Steve Braunias presents a photo essay of the one thing that New Zealanders are holding close to their hearts during the Lockdown: their bookshelves.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s bookcase at Premier House in Wellington.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

The photograph Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern posted this weekend on her Instagram page reveals two novels by Elizabeth Knox, poems by Fleur Adcock, a book by Louis Theroux, and self-help best-seller Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice From the Best in the World by Timothy Ferris, which includes a piece of advice which may or may not be apropos of the PM repeatedly asking New Zealanders to stay home during the Lockdown: “Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.” Cool sculpture.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand, one of several Kiwis in our photoessay with the works of te reo champ Scotty Morrison.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand

Actor, director, and recently honoured as New Zealander of the Year, Jennifer Ward-Lealand at her Auckland home with a wide range of books devoted to the subject that has claimed special importance to her life these past few years: learning te reo. 

Novelist Dominic Hoey’s non-bookcase.

Dominic Hoey

“This is in my bedroom,” writes novelist Dominic Hoey, of his home in Laingholm. “The bowl is Chilli’s water bowl. They’re all the books I’ve read in the past year. Don’t have a book case.” 

Phoenix Foundation musician Sam Scott’s non-bookcase.

Sam Scott

“Here is the definitive pile of books I intended to read this summer,” writes Phoenix Foundation musician Sam Scott, of his bedroom at his father Tom Scott’s house in Wellington, where he was house-sitting and looking after his dad’s “insane Mandalay cats.” He adds, “And of course the only one I actually read was by the bass player in a band I don’t really like (great autobiography though, really well written).” 

Private investigator Tim McKinnell has a nice pink orchid.

Tim McKinnell

He’s tall, he’s dark, he’s got a nice pink orchid in the foreground at his Auckland home. Private investigator Tim McKinnell is pictured with works by John Pilger, the Booker-winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, and the book based on his incredible work to free the wrongfully convicted Teina Pora, In Dark Places

PR legend Chamanthie Sinhalage and her ‘brainfood’ lot of books. 

Chamanthie Sinhalage

Chamanthie Sinhalage, Corporate Affairs Director at Wellington Urban Consulting, has left her apartment to live and work from a hotel room during the Covid-19 crisis. “All of my leisure reading (Lionel Shriver, swoon) sits on my e-reader,” she writes. “This is more my ‘brainfood’ lot of books. Think the way I saw it, I can make brainfood books last a lot longer. I’ve had too many summers away as a kid at my grandparents’ etc where I finish all my leisure books really fast and then feel depressed staring at completed books for the rest of the summer.” 

The private soft side of columnist David Cormack.

David Cormack

In public, New Zealand Herald columnist David Cormack of Wellington exists as the fulminating, angry, intense hater and scorner of everything to do with National Party leader Simon Bridges. But in private, he is a very nice, very doting Papa to Greta. He writes, “I Am Jellyfish is the best children’s book I’ve ever read.” It’s by New Zealand author Ruth Paul; the cover glows in the dark. 

Anjum Rahman, the Project Lead of the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono, at her Hamilton home.

Anjum Rahman

The bookshelves of the Project Lead of the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono, Anjum Rahman, reflect her three passions: politics, religion and accounting. 

National Radio broadcaster Charlotte Ryan’s superb bookshelf at her Auckland home.

 Charlotte Ryan

Records! Every bookshelf should have records in it, and follow the superb example set by National Radio broadcaster Charlotte Ryan at her Auckland home.

Is that like a rotted apple or something on the bottom shelf at Jack Tame’s home?

Jack Tame

But can he actually play the guitar? Auckland broadcaster Jack Tame at his apartment, with books which include a lot of things by AA Gill, some Hunter S Thompson, and fiction by Knausgaard, Orwell, Salinger and Camus – but not the Camus classic from 1947 which is horribly apropos of 2020, The Plague

Amnesty International legend and cat lady Meg de Ronde. 

Meg de Ronde

Meg de Ronde, executive director at Amnesty International at her Auckland home with a nice looking friend. She writes, “I love books. As a kid our family had a ritual of Friday night’s at the Auckland public library where you’d come home with a stack to read. We’d always have dinner at the Simple Cottage on High St afterwards. I got a job working at Bennetts Booksellers when I was 16 and it was the best job ever. Paid to write reviews and recommend books all day long. I even used to love the ritual of book gift-wrapping during the Christmas rush because books are so satisfying to wrap. They give you lovely clean, straight lines. I lived for a long time with someone who didn’t like books on display so we didn’t really have a bookcase and over the years of moving my collection slimmed down. But my eventual dream is one of those rooms with floor to ceiling shelves of books. Never give up on your dreams.” 

Portrait of Jesse Mulligan by Victoria Mulligan, who must be very tall.

Jesse Mulligan

“When I was a kid and had nothing to do I would climb into mum and dad’s bookshelves and read something. It was usually deeply dated (Linda Goodman’s Love Signs, anybody?) or too sophisticated (what is a Thorn Bird?) but I got something out of every book and so, though it’s a contentious matter, I’ve convinced my wife to let me keep almost every book I’ve bought so that my children will one day get to discover my own former favourites in the same way. I love a book of essays, and comedy history is another favourite genre. Actually I’m not sure how many of these books I’d buy again now but it’s important to me the kids know that before they turned up, I had enough time on my hands to memorise 1970s comedy routines as if they were The Bible.” Cool T-shirt. 

Steve Braunias is the literary editor of Newsroom's books section ReadingRoom, a noted writer at the NZ Herald, and the author of 10 books.

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