To the one I love the best: New biographies and memoirs

It’s a new month and that means new books. In our biographies this month we have a selection of fascinating individuals, from stars of popular culture and film, to migrants and refugees, power brokers and photographers. Take a look at some of them here…

To the one I love the best / Bemelmans, Ludwig
“A witty and charming account of the wildly entertaining Elsie de Wolfe in 1950s Hollywood, recounted by her dear friend, the beloved creator of Madeline.  To the One I Love the Best (which refers to de Wolfe’s dog) is a touching tribute to a fabulously funny woman and an American icon. “Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you.” –Elsie de Wolfe” — .” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Still life at eighty : the next interesting thing / Thomas, Abigail
“In her new memoir, Abigail Thomas ruminates on aging during the confines of COVID-19 with her trademark mix of humor and wisdom, including valuable, contemplative writing tips along the way. As she approaches eighty, what she herself calls old age, Abigail Thomas accepts her new life, quieter than before, no driving, no dancing, mostly sitting in her chair in a sunny corner with three dogs for company–three dogs, vivid memories, bugs and birds and critters that she watches out her window. No one but this beloved, best-selling memoirist, could make so much over what might seem so little. Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and enter Abigail Thomas’s funny, mesmerizing, generous world.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Kennan : a life between worlds / Costigliola, Frank
“A definitive biography of the U.S. diplomat and prize-winning historian George F. Kennan. The diplomat and historian George F. Kennan (1904-2005) ranks as one of the most important figures in American foreign policy-and one of its most complex. An absorbing portrait of an eloquent, insightful, and sometimes blinkered iconoclast whose ideas are still powerfully relevant, Kennan invites us to imagine a world that Kennan fought for but was unable to bring about-one not of confrontations and crises, but of dialogue and diplomacy.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Paris : the memoir / Hilton, Paris
“Recounting her perilous journey through pre-#MeToo sexual politics with grace, dignity, and just the right amount of sass, Paris: The Memoir tracks the evolution of celebrity culture through the story of the figure at its leading edge, full of defining moments and marquee names. Most important, Paris shows us her path to peace while she challenges us to question our role in her story and in our own. Welcome to Paris. In this deeply personal memoir, the ultimate It Girl shares, for the first time, the hidden history that traumatized and defined her and how she rose above a series of heart-wrenching challenges to find healing, lasting love, and a life of meaning and purpose.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

My what if year : a memoir / Miranda, Alisha Fernandez
“On the cusp of turning forty, Alisha Fernandez Miranda has climbed to the peak of personal and professional success, but at a price; she’s overworked and exhausted. Bravely, Alisha decides to give herself a break, temporarily pausing her stressful career as the CEO of high-powered consulting firm. With the tentative blessing of her husband and eight-year-old twins, she leaves her home in London to spend one year exploring the dream jobs of her youth, seeking answers to the question, What If?” (Catalogue)

A stone is most precious where it belongs : a memoir of Uyghur exile, hope, and survival / Hoja, Gulchehra
“In February 2018, twenty-four members of Gulchehra Hoja’s family disappeared overnight. Her crime – and thus that of her family – was her award-winning investigations on the plight of her people, the , whose existence and culture is being systematically destroyed by the Chinese government. A Stone is Most Precious Where it Belongs is Gulchehra’s stunning memoir, taking us into the everyday world of life under Chinese rule in East Turkestan (more formally as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China), from her idyllic childhood to its modern nightmare.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Hereafter : the telling life of Ellen O’Hara / Groarke, Vona
“Hereafter tells the story of Ellen O’Hara, a young woman emigrant from Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century who, with courage and resilience, made a life for herself in New York, firstly as a domestic servant and later in her own boarding house-all the while financially supporting those at home.” (Catalogue)


Second chances : facing my demons and finding a better me / Holt, Hayley
“A raw and honest story of alcoholism, recovery and courage in the face of loss. Hayley Holt grew up in the public eye. Now it’s time to share her side of the story. Heartbreaking and inspiring, filled with Hayley’s wicked wit, Second Chances is about finding the courage to face up to your mistakes, and learning that even the deepest pain can be followed by the greatest joy.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Resilience : a story of persecution, escape, survival and triumph / Woolf, Inge
“Resilience is a Holocaust story and a New Zealand story. Born to a prosperous family, Inge Woolf witnessed the Nazis marching into Vienna in March 1938 and fled with her family to England, escaping certain death. Hiding their Jewish identity until after World War II, Inge and her family were impoverished refugees. A move to New Zealand signalled new beginnings. Inge met the love of her life, Ronald Woolf, and together they created the country’s pre-eminent photographic studio – before catastrophe struck. In her later years, Inge was pivotal in establishing the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and was its founding director. She was dedicated to educating thousands on the Holocaust and the dangers of racism and prejudice, often observing that hate starts small. After experiencing so much loss, Inge’s life is testament to the power of resilience.” (Catalogue)

For more new items in the collection, go to: What’s new & Popular / May 2023 (

Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush with author Bee Dawson

We sat down with local author Bee Dawson to discuss the newly released book Ōtari: Two hundred years of Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush. Dawson tells us the story behind writing the book, and explains why Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush is a unique Wellingtonian treasure. We discuss local history, native plant conservation, collaborative research, and the special people who have helped create and celebrate Aotearoa New Zealand’s only native bush reserve.

The book features an array of botanical drawings and historic photographs, charting Ōtari’s significance to the local community over its history, from the 1820’s to the present day. The contemporary photographs by Chris Coad are particularly striking and beautifully illustrate why Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush is ranked as a six-star garden of significance by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.

On Wellington City Recollect our Rare Books collection contains a digitsed copy of the 1932 document ‘A Scheme for the Development and Arrangement of the Otari Open-Air Native Plant Museum‘, written by the beloved Dr Leonard Cockayne, Wellington’s ‘honorary botanist’ and champion of Ōtari.

Otari : Two hundred years of Otari-Wilton’s Bush / Dawson, Bee

“The story of Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush, the only botanic garden dedicated solely to the collection and conservation of the plants unique to Aotearoa New Zealand and a native bush reserve with over a hundred hectares of regenerating forest, including some of Wellington’s oldest trees.” (Publisher’s Description)
For more information on the book visit The Cuba Press.

The work of Ans Westra now on Recollect

Purchased by Wellington City Libraries over 40 years ago, our complete collection of over 350 images by one of New Zealand’s most significant photographers of the 20th century is now available to view on Wellington City Recollect.

Cuba Mall, 1974. © Ans Westra, Ref: AW-1046-05

A twin-lens Rolleiflex camera of  the same make and model that was used by Ans Westra.

Ans Westra was born in 1936 in the small city of Leiden in southern Holland.  When she was a teenager she visited the legendary Family of Man photography exhibition when it was staged in Amsterdam as part of a world tour.  Inspired by what she saw, she started saving every guilder she could until she had enough money to purchase a camera. Unusually for the time, she chose to invest in a high-quality Rolleiflex medium-format camera rather than a ‘normal’ 35mm camera that most novices would have opted for and she continued to use this camera for most of her career.

Te Ao Hou, June 1960, with cover photograph by Ans Westra

In 1957 she joined the wave of Dutch emigres who were coming to New Zealand as part of an assisted passage scheme supported by the NZ Government. She briefly lived in Auckland where her father had moved to some years earlier but after several months she shifted to Wellington with the thought that it would only be a temporary stay before she returned to her native Holland. However, she quickly settled into her adopted city where she joined the Wellington Camera Club and found employment with the Rembrandt Photography Studios then located at 211 Cuba Street. By now her interest in photography had become a passion and she began to document New Zealand life in a manner rarely seen in that era. She found particular inspiration within Māori communities which until then had been largely ignored by contemporary photographers and she joined the pan-tribal Ngāti Pōneke cultural club. This interest led to her images first appearing in print in New Zealand when her work was used in several issues of Te Ao Hou, a quarterly magazine published by the Department of Māori Affairs. Further commissions followed from the Department of Education who used her photographs in a variety of publications including the NZ School Journal.

Members of the local Indian community outside the Plaza Cinema, Manners Street, 1979. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-1808-06

Westra was soon travelling across the country photographing different aspects of New Zealand life. However, it was in Wellington where her camera best captured the fabric of urban society as it was in the 1960s and 70s. Youth, street fashion and Wellington’s ethnic communities were all photographed in detail with Westra’s skill as a photographer often making it appear as if she were invisible to her subjects. As her reputation grew, her work appeared in a number of significant books including  Maori (1967), Notes on the Country I Live In (1972) and the capital-focussed Wellington City Alive (1976) with text by the novelist Noel Hilliard.

Aro Street, c. 1975. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-1557-6

In the mid-1970s the newly appointed Local History Librarian, Hilda McDonnell, was tasked with establishing a photo collection for the Central Public Library (then located in what is today the City Art Gallery). Though images from a number of different local photographers were included, special emphasis was placed on the work of Ans Westra. Over 350 photographs which it was felt best represented different aspects of our city were selected from contact sheets and purchased by McDonnell. These photos were then hand-printed by Westra in her own darkroom where she would also crop the original square image produced by her Rolleiflex to fit the standard 5 x 4 ratio photographic paper common at the time. Though the camera had a fixed focal length (i.e. non-zoom) lens, the huge size of the negatives it produced and its high quality optics meant that Westra was able to crop an image to create her desired composition without any significant degradation of image quality. 

The Purple Onion strip club, 1975. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-1110-08

By the 1990s, the increasing value and fragility of the original prints meant that it was becoming difficult to maintain public access to the photographs and they were shifted into storage, a problem further exacerbated by the closure of the central library in 2019. With the permission of Ans Westra’s representatives and her agent, {Suite} Gallery, we have been able to digitise this remarkable collection of her work and to make it available on our Recollect platform. 


The Ans Westra Collection on Wellington City Recollect


Road workers in Grey Street, 1976. © Ans Westra, Ref : AW-953-07

Wellington City Libraries wishes to thank and acknowledge Ans Westra and her agent, {Suite} Gallery for allowing us to digitise our collection of her work. Please note that the  images marked © above are under copyright to the photographer; please click on the link that accompanies each image to see how they can be used.  

Science can be artful

Beads, flowers, patterns; don’t be mistaken by the book covers, these are science books. From the microscope to the telescope, and from feathers to unhatched; these hand picked books provide a new perspective for discovering the art in science. 

The book of eggs : a lifesize guide to the eggs of six hundred of the world’s bird species / Hauber, Mark E.
“This book introduces eggs from six hundred species – some endangered or extinct – from around the world and housed mostly at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Organized by habitat and taxonomy, the entries include photographs of each egg in full colour and at actual size, as well as distribution maps and drawings and descriptions of the birds and their nests where the eggs are kept warm.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Jellyfish : a natural history / Gershwin, Lisa-Ann
“Jellyfish are mysterious creatures, luminously beautiful with remarkably varied life cycles. These simple, ancient animals are found in every ocean at every depth, and have lived on Earth for at least the last 500 million years. Ominously, they are also increasing in number as they adapt well to marine environmental degradation. This book looks at their anatomy, life history, taxonomy and ecology, and includes species profiles featuring stunning marine photography.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Science is beautiful : botanical life : under the microscope / Salter, Colin
“This stunning collection unearths exquisite photographs of flowers, trees, and grasses, all made possible by the electron microscope. Whether it’s the work of a lavender leaf oil gland, the inside of a pine pollen, flower stamen sculptures deep inside a tree bark, or the wonderful patterns of lichen, each image is an eye opening combination of art and science.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Pearls : a natural history
“Based on an exhibition mounted by the American Museum of Natural History in New York and The Field Museum in Chicago, Pearls combines science, history, and beautiful objects both natural and crafted. The authors draw on their varied disciplines to explore all aspects of pearls – biology, gemology, anthropology, mineralogy, ecology, and the decorative arts. Rich with new color photography and archival images, Pearls: A Natural History chronicles this enduring obsession. ” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Capturing the universe : the most spectacular astrophotography from across the cosmos / Evans, Rhodri
“The very best images captured by the new generation of terrestrial telescopes, orbiting telescopes and deep-space probes and landers have been collected in this magnificent volume.  From the world’s gigantic telescopes in the Canary Islands, Hawaii and Chile to the New Horizons probe now heading into the Kuiper Belt to examine other icy mini-worlds, each page reveals extraordinary images that take us deeper into our universe.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

As kingfishers catch fire : birds & books / Preston, Alex
“Preston created his own personal anthology of nature writing. Moving from the ‘high requiem’ of Keats’s nightingale to the crow-strewn sky at the end of Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, from Ted Hughes’s brooding ‘Hawk in the Rain’ to the giddy anthropomorphism of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, this is a book that will make you look at birds, at the world, in a newer, richer light. Beautifully illustrated and illuminated by the celebrated graphic artist Neil Gower.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)





New Zealand in the eye of artists

From time to time, we may stop and cherish the beautiful sceneries around us. Thanks to these artists who freeze the beautiful moments onto canvas, now we can cherish New Zealand scenery along with the rest of the world. This blog also includes artists’ work using different techniques.

Looking for the light : landscape photographs of New Zealand / Latham, Peter
“New Zealand born landscape photographer presents this epic collection of his most popular gallery fine-art prints, together with numerous new images of the New Zealand landscape. Peter’s poetic eye and unique presentation has earned him a coveted reputation in the elusive art market. ” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Grahame Sydney : paintings 1974-2014 / Sydney, Grahame
“Grahame’s paintings of the Central Otago landscape and the wider South Island are known and loved by large numbers of New Zealanders at home and abroad, and have become touchstones that reflect the depth of feeling many people have for this country. His work now spans over four decades and encompasses oils, watercolours, egg tempera, lithographs, etching, photography and film. (Adapted from the catalogue)

Van der Velden : Otira / Vangioni, P. J.
“Petrus van der Velden is one of New Zealand’s keystone artists, and this sumptuous publication brings together major examples of his ground-breaking Otira series from public and private lenders throughout New Zealand. It highlights the manner in which van der Velden’s art has resonated throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Drawing the Waitakere Coast / Binney, D. H.
“In 2008, painter Don Binney completed 24 charming coloured pencil drawings of Auckland’s West Coast, from Huia to Te Henga (Bethells). They are evocative of the coast so many New Zealanders love and they are magnificent works in themselves. They are accompanied by text commenting on the landmarks shown in each of the drawings. “(Catalogue)

Art New Zealand.
“Art New Zealand is the major visual arts journal in New Zealand. First published in 1976, it has consistently surveyed New Zealand’s contemporary art with rigour and professionalism. It is essential reading and reference for those interested in New Zealand art. Its place in the art world is secure and its reputation is unequalled.” (Publisher’s website)

Artists’ impressions of New Zealand
“Denis Robinson’s latest offering is something of an artist’s road trip around New Zealand. There is a wide variety of techniques displayed in the work, and often this seems related to place, like central Otago, which attracts oil painters than Wellington, where watercolourists dominate the painting landscape. Denis Robinson has once again achieved a portfolio of striking artworks that not only demonstrates the deep well of artistic talent in this country, but also reflects the scenic beauty that surrounds us.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The photography of Derek Smith

Wellington City Libraries is proud to host a remarkable collection of photographs on Recollect that capture the vibe of our city from three decades ago.

Green Door Dairy, Park Road, Miramar, c.1991

Derek Smith was born in the United Kingdom but immigrated to New Zealand with his family at the age of six. He grew up in the East Coast Bays area of Auckland’s North Shore in the 1960s and 70s where he developed an interest in photography as a teenager. After working a series of odd-jobs, in his early 20s he got a job as a meter reader for the Auckland Gas Company. Discovering that if he worked hard, he could normally complete his daily round within five hours, he took the opportunity to use his camera to document the city and his mild interest in photography became a passion.

Woolworths store, Rongotai

He began to use the resources in the library of the Elam School of Fine Arts which featured an excellent collection of photography books and found particular inspiration in the work of the American photographers Edward Weston, Stephen Shore, Walker Evans and William Eggleston. He also befriended John B. Turner, a legendary senior lecturer sometimes called “the father of modern NZ photography” who gave him advice and encouragement even though Derek was not formally enrolled in the school.  He also joined the PhotoForum collective that Turner had co-founded in 1973. By this stage he had purchased a Mamiya 645 medium-format camera which uses 120 roll film to create huge 6 x 4.5 centimetre negatives or transparencies. With an individual frame being more than 2.5 times larger than the standard 35mm film common at the time, when combined with Mamiya’s excellent lenses this camera was capable of rendering extremely high quality images that still rival most of the high resolution DSLR and mirrorless digital cameras available today.

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