Reading History Again


April 23, 2013 by astraltravels

I’m a little (okay, a lot) bit late in on this, and it’s my first blog post of the year.

I started writing this post at the start of March – New Zealand’s book month. I wanted to encourage all who may browse these pages to go out and buy a book. Or stay online and buy a book. Not necessarily my book, but pretty much any old book would do…as long as you read!

Truth is, I’ve had a busy few months not writing a New Zealand book. This time last year I was a slave to my laptop. It was my constant companion. I was five sixths of the way through a six month timeframe in which to research and write a General New Zealand History book. I am not a historian. But I do love a good story, and last year I found I enjoyed digging out little nuggets of quirky information and unearthing the human interest story behind it – what drove people to make history, and what historical circumstances form and are formed by the people.

But I was chained to my laptop. I think that’s why I haven’t written a blog this year. I wanted to enjoy the summer (and what an incredibly golden endless summer New Zealand had! I managed to be very outside & somewhat adventurous during most of it.) and only write when I felt like I wanted to.

Gotta do it for the love, right? I write for my nine-to-five job. I love my job, but I’ve just gone through a very busy few months producing something that will be read, but is not my best work. I put a lot of energy into it, I’m happy with it, but when I’m in an intense work period like that I have no room in my head for other non-fiction things that I may want to explore.

I’ve noticed that since I first started writing – as a job – I seem to read fiction less. I used to devour fiction; couldn’t get enough. Whereas I used to read two or three novels a month, this year it has taken me three months to read two! Granted, one of them was the 900-page brick Shantaram (I wish his editors would’ve red-penned all the descriptions he gives for the eyebrows of his friends. Seriously! That would have saved 50 pages, I’m sure of it).

The flipside of that is I now read more non-fiction. Maybe I’m growing up, getting closer to being serious and away from child-like fantasies. (Though I doubt it; the book I just finished was the very warm, wondrous and perfectly-pitched Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which my brother gave me for Christmas. I feel somewhat sad that I never had an imaginary friend – as such.)

Over the weekend I did what I could never have imagined doing just three years ago. I went into a second-hand bookshop and within ten minutes I spent basically a day’s wages on good non-fiction books, that will not only look good on my bookshelf, but will be a source of wonder, learning and exploring. I practically floated out of the store, so excited as to my purchases.

I’ve said before that I’m not a historian. While I was writing Great Kiwi Firsts I kept bumping into references to Dame Anne Salmond’s books. Now here is a historian and writer who I’ve admired for a long time, yet have not read anything of hers from start to finish since I was in university. I would have loved the time to read her books while I was researching mine, but I didn’t have that luxury. Now I do, and I am so excited.

Anne Salmond was recently named New Zealander of the Year, which must be long overdue, as she has spent much of her life documenting our nation’s cultural history and has been particularly instrumental in helping the cultures of this island nation get to better grips with our understanding of each other. She puts a warmth and a buzz into history that often gets left out when trying to examine moments of the past. But I think she keeps it real too, with a compassion for her audience and our ancestors.

I reckon Dame Anne would be the sort of person who would be the best neighbour. She’d be that woman that I’d aspire to be. Intrinsically good and generous of her wisdom, yet careful with her time. I’m a little in awe.

The next book I am going to read is Anne Salmond’s The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, which takes a look at Captain Cooks sailings around the South Seas. I’m looking forward to this history-filled voyage!

By the way, the bookshop I bought the printed goodies in was a treasure trove full of delights. The sort of place that excites me yet scares me. I could spend a lifetime in there. The shop attendant told me that on Thursday evenings you can browse books with a glass of wine in hand. Musty-book scented Nirvana, perhaps.

Oh, and completely off topic (but who knows when I’ll next write on this blog again, so may as well blurt out a whole heap of stuff), here’s a pic of me with the Young New Zealander of the Year, Sam Judd, whom I met through his  organisation Sustainable Coastlines and my work trying to eradicate plastic from my local beaches (and from being produced in the first place. There is no excuse for single use).  I don’t know him well, but I do admire anyone who is so passionate about their cause that they can convince others to join them to do good work. More of that, New Zealand, please!

2 thoughts on “Reading History Again

  1. Rachael says:

    Hi Astral
    I saw Great Kiwi Firsts on a shelf in the Rotorua library last week and added it to my reading pile. Thank you for researching and writing the book to share Kiwi stories, especially the stories of those who may not have received the recognition they deserved. My partner and I are both finding the book fascinating, and many of the stories are inspiring. I see you’ve written another book too – well done to you! Rachael

    • Thanks so much, Rachael! So lovely to get feedback from readers – and yours put a wall-to-wall smile on my face, so thank you! I’m very glad that you’ve enjoyed the book. I see you write and travel as well – and I wish you all the best in your travels and writing! Thanks again for getting in touch. *~Astral

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