If you want to find out anything about New Zealand, and especially Canterbury – history, family history, cooking, children’s books, politics – the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre (ANZC) on the second floor of Central Library is a good place to begin. New items come flooding in to ANZC every week. That is because we hold books, CDs, DVDs and maps as reference only copies. The variety of items on ANZC shelves is enormous.
Here are just some of the items that have come in this week:
Living and working in New Zealand, edited by David Hampshire, covers all aspects of life in NZ from coin telephones, starting a business, education, insurance and social customs (“it is considered socially acceptable to drop in on friends” – “kiwis generally prefer not to ‘beat about the bush’”).
The hole in the bush: A Tuatapere centennial review compiled by Des Williams, is a local history
Best of both worlds: the story of Elsdon Best and Tutakangahau by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman recounts the story of an 1895 meeting between these two figures of history.
New Zealand birth certificates by Paul Moon is a fascinating little book which reproduces 50 of New Zealand’s founding documents such as Cook’s map, the national anthem and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Treaty.
Let me say right upfront what a delight William Dalrymple was to interview. Charming, eloquent and fun, he was happy to free range over any number of topics – India, libraries, his home and his writing. You can read a transcript of my interview with him on the Christchurch City Libraries website.
However, to get the full flavour of a Dalrymple encounter you need to visualise the event as a piece of street theatre. This man does not sit still – ever. In the thirty minutes I had with him he ate biscuits, drank coffee, water and juice, threw himself about the room fetching and carrying for both of us whilst tossing conversational gems over his shoulder. I scurried about clutching my Marantz all the while trying to remember Richard’s instructions about sound quality. Such a pity we never caught it all on film.
Suffice it to say that by the time he left to meet up with Josie his “minder” (who used to be an NLA by the way), he was on a caffeine and sugar high. He left the room exhorting me to “Eat, Drink, Help Yourself!” I pressed the stop button on the recorder. Heaven help the next interviewer was all I could think.
Living Dolls is another of those must reads for Feminists. It discusses the worrying backlash against feminism and a return to sexism. Talking primarily about society in the UK it dissects the hyper-sexualisation of women and girls. Images from popular media to internet porn have reversed social taboos so that prostitution is glamourised and women once denied the right to a sexual identity are now ostracised as prudish and old-fashioned if they don’t claim their “rights” to flaunt their sexuality.
Natasha Walter discusses how this narrow range of acceptable behaviour for women to behave as “ladettes” is just as restrictive as in the past. Now young women are seen as outsiders if they choose to dress conservatively and not be promiscuous, the “ ideal” woman is that of a Barbie doll. The pressure to conform is so intense, that worryingly even some of the top academic students in the country (gaining firsts at Cambridge) feel more defined by their looks than their achievements.
Walter also discusses the recent return to the ideology of biological determinism. Whilst in the 1970s and 1980s, gender “appropriate” behaviour was thought to be learnt by social conditioning, recent “research” seems to indicate that there are inherent differences between girls and boys. Boys are said to be more aggressive and naturally better at logic, mathematics and spatial awareness whilst girls are better at language, empathy, and building relationships . In a manner similar to Ben Goldacre in Bad Science , Walter reveals many of these modern “facts” to be based on poor research and that studies showing the opposite or no effect are ignored by the media.
Arguing, that these “facts” affect girls own views of their abilities and life choices and lead to women as being thought of as ideally suited to be caregivers rather than chief executives. This book is a passionate call to arms for feminists everywhere to renew their fight.
Young Men’s Christian Association, Cambridge Terrace (between Cashel and Hereford Streets), Christchurch. [ca. 1885]
The building was designed by Thomas Stoddart Lambert (d. 1915) and built in 1884. Another, larger YMCA building on the corner was built 1908-1909, designed by William Paxton Clarkson (1863-1917) and Robert Anderson Ballantyne. The YMCA vacated the buildings at the beginning of 1967 and moved to a new site on the corner of Hereford Street and Rolleston Avenue. The old buildings were demolished Sept.-Nov. 1967 to make way for a new central police station.
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Who would have thought so many people would take the time to suggest titles to a Christian Fictionally challenged librarian? Who would have thought it would be so hard to decide what Christian fiction is?
Is a Christian novel one that “expounds and illustrates a Christian world view in its plot or characters, or both” (and Wikipedia says it is). Is it a novel by a Christian? Or is it a novel about Christians?
Or all of the above?
Last weekend, in a guilty time out from the Five Book Challenge, I ignored the small Francine Rivers sitting reproachfully on the bedside table in favour of the new Anne LamottImperfect Birds. Reasoning that I had a duty to get it read as soon as possible as it had come in on hold for me and had a reserve list I did little else but fulfill that duty for a day or so.
About half way through I realised I could let the guilt go as this novel meets all the criteria for Christian fiction; it expounds a Christian world view, it features characters who are Christians and it is by a Christian who writes moving and meaningful non-fiction about faith.
Imperfect Birds is the story of 17-year-old Rosie and her parents, Elizabeth and James. They seem to be the ideal family, reassuringly imperfect but loving and warm. Except that beautiful Rosie is drinking, taking every drug she can lay her hands on (and that’s a lot) and lying through her teeth about it.
This is a wonderful novel, about humans who, in Lamott’s words, need something that might not be God but may be god, and is definitely ’not me’. It’s full of people who try their best to live according to their beliefs, looking for ways to serve and hoping that a connection with a higher power will keep themselves and their children safe. My faith in Christian Fiction is restored.
Julie Myerson, who wrote about her own family’s battle with a child’s addiction in The Lost Child, reviewed Imperfect Birds in The New York Times Book Review. In that review Myerson said that “all addict’s families are alike, and when it comes to teenage drug abusers they’re unnervingly alike, right down to the last battering detail.”
Should you be in the mood for some more battering details, I recommend:
The “Dead dames” series has made me think of the subject of re-reads. The problem with being a keen reader is how to keep up with the tide of newly-published books. The short answer – it’s just not possible. The problem is compounded by the desire to re-read books that we have loved in the past, or to re-attempt those literary Mount Everests that have previously defeated us.
In this latter category I would place those heavyweight classics that we feel we should read, but are just too hard. How many times have I attempted War and Peace or Remembrance of things past and not got past the first 20 pages? Now that winter is upon us it’s a good time to re-attempt the dizzy heights of reading difficulty. I think you really need to be snowed into a mountain cabin with nothing else to read but Henry James or James Joyce to get to grips with them properly. I think you need a lot of time and nothing else to do. (Trouble is, the typical reading in mountain cabins tends to be of the Sven Hassell/Wayne D. Overholser kind).
The other kind of re-read is the comfort re-read, a pastime that the winter season lends itself to. Those “old shoes” that we love so much we re-read them every year, especially in winter, when they become the readerly equivalents of chocolate fudge pudding. My favourite winter comfort reads are Love in a cold climate, Wind in the willows (especially the part where Rat and Mole find Badger’s house after being lost in the Wild Wood), Room with a view and the complete works of Jane Austen. Nothing controversial, nothing challenging.
So, gentle readers, which books are your mashed potatoes, your chicken soup?
Don’t stay stuck inside on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon. Come along to the Centre for the Child this Sunday, 23 May and make some noise! Watch the awesome percussion group Pandemonium make weird and wonderful music from recycled junk. You can even make your own music and join in with a group jam as instruments are supplied by Pandemonium.
Come along and join us at Central Library, 2-3pm this Sunday, 23 May.
I’m suffering from sleep deprivation today as I stayed up way too late last night finishing off Patrick Ness’ new book, Monsters of Men. It’s the final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy which is absolutely brilliant and a real benchmark for Young Adult fiction. If you haven’t read the books I’ll give you 3 reasons why you should:
Each of the books is a rollercoaster ride – there’s ups and downs, twists and turns, stomach-lurching events, and the story races along at break-neck speed.
The development of the characters is incredible. The characters are affected by the events of the story so they change with it, some for better, others for worse. Patrick Ness is great at showing the true nature of his characters, not just what’s on the surface.
The setting, the characters, and their story will stick with you long after you have finished reading.
Monsters of Men brings the story of Todd, Viola, and other settlers of New World to a thrilling conclusion.
Patrick keeps you guessing right til the end; has the Mayor truly been redeemed by Todd? Will anybody get out of the war alive? Will Todd and Viola finally get to be together? I found it incredibly difficult to put the book down and go to work.
I also found myself struggling with the book though as I wanted to find out how their story ended, but I didn’t want to leave those amazing characters and New World behind. I’ll just have to start from the beginning again with The Knife of Never Letting Go.
As usual, I can’t pick the winners (luckily I’m not a betting man) but I was glad to see my favourites (Brainjack and Wonky Donkey) getting the childrens’ vote. I think we should leave the voting up to the children every time as they pick the books that appeal to them, not what appeals to adults.
Did you manage to pick the winners and what did you think of the judges choices?
Poet Bernadette Hall was one of three Cantabrians who flew the flag for Christchurch at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. She kindly gave us some of her time for a bit of a chat. This seven-minute interview covers:
The ‘crucial and essential’ role of writer’s festivals in building a community of writers;
The Hagley Writers’ Institute as a yeast in the mix of a healthy Christchurch poetry scene;
How Hall is trying to change her poems and is writing short fiction.
I started the interview (which was just after a chat by Emily Perkins, Damien Wilkins and Fergus Barrowman, and before a late lunch) by asking what it was like to attend the festival as a writer.