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Victor Rodger’s life in books. (Image: Archi Banal)
Victor Rodger’s life in books. (Image: Archi Banal)

BooksDecember 14, 2023

Victor Rodger has nothing to hide

Victor Rodger’s life in books. (Image: Archi Banal)
Victor Rodger’s life in books. (Image: Archi Banal)

Welcome to The Spinoff Books Confessional, in which we get to know the reading habits and quirks of New Zealanders at large. This week: writer and producer, Victor Rodger. 

Everyone should read

Tahuri by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. I wasn’t familiar with the short story collection Tahuri until a mate from the States asked me to track down a copy for him. Published in the late 70s, these stories still feel relevant and true. I sometimes teach the story ‘Red Jersey’ wherein a young lesbian is set up on a date that goes violently wrong.  

The book I want to be buried with

A Pictorial History of the Talkies by Daniel Blum. I was into movie stars from a super young age and my mum showered me in movie books. A Pictorial History of the Talkies was always my fave, full of pics of movies and movie stars from the advent of talkies right through to the early 70s. I remember being intrigued by so many of the pictures of films I hadn’t yet seen and trying to figure out why, for example, Elizabeth Taylor looked so upset in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, or what the hell was going on in a still from Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain.

The first book I remember reading by myself

Bloodline by Sidney Sheldon. Mum and I were on holiday in Samoa and I picked a second hand copy of Bloodline off of a book carousel. If mum had known about all the sex and sordidness it contained, she would have grabbed it off me and put it right back on the carousel. Thanks to Bloodline, I went from being something of a Hardy Boys devotee to a disciple of lurid potboilers. I had just turned 12. Probably explains a lot.  

From left to right: the book Victor Rodger thinks we all need to read; the book he wants to be buried with; and the first book he remembers reading by himself.

Dystopia or Utopia?

Utopia? Zzzzzz. Gimme a good dystopia all day, every day. Among my faves: Orwell’s 1984, The Stand by Stephen King, Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, and They by Kay Dick.

It’s a crime against language

When someone writes out of race and writes dialogue in a way that makes you wonder if they’ve actually met anyone from that race. I can think of quite a few books where I wish the writer had been forced to read their books aloud to a room full of the communities they had written about.

The book that haunts me

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. That shit is dark. It’s probably the most brutal book I’ve ever read but it’s also one of the most compelling. There’s a film adaptation on Netflix but I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

The book that made me cry

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read it three times and cried in the exact same place each time. See also: just about anything by Elizabeth Strout. There is something in the way she is able to get a handle on humanity that I find incredibly moving.

The book that makes me laugh

Most recently, that would be Big Swiss by Jen Beagin and before that Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham. Not many books literally make me laugh out loud but both of them feature badly behaved protagonists who cracked me up.

From left to right: the book that haunts Victor Rodger; and two books that have made him laugh.

The book I never admit I’ve read

Excuse me? I’m someone who did a school project on Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins when I was 15. I’ve got nothing to hide.

If I could only read three books for the rest of my life they would be

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Pauline Kael’s collection of film criticism, Deeper Into Movies and The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.

The book I wish would be adapted for film or TV

The short story ‘Werekids’ from Samuel Te Kani’s super good short story collection Please, Call me Jesus. Mum works for WINZ, her boss is a gross sleazoid and she has a monosyllabic grunter of a teenage son who is actually a bi-sexual werewolf.  Someone like Nicola “Nix” Adams would be fantastic as the mum; Neil Rea (Brokenwood Mysteries) would be perfect as the sleazoid boss and Kawakawa Fox-Reo (formerly of Home & Away) could totally carve it up as the son.

The most overrated book

Some people have found a special place in their heart for Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library but I’m afraid my heart is far too black for me to join their ranks. Not so much DNF (Did Not Finish) as CNF (Could Not Finish). 

From left to right: the book Victor Rodger thinks should be made in film or TV; one of the books he’d choose to read for the rest of his life; and his most overrated book.

Encounter with an author

Marlon James was the incumbent Booker Prize winner for A Brief History of Seven Killings when he rocked up to the Auckland Writers Festival. We were both staying at the same hotel and when I first encountered him he seemed to be in a bit of a grump. Maybe it was jetlag. Maybe he was underwhelmed by the company. When a waiter asked him what he wanted to drink my ears pricked up when he ordered a Dark and Stormy which I’d never heard of before: rum, ginger beer and lime. On the rare occasion when I drink, I’ll sometimes order a Dark and Stormy, primarily because I like the way it sounds, and that’s all thanks to Mr James.

What are you reading right now?

I spent a lot of this year not reading but I’m making up for it now. On the bedside table I’ve got Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei Brenyah; How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo; Big Fat Brown Bitch by Tusiata Avia and the newly minted Booker winner Prophet Song by Paul Murphy.

Victor Rodger is a playwright, writer and theatre producer. The Savage Coloniser Show, written by Tusiata Avia and produced by Victor Rodger, is in the Aotearoa Festival of the Arts 2024 on 29 Feb, and 1-2 March in Wellington. Information and tickets here.

Keep going!