Roger's effort takes the cake

Arrowtown book buyer Miranda Spary continues her regular column about her recommendations for a good read and life as she sees it ...

Happy 2013, and thank you for all your emails pointedly reminding me that with all the holiday time I had last year, I didn't deserve a three-week break from writing my column over Christmas. It's a funny thing how not writing it generates much more feedback than writing it. I do love hearing from readers; it helps keep me sane. Too much fuss is made of sporting achievements these days.

But how many people do you know who can build a car from vegetables or make dinosaurs from Rice Krispies?

I thought the media would be hounding me for a story about my genius nephews who went home in glory from the Lake Hayes Show with first and third place certificates, but not a bit of it. I suppose all the focus was on Roger Tompkins and his magnificent mancake - layers of steak, peas, spuds, liver and onions clad in a coat of bacon rashers with a huge frilly whitebait fritter as ''icing'' and a ring of tomatoes round the top. Quite the most glorious culinary masterpiece ever. Needless to say, he won first prize for baking- and gloating.

Last year's champion Duncan Forsyth snivelled at his second place card. His beautiful carrot-shaped, carrot-coloured, carrot cake just looked a bit, well, horizontal and vegetabley next to Roger's.

And shame on all the women of the district - there were hardly any ladycakes in the competition. Next year, let's show them what talents lie beneath our prim and perfect pinnies. Apropos of hidden talents, Guy Mayell and the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand organised to have the NZ premiere of the documentary The Big Picture at Dorothy Browns. I hadn't been invited, but the subject is so dear to my heart that I wangled my way in (some people call it gate-crashing). They are going to make the film available to schools throughout the country as soon as possible. Do try and see it.

It shows just how brilliant dyslexics are, and what the physical differences in their brains are. I only wish this had been known when my darling was at school. Teachers caned the dyslexic kids for struggling with reading and writing, and were unaware of the great skills they had. I had planned to spend the Christmas break reading non-stop as the pile of books, as well as the virtual pile on my Kindle, will not stop growing. Ken Follett's Fall of Giants and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall have been lurking around for so long the second parts of these trilogies are out before I've even finished the first.

Ken's was unputdownable (I knew I'd love it) but I'm sad to say Wolf Hall is still getting put down so frequently I might have to ring the vet about it. I just don't get it, and everyone tells me to keep going - eventually I'll love it. On several attempts, I've made it to halfway, but then fall on the homeward stretch. Is it just me?

Whenever I've put down ''Wolfie'', I've fallen into yet another great book. Mary Lovell wrote about those naughty Mitford Girls so successfully I couldn't wait to get into The Churchills. What a family! Not just content with producing Britain's most famous politician, there were strings of strumpets, madmen, all sorts of sex and scandals and naked women lying on tigerskins luring Winston into their boudoirs.

Even the footnotes are fascinating. And the quotes: hard to choose a favourite but it was probably when a trainer suggested retiring Churchill's stallion and putting it out to stud: ''What? And have it said that the PM of Great Britain is living off the immoral earnings of his horse?'' It's hard to imagine a better holiday read.

And for magical writing, don't go past Ru by Kim Thuy. She's a Vietnamese author whose life started out in privileged circumstances in Saigon, then turned to something hellish as a refugee. Now a Canadian, her book is a short and delicious collection of thoughts about her life and the strangeness of the changes in it. Originally written in French, it's a beautiful translation.


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