Welcome to the first edition of the Spinoff Books Confessional, in which we get to know the reading habits and quirks of New Zealanders at large. This week: Labour MP David Parker.
The book I wish I’d written
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, because of how it gently leads the reader to understand how abhorrent repression and loss of liberty is under authoritarian regimes, while enriching the reader by showing how compassion and love overcome.
Everyone should read
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, because by using extensive data from many sources in many countries, he proved that wealth concentrated at the very top has been compounding. He describes the ingredients of the post WWII to 1970s levelling out, which others might describe as the Keynesian accommodation. Piketty also proved that surveys sampling the general population are massively inaccurate at the top end, and that actual data is needed.
As a politician who believes in social mobility and egalitarian outcomes, this book inspired me to seek the revenue portfolio and to enable Inland Revenue to prepare and publish its study into high wealth individuals in NZ. That recently-published study found that those studied had an average wealth of $256m each, yet pay tax on their economic income at half the rate of middle income salary earners. One per cent of New Zealand’s population now own 26% of all assets outside the family home, which is much more than the lower 50% combined.
The book I want to be buried with
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.
The first book I remember reading by myself
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey.
Fiction or Non-fiction?
The book that haunts me
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The dystopian future is so plausible. A tightly written, not-very-long novel that left a chill. Read it in one sitting.
The book that made me cry
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I have always a had a horror and fascination for war, perhaps because a branch of my father’s family was wiped out. One son died at Gallipoli, another survived the Western Front but arrived back injured and traumatised and died very young. Another child died as an infant, and a fourth in the influenza epidemic. The fifth and last child died in a tram crash in Dunedin. The mixed emotions – horror, sacrifice and love – of looking into the past. which Birdsong brought vividly to life.
The book that made me laugh
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I can hardly believe that the first time I tried to read this, it didn’t capture me and I soon put it down. A friend raved, so I tried it again. Loved it. Who could forget Major Major Major, so named because his father thought it a better name than Drum Major, Minor Major, Sergeant Major or C Sharp Major. And because of his name, an army business machine confused him for a real Major and so he really became Major Major Major Major. A parody on the ridiculous aspects of war. Other than Shakespeare, what other writer penned so many idioms in one book?
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole would have been my second choice.
The most underrated book
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. A bit dated now, but what a plot. Weaves in real terrorists like Carlos the Jackal. Tension, romance, James Bondery. I read all the early Ludlum novels back in the day.
Greatest New Zealand book
the bone people by Keri Hulme. Captured a dark but real side of New Zealand culture.
Best thing about reading
The emotions engendered.
Best place to read
Sitting or lying in the sun, with your head in the shade.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve a few on the go. I like the escapism of a good espionage thriller – currently enjoying Joseph Kanon’s The Berlin Exchange. Just gave my partner Anne Salmond’s The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, and couldn’t help myself so she got it with a few dog ears. I’m re-reading parts of The Triumph of Injustice – how the wealthy avoid paying tax and how to fix it, by Berkeley economists Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez. (Christopher Luxon can attest to this, because I was reading it at the Thistle Inn while waiting for a meal. He walked in, asked what I was reading, I showed him, we laughed and he said I was “very on brand”.) On my windowsill waiting to be read is the recently late Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger, and Tomás Nevinson by Spanish author Javier Marias, whom I’ve never read.