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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 8 (November 1, 1937)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 47

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

From the point of view of the bibliophile, which is the most artistic book produced in New Zealand? No doubt many people will immediately point to the de luxe edition of “Legends of the Maori,” the first volume of which was published by Fine Arts (New Zealand) Ltd., now defunct, and the second volume by Harry H. Tombs, of Wellington. Undoubtedly a beautifully produced work although the manner of binding the first volume did not allow it to open well. At the same time it must be remembered that the publishers had money to spend, the books selling at four guineas each. A much less elaborate, and yet an artistically satisfying job, was “The Years Go Round,” by R. A. Singer (Whitcombe & Tombs). Also I admire greatly the format of Johannes Andersen's “Maori Music,” published by Thomas Avery of New Plymouth.

A wee book, that is typographically perfect was produced recently by Ronald Holloway, a young printing genius of Auckland. It is a small book of prayers —a gem of artistry. The Unicorn Press of Auckland, the Caxton Press of Christchurch, also show a fine appreciation for the art of typography in the booklets they produce from time to time. A scheme is now under way to publish in artistic limited editions the best poems of our leading New Zealand versifiers.

* * *

One of the most authoritative houses in the second-hand book world in England is Maggs Bros. of Conduit Street, London. This firm has produced many notable book catalogues, some of them large volumes full of rare illustrations in black and white. While most of these catalogues are sent free on application to recognised collectors, several of the older issues command a fair price. Recently Maggs Bros. produced the first three volumes of “Three Centuries of English Literature,” a valuable record full of interesting illustrations. The prices of the books listed range from a few shillings to two or three hundred pounds.

One of the most prolific book-plate designers in New Zealand is Louis Bensemann, a young Nelson artist. One of his latest designs is reproduced in this issue. His style is rather Aubrey Beardlish and reminiscent of R. S. Sherriffs of the same school, although Bensemann stoutly holds that his style “shows a large difference in spirit.” Shortly the Caxton Press will be publishing a book of Bensemann's black and white drawings. I have seen “pulls” of some of the drawings and certainly they have great artistic and imaginative merit. Four of the pictures are illustrative of Marlowe's “Faust” of “The Arabian Nights” and several other fantastic pieces. Certainly Bensemann has a future.

* * *

The veteran of New Zealand women journalists, Mrs. Katrine J. Mackay, recently arrived in Wellington to take up press work. She commenced on the inky way at the beginning of the century on the “N.Z. Herald.” At that time the powers were very dubious about the “innovation” of a lady reporter. After five years with “The Herald,” Mrs. Mackay accepted an offer from the “New Zealand Times”
One of Louis Bensemann's fantastic book-plates. (See letterpress on this page)

One of Louis Bensemann's fantastic book-plates. (See letterpress on this page)

to edit the woman's page. Later she was lady editor of “The Weekly Press,” and later was engaged by “The Sun” to do special articles. She has published a record selling cookery book and had a novel serialised in “The Australian Journal.”

* * *

There are certain novels that are written with such powerful sincerity that we feel we can never forget them. We feel we must tell our friends about them—that here is a book worth reading. I would unhesitatingly place Dr. A. J. Cronin's “The Citadel” in this class. A friend obligingly lent me a copy. He told me he wanted it back in a few days, and although it is a very long novel I had no difficulty in complying with the request. I read it in three sittings. To the reader of “The Citadel” is opened the side door of the dispensary, the surgery and the operating theatre. Many will realise for the first time that there are doctors and doctors. The story is of a young Scots doctor who commenced in his profession with burning enthusiasm to do the best for his patients but who, because of his success, later transferred his enthusiasm to his bank account. A surgical tragedy causes him to realise his own professional villainy, and later makes him the scourge of his unscrupulous brothers in medicine. Through his life runs the golden thread of the influence of his wife—a beautiful and enduring figure in fiction. Yes—a great story this, and, many doctors won't like it. Its sales have already run into tens of thousands.

* * *

With its latest issue, “Art in New Zealand,” celebrates its ninth birthday. “Without peevishness,” the promoters confess to a very substantial loss in page 48 curred over the period of the magazine's existence. Indeed, the magazine has reason to be proud over its persistence and prouder still of a fine record of issues. Untold good has been done by this magazine in the encouragement and development of the arts in the Dominion and in the way of help and stimulus given to New Zealand writers. Now is the opportunity for the public to show its appreciation by subscribing to the admirable quarterly. The annual subscription is only 12/6, and may be forwarded to the publisher, Harry H. Tombs, Wingfield Street, Wellington.


“Best Australian One-Act Plays” edited by William Moore and T. Inglis-Moore (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is the first comprehensive collection of plays published in Australia.

The editors have done well. From nearly two hundred plays submitted they have selected twenty-one plays, each of unusual and distinctive merit. Of course William Moore is one of the greatest play enthusiasts in Australia and his fine judgment coupled with the keen critical ability of Inglis Moore has resulted in the admirable selection made. Tragedy, fantasy and humour are represented in a collection of remarkably diversified range of theme. We find pages from the past turned over in an ingenius play, “The Fourposter,” by Dora Wilcox, we hear the plants whispering their fear of garden slugs in the verse play, “Garden Fantasia,” and then we plunge deep into tragedy in the radio play, “Murder in the Silo.” Many of Australia's leading writers are represented in the book, Vance Palmer, Louis Esson, Katherine Susannah Prit chard, Bernard Cronin, Miles Franklin, etc. Play writing has been called “the Cinderella of Australian literature,” but judging by this collection, the Fairy Godmother has, of late, been very diligent in the bestowal of her favours.

* * *

“A Murder in Sydney,” by Leonard Mann (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) brought enthusiastic reviews from the English critics when it was published in London recently. The Australian edition has naturally been awaited with great interest. Certainly it is a most unusual story. The souls and passions of the principal characters are ruthlessly analysed. Although there is a murder, there is no mystery, yet the story does not lose interest on this account. I must confess that although the book held me it depressed me. The over-powering atmosphere of sex annoyed me. It is certainly a remarkable yarn and Leonard Mann is a remarkable writer.

* * *

Perhaps it is rather late in the day, but even now I think a saleable and certainly a most interesting volume could be linked together by quoting poems and paragraphs from the host of digger journals published in camp, on troopship, or in the trenches, during the Great War. Hundreds of such magazines were issued by Australian and New Zealand soldiers and while much of the material is either poor in content or devoid of general reading interest, much grain might be sifted from the chaff.

* * *

Shibli” Listens In.

A limited edition of 1000 copies is to be published in England of “England and the Maori Wars,” by A. J. Harrop.

“The Whalers,” by Dr. Felix Maynard, edited by Alexandre Dumas and translated by F. W. Reed of Whangarei, has been enthusiastically received by “Time and Tide” (London). “It has the authentic feel of far-off oceans and countries,” writes the reviewer, “that old sea-tangle of romance and realism.”