5 non-fiction books to add to your wishlist

Book reviewer Hayley McLarin’s round-up includes a plant-based cookbook, a story of a man and his rescue cat, and an economist’s take on global loneliness.

Words: Hayley McLarin

1. Nala’s World by Dean Nicholson

Scotsman Dean Nicholson thinks it was fate. On a deserted, rugged road in the middle of nowhere on a cycling trip in Bosnia that was to have been with his mate, he heard a squealing noise.

Initially, he thought the noise came from his bicycle brakes but it was a mewling kitten by the roadside. Bad weather was looming, he and his mate had by then gone their separate ways, and he felt sorry for the forlorn creature. He stopped to give it food. The little creature lapped up the food and attention and, impulsively, he swept up it into his front satchel. The kitten scampered up his arm and wrapped itself around his neck.

That was the beginning of Nala’s World. (Nala was the name he gave the female kitten.) This is a diary, of sorts, of the highs and lows of an intrepid traveller. It is a wonderful read, this friendship between an incongruous pair crossing through Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Turkey. Along the way Nicholson documents people he meets and marvels at the serendipity of life.

A Syrian man with whom he shared an orange at a refugee camp tells him to “be a blessing to others and you will he blessed”. Dean concludes that finding Nala made him blessed. Indeed. He’s an Instagram sensation with 850,000 followers (at the time of this review) for his page, 1bike1world. His posts with photos of Nala in a kayak, hanging out in a plant pot while Dean eats lunch in a restaurant, in the front pack, with a collar and lead.

Dean’s book provides wonderful armchair-travel escapism and heartwarming reading for any cat lover.

Nala’s World by Dean Nicholson, Hodder & Stoughton, $37.99

2. Two Raw Sisters: All Eaters Welcome by Rosa and Margo Flanagan

I grew up in a meat-and-three-veg family so when my daughters were young, I encouraged them to try a new food each week. I wanted them to have broad taste buds and enjoy exploring a wide range of foods. However, I had never had an enjoyable vegan meal and couldn’t see the point of eating coconut repurposed to be pretend-bacon. Tofu was just a slimy, bland mess.

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Then I read All Eaters Welcome and made the Raw Sisters’ Asian Noodle Tofu Salad with mint, peach and peanuts, soba noodles and ginger sesame tofu. Within weeks, my favourite recipe pages were splashed with food. I have made the roasted sumac pumpkin with tahini dressing, using Greek yoghurt not coconut yoghurt. And that’s ok as this is a cookbook without rules. It’s ok to use dairy in the chocolate tart with tahini salted caramel, or to use oats instead of buckwheat in the peanut butter and jelly muffins.

Two Raw Sisters – Aucklanders Margo and Rosa Flanagan – didn’t always ooze vibrance and effervescence. They have battled chronic fatigue, been underweight and once gorged on red meat. Now they are advocates for a plant-based diet with predominantly unprocessed wholefoods, because it made them feel so much better.

But they respect that readers and home cooks may not be the same, so some recipes feature meat and fish pairings. There are 25 attractive desserts, 35 savoury offerings, plus breakfasts and snacks. Their first book sold out before it hit bookshelves. I can see this one following suit – it’s packed with goodies and goodness.

Two Raw Sisters: All Eaters Welcome by Rosa and Margo Flanagan , Bateman Books, $39.99

3. The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz

Economist and documentary maker Noreena Hertz believes loneliness will be the biggest health issue of this century and claims that loneliness is as bad for a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Even before Covid lockdowns, the world’s population was becoming more withdrawn and more insular, according to the woman declared “one of the world’s leading thinkers” by the UK’s The Observer. Hertz claims that in today’s world there are few truly rich relationships. Even before social distancing, loneliness was prevalent and she argues this results in mental health issues and is potentially linked to dementia, heart disease and cancer.

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In the early days of the pandemic, New Zealanders were encouraged to look out for elderly neighbours. What about all neighbours? How do we build communities in which everyone knows who lives in their vicinity, where we interact with shopkeepers, take part in local events and use this time of imposed New Zealand lock-in to truly love local?

How did this lonely lifestyle happen? What steps are needed to break this cycle? What role does each individual play? Hertz challenges the reader to take stock, so that they do not find themselves alone in a retirement home with no visitors, or working from home with no true human interaction, preferring streaming shows to actual events.

“The challenge is how to get different types of people to spend time together,” she says. “The good news is that there are many inspiring initiatives around the world we can learn from.” This is a thought-provoking, action-invoking book and is heavily-researched with the attribution and acknowledgement of sources over 130 pages.

The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz, Hodder Hachette, $37.99

4. Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists by Leonard Bell

Freidlander, a doyenne of NZ photography, was trusted by even the most reclusive of entities. Her evocative work embodies the culture and societal issues of the 1960s to the 1990s and a carefully-curated selection of her work was recently been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Wellington. Readers can experience this exhibition via this book, which is in itself an artwork.

Large, predominantly black and white photos with fascinating insights and commentary are about not only the subjects but also Freidlander’s relationship with them. There are more than 250 photographs, featuring potters, painters, writers and actors including Ralph Hotere, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Maurice Gee, Margaret Mahy, Barbara Ewing and C K Stead.

Friedlander’s never-before-published image of Te Kanawa in the 1980s shows Dame Kiri in a fur coat on a beach. “I wanted to take photos of Kiri that were quite different from the normal formal study of her as an opera singer… she readily agreed.”

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While many coffee table books are displayed to meet an aesthetic, this book should take pride of place in a favourite reading room, to be enjoyed, subject by subject. It has been wonderfully curated by Dr Leonard Bell, who has taught art history at the University of Auckland since 1973. Creating book would have been no easy task as Freidlander left a large body of work and the hardest part must surely have been what to leave out.

Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists by Leonard Bell, Auckland University Press, $75

5. A New Zealander’s Guide to Touring Natural New Zealand by Peter Janssen

OK, so this may not be the definitive guide for the purists. But it is a wonderful source of inspiration for New Zealanders to start planning domestic travel this summer.

I say it’s not definitive, because I have been fortunate to be able to holiday on Waiheke Island all my life, and was somewhat aghast to discover it wasn’t one of the destinations featured in the Hauraki Gulf selection (Rangitoto, Tiritiri Matangi and both Great and Little Barrier Island made the cut).

So I can see this book providing a great conversation starter on what would you have kept or omitted from the list of nature’s best in Aotearoa when a road trip forces one indoors with unpredictable weather. This is about immersion in the natural world with walks, cliffs, caves, rivers, lakes and views, with maps with references and some accommodation included to make it helpful.

It won’t name the top 10 tourist (read commercial) haunts in any given town or region. But with 47 spectacular road trips, it might provide worthwhile detours, contact numbers for local tourism offices and a smattering of photos to inspire further.

A New Zealander’s Guide to Touring Natural New Zealand by Peter Janssen, New Holland, $39.99


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