The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 2 (May 2, 1938.)
I Have followed with interest a series of short articles in an Australian magazine giving the opinion of writers as to which are the twelve best Australian books. It would be interesting to apply the test to New Zealand literature. Bearing in mind that such a selection must be almost one hundred per cent. New Zealand, I would make the following choice: Samuel Butler's “Erewhon,” Guthrie Smith's “Tutira,” Eileen Duggan's Poems, Pember Reeves’ “Long White Cloud,” Elsdon Best's “The Maori,” Johannes Anderson's “Maori Life In Aotea,” Beagle-hole's “New Zealand, A Short History,” Cowan's “New Zealand Wars,” Buick's “Treaty of Waitangi,” Sat-chell's “Greenstone Door,” O. N. Gillespie's “Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories,” Quentin Pope's anthology, “Kowhai Gold.”
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The awards in “Art in New Zealand's” annual short story competition are announced in the latest issue of that publication. The first prize goes to Miss Marguerite W. Crook's entertaining story, “Christmas Number,” and two other stories by Una Craig and Eve Langley are highly commended. In making the awards the editor of the quarterly remarks that in quality and quantity the entries are disappointing. “Our authors do not exactly lack opportunities to prove their worth,” he adds. “Even if the local market is not all it might be—and it could be worse—there is scope across the Tasman for those with the requisite talent. There is “The Bulletin,” for example, which is on the look out for good short stories, for which it pays well. How many New Zealanders have recently found a way into ‘The Bulletin'? The answer leaves us with a feeling of melan-choly.”
There is featured in this latest issue of “Art in New Zealand” the art of Olivia Spencer Bower, two beautiful colour blocks and several in black and white being reproduced. The literary side is strong and includes an admirable essay by Stuart Perry on “Broadcasting as a Form of Artistic Expression.”
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One of my readers wants to know which is the world's greatest news-paper. In sales and gross revenue I believe the honour rests with the London “Daily Express.” A recent audit disclosed a net sale of 2,389,532 sales per day. The Chicago “Tribune” is about next in the field.
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A retired Wellington bookseller, Mr. H. W. McCarthy, was telling me recently that a long time ago he had the privilege of serving Mark Twain. He asked the famous author which of his books he considered the best. Mark Twain replied: “The one that brings me in the most money.”
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There has been much protest lately over the manner in which the surface of Robert Louis Stevenson's tomb on Vaea Hill, Samoa, has been disfigured by tourists, many of whom have scarred the surface with their initials and names. We may now revise Stevenson's famous epitaph in fashion following:—
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig on my grave with bulging eye:
Carve on it deeply—eight inches high,
And flay my tomb as you will.
This be the worst, you grave o'er
Here he lies—would he long to be,
Tortured by tourists from o'er the
A mere visitors’ book on the hill?
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Years ago Tom Bracken's famous poem “Not Understood” was frequently heard in public by local and visiting elocutionists. It was a favourite item of Mel. B. Spurr's, and later of Blas-check's. The late Sir James Carroll did full justice to it in that fine rich dramatic voice of his. Probably no other poem originating from this land has achieved such world-wide celebrity. It was first printed, I think, in one of Bracken's early books of collected verse, “Lays of the Land of the Maori and Moa.” I have a copy of this book, an interesting feature of which is a printer's error which makes the last line of the poem read “Not Understood” instead of “And Understood.”
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There is a grimly humorous story attached to this month's book plate. The present owner of the plate was about to go into hospital for a rather serious operation. The last letter he opened on the day before the operation contained some copies of this fearsome looking plate. One can imagine his concern, for the plate arrived unexpectedly. It was unasked—unsought. G. McAuslan, the artist, confessed later that he had designed it “just by way of a pleasant surprise”!
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What is one to do in a case like this? Years ago I gave to a friend of mine a first edition of Conrad's “Victory.” A year or two later as he was short of funds he sold the same book to me, forgetting evidently that I gave it to him in the first place. Although I had not inscribed the bookpage 50
page 51 I had no difficulty in recognising it as my original copy. Quite recently I heard that my friend was re-building his library. I re-gave the book to him, and to give it’ its true sentimental value I inscribed its history on the fly leaf. A few days ago I received an indignant letter from him stating that I had never given him the book in the first place—that he had bought it in Sydney for 10/-!