas of everyday life in a family touched by war, tragedy, and money troubles. From bohemian London to Rome in the 1920s her story moves on to social work and the build-up to another war, in which she drives ambulances through the bombed streets of London. Here is twentieth-century woman in close-up coping with the tragedies and upheavals of women’s lives from WWI to Greenham Common and beyond. A triumph of resolution and evocation, this is a beautifully observed story of an ordinary woman’s life – a narrative where every word rings true.”. (Summary from Global Books)

Letters:

Letters were the commonest form of communication in the early 1900s and people of all classes wrote them frequently. In the highly literate letters of the officers and the simple and direct communications of the ordinary soldiers we see the a true history of the war emerge — the terrible battles, the day-to-day experience of the troops, and the realities of life at home.

Syndetics book coverLetters from the trenches : a soldier of the Great War / Bill Lamin.
“I was very pleased to hear from you and that you are going on all right . . . We have had another terrible time this week the men here say it was worst than the Somme advance last July. We lost a lot of men but we got where we were asked to take. It was awful I am alright got buried and knocked about but quite well now and hope to remain so. We were praised by the general and all, everybody said we had done well, quite a success . . . It is a rum job waiting for the time to come to (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverPrivate wars : personal records of the Anzacs in the Great War / Greg Kerr.
“Greg Kerr retraces the journey of Australian and New Zealand troops from Gallipoli in 1915 to the final penetration of the Hindenburg Line in 1918. While covering the general strategic course of the war, the author focuses on the human side of the war. Similar to his acclaimed Lost Anzacs: The Story of Two Brothers, Kerr follows the experiences of roughly sixty figures–officers, privates, nurses–and captures their experiences through judicious and uncensored extracts from their letters and diaries. The book also includes numerous photos, many previously unpublished. The combination of photos, letters, and historical backgroundmake for an unforgettable account of what the war was really like on the ground.” (Syndetics summary).

And what happened next…

Syndetics book coverSingled out : how two million women survived without men after the First World War / Virginia Nicholson.
“The First World War deprived Britain of three quarters of a million soldiers, leaving as many more incapacitated. In 1919 a generation of women who unquestioningly believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that here were, quite simply, not enough men to go round. They became known as ‘the Surplus Women’.” “Many of us remember them: they wee our teachers, our maiden aunts, women who seemed to have lost out life’s feast. This book tells their stories.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book coverCasualty figures : how five men survived the First World War / Michèle Barrett.
“In this delicate look at history in microcosm, Barrett (literary and cultural theory, Queen Mary, University of London) follows the experience of five soldiers who survived World War I, two in the medical corps and three in the trenches. Their survival was debatable, though each man suffered from shell shock that affected his later life and damaged his relations with family and friends. Using private letters, diaries and military records Barrett paints a harrowing portrait of these men, what they survived and how they coped but never really recovered. This is a beautifully written psychological biography that, sadly, is all too timely.” (Syndetics summary)

Fiction and World War One

World War One had a dramatic effect on fiction at the time, as well as on the future course of literature. Not only did it give rise to the booming and still very popular genre of World War One Fiction, it also dramatically affected a number of famous authors, influencing their writing for years to come.

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Katherine Mansfield, Chaucer Mansions flat, Queen’s Club Gardens, West Kensington, London, England in 1913
Baker, Ida: Photographs of Katherine Mansfield. Ref: 1/4-059876-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22317542

One such writer was New Zealand’s (arguably) most famed author, Katherine Mansfield. Mansfield lived in Europe at the time war broke out, having moved there from her family’s home in Karori, Wellington in 1908. Her beloved brother, Leslie Heron ‘Chummie’ Beauchamp was killed in 1915, as a New Zealand soldier in France. Living in London at the time, the shock of her brother’s death lead her to write stories based on her childhood in New Zealand, published in Bliss and Other Stories. In a poem describing a dream she had shortly after his death, she wrote:

“By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands…
These are my body. Sister, take and eat.”
(Selected Stories by Katherine Mansfield (2002). Oxford World’s Classics.)

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Katherine Mansfield and her brother Leslie in Wellington in 1907.
Ref: 1/4-010048-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23038688

World War One also had a significant influence on the writing of Ernest Hemingway. He attempted to join the US army in 1918 but, rejected due to poor eyesight, he instead became a driver with the Red Cross Ambulance Corps. Only two months after joining, Hemingway was seriously injured by a trench mortar and machine gun. While recuperating in a Milan hospital, Hemingway fell in love with a nurse, and they planned to marry within a few months. However, she later wrote that she had become engaged to an Italian officer. Biographer Jeffrey Meyers claims that Hemingway was devastated by Agnes’ rejection, and this relationship inspires the semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms. Like Hemingway, the protagonist served in the Army as a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War One, got wounded and spent some time in an American Army in Milan, where he met a nurse. But unlike Hemingway, the protagonist starts a love affair with the nurse.

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Hemingway in uniform in Milan, 1918.
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Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License.

Another great author to serve in the war was J.R.R Tolkien. In 1915, Tolkien enlisted in Britain’s New Army, and his battalion was sent to France in June 1916. Although Tolkien himself stated that the war had only a limited influence on his writing, his war experiences are thought to be sublimated in his fiction. They surface in the sense of loss that suffuses the stories, in the ghastly landscapes of places like Mordor, in the sense of gathering darkness, and in the fates of his Hobbit protagonists. Discussing the brutal landscape of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, he later stated in one of his letters,

 “The Dead marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”

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Tolkien while serving in the British Army during the First World War, 1916.
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These are only some of the authors whose work is thought to have been persuaded by World War One. Others include writers of “traditional” war literature Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, and Robert Graves, and also novels by Modernists D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, poetry by T.S. Eliot, and even later novels by Evelyn Waugh, W. Somerset Maugham, Pat Barker, and Robertson Davies.

The following is a sampling of bestselling fiction during the years of World War One:

1914 Pollyanna / Eleanor H. Porter
1915 Michael O’Halloran / Gene Stratton-Porter
1916 Dear Enemy / Jean Webster
1917: Mr Britling Sees It Through / H.G Wells.
1918 The U.P. Trail / Zane Grey

It is interesting to note the trend in interest in books on orphans, as indicated by Pollyanna, Michael O’Halloran and Dear Enemy. Mr. Britling Sees It Through is regarded as H.G. Wells’s “masterpiece of the wartime experience in England.” The protagonist is popularly believed to be an alter ego of the author. A central theme of the novel is the casualties of war, as the protagonist deals with the death of his son Hugh at the front, as well as that of a German student, who formerly boarded with the family. Mr Britling Sees It Through was one of the most popular novels in the United Kingdom and Australia during World War One, and was described by Maxim Gorky thus:

“the finest, most courageous, truthful, and humane book written in Europe in the course of this accursed war . .  at a time of universal barbarism and cruelty, your book is an important and truly humane work.”

Still today World War One inspires and informs many works of fiction for both adults and children alike. Check out our catalogue for more titles.

A very short introduction…

Do you have not a lot of time, snatched moments here and there, but still want to learn about new topics? Then the Very Short Introductions series might be just the thing for you. Written by experts in the field, but intended for a general audience, these short books offer a concise introduction to the particular topic, and often contain suggestions for further reading. Ranging from religion, ideologies, science, philosophy, history, and art, there is a Very Short Introduction on any number of subjects you may care to learn about.

Syndetics book coverBuddhism : a very short introduction / Damien Keown.
“This accessible volume covers both the teachings of the Buddha and the integration of Buddhism into daily life. What are the distinctive features of Buddhism? What or who is the Buddha, and what are his teachings? How has Buddhist thought developed over the centuries, and how can contemporary dilemmas be faced from a Buddhist perspective? Words such as “karma” and “nirvana” have entered our vocabulary, but what do they really mean? Keown has taught Buddhism at an introductory level for many years, and in this book he provides a lively, challenging response to these frequently asked questions.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUtopianism : a very short introduction / Lyman Tower Sargent.
“There are many debates about utopia – What constitutes a utopia? Are utopias benign or dangerous? Is the idea of utopianism essential to Christianity or heretical? What is the relationship between utopia and ideology? This Very Short Introduction explores these issues and examines utopianism and its history. Lyman Sargent discusses the role of utopianism in literature, and in the development of colonies and in immigration.” (Abridged from publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverGalaxies : a very short introduction / John Gribbin.
“Renowned science writer John Gribbin takes us on a journey around the universe, looking at galaxies ranging from magnificent spirals like our very own Milky Way, to the ragged remains of massive intergalactic collisions, active galaxies which pump out jets of radiation into space, and those that we can just detect at the farthest reaches of space and time. Gribbin reveals how and why the study of galaxies has been central to our growing understanding of the cosmos, and why they remain one of the most exciting topics in astronomy today.” (Book jacket)

Continue reading “A very short introduction…”

The decision made for you – literature picks January 2014

“So many books, so little time,” that is the cry from the heart of the modern reader. Will the next book he selects be up to snuff? Well fear not, help is at hand. Our top pick The Reader’s Book Of Days allows you to sample the work of a different author on each day of the year, so you can see whether the chosen author is your sort of writer. Other books to help you choose include Stuff I’ve Been Reading by Nick Hornby, who advises us to read what we enjoy, not what bores us, surely very good advice, and Dead Interviews in which imaginary interlocution takes place with notable authors of the past.
It is our purpose in writing these blogs to alert you to new books you may fancy and to let you know of signicant literary happenings, such as the centenary of the First World War which will be commemorated this year. This terrible conflict saw a contradictory flowering of English poetry, so it is appropriate that one of our picks this month is entitled 1914 : Poetry Remembers.

Syndetics book coverA reader’s book of days : true tales from the lives and works of writers for every day of the year / Tom Nissley ; with illustrations by Joanna Neborsky.
“In his eclectic and wide-ranging, if uneven, collection of literary trivia for book lovers, delightfully illustrated by Neborsky, eight-time Jeopardy! champion and former bookseller Nissley offers an amalgam of anecdotes, quotes, reviews, diary entries, and letter excerpts. Each section begins with an introduction to a given month, as well as a list of recommended reading related to, or set during, that time of year. Each day then receives a page of its own, with lists of notable births and deaths, and short entries about events or publications that took place on that date. February 21 alone brings us details about Shakespeare, William James, and Marcel Proust.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe art of character : creating memorable characters for fiction, film, and TV / David Corbett.
“The heart of all good stories is character: But how do you create characters that are compelling and vivid? How can you make them leap off the page and enthrall a reader? Corbett offers a toolkit for creating characters who come vividly to life on the page and linger in memory. [He] provides an inventive blueprint to all the elements of characterization, from initial inspiration to realization on the page, with special insights into how to use one’s own experience to enrich a character’s inner life, the power of secrets and contradictions, how to turn a role into.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book cover1914 : poetry remembers / edited by Carol Ann Duffy.
“The First World War holds a unique place in the nation’s [England] history; the poetry it produced, a unique place in the nation’s hearts. To mark the centenary of the First World War in 2014, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has engaged the most eminent poets of the present to choose the writing from the Great War that touched them most profoundly. Their choices are here in this powerful and moving assembly. But this anthology is more than a record of war writing. Carol Ann Duffy has commissioned these same poets of the present to look back across the past and write a poem of their own in response to the war to end all wars.” (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverThe death and life of drama : reflections on writing and human nature / Lance Lee.
“Lee’s reflections, essentially a series of essays, consider dramatic writing, specifically screenwriting, from philosophical and psychological points of view. Not addressing the intellectually faint of heart, he tackles such issues as how dramatic structure relates to Freudian and Jungian theories, and considers weighty matters of morality, the nature of civilization, and the perception of time. Discussions of the philosophical theories of Kant, Nietzsche, Hume, and others are not often encountered in screenwriting books. A thorough notes section supports the text, though an index would be helpful as well. Lee makes frequent, appropriate references to dozens of films.” (CHOICE)

Syndetics book coverThe Oxford book of twentieth century English verse / chosen by Philip Larkin.
“The latest reissue of Philip Larkin’s new classic anthology includes a Foreword by the poet’s biographer, Andrew Motion. Successor to W.B. Yeats’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935, The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse ranges widely across this century’s verse, introducing many less well-known poets among the acknowledged greats.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverWinter : five windows on the season / Adam Gopnik.
“In this ruminative collection, Gopnik offers five essays on winter – exploring it as season and idea, elemental force and cultural influence. The New Yorker staff writer and author of Paris To The Moon composed these pieces for the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Massey Lectures. He acknowledges that “chapters are meant to sound vocal,” and rough edges have been left in place. Readers will find pleasures of the serendipitous variety, including introductions to Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, the underground architect Vincent Ponte, and the engineers who helped developed central heating. Gopnik’s round-the-world tour of “romantic winter” covers more than 200 years.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverHow to write and sell short stories / Della Galton.
“Why are your short stories always being rejected? What’s the secret to selling your work? Drawing on her own experiences, and those of writers and in-the-know fiction editors, top writer Della Galton shares the secrets of her success. Find out how to make your characters memorable, your plots realistic and your twists unpredictable. With the help of this book you can turn those snippets of conversations, overheard in the supermarket, into inspirational ideas. A must-have book for writers from the publishers of the best-selling writing books Wannabe a Writer and How to Write a Pantomime.” (Summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverMadness, rack, and honey : collected lectures / cMary Ruefle.
“Profound, unpredictable, charming, and outright funny, this collection of unconventional prose about poetry might secure an audience far larger than the one that already exists for Ruefle’s own poems. Known for her post-Surrealist lyric and for erasures, Ruefle (The Most Of It) began to write prose under protest when her teaching program required lectures. Those protests survive in the lectures’ inventive forms: they stop short, ramble, tell jokes, bring in sad moments from the author’s own history of reading and rereading, and end up with seriously useful advice for writers, strange and memorable claims about poems and poetry. One lecture asks why poetry seems less (Publisher Weekly).

Syndetics book coverIf I tell you– I’ll have to kill you : Australia’s leading crime writers reveal their secrets / edited by Michael Robotham.
What is the secret to good crime writing? No one better to ask than a group of Australia’s leading crime writers. Their conclusions are fascinating, provocative, often surprising, and they are all drawn from the hard school of personal experience. What pieces of advice do the writers have in common? That there is no substitute for hard work! One tells us there is no such thing as writer’s block – just do it is a common theme. There is a fun part though: research. The writers could not vary more in their research and the way they approach it.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverDead interviews : living writers meet dead icons / edited by Dan Crowe.
“These ingenious interviews will amuse, provoke and delight. Veering from the intensely serious to the wildly silly, Dead Interviews grants writers the chance to sit down with their heroes and flex their cerebral muscles, or simply indulge in some bookish gossip with a deceased icon.” (Summary from Books In Print)

And two good ones in other parts of the library:
Syndetics book coverStuff I’ve been reading / Nick Hornby.
“”Read what you enjoy, not what bores you,” Nick Hornby tells us. And in this new collection of his columns from the Believer magazine he shows us how it’s done. Or at least, how he does it: whether plunging into a biography of Dickens whilst his children are destroying something or devouring a whole series of children’s books whilst on holiday.” (Library catalogue)
NOTE: THIS BOOK IS IN THE JOURNALISM SECTION. DEWEY NUMBER 028.9 HOR

Syndetics book coverMortality / Christopher Hitchens.
“Mortality, the final book by Christopher Hitchens, the Anglo-American essayist, reporter, devout atheist and all-around intellectual troublemaker, won’t be shelved in the travel section. But in a sense that’s where it belongs, along with the best of the literary travel writers. Think George Orwell, one of Hitchens’ heroes… Few writers wrote sharper sentences or treated words with more respect.” (Summary from Books In Print).
NOTE: THIS BOOK IS IN THE BIOGRAPHY SECTION. DEWEY CLASSIFICATION B HIT.