It is a long time since I first bought a book of my choosing but I have never forgotten the event. I wanted to buy Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a precocious choice for a 9-year-old but I had been told it was "a good book". My father said he would give me the required seven shillings and sixpence if I learned to hand-milk a cow.

I was allocated the gentlest of the small herd, a Jersey called Bridget, and as I watched the steaming milk rise up the inside of the bucket, I dreamed of my purchase. It was years before it made a lot of sense to me but there it was, my own book bought in what was then the dusty little village of Kerikeri.

I have bought thousands of books since then and I'm often given books, mostly great treasures.

Books have infiltrated every room of my house. They have a life of their own as they crawl along the floors and stack themselves topsy-turvy alongside the bed. I keep promising my husband I will deal to them but still they appear like the ant colonies that have plagued us this summer.


It is impossible to name a favourite on these shelves and lower dwelling places because there are so many. I banish the ones I don't like. But since you have me cornered me, I'll mention a couple that have co-existed with me for decades.

There is Joan Didion's Run, River, the author's first novel, published in 1963. It's a book that caught me unawares when I was a young woman, full of languid nights, desire, serial betrayals and lush Californian landscapes. The author has since disowned it but I haven't.

Then there's Elizabeth David's An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, another early 1960s' acquisition, purchased around the time of my first disastrous forays into omelette making (I do quite a decent one nowadays). It's not a cook book; more an historical memoir of French food. I love to sit in Paris ordering, as the title suggests, an omelette, a glass of wine, plus a little salad, watching the street life, and feeling as if I'm discovering it all for the first time. I know David opened my eyes to seeing it in a way I might otherwise have missed.

There is a newcomer on the shelves - well, not exactly a shelf, but a padded footstool in the living room, until I find space for a better home - The Great War for New Zealand, Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O'Malley, a major work featuring the New Zealand land wars. It's a magnificent, beautiful to behold and enlightening to read.

This is the inspirational one because although there are other important works on my shelves about the flawed history of Maori and Pakeha relationships, this book takes the reader deep into an emotional perspective of what the battlefields were really like, forcing a reassessment of what we already understand.

There are so many books I wish I had written myself - pretty well everything by the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, and the two Sebastians, Faulks and Barry - that great war novel Birdsong by Faulks, The Secret Scripture by Barry - Anne Enright's The Green Road. Those Irish, they get to me, perhaps not surprising, given my father was just that.

Dame Fiona Kidman is the 2017 Honoured New Zealand Writer at this year's Auckland Writers Festival. She will speak at a free event at the ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, May 21, 6pm.