This Reading Life: Rebecca Priestley

23 January 2020

Rebecca is an associate professor at Victoria University of Wellington and director of the university’s Centre for Science in Society. She has an undergraduate degree in geology, a PhD in the history of science and an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters. As part of the Festival's Writers programme she will discuss a life influenced by the frozen continent with the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Juliet Gerrard, and will be in conversation with Australian writer Sophie Cunningham discussing the complex relationship between ourselves and our environment.

Image: Victoria Birkinshaw

The first book to capture my imagination was called Volcanoes. It was an illustrated non-fiction book for children and I found it absolutely riveting, mostly for its story of the birth of the volcanic island of Surtsey in Iceland. I went on to study geology, visit Iceland and become a science writer, so I think it was pretty influential.

The books that saw me through my childhood were The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Both worlds featured a lot of snow. I also loved non-fiction, including (nerd alert) the annually published Guinness Book of Records and The Book of Lists. My mother worked in a bookshop so I was very well supplied with books.

My favourite book of 2019 was Robert Macfarlane’s Underland.

The fictional character I’d most like to be is Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen from Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.

The author I’m most likely to binge-read is Jane Austen.

The book I’m recommending to a friend is Sustainability: A Love Story by Nicole Walker.

My favourite film adaptation of a book is … right now I’m pretty impressed with the latest Little Women adaptation, I’ve just seen it with my teenage daughter.

The last literary event I attended was the NonFictionNow 2020 preview party at Meow in November last year. It included readings by 2020 NFN co-chairs Ingrid Horrocks and Tina Makeriti, along with international authors Robyn Hemley, Patrick Madden, David Carlin and Nicole Walker.
It was very inspiring and I’m excited about the conference that will be held in Wellington in December.

One dead author I’d like to have met is Dorothy Parker.

A line or two of writing I just really love is
“And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief”
(From Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night)

The books on my bed side table right now are …
There’s quite a pile! Or rather, two piles:
The Truants by Kate Weinberg (I’ve just started this, I’m enjoying it very much)
Sustainability: A Love Story by Nicole Walker (recently finished)
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margaretta Magnusson (summer holiday goals)
Inferior and Superior by Angela Saini
Melt by Jeff Murray
Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz
How I Get Ready by Ashleigh Young
ransack by essa may ranapiri

ARTicle is giving away a copy of Rebecca's latest book, Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica. Enter your details here to be in to win.

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