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April 6, 2014 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand (Review)

Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand by Barbara Todd
Te Papa Press
Reviewed by Nina Powles

Reading non-fiction is different from reading fiction in a whole lot of ways, but above all: non-fiction books often serve up a visual feast. Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand is a beautiful book that does this and much more. It’s produced by Te Papa Press, an important and often overlooked publishing company that has been producing books on New Zealand history, culture, art and science since 1998. Their books often seem to double as curated works of art.

For any non-fiction and natural-history geek (like me), this book is a joy to behold. Researched and written by Barbara Todd, the chapters traverse New Zealand time and space to chart a series of important connections: between the earth and the ocean, the ocean and whales, and finally between humans and whales. Todd covers all kinds of whale-related stories of New Zealand history and contemporary culture, from whaling in the 1800s to Paikea who rode on the backs of humpback whales. My favourite part is the science. Todd writes simply and engagingly about different depth zones of the ocean where whales feed, the first whale-like fossils, the neurobiology of echolocation, why humpback whales really ‘sing’, and loads more. She also devotes a whole chapter to mass strandings, a strange phenomenon more unique to our country than most people realise.

But what really jumps out from each page is the photographs. One particularly eerie black-and-white picture shows a Russian whaling fleet anchored in Wellington Harbour in 1958 at night. Many show what few people have ever seen and lived to tell the tale: the full body of a live whale underwater. As can be said for much of our country’s natural environment, whales really are a part of our landscape, history and identity, and have been for thousands of years. Whether you want to delve into the biology and natural history, read about our rich history, or just look at the pictures – this book is a true gem.

LETTER OF THE WEEK
Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway, March 1922

“Dear you,

fuck
you.”

BOOKS WE THINK EVERYONE SHOULD READ, #3
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
By Abi Smoker

Out of every literary heroine, I would most want Bridget Jones to be my friend in real life. Even though she is very dysfunctional, loves the Chardonnay a little bit too much and relies on a packet of cigarettes to get her through the day, she is warm, loyal, witty and best of all absolutely hilarious. Throughout the three novels following Bridget’s many ‘Urban Family’ summits and calculations regarding weight, alcohol units and calories, we empathise with Bridget during her many catastrophes. She is the non-judgmental friend who has probably experienced your most embarrassing moments and then some. Even though she is forever trying to be a more sophisticated, glamorous, intellectual version of herself, I’d just like to say, in the words of Mark Darcy – Bridget, “I like you very much. Just as you are.”

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