Kate Evans (Image: Tina Tiller)
Kate Evans (Image: Tina Tiller)

BooksMarch 6, 2024

‘Don’t judge me’: How Kate Evans found ‘the hottest merman sex scenes you’ll ever read’

Kate Evans (Image: Tina Tiller)
Kate Evans (Image: Tina Tiller)

Welcome to The Spinoff Books Confessional, in which we get to know the reading habits and quirks of New Zealanders at large. This week: Kate Evans, journalist and author of Feijoa: A Story of Obsession and Belonging.

The book I wish I’d written

Michael Pollan’s This is Your Mind on Plants. Pollan is a real hero of mine and his work was a huge inspiration for my Feijoa book. I love his curious, down-to-earth style, his obsession with plants and food, and his willingness to try *literally anything* for the story. In this book, his description of his first coffee — after three months abstaining from caffeine — is *chef’s kiss*. 

I also want to mention Moa by Quinn Berentson (Potton and Burton). This gorgeous, surprising book on our charismatic extinct bird came out in 2013 when I’d just moved back to New Zealand. I read it cover to cover and it was the first book that made me feel like — oh, maybe I could do this. Maybe I could write something like this. Moa are arguably a bit more charismatic than feijoas but they’re both New Zealand icons in their own way.

Everyone should read

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, because we’re all mortal — getting just 4,000 weeks on this planet if we’re lucky and live to 80. This book contains many helpful insights into modern dilemmas of productivity and burnout, distraction and presence, FOMO and freedom, expressed in a relatable and non-wanky way. I’ve never been much of a self-help reader but I’m so glad this book found me when it did. My partner and I just turned 40, and when we asked his aunt — about to turn 60 — for advice, she responded by giving us this book.

Burkeman pours a refreshing watering-can of “invigoratingly icy water” on most productivity hacks, pointing out that we will never, ever “clear the decks” and that “missing out on something — indeed, on almost everything — is basically guaranteed.” Missing out, he points out, is what makes our choices meaningful in the first place. So we have to choose both where to place our limited attention, and what to fail at. Somehow, I have found this brutal reality check incredibly reassuring and helpful. 

The book I want to be buried with

That’s a huge call! Is it incredibly ego-centric to say my own, since there’s so much of me in there, and I’m so proud that I actually wrote and finished the thing? Anyway, I haven’t decided yet if I want to be buried at all. Would I prefer to be composted by worms or blown away on the wind? I’m still pondering that one. Anyway, enough death. Now for sex. 

From left to right: The book Kate Evans wishes she’d written; one of the books she thinks we should all read; and another recommended book.

The book that made me laugh

The Pisces by Melissa Broder. I found this book in a youth hostel on Karangahape Road last year (abandoned, hopefully) and LOLed so hard in the first three pages I just had to take it home (don’t judge me). It’s weird and hilarious and neurotic as hell and has the hottest and most realistic merman sex scenes you will ever read (hint: the tail starts lower down than we’ve been led to believe).

The book I wish would be adapted for film or TV

OK, this is a wild one, but hear me out: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M Auel. I really want to see those CGI mammoth hunts, the love triangle unfolding on the steppes, the horseriding, the 18,000-years-ago-meets-the-1980s fashion, and the hot ice age sex scenes. Even though they are pretty 80s, I credit my Mum’s copies of Auel’s giant books – my first teenage encounter with erotica – for teaching me to expect pleasure from sex.*

(*Apparently there was a 1986 movie of Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in the Earth’s Children series, but it looks shit. Said the LA Times: “After much time with this soggy, quarrelsome clan, your sympathies may lie entirely with the bear.”)  

The book that made me cry

I’ve read the Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger probably three or four times by now and it makes me ugly cry every time. I don’t know what it is about this particular tragic love story with its super-weird and slightly-iffy time-travel premise that just gets me, but it does. I utterly believe in this totally unbelievable romance. I guess that’s the magic of fiction. 

The book that haunts me

Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee. I can’t look at Auckland’s Lake Pupuke, Mt Eden or Rangitoto without imagining the creepy Wilberforces and the slimy mud alien creatures living underneath them. That book and Gee’s Halfmen of O series really captured my imagination as a kid, and they also totally freaked me out.  

Dystopia or utopia

I’m generally an incurable optimist but I love dystopian fiction, if there’s at least a little hope, satire, or human connection in there. Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars (also check out his amazing nature-thriller The River) and Naomi Alderman’s The Power are all fairly recent highlights.

Fiction or nonfiction

As a non-fiction writer, I’m embarrassed to say I vastly prefer to read fiction, and often struggle to get to the end of non-fiction books. They need a really strong narrative pull to get me there otherwise I end up reading random chapters out of order. I think it’s partly because non-fiction feels a bit like work, and partly because I’m such a sucker for story. Notable non-fiction exceptions I’ve loved include Nic Low’s Uprising, Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature, Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways and Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Thanks to my sister Monica, I’ve also recently started getting into books of essays, including those by Melissa Febos and Leslie Jamison.

From left to right: The book that haunts Kate Evans; the book that made her laugh; and the book that made her cry.

The book character I identify with most

I was obsessed with two epic book series as a teenager: John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, both with strong, gutsy lead female characters — although both written by men, interesting, I never noticed that before! I don’t know if I identified with them exactly, but I loved both Ellie and Lyra, and I think I’ll continue to revisit them through my life. The ending of The Amber Spyglass gets me every time.

It’s a crime against language to…

Rhyme in sleep stories. I am somewhat addicted to the Calm App’s sleep stories, especially the ones about European train trips in the 1920s and the ones about some artisan 300 years ago making the perfect pan flute or kite or guitar. I would love to try writing one one day; I think it’s a real art. The writing can be a bit bad, but not too bad, or I keep myself (and my partner) awake by groaning. It has to be boring enough to put you to sleep, but not too boring that you zone out too soon. It should not have blatant factual errors, as in one about Stewart Island that claimed there was a white-bellied sea eagle flying around. And it definitely shouldn’t rhyme, or my brain falls into this weird, wakeful pattern of anticipating and trying to predict the rhyme.

What are you reading right now?

Demon Copperhead, for a new little book club I’m in. I’ve loved Barbara Kingsolver since I read the Poisonwood Bible while backpacking around East Africa with my partner in 2010, which just made it even more vivid — and yet Demon Copperhead is a whole new level of epic. It’s David Copperfield but set in dirt-poor Appalachia in the 90s and early 2000s as the opioid epidemic just unravels everything. (I have not read David Copperfield, but now I want to.) I’m halfway through and waiting with my toes curled for the next disaster to strike but I can’t stop because Demon is just the most vibrant and loveable character, and Kingsolver’s writing is electric.  

Feijoa: A Story of Obsession and Belonging by Kate Evans (Moa Press) is available now from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.

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