Soot from a long dead fire is yet another clue for Wairarapa woman and Queen's Birthday Honours 2006 receipient Lydia Wevers ? now sifting literary history in the region for her upcoming book on the reading routines of rural New Zealand.
Dr Wevers is now writing a book, with a working title of Reading On The Farm, centred on the social and cultural history revealed by the Brancepeth Station library at Wainuioru, east of Masterton.
"The condition of the book and of the pages tells you how much use the book has had, or if it was read by a fire, or whether they were eating while they were reading."
The Brancepeth Station Library Collection contains about 2000 volumes of late 19th century popular fiction and general works. The Beetham family established the library in 1884 for staff of the station, which was then one of the largest properties in the region.
The late Mr Hugh Beetham presented the library collection to the Victoria University Library in 1966.
Dr Wevers, a former head girl and dux of St Matthews Collegiate School, is the director of the Stout Research Foundation at the university and an English language literary historian with national and international experience as a researcher and lecturer.
She is also chair of the Guardians of the Alexander Turnbull Library, the Writers and Readers Committee of the International Festival of the Arts, a member of the Arts Board of Creative New Zealand, and the advisory committee of the Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
Dr Wevers has also served as the vice-president of the New Zealand Book Council and as chair of the Board of Trustees of Wellington Girls College.
She said her naming as an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to literature, came as a surprise and a welcome recognition of her life's work so far.
Dr Wevers said the success of her literary career had begun "because of growing up with the wonderful Masterton public library and the fantastic teacher, Olive Sutherland".
She has already written Country of Writing: Travel Writing and New Zealand, 1809 ? 1900, which was published four years ago as the first substantial study of travel writing about New Zealand in the colonial period.
From Dr Wevers' perspective the reader is as important as the writer, as their interests and expectations often tailored the kind of books that were written.
"I like the history of reading ? how people read, what they read. It's an activity that disappears from sight that can inform us about how we think and where we are at any given period in time," she said.
The opportunity to gather material for her latest book from the Brancepeth library meant frequent travel to her Martinborough home and a chance for "wonderful detective work" discovering the books from the collection most read in their day.
"They also wrote things in them (marginalia) and finding out how all that happened is a little like forensic anthropology."
Dr Wevers said there is a "broad similarity" between the posting of text on the internet and the text written on pages in some of the Brancepeth books.
"With the internet people tend to write thinking they're writing to somebody else whereas after reading a book in the really remote paddocks of late 19th Century Wairarapa ? even though it is still a reaching out and recording of reactions ? it is a longer, vaguer communication," she said.
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