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SRB: Pacific Elder Statesman's Reading Material

SRB Picks of the Week 6 July 2008

p101.jpgI can't help myself from looking at people's books when I visit their houses. So last week when I went to interview Niue's former premier Young Vivian at his home in the village of Hapuku I found myself scanning the titles scattered around his home. Vivian boasts of waking the village up by ringing the Church bell at 6am seven days a week so it wasn't a surprise to see a well-read copy of the bible on the table. But I was a little surprised to see a copy of Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

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Apart from Matt McCarten - head of the UNITE UNION and former Alliance strategist - who cited it in a profile years ago as the book that most influenced his politics I've never heard Frankl's work mentioned by a politician.

For those unfamiliar with Man's Search for Meaning it ranks alongside the work of Primo Levi as the most profound work to come out of the horrors experienced in the Nazi concentration camps.

Frankl - a psycho-analyst - developed the theory of logotherapy after surviving the camps. It's more than 20 years since I read the book but in a nutshell Frankl believes the search for meaning is integral to being human.

The other book that caught my eye was a collection of writings by South American liberation theologians.

But Young Vivian wasn't particularly interested in discussing either of them. The one book he did want to discuss, The One Straw Revolution, was missing from his library.

Having found himself with time on his hands after failing to attract enough support for another term as premier, Vivian is babysitting his grandson, looking back on his career, and planning his future. He told me as a young man he was critical of Gandhi because he felt he had set back India's development by decades but that recent events had made him reconsider that assessment. "I think those Eastern thinkers might have been onto something."

Vivian wanted to know whether I knew Masanobu Fukuoka's The One Straw Revolution. Was it still in print? Did I know where you could buy a copy? The answer to all three questions was, sadly, no.

Niue has no bookshops, and despite being one of the very few countries to offer free internet connections to its citizens its former premier isn't connected to the net.

It turns out the book is out of print but a PDF version can be downloaded here. It looks like an earlier Japanese version of permaculture.

Vivian is convinced that Niueans need to return to a more traditional and less intensive form of agriculture (and life) if they are to survive the years ahead. He would like to see bicycles replace cars and the schools to start preparing their pupils for life in Niue rather than providing them with skills more suited to New Zealand or Australia.

Before heading to Niue I went to the Wellington public library in the hope of finding some good background material. I thought I might resurrect the SRB Five Books series with Five Books on Niue. It was hard to find five books on Niue let alone five books you would want to recommend.

The one book I found that's definitely worth recommending is Would a Good Man Die? by Dick Scott. It's the story of the murder of the highly authoritarian New Zealand administrator on Niue in the 1950s Cecil Hector Larsen and the subsequent fight to save the men responsible from the gallows.

Young Vivian recalled how Larsen used to delight in drinking beer outside the cells of prisoners locked up for breaking the island's prohibition laws.

I haven't had much time for reading on line but these are both worth reading:

Zadie Smith has an interesting piece on Kafka in the latest New York Review of Books.

And in the same issue Thomas Powers has a thoughtful piece on the hysteria building up over the Iranian "threat".


The Book that’s Got the Hacks Yacking
Flat Earth News by Nick Davies
Chatto & Windus, $60
Few books have generated as much comment from the world’s journalists as Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. The SRB is happy to be able to add to that commentary with reviews by Wellington journalist Karl du Fresne and Auckland journalist Andrea Jutson. Read more »

Proverbs from Down Under
Poem of the Week: Proverbs from Down Under
From: I Want More Sugar by James McNaughton
Steele Roberts, $25. Read more »

A Fair Go for Pacific Women Role Models
Pasifika Women: Our stories in New Zealand, by Sandra Kailahi
Reed, 2007, $35. Reviewed by JULIE MIDDLETON
PASIFIKA women are the backbones of their communities in the islands and in New Zealand. But so often, in New Zealand as in their homelands, their contributions and opinions have been invisible or under-documented. Read more »

Thoughts of an Anti-Zionist Jew
If I Am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew By Mike Marqusee
Verso Books. Reviewed by ASHER GOLDMAN
In recent years, there has been a rise in explicitly Jewish anti-Zionist publishing and organising. Jews, both within Israel and in the diaspora, are increasingly moving away from a more passive, silent anti-Zionism towards outspoken attempts at engagement with the wider Jewish community, where a pervasive Zionism is the default political belief for most. Read more »

Independent’s Night
By Scott Hamilton
These are strange times for publishers. Now that geeks have wired the world to the internet, anyone with a computer and a connection has an almost limitless range of reading options. King Lear and Paris Hilton’s Prison Diary are just a google search away, along with millions of other texts. And it’s not only the rules of readership that have changed - in the age of blogging and online book publishing, anyone can be an author. Read more »

Fear for the Woman’s Ear
What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris
Allen & Unwin, $28. Reviewed by ANDREA JUTSON
Like listening to one of the Regency’s famed castrati on stage, one can’t help thinking there’s a little something lacking here. As with a grown man singing soprano, C. S. Harris strikes rather too many bum notes to be comfortable with, which perhaps is just colonial snobbery towards an American writing a British novel. But just listen to this ear-grater: ‘Lord love you, guv’nor. Read more »

Words that Move Public Opinion
Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, by Frank Luntz
FRANK LUNTZ is the propagandist who sold Republicanism and Bush to the United States. He prepares congress leaders for televised debates and advises senators on how to employ language to their advantage. In Words That Work he tells us how he uses words to move public opinion. Not surprisingly, Words That Work has ignited controversy. Even people who haven’t read the book are writing reviews of it, and the word ‘Luntz-speak’ has become synonymous with lying. Last year, the US News and World Report
created the ‘Pimp my candidate’ project to get advice from Luntz for current political candidates (Bedard, Gilgoff & Marek, 2007). Read more »

Jeremy Rose is the editor of the Scoop Review of Books and a Wellington journalist. He travelled to Niue with the assistance of the Pacific Cooperation Foundation.

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