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Open Looks: My Life in Bas­ket­ball: John Saker, Awa Press


In the Hands of Strangers: Beverly Wardle-Jack­son, Penguin


The first quarter of 2015 was a mixed bag for loc­al read­ers and book­sellers. Quilters’ Dewey-defy­ing treas­ure-tables dis­played at last their naked sur­faces, while the thrum­ming hive of eph­em­era atop Arty Bees’ Man­ners Street walk-in divulged drawn-on gems at quartered prices.

Hope­fully you made best friends with a dog-eared tome or two. Among the stim­u­lat­ing finds offered up for less than the price of a cof­fee at Arty’s was Elaine Showalter’s Hystor­ies, a 1997 study of mass pan­ic. Showal­ter, a polar­ising fem­in­ist his­tor­i­an of psy­chi­atry, provides an his­tory of hys­teria as (mis)understood through­out the 19th and 20th cen­tur­ies, dove­tail­ing into stud­ies of recent phe­nom­ena such as recovered memory and mul­tiple-per­son­al­ity dis­order. It’s a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the ways society’s psy­cho­lo­gic­al guard­i­ans have wiel­ded power over the marginalised.

No short­age of sys­tem­ic hys­ter­ic­al blind­ness was exper­i­enced by Beverly Wardle-Jack­son dur­ing her years In the Hands of Strangers, the title of her newly pub­lished mem­oir. Wardle-Jack­son was taken into the cus­tody of Child Wel­fare dur­ing the Holyoake years, begin­ning a 1960s com­ing of age as night­mar­ish as any hys­ter­ic­al fantasy. Need­lessly hos­pit­al­ised, bunked between schizo­phren­ics and fel­low state wards, sub­jec­ted to sexu­al abuse and pun­it­ive elec­troshock-treat­ment, driv­en to repeated sui­cide attempts and ridiculed when she sur­vived; Wardle-Jackson’s story is engross­ing, eye-open­ing read­ing. Her testi­mony crackles with right­eous indig­na­tion, buoyed by an unbreak­able youth­ful anima. Time will tell wheth­er the stor­ies of today’s mis­treated youth are any less scathing.

Also new on the shelves is Awa Press’s latest: Open Looks: My Life in Bas­ket­ball, from former Tall Black John Saker. Saker became New Zealand’s first pro­fes­sion­al bas­ket­baller in the 1970s, play­ing on the prob­lem­at­ic­ally named nation­al side dur­ing the sport’s inter­na­tion­al explo­sion dur­ing that dec­ade and the one after. One of the first loc­al play­ers to travel to the US on a bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship, he “soaked up the game’s smells and sounds” while Jordan, Bird, Pip­pen et al. were becom­ing house­hold names.

Trans­ition­ing into a later life of let­ters as a wine crit­ic and travel writer, Saker quickly shows that smells and sounds weren’t all he osmosed. “Writ­ing and sport,” he pens, “have a less inhib­ited rela­tion­ship in the US.” His enthu­si­asm for the word­play of sports writ­ing is as infec­tious as his love of the game, put­ting his mem­oir a cut above the AB bios weigh­ing down so many a chain-book­store clear­ance table.


Tom Goulter

Tom is FishHead's book columnist. A Master's degree in Creative Writing from Victoria's International Institute of Modern Letters launched Goulter on the life of an itinerant man of letters, wandering the fractious United states in search of.. whatever it was Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were after, probably. Instead of getting shot by rednecks (yet), he returned to Wellington, where he essays semi-regularly into popular culture, psycho-geography, underground film-making, and the uncanny in all its myriad forms. Not a day goes by that he does not wish Manners Street still had Crystal city on it.

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