Summer reading, had me a blast

So, what usually happens with me over the summer is I drag a big pile of books and DVDs home and then I do an average to poor job of getting through them all over the Christmas and new year break, because even though I might not necessarily be at work, there’s still plenty to do at home (taking the Christmas tree down, letting the 3 year old help, cleaning up after that disaster and so on…)

This year I had the misfortune of getting a cold in the new year that turned into a chest infection and necessitated quite a bit of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Which as everyone knows is the perfect time to get some reading done. Here’s what I managed to rattle through as a result *cough*.

Cover of American GodsAmerican Gods – As recommended by Pickle Bronwyn, this is a great read. It spans a great many topics – Norse mythology, theology, Americana, First Nations beliefs – and it’s also kind of a road-trip novel. Engrossing and enjoyable.

Like a Queen – To say Aussie writer and mum Constance Hall is a phenomenon is not overstating the case. Her posts on parenting and relationships and the importance of building other women up rather than tearing them down are massively popular, largely due to Facebook. In only a couple of years she has recruited a legion of fans (or “Queenies”) from all walks of life who love her brash, no-BS yet tender approach to modern womanhood. Her book is more “hippyish” than I usually go for but it’s brutally honest and raw too which is very affecting. A great, affirming read for harangued and under-appreciated mothers.

Cover of You can't touch my hairYou can’t touch my hair: And other things I still have to explain – Phoebe Robinson made a fan out of me within about three pages. She’s wickedly funny, scathing and more than a little bit goofy while tackling pretty important issues like racism and sexism. I learned a lot about African American hair from this as well as what sexism looks like to a female actor/comedian. I LOVED this book (even though I cannot fathom why she put The Edge at the top of her “which order I would have sex with the members of U2 in” list. The Edge. REALLY?). It’s a humorous mixture of pop culture, social awareness and general badassery. Highly recommended.

Cover of Talking as fast as I canTalking as fast as I can – Actor Lauren Graham’s memoir is a lot like what you imagine her personality to be – considered and cheerful with plenty of quips, non sequiturs and tangential observations. It’s a must-read for Gilmore Girls fans and recommended companion reading if you’ve recently watched the rebooted “A year in the life” series. Don’t read this expecting to get the low down on any Hollywood scandal though. No careers are ruined. No beans are spilled. But it is a light, amusing read that makes me keen to check out her first novel (a second is in the works) as well as her screen adaptation of The Royal We. There’s also a handy “writing process” guide borrowed from another writer included that I may well put into use. Also, how much is that cover photo crying out for some book-facing? So. Much.

Exhibit A.

Cover of The world according to Star WarsThe world according to Star Wars – I am a sucker for any book that indulges my desire to ponder the many facets, nooks and crannies, and minutiae of the Star Wars universe. And Cass Sunstein, one of America’s most highly regarded legal scholars, obviously feels the same since he wrote this book, seemly to fill that exact niche. It’s a mixed bag (the section on the U. S. constitution was a bit tenuous, in my opinion) but there are plenty of opportunities to ponder the meanings, symbolism and politics of this most popular of sci-fi series’ and to view it through a variety lenses. Recommended for fans.

 

Cool stuff from the selectors: How the other half lives

9780865653313Located near Palm Springs, Sunnylands was the palatial home of philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Created out of barren desert, Sunnylands is now a huge, palatial masterpiece of over the top opulence. No detail was too small – carpets, furniture, and china were all specially made, luscious gardens formed, and a golf course created.

Luckily for us all, aspects of the house and grounds are beautifully represented in this sumptuous book. But along with the fabulousness of the place was also the fabulousness of the people who visited. Guests were carefully chosen for each weekend. Once they arrived and were housed in the various rooms in the guest wing, where they would be provided with a written potted history of the other guests’ achievements and interests. Seating arrangements for the lavish dinners were carefully chosen so that conversation would flow smoothly. Activities for the weekend were outlined and a jolly time was had by all.

A magnificent book if you like to delve into life as you will never know it, beautifully photographed and enough written material and social history to make you feel a little less voyeuristic.

9781848221840Edward Bawden was an English painter, illustrator and graphic artist, known for his prints, book covers, posters, and garden metalwork furniture.

Scrapbooks – by the delightfully named Peyton Skipwith –  is a compendium of ephemera that Bawden has collected for more than 55 years.  There seems little rhyme or reason to most of it, drawings of stage design are interspersed with Christmas cards, newpaper cuttings, invitations and cigarette cards. The colour reproductions are quite beautiful, especially the drawings and graphic works of Bawden, and most pages have interesting notes about where the particular pieces may have originated and some background information to try and make sense of the seeming randomness of it all.  The is a lovely book to dip into and gives you a great insight into the life and times of a prolific and talented artist.

Cool stuff from the Selectors: Thinking about trends

When selecting stock for the library it is always important to think about trends and what might be the next ‘big thing’, and one area that always garners interest is health and wellbeing – that elusive food/exercise/natural remedy/mindset that will provide the magic elixir of anti aging/weight loss/fitness and a long life.
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Is Algae the new Kale?  Turmeric latte anyone? I was unfortunate enough to read that some are suggesting beetroot, charcoal or mushroom becoming your coffee substitute! Forget nose to tail eating, now it’s about root to stem.

If you have been struggling with Mindfulness then you can now rest easy with Mindset – the belief that basic abilities can be developed through hard work, a love and learning, and dare I say it – ‘resilience’. Breathing is also big – not surprising given we all need to do it, but are we doing in the right way? And last but not least, Neuroslimming, giving  you a “mind plan, not a meal plan”.

Tiny houses are still wildly popular, at least the pictures of them in the books are, but I do wonder how many people actually bite the bullet and live in the small but perfectly formed shed in the back yard? Travel stories are still very popular and I have it on good authority that Iceland is the next big thing (and I just happen to be going there in the middle of the year!)

I expect we will see a few more books on Donald Trump this year along with his good mate Putin.  There may be a few books on Fidel Castro and Cuba could become a more popular travel destination?

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The craft area is dominated by a love of anything Nordic and the knitting, quilting and embroidery books are still as popular as ever.  Cooking is still raw, which is ironic considering it’s cooking.

Need some cheering up, then these two titles might help the optimism quotent.

For Later: January 2017

For Later shelf is now more of a For Later library but somehow the Just Ordered list comes out and every week the shelves just grow.

These titles sneaked on recently:

Cover of Thug KitchenThug Kitchen (subtitle could cause offence). Gwyneth Paltrow loved it. Not sure if that’s a recommendation but I’m all for a bit of cursing with my cooking.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina. If Mina’s other books are anything to go by this stand-alone based on a real case in 1950s Glasgow should be good. Mina won the best-dressed and best hair competition held in my head at the Wellington Writers and Readers Week way back in 2012. I’ve followed her ever since and she’s never let me down.

England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage. Will one of the ultimate books on Punk be as good as it was in 1991? Or will it just be really sad? It’s fully updated and expanded so probably sad.

And there’s always room for a few “Friday night flickers”, good for a mindless page-through on a Friday night:

Cover of Fashion, art and rock and rollFashion, Art and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Jean-Charles De Castelbajac. Worth it for his name alone.

Domino Your Guide to a Stylish Home: Discovering your personal style and creating a space you love by Jessica Romm Perez. Sigh.

City House, Country House Contemporary New Zealand Homes by John Walsh.

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Haukerekerehia!

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – The Māori Language Commission publish weekly Māori phrases that can be used to support or cheer someone on.

Haukerekerehia!
Smash ’em!

akina te reo rugby

On espionage

Recently I listened to a free lecture on The Great Courses app (available for iOS or Android) called “Becoming a Spy”.

I found this intriguing (no pun intended) and really interesting to hear the reasons why an individual decides to betray their country and become an agent of espionage. Several reasons were given, for example ideology, money, a sense of disillusionment with the Government of their own country and a sense of achieving a greater good in the long term.

I decided I wanted to know more about this subject so did some research on the eResource Academic World Book.

I did a search under ‘Espionage’ and found some really interesting articles on the likes of our own Nancy Wake (1912-2011). Nancy was a famous New Zealand-born Australian resistance fighter during WWII. Due to her ability to avoid capture she was nick-named “the White Mouse”.

Nancy Wake  The White Mouse  My Silent War  A Spy Among Friends

The infamous British civil servant Kim Philby who became a spy for the Russians is also an interesting subject and well worth researching or reading about.

Christchurch City Libraries has titles on these subjects in several formats – books, eBooks, graphic novels, large print, audiobooks and DVDs as well as our wonderful eResources.

If you would like to try a spy novel over the holidays here are a few titles by authors whom I enjoy for their ability to write a good spy novel.

Act of Treason  The Amateur Spy  The English Spy  Spies of the Balkans  The Faithful Spy  One Dead Spy

Find more spy fiction and true tales of espionage in the library catalogue.

Tell you what #AotearoaReads

I confess I didn’t read all of the books in my eyewateringly large pile of holiday reads. But I accidentally went all #AotearoaReads and it was ACE.

CoverFirst up, I finished Can you tolerate this? Personal essays by Ashleigh Young. She tells stories about her family and relationships, but also little histories that have captured her imagination – a boy with a rare skeletal disease, a French postman and his project with stones. This combination of the personal and something more expansive (in both space and time) is a winner. I gave this book to my little sister at Christmas time, and she has whisked it away to London (where today it is snowing). She’s going to love it.

CoverTell you What Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2017 is the third in a series of top writing from magazines, websites, and blogs – pieces so good that it feels good and proper to have them in print. They are anything but ephemeral.

Editors Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew have again created a brilliant buffet of thoughts and words. You can dip in anywhere and read something that’ll grip you to the last full stop. It’s joyously diverse in topic – kererū, Rugby World Cups, tikanga, Hudson and Halls. It is also geographically varied. The stories are not just set in Aotearoa but range from London to Iceland as well as Kiwi locales like Poplar Avenue and Ashdown Place.

Tell you what reminds me of listening to Radio New Zealand. You’ll find yourself deeply immersed in something you never knew about, and didn’t know you were interested in. That’s magic.

Cover#AotearoaReads is the gift that keeps on giving well past the New Year. I’ve started reading Write to the Centre: Navigating Life With Gluestick and Words by Helen Lehndorf.

Other recent #AotearoaReads I loved:

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Find out more about the New Zealand Book Council’s Aotearoa Summer Reads.

Tell you what: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2017
edited by Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408602

The Beano Annual 2017

CoverDid you read comics when you were young?

I’m English and grew up on this one. If you enjoyed The Beano in your younger years, or are young now, you’ll get a laugh out of this annual. Many of the classic characters are still there – such as Dennis the Menace (and his dog Gnasher), The Bash Street Kids, Bananaman, Roger the Dodger and Minnie the Minx.

The old favourites look ever so slightly different, as some have been drawn by new artists. The stories are up to date with modern technology, media and language, but the essence of the old Beano remains.

Christchurch City Libraries also hold a really interesting History of The Beano which tells how Gnasher first arrived (then mysteriously disappears) in Beanotown. A must for purists.

CoverAnd did you know, you can also view the latest weekly issues of The Beano on PressReader? The last three months are available – just sign in with your library card number and password.

I also discovered Blimey! a blog on British comics.

Enjoy!

Living by the moon: Wiremu Tāwhai’s legacy

Cover of Living by the moonLiving by the Moon – Te Maramataka o Te Whānau-a-Apanui

In 2014 this amazing little book was released. Beginning it’s life as a MA thesis at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. Sadly Pāpā Wiremu passed away before the book was published however with the kind permission of the Tāwhai whānau it was published by Huia publishers. It is a wealth of information for old and young, Māori and non-Māori.

The following is a review I wrote for Te Karaka edition #61 Kahuru 2014 (and reproduced by permission here)

Ko te Kuti, ko te Wera, ko te Haua, e ko Apanui…!

Every now and then you get the opportunity to read a book that not only leaves you feeling privileged to have read it, but more importantly, wiser for having done so. Living by the Moon – Te Maramataka o Te Whānau-a-Apanui is one such book.

Written by the late Wiremu “Bill” Tāwhai, a well-respected kaumātua of Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Whakatōhea and Ngāti Awa, it is a collation of Te Whānau-a-Ruataia inter-generational knowledge pertaining to Te Whānau-a-Apanui lunar calendar. Long before shopping malls, smart phones, “Uncle Google”, and social media, our tipuna planned their lives by the lunar calendar. Every iwi had one. Knowing the lunar cycle, understanding how it affects your environment, and your competence to analyse and interpret correctly those effects, determined your ability to hunt, grow, and gather food. Thanks to Wiremu’s natural skill as an orator, this knowledge is conveyed in a way that is not only easily understood but leaves the reader feeling as though they are sitting with him. It took me back to a time when I was young and would sit with my own father listening to tribal kōrero.

Sadly, Wiremu Tāwhai died on 2 December 2010, before his book, which began as his MA thesis for Te Whare Wānanga o Te Awanuiārangi, was published. However, he left various legacies for future readers within his text. These included the consideration of what is to become traditional wisdom and knowledge such as the maramataka, reminding us of their importance “to sustain a healthy environment for the enjoyment of generations to come.” Encouraging words for all Māori to research their tribal knowledge, build tribal repositories, and openly share this knowledge among tribes and internationally with other indigenous nations.

His final words are for his people of Te Whānau-a-Apanui, encouraging them to continue the exploration of their traditional knowledge basis, record their findings and therefore ensure the distinctiveness and character of the tribe will endure.

Living by the Moon is beautifully written in both Māori and English. As Joan Metge notes in her forward:

Wiremu Tāwhai demonstrates his own gifts as a word-weaver… the rewards [of this book] are greats when the texts are read side by side, paragraph by paragraph.Taken together, they complement and illuminate each other.

Doing this makes the book an easy read, with an insight into a world that once was and that many are now returning to.  It is certainly one book I will return to again and again, even just for the pleasure of reading it.

E Tā, ka rere āmiomio atu te whakamiha ki a koe e te huia kaimanawa mō tēnei taonga i tākoha mai nei.  Māringanui katoa mātou i tōu tiro whakamua i tō whare kōrero kua whakakaohia e koe, hei taonga whakamahi mō ngā uri whakaheke e manakotia mai ana ki ēnei mea.  Nā reira e Tā, ahakoa kua riro koe ki te manaakitanga o rātou mā, ā, e ora tonu ana tōu owha, te owha nā ngā tipuna.  Āpōpō ko te Rakaunui te tīmatatanga o te maramataka hou hei arahi i tō rahi.

Further reading

Who likes what

Cover of ChristodoraA favourite end of year time-waster is looking at Best of lists compiled by writers I admire. If books appear on more than one list they must be really good. Surely.

Does the opinion of a Man Booker Prize winner count for more than a non-winner? Yes if it’s Anne Enright and the book is Christadora by Tim Murphy. Also counts that I’ve read it and liked it.

Does the opinion of a double Man Booker Prize winner count for double? Yes if it’s Hilary Mantel, not only because Mantel showed impeccable literary taste by loving the Cazalet Chronicles, but also because Maggie O’Farrell and Linda Grant, another two absolute faves, both had My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout on their lists.

Cover of The GirlsIs it worth moving a book from an insanely long For Later shelf to a Holds list? Yes if it’s Geoff Dyer, who is such a great writer he can make you read a book about a film you’ve never seen. In this case even more worth it because the book is The Girls and it’s a re-imagining of the perennially fascinating Manson cult.

Alan Hollinghurst needs to be getting on with writing his own books, not reading and opining about other people’s, but he liked The Return and so did Julian Barnes, who knows what he’s talking about, so that might be worth a go.

If you have a touching belief in writers knowing what’s good and you need to add to your For Later shelf (and who doesn’t?) you might also try: