There’s something voyeuristically thrilling about knowing what other people’s reading habits are. The Reader is a brief interview inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, which was itself inspired by a 19th century party game. We ask readers, writers, publishers and book-lovers everywhere (including our own staff) to answer eleven questions about the books they love, what they have been reading and their literary habits.
Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings (Vintage, March 2014) is Tina Makereti’s first novel. Her short story collection, Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa (Huia Publishers 2010), won the Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards Fiction Prize 2011. In 2009 she was the recipient of the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing (non-fiction), and in the same year received the Pikihuia Award for Best Short Story Written in English. Makereti has a PhD Creative Writing from Victoria University, and teaches creative writing at Massey and Victoria Universities.
What are you currently reading and how did you discover the book?
I am going between The Luminaries, Te Ara Tapu – Sacred Journeys, which is about the Whanganui Regional Museum Taonga Māori Collection (by Michelle Horwood and Che Wilson), and Kei Miller’s poetry and essays. When I walk the dog I am currently listening to Kelly Link stories, just for fun. My reading habits tend to be a bit fractured. I discovered Kei Miller because I have an amazing opportunity to talk with him at Writers Week at the NZ Festival this year. He writes fiction/poetry & non-fiction, so something for everyone really. I bought Te Ara Tapu on a research trip to Whanganui Regional Museum last year. WRM is a really great little museum, and I’m currently writing an essay that discusses Museums and meaning. I think I really miscalculated with The Luminaries though; I was supposed to read it over Christmas and didn’t start early enough because I was scared of the commitment. Now all these other reading projects are crowding in, and I need a free week to dedicate to it.
Who are your favourite writers and what do you love about them?
I am quite bad at this question. I’m better at saying what type of writing I like. At the moment I am absolutely loving Kei Miller’s work. He has a wonderful voice and something he does with story that allows the reader to be both inside it and outside it without breaking the fictional spell. Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood and Keri Hulme were huge and formative for me. Also Jeanette Winterson, Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni and Isabelle Allende once upon a time, though I haven’t read them for a long time. These days I tend to read much more local fiction and I think there is something really powerful and vital happening in our literature right now. I’ve always gravitated to literature that crosses boundaries, particularly cultural boundaries, and I think NZ literature is doing that more than ever. I used to look specifically for immigrant literature to read for that reason.
What books are on your bedside table?
Apart from the above, Peter Ackroyd’s London – The Biography, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (I’m not sure why, I think I had a vague ambition to read it, but I’ve seen the film too many times). Paula Morris’ Rangatira, and Angela Wanhalla’s Matters of the Heart.
What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
The Life of Pi. The ocean scenes were just as they were described in the book. Just as I imagined them. That doesn’t happen often.
What book have you re-read the most and why?
I think it might be The Color Purple, though The Bone People might have been a close second. I can pick up The Color Purple anytime and still be instantly drawn in by the voice. There’s something so compelling about the characters. So much paradoxical beauty.
Who is your favourite literary character?
I can’t imagine having an answer to this question. Just one?
What book have you always been meaning to read but still haven’t got around to?
So Many! So many. But I’d like to read Wake by Elizabeth Knox after The Luminaries, and I still haven’t got to Rangatira. I want to read more Ruth Ozeki, and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.
Which three writers would you have over for supper?
This might sound a bit lame, but I could pretty much pull names out of a hat. One of the things I like about literary festivals is I don’t know most of the writers, but I choose things that interest me, go and sit down, and I pretty much always discover something new and exciting. Occasionally, reading the book isn’t even as interesting as the conversation. It might be easier to list three writers I wouldn’t want to have dinner with, though I couldn’t.
What would you cook them?
I’m enjoying making salsas and pesto at the moment. And there’s nothing quite like hand-made bread. It takes hours so I consider it a bit of a luxury to find the time, and it’s the kind of food you nurture people with.
How are your books shelved and organised at home?
I have a vague notion that books I need to read are in one shelf, books I need for work are in another, and books I’m done with are on all the other shelves. It’s very scientific. We’ve recently moved so I haven’t quite figured it out yet, like there’s a shelf in the dining area with books that don’t fit anywhere else on it. Why the dining room? It needs some work.
What is your favourite literary quote?
I don’t have one in particular, but I’m always underlining things in books I read. Here is a thing I read in Kei Miller’s essay collection, Writing Down the Vision: Essays and Prophecies, the other day:
From the women who carried pencils behind their ears I learn that one is allowed to speak without irony – that most favoured mode of Western (and particularly British) writers, as if its use is the only way to signal a sharp and a nuanced intelligence, as if we have to always undercut the things we say and the things we most deeply believe in, lest we be accused of being precious or earnest. From the women who carried pencils behind their ears, I learn that it is okay to be loud and exclamatory, that power doesn’t always come from restraint and quietness, that sometimes power comes from power, and that some things are worth shouting about.
Yes. This is my favourite right now.
Tina Makereti’s new novel will be launched at 6pm on Thursday, 6th March at Unity Books in Wellington. Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings will be available for purchase on the night, and all are welcome.
To view an archive of previous interviews, follow this link.