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This book gives a thorough outline of the author’s first year as a Doctor at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. During 2022 we spent time at various Christchurch Hospitals, and I was pleased to learn more about how these institutions function from the point of view of a junior doctor, especially in Covid times. I imagine many other people would find this interesting, which may be how the author managed to secure a publishing deal – not an easy feat.

I had a baby at Middlemore Hospital over fifty years ago, and I’ve never been back since. My first daughter was born at National Women’s Hospital where there was no problem getting permission for Stephen to be present at the birth provided he attended ante-natal classes beforehand. It was a very different situation at Middlemore. I was required to have an interview with the Matron before permission was grudgingly given. In the event that was pointless because a quick birth meant Stephen didn’t get there in time. I was reminded of all this when I started to read about hospital protocols and hierarchies.

Especially in the first chapters there were many new medical terms, and Izzy writes clearly about the ethical distribution ,of resources. She tells of her frustration at needing to use RealMe and a different browser when trying to complete a death certificate. I could empathise having had similar experiences when completing Government funding applications. It was news to me that a body can’t be cremated if they have an implanted device. This would apply to Stephen who has a mechanical heart valve.

I enjoyed reading about the other side of hospital treatment. The book is well written and would be of interest to anyone who’s ever been in hospital, as well as the others who probably will be one day. For anyone considering studying medicine it would be an invaluable resource.

A Doctor’s day is long and busy
as clearly outlined here by Izzy

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Asked whether any book has changed my life I found it difficult to choose one. Over the years many books have had an effect on me, but the one that truly changed my life would have to be The Paradise Papers by Merlin Stone, later re-published as When God was a Woman.

This book demonstrated to me how much of women’s history has been changed and suppressed, and it began my interest in and devotion to Feminist Spirituality. I was nearly thirty when I first read it and new to the subject of Women’s Studies. Around the same time I was introduced to a number of women fiction writers who strongly captured my imagination. The first was Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon. I loved the magic of this book, which tells the legend of King Arthur from a feminist perspective. I’ve read it many times and also bought the others in the same series. In 2009 I was privileged to visit Glastonbury/Avalon, and walk the path up the Tor, which I had previously only imagined.

Another important novel was The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander, the first book I’d read by a New Zealand woman author. I felt a particular affinity for Jane as she had lived in Onehunga in Auckland, where I was living when I read it.

It was Margot Roth, a much-loved Women’s Studies tutor sadly no longer with us, who suggested I also read Marge Piercy, and her Vida captivated me at a time when I was deeply involved in political action.

Is there a book that has changed your life?

A book can take us far away
and bring ideas that change our day

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I found this memoir by a feminist filmmaker absolutely riveting. Gaylene is just nineteen months older than me, and I could relate to so much of her childhood and teenage years. We listened to the same radios programmes and both had Yul Brynner as a favourite film star. She describes Christchurch in the 1960s as being a city of bicycles that all had bells. The bicycles are still here, but sadly not all now have bells, and those that do sometimes fail to use them.

Gaylene’s description of having an abortion in Sydney is starkly poignant, yet it was a privileged option in the late 1960s. The story of the graduate dining room at Gonville and Gaius (pronounced Keys) college in Cambridge held special interest for me because I’ve visited that college where a relative did his PhD. I loved the fact that Gaylene called her first husband her first husband right from the beginning, thinking it would keep him on his toes (but it didn’t). I’m tempted to start calling Stephen my first husband but it seems a bit pointless after more than 50 years.

In 1971 Gaylene joined a Consciousness Raising circle in Cambridge which developed into a feminist activist group. My Auckland introduction to C.R. was later, but also important to my self-development. Of course I loved her mention that rhyming couplets can be superlative and wished I could locate Eric’s doggerel The Pensioner’s Cat which Gaylene captured on video. She also talks about Wellington Trades Council’s women’s choir which became Choir Choir Pants on Fire. I have their c.d. with wonderful socialist songs, including Bread and Roses.

One section tells about the making of Hope and Wire, the series based on the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, which I have never watched. It’s a creative drama, an amalgamation of stories, but to me it could never be as real as Gerard Smyth’s When a City Falls. There are details of all Gaylene’s productions, many of which I’ve seen and enjoyed. I particularly remember taking my mother to see War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not yet seen My Life With Helen, which tells of Helen Clark’s unsuccessful bid to become Secretary-General of the United Nations. It’s now definitely on my must-see list.

The whole book clearly explains Gaylene’s development as a filmmaker and her reasons for making films, and does this in an entertaining way. We are extremely lucky to have her telling our stories in Aotearoa.

This is a book not to be missed
you need to read it, I insist

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I’ve twice enjoyed hearing Clementine speak at Word festival events, and this encouraged me to try her book about love. Last September she spoke of how we often see our past selves in negative ways, carrying self-doubt inside. To have a relatable story with depth you have to get to know your inner self, ask them to forgive you, and they will, because all they’ve ever wanted is your love. This book gives us an opportunity to know Clementine’s inner self, although she does tell us that knowing is not necessarily understanding. She also says that to know love is to know more of yourself.

Clementine is honest and open about her life and her fantasies, and gives very clear and deeply personal depictions of the feelings of a teenage girl, a mother, and the woman in between them. I was impressed with how much she remembers in vivid details. She does say: “As a writer I live in a perpetual state of examination and memory.”

Throughout the book I was intrigued by the continual use of texting as communication. This is something I’ve never taken to myself, and I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out. I favour using email – will respond to Facebook messages, but email is always my preference. I recently said to friend who is driving a brand new hybrid car, that I would have trouble coping with such a sophisticated vehicle as I haven’t yet assimilated the smartphone.

Clementine’s openness about her relationships makes for compulsive reading. She writes about her mother’s death, about lovers, about friends, and about motherhood. All of it is absorbing, and skillfully written.

She tells it just the way it is
her frankness makes you go gee-whiz

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Two mothers have very different views about the need for vaccinations, and the ramifications are far-reaching. The women have a long close friendship although their personalities are not alike, and they each care for the other’s child. The author gives both sides of the vaccination debate, and demonstrates how both mothers are trying to do the very best for their child.

My daughters had all the suggested jabs, and I have too. In the 1980s I knew someone who had a tragic adverse reaction to a pre-travel vaccination, but I know such outcomes are rare. Conflict over vaccination has been topical in Covid times, but most of us believe and follow Health Ministry guidelines.

The characters in this novel are well drawn, and there is suspense.

The main message I took from the book is how easily we can become obsessed by an idea, and how important it is to consider other possibilities. This is an enjoyable book that will make you think.

You can’t expect impunity
if you’ve refused immunity

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This is a beguiling book, full of humour. The narrator, an American woman, loses all her family in the influenza epidemic and inherits enough money to enable her to travel. She becomes part of the inner circle at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference where Winston Churchill, TE Lawrence, and Gertrude Bell, among others, meet to decide the fate of the Arab world after World War One. The consequences of these decisions are being seen today.

I enjoyed her cynical observations of war, the influenza epidemic, and the tourist attractions of Jerusalem. After excellent descriptions of Egypt’s ancient attractions she notes that Jerusalem appeared to her as an enormous mushroom colony, and that the soil around the Nile is so fertile you could plant a pencil and harvest a book.

Her Dachshund Rosie accompanies her on her travels and the dog’s personality radiates through the book. It’s not a breed that’s ever attracted me but I now feel more sympathetic towards them. When Rosie disgraced herself in a luxury car shared with Winston Churchill which was surrounded by rioters, Winston commented that this was “Quite a common reaction to combat”.

I appreciated the understanding of the difference between a suffragist and a suffragette.

When our heroine had too much to drink, Lawrence supported her when she vomited. “Oh, good Lord,” I gasped, hilarious and horrified as I took the handkerchief Lawrence offered. “I just puked in front of the Uncrowned King of Arabia.”

“My dear Miss Shanklin,” Lawrence said with a gallantry I have never forgotten, “I was an undergraduate at Oxford. Believe me: I’ve seen worse.”

While this is a work of fiction the author has used historical dialogue wherever this was available. The end of this book was strange, but I could excuse that as I’d enjoyed the rest.

We start to understand at least
some problems of the Middle East

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This memoir was written by a 98-year-old woman. She grew up in New Brighton, and later worked in Wellington, as well as travelling overseas. Margaret was a Hansard Reporter and offers some interesting snippets of Parliamentary history.

What struck me about the book was how many facts the author was uncertain of. It’s understandable that a 98-year-old’s memory may be fragmentary, but I couldn’t help thinking that many of these facts could easily have been researched by an assistant, and that some editing would have been useful. Maybe just writing her story down was what she wanted to do.

Margaret relates how when her grandfather married for a second time he neglected to tell his new wife he had seven children dotted around Christchurch. This reminded me of my grandfather who neglected to tell my grandmother that two sons of his first marriage had come with him to Christchurch from Australia. Many details of places and events in this book are ones that I either remember or remember hearing about, e.g. my mother was also there when Kingsford Smith arrived from his flight across the Tasman.

I was lent this book from the New Brighton Historical Society. It has a copyright notice, and was printed by Printabook who are “self-publishing experts”. There is nothing to say who the publisher is, although it was evidently the author, and there is no ISBN number, which indicates the book was never intended for sale. Christchurch City Libraries hold one copy which is for in-library use only. Some diverting episodes are included, but Margaret’s story failed to enthrall me. I wondered who had thought of the title, which didn’t quite seem to match the book.

When near a hundred years have passed
the anecdotal scope is vast

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This book of autobiographical essays opens with the story of Fiona becoming a widow, and goes on to give the origin of many scenes that appear in her novels. She writes with a wonderful sense of place, deals practically with the changes that come with age, and gives us captivating glimpses of the life of a successful writer.

I liked her statement that everyone has grandparents but not everyone has grandchildren – personally, I have grand-kittens. Parts that especially drew my interest were her description of the way she taught classes to write memoir and the research she did for her book about Jean Batten. Festival sessions with small audiences also appealed. I imagine those small audiences would have had a real treat. It reminded me of the time Stephen was in a play where only two audience members turned up, and they, along with the cast, all went to the pub.

The essay on massage reminded me of wonderful massages I had from a woman who later left Christchurch. It’s some years now since I had a professional massage but it’s a treat I may avail myself of again now that Fiona has brought the idea to mind. She described how the milled rims of her wedding ring have now vanished which reminded me that mine too has lost its milled rims after many years. Fiona’s story of the Pike River Mine and her responsibility to seek justice shows her determination and commitment.

So many different stories, all fascinating and all told with skill and honesty.

She shares the stories of her life
now moving on – no longer wife

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Writing a memoir is an act of resurrection. I was privileged to hear three authors of memoirs speak at a superb session at this year’s WORD festival. The session was titled Whose life is it anyway? and facilitator Victor Roger was engaging and knowledgeable, telling us that he had laughed and cried when reading each of the three books.

I arrived early with time to browse the University Bookshop stall, where they were selling literary t-shirts, buy one, get one free. I was delighted to get a long-sleeved shirt with a quote from Hermione Granger which says When in doubt go to the library. For Stephen, a lifelong Science Fiction fan, I chose one featuring The War of the Worlds by HG Wells.

The three writers on the panel were Ruth Shaw (The Bookseller at the End of the World), Megan Dunn (Things I learned at Art School), and Clementine Ford (How We Love). I’d not read any of these, although two were already on my For Later list (to which the third has now been added). I was surprised that the theatre was only two-thirds full. The session was also being live-streamed, and I guess there are people who are still wary of being out in crowds, even though all the audience was masked.

Megan Dunn, Clementine Ford, Ruth Shaw, Victor Roger

Clementine explained she was wearing a hat because she’d been travelling for ten days and her hair needed attention. She also said her grandmother would have been horrified by this. I’d previously heard Clementine speak on a panel in 2015 where the topic was How to be a feminist. This time she spoke of how we often see our past selves in negative ways, carrying self-doubt inside. To have a relatable story with depth you have to get to know your inner self, ask them to forgive you, and they will, because all they’ve ever wanted is your love.

Megan said: Good girls write memoirs, bad girls don’t have time. Her father had suggested to her that some things are better left unsaid. In 1989 she was 14 years old and her family were living above an old persons’ home, when her uncle killed himself. Some of her writing is therefore about a child absorbing death. Her description of her own mother’s death was incredibly moving. This mother was never supported to reach her potential or be publicly known, and Megan is now honouring her in this book, so that thousands of people know her and cry for her.

Ruth said she was able to draw on lots of diaries and letters, but recalling the emotions was tricky. She often imagined the person she was writing about standing beside her, together with those who would become her readers. After being raped she became pregnant at 17, and found her mother’s reaction difficult to understand, but her mother later explained the difficulty of living in a small community among the families of the perpetrators.

Megan pointed out there are many lonely people in the world, and suggested one way to combat loneliness is to buy these books.

Clementine said that if you know someone you can be a witness to their life, and that is an important form of love. She recommended the film Beaches as an example of this. Clementine would like to write about her father, who re-married after her mother died. She hopes he will die before his second wife does so she can write the book and that woman can read it.

When questioned about censoring what you’ve written Ruth said she had changed the names of her four husbands and son, to protect their privacy.

All the authors were amazingly open about their stories, and I had tears in my eyes on several occasions. This was a stimulating and very worthwhile session, and I look forward to the pleasure of reading each of their books. Have you read these memoirs?

Their stories came right from the heart
there’s more to read – a further part

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Any genealogist would find the beginning of this book delightfully intriguing. I was fascinated to follow the author’s family research, including his use of databases which are available on the internet, and I can relate to his obsession with the quest to discover more. His emotion on making contact with previously unknown relatives reminded me of similar experiences I have had.

When I read of the amazing amount of family correspondence Richard discovered in various archives I felt envious. He describes being a kind of time-travelling commuter, secretly shuffling back and forth between the present day and the world of his eighteenth century family.

Detective biography is the perfect label for this book. The author gives details of how his ancestors gained wealth through their slaves in the West Indies, and how shocking he found this. His descriptions of the transport and sale of slaves are harrowing. I thought smugly of my own Rout ancestors who were abolitionists.

I admit I skipped through many of the pages which dealt with British politics, the financial crisis of 1772, and the American Revolution, where an earlier Richard Atkinson supplied the Royal Navy and troops with rum and other provisions.

For me, the personal anecdotes were more engaging that the wider political and war details, though I admired the thorough research and the many illustrations. It was moving to read of the moment when Richard touched the hair of his Great-great-great-great Aunt. His commentary on DNA testing was interesting especially when he found so many distant cousins were of West African ancestry.

This book would be enjoyed by anyone curious about British colonial history, but there is a special attraction for family historians.

A decade is the time it took
to research and to write this book

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