Saturday 31 December 2011

A reading update

Because you never know, you may be interested:

Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls (impulsive insert) four stars[would have been three, but for the brilliant illustrations and the sheer production values]

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (on the original list) just as good as everyone says it is

Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races (impulsive insert) four stars

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth (on the original list) abandoned, one star

Mal Peet, Life: An Exploded Diagram (on the original list) five stars

I'm still grinding my way through Mary Gabriel's biography of Jenn and Karl Marx, finding Karl Marx thoroughly exasperating but learning too much to put it down, and am about to embark on another impulse addition, Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Christmas reading

Here's my list:

  • George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
  • Mal Peet, Life: An Exploded Diagram
  • Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead
  • Best American Science Writing 2011
  • Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth [in progress, perilously close to being ditched]
  • Pippin Barr, How to play a video game
  • Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began
  • Mary Gabriel,  Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the birth of a revolution
Posting will probably be infrequent as I make my way through this pile - see you in 2012!

Friday 23 December 2011

Bob Semple, heart throb

Diving around the National Library's collections the other day, I stumbled across Robert Semple.

I knew about the Semple tank, of course, but I had no idea Semple (coal miner, trade unionist, mine inspector, Labour MP, Minister for Public Works and Transport) was such a hottie.

Obviously a bit of a show man, then. I wanted to add Mr Semple to My Daguerrotype Boyfriend, but their T&Cs scared me off. So I've put these here for you instead.

Images, from top

Gaze, Henry Edward 1874-1953. Portrait of Robert Semple. Gaze, Henry Edward :Negatives. Ref: 1/2-174828-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Creator unknown :Photograph of Robert Semple. Ref: PAColl-7985-79. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Pratt, J, fl 1974. Pratt, J, fl 1974 :Photograph of tank designed by Robert Semple. Ref: 1/2-050790-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Robert Semple. Ref: 1/2-044054-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Robert Semple, former Minister of Public Works, at the controls of an earth-moving machine, Berhampore. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-NZ Obits-Se to Sh-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Hey, good looking

Some people have cigarette breaks. Me - when I need a break from wireframing or proposals or carefully wording emails, I go for a sift through the National Library's online collections. Which is where I found these gorgeous things this week:

Those flies are so fly. Also, shades of Rick Killeen.

I like to think someone saw the poster and said 'Oh, shit, guys, sorry - I forgot to tell you we were changing it from Moral Army to Moral Re-Armament. No, there's not time to start over. Just paste the extra letters on at the ends.'

New Zealand. Department of Health. [New Zealand. Department of Health?] :Where flies fly in, health flies out. Cleanliness means no flies and good health. Carelessness breeds flies and sickness [1960s?]. Ref: Eph-D-HEALTH-1960s-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Moral Re-Armament (Organisation)Harry H Tombs Ltd. Moral Re-Armament (Organisation) :MRA; Moral Re-Armament. H H Tombs, poster printers - 23195. [1950?]. Ref: Eph-D-RELIGION-1950-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Meg Rosoff - There is No Dog

From the occasional book reviews column - Meg Rosoff's funny, filthy, thought-provoking There is No Dog.


What kind of God would make a world like this? It's the question we ask when we start testing our theological chop in our teenage years: a world of wars and rape and environmental disaster, of pimples erupting just before the school dance and turning up to the ball and seeing your arch-enemy in the same dress as you (but a size smaller).

Meg Rosoff's answer? A negligent, floppy-haired teenage boy god - irritable, distractable, sex-mad and short-tempered, yet also rather luscious and prone to the odd moment of utter brilliance. In short, Bob.

Bob got the job of God of Earth after his mother won it in an intergalactic poker hand. 'There is no Dog' starts off like Douglas Adams: Bob takes up the job with some enthusiasm, bashing out the world in six days, with - as his factotum and middle-managementy sidekick Mr B likes to reflect - no long term plan or strategy, no consultation, no common sense:

In the beginning the earth was without form and void and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.

Only it wasn't very good light. Bob created fireworks, sparklers and neon tubes that circled the globe like weird tangled rainbows. He dabbled with bugs that blinked and abstract creatures whose heads lit up and cast long overlapping shadows. There were mile-high candles and mountains of fairy lights. For an hour or so, Earth was lit by enormous crystal chandeliers.

Bob thought his creations were very cool.

They were cool, but they didn't work.

So Bob tried for an ambient glow (which proved toxic) and a blinding light in the centre of the planet, which gave off too much heat and fried the place black. And finally, when he curled up in the corner of nothingness, tired as a child by the harebrainedness of his efforts, Mr B took the opportunity to sort things out - with an external star, gravity, roughly half a cycle in darkness and half in light so there was a Day and a Night. And that was that. The evening and the morning were the first day. Not fancy, but it worked.

Mr B's job is to clean up after Bob: he filters and files the prayer, and fixes things in small ways, where he can (where doing so doesn't fuck everything up beyond all belief accidentally). He spends a lot of time worrying about the whales, his own personal creation. But millennia on, Mr B has had enough of Bob - his ingratitude, his laziness, his romantic and sexual conquests. Mr B is submitting his resignation.

Meanwhile, Bob has fallen cataclysmically in love. The world will end (perhaps literally) if he doesn't get into the pants being worn by Lucy, a virginal and exquisite 21-year-old zookeeper. As Bob pursues Lucy, the weather goes nuts - snow in summer, floods, tornadoes. Bob is not a god of small considerations. Like any boy guided largely by his sexual organ, he is singleminded and one-eyed in this endeavour.

In another side story, Bob's mother Mona - a voluptuous, voluptuary goddess with more than a taste for gin - has lost Bob's pet Eck (a strange cross between a penguin and a lemur with an anteater's nose) in yet another poker game. In six weeks Eck will be eaten by Emoto Hed, a dangerous and powerful god. Bob's too busy wooing Lucy to worry his head overly much about Eck's fate right now (aside from moaning at Mona for messing with his life yet again), but Eck is undergoing an existential crisis:

So the answer to the question about whether he would have to die, Eck gathered, was yes. Yes, he would have to die; yes, he would be forgotten and the world would go on forever without him. With no mitigating circumstances to make the horror easier to swallow.

It strained his relationship with Bob. Why did you bother creating me, he wanted to ask. Why bother giving me a brain and a realisation of how miserable existence can be? Why did you invent creatures who die, and worse, who know they are going to die? What is the point of so unkind an act of creation?

Rosoff floats between Douglas Adams' giddiness, Douglas Coupland's work-place malaise, Michael Chabon's humid descriptions of teenage sexual obsession, and some P.G. Wodehouse sit-com humour. And through it all she maintains her own inimitable style, mixing musing on mortality with wanking.

The thing that's stayed with me from this book? Rosoff's evocation of teenage boys: self-centred, short-tempered, sex-mad and occasionally insanely amazing:

Mr B marvels that the same God who leaves his dirty clothes in a mouldering heap by the side of his bed could have created golden eagles and elephants and butterflies. Such moments of transcendent inspiration! Other creatures fill him with admiration as well - heavy loping striped tigers and graceful long-necked swans, creaking as they fly. Ludicrous pincushion porcupines. It's not that the boy is altogether devoid of talent, but he is devoid of discipline, compassion and emotional depth. Foresight.

And the last thing that I love? This isn't typical YA. By the end of the book, Bob's not a better person. Most of the adults have learned something and are moving on, but not Bob. Bob's still Bob - eternally teenaged, god bless him.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

My year in reading

Inspired by my friend Emma, I've been reviewing my year in reading. I collect (almost) all the books, and (almost) everything I think about them on Goodreads.

I can't quite be arsed recording everything here again, so here are some screenshots:

Overall, the differences between 2010 and 2011 seem to be:
  • more poetry
  • more YA
  • less science
  • more World War One memoirs
  • less contemporary fiction
I'm not sure what the 2012 focus will be. In the meantime, here are the books I gave 5 stars this year:
  • Meg Rosoff, There is No Dog
  • Muriel Spark, The Driver's Seat
  • Margaret Mahy, Memory
  • Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist
  • Robert Graves, Goodbye to all that
  • Colette, Cheri and The Last of Cheri
  • W.H. Auden, Another Time
  • Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands
  • Lauren Redniss, Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie
  • Sarah Bakewell, How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Answers
  • Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Nick Lane, Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution (December 29 2010, but hey ...)

Monday 19 December 2011

A rich man's world

Blake Gopnik might be a very good art critic (I freely admit that I don't read enough of his work to know for myself). But he evidently hates art fairs; however, he perked up when he took some Monopoly money along to Art Basel and picked himself up ten million dollars worth of goodies (you can see what he 'bought' here).

In a follow-up article, Gopnik attempts to explain 'why art is so damned expensive'. The tl;dr - art pricing is entirely unreasonable, in that there's no logic to it. I have an extremely intelligent friend who, every so often, asks me to explain how people decide how much an artwork is 'worth'. He can't wrap his head around it because there's no pattern, no rules, no reasoning - it's utterly opaque unless you're all the way on the inside, and even then, if you look at the subject in the right light, all the sense rushes out the door again.

Of course, that's the top of the market. I love buying art. I love thinking about how a piece will fit in with what is already at home. I like to think of the money going back to the artist who made the piece. I have a ceiling (which, as the years go by, slowly goes upwards) which means that each piece is carefully considered, but often also bought with a sense of joyful recklessness. I don't understand how people who love art can't want to come home to it every night. It might be senseless over all, but on the personal level, it makes a lot of sense to me.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Six lamps a-glowing

The National Library's twitter folks (@NLNZ) are doing a Twelve Days of Christmas count down.

Trying to outsmart them, I found this for 'six' (proto-Bill Culbert, no?)

But was aesthetically trumped by @shiftermike with this beauty

Black and white photos, huh? There's nothing like them.


Six freestanding lamps. K E Niven and Co :Commercial negatives. Ref: 1/2-209830-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Six different tyre treads. K E Niven and Co :Commercial negatives. Ref: 1/2-227689-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday 16 December 2011

YA musings

This article by Andrew Karre on Hunger Mountain is one of the smartest pieces I've read on the topic of YA.

He begins by noting that articles about YA have become internet crack, racing to the tops of 'most emailed' lists and filling Twitter with hashtags. These articles come largely in two flavours:

Strand one can be called the “YA is too dark” strand, or, as I prefer to call it, the “Think of the children!” strand. Strand two is the navel-gazing strand, or, if you prefer, the “YA is/is not a genre!” strand. I have established positions on both (for the record, barely dark enough and it’s a genre for me), but I think the fact of these coexistent debates is evidence of something much more interesting and important than either debate.

But why do we (well, some of we) care so much? Because, Karre argues - persuasively and readably - that YA publishing has become disruptive, in the same sense that Apple's i-Products are disruptive. YA titles - Twilight, Harry Potter, Hunger Games - have become culturally ubiquitous.  Writing from the inside of the debate, Karre concludes:

Arguing about whether YA is too dark is the literary equivalent of arguing about whether consumers will ever want a cell phone without a physical keyboard. Worrying about whether YA is a genre is the equivalent of agonizing over whether an iPad is a computer or merely a media consumption device (the answer, conveniently, is the same in both cases: It doesn’t matter; it’s whichever you need it to be). The only meaningful outcome of these debates is this: What we’re doing matters.

Arguing from the outside is Adam Gopnik in his recent piece in the New Yorker, a fascinating analysis of what it is about long, complex fantasy series that enthrall kids and teens (and adults). Many are ponderous, over or underwritten:

What is it, then, that makes the books enter kids’ consciousness?

First, kids experience them as mythologies more than as stories—the narrative sweep is, curiously, the least significant part of their appeal. When kids talk about movies, it’s usually the cool parts that get highlighted. (“So there’s this, like, cool part where the guy—the blue guy?—has to tame, like, a flying dinosaur and they’re all on a cliff and he says, like, ‘How do I know which one is mine?’ And, so, the blue girl is, like, ‘He will try to kill you!’ ”) Readers of the Eragon books don’t relate cool incidents; they relate awesome elements. You hear about the Elders, the dragon riders, the magical fire-sword Brisingr; what drags readers in is not the story but the symbols and their slow unfolding. The sheer invocation of a mythology casts a deeper spell than putting the mythology on its feet and making it dance. If you talk to an Eragon reader, you will see why the introductory seven-page synopsis of the mythology is necessary. The synopsis is the story.

And the truth is that most actual mythologies and epics and sacred books are dull. Nothing is more wearying, for readers whose tastes have been formed by the realist novel, than the Elder Edda. Yet the spell such works cast on their audience wasn’t diminished by what we find tedious. The incantation of names is, on its own, a powerful literary style. The enchantment the Eragon series projects is not that of a story well told but that of an alternative world fully entered. You sense that when you hear a twelve-year-old describe the books. The gratification comes from the kid’s ability to master the symbols and myths of the saga, as with those eighty-level video games, rather than from the simple absorption of narrative.

It's such an interesting point. Kids love mastering complexity. This makes me wonder - how could that love be better harnessed in the classroom?

Thursday 15 December 2011

My year in perfume

I spent the weekend in a nostalgic haze of the Body Shop's 'White Musk'. I'd sniffed it on someone this week, and got one of those immediate scent memories that dragged me all the way back to 6th form English, where every second girl in the class (including me) was drenched in the stuff.

Today, it smells strangely old-lady for such a classic starter perfume (there were, of course, no 'by Taylor Swifts' or 'by Beyonces' or 'by Britney Spears' back in my day). It's got a big white flower, and then a big musk (the clean laundry variety, not the dirty sheets) and underneath it all a powdery sweet cosmeticy note. It's as sweet as all get out, and kind of soothing.

Wondering around snuffing at my wrists (I spend rather a lot of time doing this) I got to thinking about my year in perfume. It's a vain pleasure, sure, but one that pleases me deeply.

Summer was spent drenched in Guerlain's Vetiver - sharply, freshly green, a cold spice smell (if you can imagine that: not cardamom or star anise - green, yet with that same intensity), that makes me think of the very innermost leaves of a blade of plucked grass, cast in crystal.

When I felt like a change I'd swop to Guerlain's Mitsouko, which I find pleasingly sharp, almost aggressive - the angular cousin of Jicky (see the next paragraph), beautiful in its own way but far less eager to please.

Winter was spent alternating between Guerlain's men's cologne Habit Rouge (I can't top Luca Turin's description of it smelling like 'sweet dust') and their classic women's fragrance Jicky - apparently the oldest perfume in continuous production.

I love the progression of Jicky - a big hit of lavender, then a very weird moment where it smells like curdled milk, then a deep purple oily cloud where the lavender is balanced with vanilla, with an underpinning of dried herbs - a salty lick under all the sweetness.

On a visit to Melbourne (and more specifically, the magical Klein's Perfumery) I added to my collection with Frapin's Terre de Sarment - a rich blend of woodsmoke and vanilla freshened by dollops of citrus, with an underlying note of booziness, more whiskey or bourbon than berried wine. It smells like the night after the pub, in the best possible way.

I also gave in to L'Artisan Parfumeur's 'Dzing', which smells like vanilla-drenched manila folders with a strange musk underpinning. It's a very odd smell, curiously flat (not lacking fizz, but flat like a huge roll of butcher's paper - a single, uninflected surface) but I find it compelling.

During the year, I also experimented with a bunch of samples of leather perfumes, drawn from Turin's top 10 list: Estee Lauder's 'Azuree' (work glove and citrus), Chanel's Cuir de Russie (amazing, impossible to find here) and S Perfumes S-eX (does what it says on the bottle). I couldn't find one that I could wear (as opposed to it wearing me) so I'm saving that up for when I'm an irascible old lady with a lip full of snuff and no qualms about being thought odd.

But the perfume that blew me away, that lingers, that delights every day, is L'Artisan Parfumeur's Timbuktu. Turin describes it as woody smoky - I get less of either of these than an incredibly clear, bright shaft of pink peppercorns - but it's taught me what he means by 'radiance', a smell that sings out like a cleanly plucked note. I can't wear it myself (not yet, anyway) but luckily someone else in the house can.

What's next? There are some Chanels I'm still very keen to lay nose on: Bois de Iles, Sycomore. I've been ummming and aahing about a bottle of Eau Sauvage all year; that or maybe Guerlain's Eau de Cologne for an alternate summer scent (yes, Guerlain is a bit of a theme here, but in terms of readily accessible, high quality perfumes, they're our best option). I might put more effort into exploring Serge Lutens. Overall, I'll continue to feed my healthy little obsession.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Not remembering Don Driver

Today I talked on the radio about Don Driver and his work.

I wish I could have thought of a better short title than 'Remembering Don Driver'. It's the traditional wording, but it implies that you're dragging stuff up from the depths of your memory, which is wrong on two counts for me. First, I never (to my great regret) met Driver, so I'm not recalling personal memories. And second, there is nothing at all past tense about how I feel about Driver's work: it is vital and fresh, and I strongly believe only continue to become more eye-smacking as time passes.

Anyway - here's the audio, should you want to have a listen.

There's also a gallery of images on the RadioNZ website.

Judging a book

Two takes on the resurgence of beautifully designed and printed print books: The Guardian takes the high road, the New York Times goes straight for the commercial jugular.

Both note that the print market is having to differentiate itself from the e-market in order to survive (and make money). A year on from first having a whirl with a Kindle, I'm still a resolute print-book reader and buyer.

I still read print books because the public library can supply (almost all) my needs. It's still cheaper for me to reserve a book I want through the library than to download it from Amazon, and because my reading backlist is so long, I don't feel like I'm missing out by not having it now.

My print buying has tailed off mostly to YA fiction (cheaper than 'adult' books), new releases by my favourite authors (completist urges) and essay collections (no real reason, there's just something I like about them). I buy very few books that I haven't already read. In fact, I buy books largely in order to loan them - there's something irreplaceable, for me, about the physical act of handing over a book for someone else to love. I haven't (more shame me) bought an art book all year.

Some people have photo albums. I have bookshelves:  even without cracking them open, my books remind me of people and places and moments in my life; where and when I read them, who I was at that time, who I shared them with. Plus, yeah - they do smell good. 

Monday 12 December 2011

Fritsch in Chch

The National has a simply glorious looking show of Karl Fritsch's work on at the moment. Not only do the pieces look terrific, but his characteristically rough-edged yet elegant displays look just as good. Go visit and shop, if you can.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Some chewy weekend reading

James Bridle's WebDirections keynote on 'The New Aesthetic' (video and transcript - the transcript is awesomely annotated with links to images and articles).

A nice bookend to the above - Russell Davies on the post-digital.

Relevant to PBRF funding in universities: Mark Bauerlein asks in The Chronicle of Higher Education whether all the publishing in the field of literary studies is actually benefiting anyone.

Michelle Nijhuis in 'The Last Word on Nothing' (an awesome science blog) on the the different narrative styles of environmental reporting (Quest, Rebirth, Tragedy, Rags to Riches).

Aimee Levitt on Laura Ingalls Wilder and American economic downturns.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Don Driver

Jim Barr and Mary Barr have written beautifully on Don Driver, who died today.

I never met Don Driver. It makes me sad. Over the last few years I've become a fervent admirer, seeking out as many shows and opportunities to see the work as possible (and opportunities to mention him here and when on the radio).

Driver's work holds the room. It squawks and it growls and it sings (and occasionally it's quite trippy) but it's impossible to look past. It grabs your eyeballs and it makes you think.

I owe five people real credit for my love of Driver's work: Jim and Mary, William McAloon, Julian Dashper and Hamish McKay. It's a delight to see curators my age (or thereabouts) taking up his work as well - Aaron Kreisler in Dunedin (a NP kid himself), Aaron Lister in his sculpture show at City Gallery next year. People have been saying today that Driver is sadly overlooked. Me, I think he was loved and admired where it mattered.

(Having said that - a dirty great survey show would not go amiss.)

UPDATE: That first 'Aaron' should have been Kreisler - sorry, both. And Sarah Farrar has written a nice short piece about Driver and her own discovery of his work (another one of those young curators) on the Te Papa blog. And Roger Taberner has written a lengthy and insightful piece on the Auckland Art Gallery blog.

Pretty ... smart

I've been oohing and aahing over Australian jewellery gallery Pieces of Eight's recently-launched online store Edition X, which stocks limited edition pieces of jewellery, textiles, books, objects and more.

In addition to the seductiveness of the objects, I've been seduced by the little design touches on the website; feminine, not too girly, and a strong sense of the Pieces of Eight personality.

Now eg.etal, another of my favourite Melbourne haunts, as also launched an online store.

Although eg.etal's stock doesn't quite delight me as Pieces of Eight does, the site also has some really lovely, simple touches - like how the thumbnails on the homepage react as you scroll over them.

Now all I need is for Gallery Funaki to make my life complete.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

City Gallery Wellington's Future - The Survey

When I saw the announcement of Paula Savage's retirement from City Gallery in their enewsletter, and an invitation to take a survey on the future of the Gallery, I was quite excited. Would they give us a multi-choice list of potential directors to choose from? Could I ask for a larger number of smaller, shorter-run exhibitions throughout the year? Could I tell them about the public programme events I want to attend?

Nope. But you can tell them what you think about the idea of a $10 entry fee for anyone who can't prove Wellington residency to visit City Gallery Wellington and the Museum of City and Sea.

Some sample questions:

After all these days

It's been a couple of weeks now, and I'm still loving NPR's Infinite Player (original post here).

Usually, the glow of new internet toys wears off pretty quickly (or I bookmark things and never return). But I've just kept the Infinite Player alive in a browser window, switching it on whenever I want a little bit of background chatter (like right now). It's less commitment than a podcast, but more varied and controllable than normal radio. Joy.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Sport and cancer

Yeah, I think it's a weird pairing too. Never mind.

First, a fantastic profile of Siddartha Mukherjee, oncologist and author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, one of the best on-fiction books I read this year (even if the second half does drag somewhat).

One of its most arresting observations was inspired by a conversation between Mukherjee and a friend many years earlier "about the nature of interior and exterior", which returned to him as he was working on the book. "Every era," it suddenly struck him, "casts cancer in its own image." The US in the 70s was haunted by cold war fears of the enemy within – and so the "big bomb" was replaced by "the big C". HIV overshadowed the following decade, and then the search for cancer-causing viruses became oncology's new obsession. Now that we're obsessed with genetics, the focus of research has moved on to hereditary causes. "When a disease insinuates itself so potently into the imagination of an era," he writes, "it is often because it impinges on an anxiety latent within that imagination."

I got all riled up on behalf of (American) football fans when I read this WSJ article about how the NFL will not release the 'All 22' footage - the angles that show what all the players on the field are up to during the game - to fans. 

By distributing this footage only to NFL teams, and rationing it out carefully to its TV partners and on its web site, the NFL has created a paradox. The most-watched sport in the U.S. is also arguably the least understood. "I don't think you can get a full understanding without watching the entirety of the game," says former head coach Bill Parcells. The zoomed-in footage on TV broadcasts, he says, only shows a "fragment" of what happens on the field. 

And a rather good list of the top sports books of 2011 from Dan Shanoff on Quickish, interesting also for this final observation, his prediction for sports publishing in 2012:

Shorter-form (and quick-turnaround) e-books from "indie" publishers like Byliner and Atavist; from sportswriters publishing on their own; from mainstream publishing houses (including Amazon, foreshadowed by Emma Span and Ben Cohen); and -- most interestingly -- directly from mainstream sports media companies (taking a cue from what The Atlantic did with Taylor Branch's cover story this fall and Politico's e-book strategy, which made its first surge this week) will explode.

Friday 2 December 2011


I'm quite taken by the Walker Art Center's new homepage.

Some people will find it way too busy. Me, I like how they seem to have expanded their remit - not just a homepage for their gallery, but a homepage for the visual and performing arts. I like, for example, how articles from other sites are getting pulled through to the page.

I also like all the small touches - little features where you can flick through three panes, the three views for opening hours, this little feature on the far left that highlights different content by theme.

It's a bit super-user, but I enjoy how it rewards exploration. The more you adventure through it, the more it reveals to you - a nice metaphor for art itself, no?

Thursday 1 December 2011

The day after

I hope to write something more reflective about the NDF conference in the next few weeks. Overall, I couldn't be happier with how it all turned out: fantastic speakers, a highly engaged audience, and - miracle of miracles - sunshine.

I slipped out just before lunch on the second day of the conference to do my regular spot on Nine to Noon, and covered some of the projects featured at the conference. The way Kathryn was immediately sucked in by some of the sites we talked about reinforced for me some of the messages we heard at the conference about helping people sense the texture and colour of our collections.

Here are links to the sites I touched on:

Old Weather, National Maritime Museum, London
A citizen-science project where volunteers are helping transcribe the logbooks of Royal Navy ships from around the time of World War One.

What's on the menu, New York Public Library
Learning what people were eating a century ago in New York by transcribing NYPL's special collection of historical menus.

Australian Dress Register
Collecting examples and information about clothing in New South Wales before 1945, from public and private collections.

History Pin -
A global map for sharing pieces of people's personal histories to create a global resource

Remix and Mash up competitions:
[New Zealand] Mix and Mash winners
[Australia] LibraryHack winners

A Grand Mother from Candy Elsmore on Vimeo.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Opening remarks for National Digital Forum 2011

[I didn't give references for the quotes I used yesterday when kicking off the NDF2011 proceedings, so I thought I'd pop the text up here in case anyone wanted to follow them up.]

Before I introduce our first speaker for the conference, I wanted to share a few thoughts. They’re not really thoughts of mine - they’re the thoughts of other people, thoughts that have stuck in my head all year, buzzing away quietly in the background and rising to the top whenever I’ve contemplated this moment of standing here in front of you all.
The 20th century has released us into history through technology

This idea comes from broadcaster and author Melvyn Bragg - I found it in one of his In Our Time e-newsletters at the start of the year.

Bragg was talking about a series of radio interviews he’d been doing at radio stations across the England, asking people to contribute photos, videos, diary entries and other memories to be mixed with archival material to create the TV series “The Reel History of Britain”. Bragge said he was:

attempting to encourage people to send in their memoirs, photographs, whatever, to build up this series, so that it widely and fully and properly represents all of us who were part of all of the history of this country over the last 120 years.

Releasing people into history through technology - this is what we’ve been doing for the past ten years. We call what we do harvesting or cataloguing, digitising or preserving, data visualising or crowd-sourcing, community management or customer service, or whatever the latest round of restructuring has deemed our job to involve. But what we’re really doing is working with people to create and share back our collective and collaborative history.
A book is a machine to think with

This line comes from IA Richards’ introduction to his 1924 book Principles of Literary Criticism.  I haven't actually read the book myself - I've just spotted the reference a lot lately.

The line is often cited in debates about the future of the book - contrasted against the idea of a book as ‘tree flakes encased in dead cows’. The full quote goes like this:

A book is a machine to think with. What kind of a machine? Not a bellows or a locomotive but more like a loom on which to re-weave some ravelled parts of our civilisation. 

When you think about books like this they become social items, items which pass through a network of people. In the case of a book, the network includes the writer, the editor, the publisher, the reviewer, the reader: each extracting and absorbing and reusing what they have touched, consciously or otherwise.

The same can be said of all the items we work with: physical, digital, physical made digital, digital made physical. All this stuff, these records of human life and thinking and experience that we are busy collecting, preserving and making available. They are all crucial items in the unending cycle of creation and creativity, and we’re there in the middle of it, helping the wheel turn around. It’s a position of responsibility and privilege and opportunity.  

Data needs spokespeople

I first saw this phrase in a blog post by the urban designer Adam Greenfield, citing a presentation about people-powered data by Elizabeth Goodman, who was in turn citing Bruno Latour, at which point I gave up any hope of understanding the original thought, and decided to take out of it just what I wanted to.

What I wanted was this:

We are swimming in data. Digital New Zealand now has more than 25 million records* in its search API. It can’t print posters advertising this miraculous figure, because it grows faster than their printing budget can keep up with.

Over the past ten years we have mastered the tasks of data: of collecting and preserving and making available. More recently, we’ve been getting so much better at the arts of data: of sharing nicely, of recruiting supporters, of welcoming contributions. The hurdle at which we continue to stumble, however, is letting go.

And I know, I know - I’ve banged my heads against the walls of copyright and donor restrictions with the best of you. But if we are going to continue to play an important role in the cycle of creation and creativity, we are going to have to do even more to not just promote our data for what it is, but to promote it for what people can make of it.  

Giving a shit

This line comes from an article by Alexis Madrigal published in The Atlantic in June this year. He was talking about the tenacity, the bullheadedness, the inspiration and the desire that’s needed for people like us to keep pushing our institutions forward in order to serve the people we are here to serve.

The article is titled ‘What Big Media can learn from the New York Public Library’. Here’s the full quote:

First, I'm convinced the NYPL is succeeding online because of desire. The library's employees give a shit about the digital aspects of their institution, and they are supported in that shit giving. I mean this in the most fundamental way possible and as a damning critique for media companies. Second, the library sees its users as collaborators in improving the collections the library already has. While serving them online costs the library some money, they are creating value, too, by opening up conduits into the library for superusers. 

You don’t work for your line manager, or your director, or your CE. Really, you work for your customers. How much say do they have in what you do? How many decisions are made in their best interests? If you were to ask ‘what is the single best thing we could do to add value to our customers’ lives’, what would it be?

I hope that, as ever, this year’s conference is a chance for you to confirm just what it is that you give a shit about.

*27 million records, as of yesterday

Reading lists

Ah, I love the Books of the Year outpouring on the internet. Here are a few goodies:

New York Times 100 Notable Books

The Guardian's Books of the Year

The New Statesman's Books of the Year

Monday 28 November 2011

Bus stops

In the vein of abandoned, polar-bear infested workers' barracks, I now bring you Soviet bustops, including this beauty

which reminds me strongly of the Ratana temple at Ratana Pa

and Rua Kenana's meeting house and church at Maungapohatu

Photograph of a Soviet bus stop by Christopher Herwig from How to be a Retronaut
Ratana temple. Godber, Albert Percy, 1875-1949 :Collection of albums, prints and negatives. Ref: 1/2-018648-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 
Bourne, George, 1875-1924. Rua Kenana Hepetipa's wooden circular courthouse and meeting house at Maungapohatu. Godber, Albert Percy, 1875-1949 :Collection of albums, prints and negatives. Ref: APG-1679-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday 24 November 2011

What Middletown Reads

I am curious about the hands that books have travelled through. I am sad we no longer have due dates stamped into library books. I liked knowing that the book I had selected had been a popular as a pretty debutante for the first year after it arrived in the library, but had since then sat for twenty forlorn years in its place on the shelf, waiting for me to claim it.

At primary school, I could trace books back through their issue slips - when you're nine, the kids who had moved on to high school become like mythic beings. Taking out a book that they had once read was like a connection to adulthood, a promise that I too would soon don a navy blue uniform and stay on the bus into town after the little kids got off.

Today, I believe most libraries discard borrowers records, as a privacy matter. But one collection of small town American borrowers records - from turn-of-the-19th-century Muncie, Indiana, have been digitised and made available online.

In a terrific article on Slate, John Plotz covers what researchers are digging up from the ledgers:

For example, they discovered that fewer than 38 percent of Muncie patrons were blue-collar, though more than 60 percent of Muncie’s families were blue-collar. They also discovered that blue-collar families were significantly more likely to have multiple library cards than white-collar families. With little spare cash to buy books—and with few forms of affordable daily entertainment—the single book permitted out on each card frequently was not enough for a blue-collar family with several avid readers. Blue-collar borrowers were also more likely to borrow classics, or older books, while white-collar readers gravitated to the latest fashionable books: Felsenstein and Connolly speculate this may reflect the availability of older books in the houses of wealthier patrons.

Plotz's essay is more than just your typical data crunching+insight.  It's also the story of how he tries to re-live the reading life of Muncie teenager Louis Bloom, and his searching out of Bloom's descendants. It's a lovely and fascinating article, and perfect for a weekend read.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

NPR's Infinite Player

You know how every so often something comes along, and you're like, YES! That is exactly what I've been looking for?

Today I am LOVING NPR's experimental web app Infinite Player. There's a great explanation of the app on the Nieman Labs site. Basically, it presents a random mix of NPR pieces, designed bring that serendipity of just switching on the radio & listening to what it gives you to the web. It's a contrast to seeking out and listening to podcasts ('intentional listening'): every piece I've heard so far has been under five minutes long, so there's no annoyance if you zone out for a moment, or tune in a bit late; you're not overly invested, so you can move on.

At the moment, all you can do on the app is play, pause, refresh and igive an item a thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate your interest and teach the app about your tastes. It's brilliantly simple, and it was chucked out there in a sprint and a half.

One of the first stories Infinite Player threw up for me was about a guy who used 'Moneyball' style data analysis to win at Jeopardy. In half an hour I've heard about electric cars, cheese making, shortages in ADHD medication, something doomy about Obama and the economy, and criticisms of the latest Honda Civic. It's been joyous.

Of course, I've gone straight into feature bloat. I want other stations and other podcasts in there. I want a link so I can tweet and email stories to people. But wow - three weeks for this level of delight. That's all kinds of awesome.

Monday 21 November 2011

Crowdsourcing an Yvonne Todd catalogue

Go on, you know you want to ...

What the ...

This weekend I finished Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life. I've written something of a review over at Goodreads, but my single favourite finding in 416 pages was discovering that no-one seems sure what colour Dickens' eyes were:

they were reported variously as dark brown, dark glittering black, clear blue, 'not blue', distinct clear hazel, 'large effeminate eyes', clear grey, green-grey, dark slaty blue - with a little orange line surrounding the pupil - and even, by a cautious observer, as 'nondescript'.

Friday 18 November 2011


Adam Gopnik is probably my favourite New Yorker writer, and his Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life was one of my favourite books in recent years. I'm not going gangbusters over reading his new book (The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food) but boy, does the guy give good interview on the promotional trail. This interview with ZYZZYVA is the best so far, and includes gems like:

To me a great piece is a sequence of memorable sentences. And I know that’s a sort of limiting thing. Maybe that’s why I can’t write effective narratives! But for me a wonderful epigrammatic sentence, an effective aphorism, that for me is like seeing a pregnant woman, it’s the perfectly shaped thing, pregnant sentences.

And then paragraph structure fascinates me, too. One of the things that drives me nuts when I’m reading even good academic writing is that nobody seems to have ever heard that sentence variation is a vital part of writing. These are people who are perfectly competent in every other ways, but every sentence is the same shape.
In the end though, you either can produce surprising, beautiful sentences or you can’t. Without that, all the erudition and intelligence in the world is not going to make any difference. For me, yes, a piece works when I can say that there are six good sentences in it. And a piece that does not have any good sentence is not worth reading. Now, having said that, of course I struggle over weeks and pull my hair to work on the structure, to make it logical, and move paragraphs around so that the sequence flows. All that stuff matters, too. But if I am answering honestly, yes, it’s the sentence that matters.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Recommendations, please

Life has eased back a bit, and as a result I've started thinking ahead to Christmas and, as ever, my Christmas reading list.

I've got a growing stack of fiction (ranging from my first stab at George R. R. Martin through to Muriel Spark) but my non-fiction is looking very thin. So I thought I'd throw it open here: what should I read over summer?

To provide some guidance, here are some books I've particularly enjoyed over the past two years:

Michael Lewis's Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game - how the Oakland Athletics used hard numbers to build  winning baseball team

Robert Graves's Goodbye to all that - his searing memoir of childhood and World War I

Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - the story of the woman from whom the HeLa cells were drawn

Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer - a marvellously constructed study of the first essayist.

Lisa Jardine's Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory - how ideas, politics, people, power and money flowed between England and Holland in the 17th century

Siddartha Mukkerjee's The Emperor of All Maladies - a history of cancer

Adam Gopnik's Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life - takes a coincidence (the two men were born on the same day) and turns it into a thoughtful take on two exhaustively documented lives

H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream - a heartbreaking look at Texan high school football

Nick Lane's Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution - a witty and occasionally mindblowing book, and thankfully not The Greatest Show on Earth

Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science - a vastly enjoyable study of the point before art and science began to divide.

Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands - a thing of intelligent beauty

Lauren Redniss's Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie - a thing of beautiful intelligence

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's Why Does E=mc^2?: And Why Should We Care? - a kindly written introduction to the theory of general relativity, which had me for absolute minutes on end feeling like I actually understood it.

So, what should I read this summer?

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Goodbye, Seb

Seb Chan has posted the news that he's leaving the Powerhouse Museum for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Seb has been a massive influence on me, personally and professionally. His work, and more importantly, his outreach at the Powerhouse brought the international digital cultural sector's attention to this part of the world, and New Zealand and Australia's cultural institutions have flourished in that time.

You can't pin all the changes down to one person, of course, but you also can't deny that Seb's combination of energy, data-driven innovation and sheer generosity of spirit has made it all that bit easier to push our own organisations forward in the digital world. Thanks Seb, travel safely, and I hope we see you down here again soon.

p.s. you probably all follow Seb's writing at Fresh and New(er), where he's going to keep posting; you might not know though about Small Stories, his delightful blog about books he's reading to his kids.  Highly recommended.

Monday 14 November 2011

The Big Irony

From the occasional reviews series: Lev Grossman's The Magicians.


Laura Miller described Erin Morgensten's (rather sickly sounding) The Night Circus as 'the first Etsy novel'. That might make Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King into Narnia for Boing Boing readers.

The Magician King is a quest story, written for an audience that's not just familiar with every Harry Potter meme, but with as well. I think of Grossman's tone as 21st century hardboiled; it's every bit as quotable, but also every bit as relentless, as Raymond Chandler. Here's a representative sample:

She always righted herself in the end, with the help of the dandy new shrink, a woman this time, and her dandy 450 milligrams of Wellbutrin and 30 milligrams of Lexapro daily, and her dandy new online support group for the depressed.

Actually, the support group really was pretty dandy. It was something special. It was founded by a woman who'd worked successively at Apple, and then Microsoft, and then Google. She blazed a glittering arc in the firmament at each firm for about four or five years, piling up tranches of stock options, before she rolled neurochemical snake eyes and a bout of clinical depression knocked her out of the sky. By the time Google was done with her she was forty-four and had her fuck-you money in the bank. So she retired early and started Free Trader Beowulf instead.

Free Trader Beowulf - you had to be at least forty and a recovering pen-and-paper role-playing-gamer to get the reference, but it was apt. Google it. FTB was an online support group for depressed people. But not your common run of depressed people. Oh, no.

To get in the door you first had to show them your prescriptions. They wanted credentials, solid ones. A bunch of nerds like this, they didn't want to hear your whining, and they didn't want to read your poems - sorry, Jack - or look at your doomy watercolours. This crowd wasn't soft-core. If you were depressed, they wanted to see the hard stuff, a diagnosis from an actual psychiatrist and hard-core chemical-on-neuron action. And if you were rocking double-neurochemical-penetration, like Julia was, all the better.

As much as I enjoyed The Magicians - felt like I was reading a palimpsest of every bit of lovable and scary fantasy I've ever read, supplemented by every bit Grossman has read - now the magic's starting to fade a little. The writing's still crisp, but the story is less compelling, the allusions less amusing, the inventiveness not quite as sparkling.

The book ends with a set-up to turn this duo into a trilogy. I kind of hope Grossman bucks this and does something totally different next.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Beyond access

My term on the National Digital Forum board is drawing to a close (I finish up after the NDF conference later this month).

It's a bit of an end of an era for me - I see it as part of the six year journey I've been on since I started work at the National Library in January 2006. Although I left in the middle of last year, working at the Library had a huge impact on me. For the past six years, I've spent a great deal of time thinking about cultural institutions and their collections.

I think about what these institutions stand for, and why they exist. I think about who they serve (or what they serve - I have this fuzzy, not particularly well articulated theory that collecting is part of creating history, whether or not anyone ever puts what is collected into a history). I think about how people interact and engage with the institutions and their collections. With our collections, when you really think about it.

Working on things like the National Library's Flickr Commons account and the @NLNZ twitter account reinforced for me not only that, thanks to the web, collections have moved beyond the physical places they're stored into the unlimited world, but that the role of researching and sorting and presenting these collections have moved beyond curators and historians and into the hands of anyone with a search box and a link to share around.

We've come a long way in the decade or so since cultural institutions started digitising their collection items and putting them online. But we haven't gone quite far enough. I still want more. I want more freedom to play with collections. In particular, I want more freedom to play with items that are out of copyright and ready to move back into the creative melting pot.

I was prompted to think about this again tonight when I read about the launch of Mixel, an iPad app that lets people grab images from around the web, remix them into collages and share them around. As one of the founders, Khoi Vinh, writes:

... we chose collage for a very important reason: it makes art easy. Photos, the component pieces of every collage, are among the most social and viral content on the Web, and allowing people to combine them into new, highly specific expressions of who they are and what they’re interested in is powerful. Collage also has a wonderfully accessible quality; few people are comfortable with a brush or a drawing implement, but almost everyone is comfortable cutting up images and recombining them in new, expressive, surprising or hilarious ways. We all used to do this as kids

When I see things like this

and this

and this

all I want to do is share them. And I can, thanks to the new statement on the National Library's Beta website:
You can copy this item for personal use, share it, and post it on a blog or website. It cannot be used commercially without permission, please ask us for advice. If reproducing this item, please maintain the integrity of the image (i.e. don't crop, recolour or overprint it), and ensure the following credit accompanies it
What I want now is the next bit. I want to start playing. I want to give them another life, like Mixel is doing:

Mixel keeps track of every piece of every collage, regardless of who uses it or how it’s been cropped. That means, in a sense, that the image pieces within Mixel have a social life of their own. Anyone can borrow or re-use any other piece; you’re free to peruse all the collages (we call them “mixels”) and pick up literally any piece and use it in your own mixel. If you don’t like the crop, the full, unedited original is stored on the server, so you can open it back up in an instant and cut out just the parts you like. Mixel can even show you everywhere else a particular image has been used, so you can follow it throughout the network to see how other people have cropped it and combined it with other elements.

I know we need to respect copyright, attribution, donors' original intentions, and the makers of these works themselves. But I honestly think it's what we need to make happen if we want to move from being providers of things that people enjoy and look at, and become providers of things people love and use. 

Introducing Mixel for iPad from Mixel App on Vimeo.

Images, from top 
Total eclipse of the sun. Ref: 1/2-051134-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 
Young boy on a rocking horse. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-008595-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 
Taieri Pet at Middlemarch. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-28295-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Full disclosure - although I no longer work at the Library, the company I work for has a long relationship with the Library and we've worked together on the Beta site. Also, I realise the Whites Aviation photo is most likely not out of copyright - I just like it.

Wednesday 9 November 2011


Today on the radio I'm going to be previewing the visual arts line-up at next year's NZ International Festival of Arts. I was struck in 2010 by how much more Wellington's public galleries seem to be aligning their programming to the Festival than in previous years*, and that seems to be true of 2011 as well.

Te Papa is timing a refresh of 'Collecting Contemporary' for the start of the Festival, which will feature works by Karl Fritsch, Francis Upritchard and Martino Gamper from Gesamtkunsthandwerk, currently my 2011 show of the year.

City Gallery is unveiling 'The Obstinate Object: Contemporary NZ Sculpture', featuring new, recent and older work, including the single piece I am already most excited about seeing, Don Driver's Ritual**, which I've never seen in the flesh.

The Adam is showing series by four photographers: Kohei Yoshiyuki, Fiona Amundsen, John Lake and Simon Starling. I saw Starling's Autoxylopyrocycloboros (the work that will be at the Adam) at the Power Plant in Toronto in 2008, and was struck by how much Starling's practice reminds me of Michael Stevenson.

And the Dowse is showing Mexican artist Theresa Margolles' In the Air from 2003 alongside a new work commissioned for her visit to New Zealand. Margolles is my pick for the Festival. In the Air is very simple, on first glance (and glancing contact) - bubbles blown out into a gallery space that pop as they hit hard surfaces or land on wandering visitors.

The charge comes when you discover that the bubbles are blown using water that was previously used to wash down bodies - victims of violent crimes, drug overdoses, traffic accidents - in the Mexico City morgue. Even though the water has been sterilised, it still carries that taint of death and decay, turning the innocent bubbles into a somewhat grisly memento mori - a role they've played in Western painting for centuries.

It's the combination of the simplicity and the big reveal that I think will captivate people about this work. [My one concern is that there won't be enough bubbles to make the room seem fairytale like - please let there be enough bubbles.] Like Janet Cardiff's Forty-Part Motet - in my opinion the hit of the 2010 visual arts line-up - it's not a work you have to work hard to get. It's easily explained, but also easily experienced. I might sound like I'm being dismissive, but I'm actually being admiring; this kind of succinctness, of distillation, of directness, is relatively rare in contemporary art, but magical (or at the very least reaction-provoking) for the viewer, whatever their level of gallery-going experience.

*It's just as well I've never been an Angry Young Person, because that sentence makes me feel about forty.  
** Yeah - I'm most excited about the oldest work in the show. I was truly never an Angry Young Person. 

Monday 7 November 2011

Sports round-up

Some good reading I've come across lately ...

Dennis O'Toole's 'The Procreant Urge' (The Morning News), looking at John Updike's 1960 classic 'Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu' and quitting while you're ahead.

Karl Taro Greenfeld's 'The Green Bay Packers Have the Best Owners in Football' (Bloomberg Business Week) - like Moneyball, a examination of doing things differently.

Michael Tomasky's 'The Racist Redskins' (New York Review of Books), a review of Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins:

The nickname had been the brainchild of George Preston Marshall, a laundry magnate and flamboyant showman who had bought the Boston Braves football team in 1932. As his second head coach, Marshall hired William “Lone Star” Dietz, a journeyman coach at the collegiate level whose mother was most likely a Sioux. It was in “honor” of Dietz, who coached the team for just two seasons and who at Marshall’s urging willingly put on war paint and Indian feathers before home games, that Marshall changed the team’s name to the Redskins. When Marshall, frustrated by Boston fans’ lack of support, moved the franchise to the nation’s capital in 1937, the coach was gone, but the team name stayed.

That combination of 'urging' and 'willing' is odd. For more where this all came from, try out

Friday 4 November 2011

Take me out

From the occasional reviews series - Michael Lewis's Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.


There's something about American sportswriting that I just love. Or perhaps there's simply enough distance that what sounds banal and often ridiculous when it's written here in New Zealand (witness the outpouring of adjective, cliche and nation-building around the Rugby World Cup) sounds mythical and meaningful when it comes from offshore. Perhaps I'm just buying in to the romanticism that this book seeks to unravel. But I don't care - I love it, I loved this book, and you should read it.

As there's a movie just about to come out starring Brad Pitt based on 'Moneyball', I probably don't need to go deep into exposition. To keep it as short as possible: Lewis spent a year bedded into the Oakland Athletics, studying how general manager (and ex pro player) Billy Beane and a small number of his colleagues sought to ignore the folk wisdom that has traditionally governed how a baseball team is put together and instead assembled an assortment of unlikely, unfavoured and unheroic players on the basis of a bunch of carefully crunched statistics, and came out on top.

I might be one of the few people who expected more data and less sport from 'Moneyball'. Even though I know barely anything about baseball (a couple of seasons of softball as a kid is the sum total of my knowledge) I was able to skate past the unintelligible passages, and soak in the sections that made sense.

And soak in them you certainly can. Lewis has a hardbitten, salty, yet occasionally love-struck way of writing that makes this book the unexpected delight it is (my single favourite sentence: 'When it suited his purposes Billy Beane could throw the best pity party this side of the Last Supper.' The chapters dedicated to analysing single players - a batter with the best record of laying off the first pitch in the league, a pitcher with an amazing way of keeping runs down, but who looks all wrong - are beautiful character studies. And the overall story of Billy Beane, the guy who seemed to have it all going for him but couldn't make it, and who came back to rewrite the way teams were put together so guys like him were no longer the guys you wanted, is told with clear-eyed affection. Even if you have no interest in baseball, this is a remarkable book about the tenacity required to do something dramatically different.

I share my reviews on Goodreads (fair warning, I'm prepping to review a book about New Zealand YA writing, so there's going to be a lot in that vein coming up, starting with Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter and Dreamquake.

Monday 24 October 2011

You have this week ...

Earlybird registration for the National Digital Forum conference has been extended until 28 October.

If you haven't already checked out the programme, you should. As co-convenor, I'm obviously completely biased, but I couldn't be prouder of this year's line-up - or more grateful to all the people who are putting time and energy into presenting at the conference.

If you want an objective sense of how high the quality is, consider this. One of my heroes, Seb Chan, blogged this week about presenting at Web Directions South about digital cultural initiatives. Nearly every one of the projects he name checks will be represented at NDF: Tim Sheratt’s work with the digitised newspaper collections in Trove; New York Public Library’s historical menus project; the Australian Dress Register; the  Old Weather project with the Citizen Science Alliance using old ship logs from the National Maritime Museum to gather geolocated climate data form the past. That's just four of the 50+ speakers we'll be presenting. Hurry up - you don't want to miss out.

Wednesday 19 October 2011


An interesting write-up of Portland Art Museum's new brand. (It works, you know. The first person I showed it to said 'That's a big friendly P', and that's about what they were aiming for.)