Confessions of a Jane Smiley groupie

I’m a great fan of Jane Smiley. I came across her in the late 90s when I read Moo and was impressed by her ability to write about issues confronting contemporary humanity – in this case how agribusiness was impacting on academia – with a quick wit and a writer’s eye that can spot hypocrisy at a hundred paces.

I followed up with Good Faith in which good natured real estate agent, Joe Stratford, gets seduced by the rich pickings of the US property boom and becomes a wheeler dealer par excellence. I was hooked.

Cover of A thousand acresJane Smiley spoke at the Great Hall at the Arts Centre when she visited Christchurch to promote her 1998 historical novel The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton and I was there in the front row. Smiley shows her range in this novel by writing about American history as competently as she does contemporary issues. And, I mustn’t forget to mention, Smiley was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for A Thousand Acres.

Jane Smiley is an author to watch. She doesn’t flinch from the big themes and her penmanship would make many fellow authors want to throw down their laptops in a fit of chagrin and take up a nice, easy career in brain surgery.

When I was offered the opportunity to see her WORD Christchurch talk at the newly reopened Christchurch Art Gallery on Monday 9 May, I jumped at the chance. I’ll make sure I get there early and I get a spot in the front row again. I’m a Jane Smiley groupie and I’m not ashamed to shout it to the world!

Beetle Boy – A mystery that will really bug you

Cover of Beetle boyOne of the best books I’ve read recently is all about beetles. Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard is about a boy called Darkus, whose dad has mysteriously disappeared from a locked room in a museum.  Darkus has been sent to stay with his Uncle Max while the police look into his dad’s disappearance. While staying with his uncle, Darkus finds out some things about his dad that he never knew, which all add to the mystery. With the help of his new friends Bertolt and Virginia, and a rhinoceros beetle called Baxter, Darkus sets out to uncover the truth of his father’s disappearance.

Beetle Boy is an action-packed mystery story, chock full of beetles of all kinds and some crazy characters. The villain of the story, Lucretia Cutter, is one of my favourite book villains because she is so evil and horrible. If you want a book that will really grab you read Beetle Boy. It’s the first book in a trilogy and I really can’t wait to read the next book!

You’ll discover all sorts of beetles in this story, from horned rhinoceros and stag beetles to the bombardier and blister beetles that shoot acid. Beetle Boy got me really interested in beetles and I wanted to find out more about them. What better place to find information about beetles than the library!

Here are some great books and resources about beetles that I found in the library:

  • Cover of Ultimate Bug-opediaThe Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins has some basic information about beetles alongside Steve Jenkins’ distinctive collage illustrations.  An interesting fact from this book – ‘Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.’
  • Ultimate Bug-opedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever by Darlyne Murawski and Nancy Honovich is bursting with bugs of all shapes and kinds.  There is introductory information about bugs (What is a Bug?) and more detailed information about the different insect orders. There are heaps of amazing close-up photos of bugs in this book too. An interesting fact from this book – The scientific name for beetles is Coleoptera.
  • The Book of Beetles, edited by Patrice Bouchard is the go-to guide for anyone who is bug mad!  If you want detailed information about almost all the beetles on the earth, including where they live and what they eat, this book is for you. An interesting fact from this book – scientists study beetles to develop new products and materials like adhesive-free tape and domes to help clear fog from airport runways.
  • Our Britannica Library Kids eResource is a great place to find some more information on beetles. You can choose whether you want basic information or more advanced and they have some great photos and diagrams as well.
  • Search for more books about beetles for kids

 

Te Kupu o Te Wiki – Toru (three)

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori we are publishing weekly kupu (words) and phrases that can be used with children.

Kupu (word)

toru
three

Kia toru ngā momo hua rākau.
[Choose] Three pieces of fruit.

Whāngahia te Reo

Teenage topics on Credo Reference and Gale Virtual Reference

Christchurch City Libraries offers an array of eResources for teens. One of our latest offerings is a variety of electronic reference books that address teen concerns. These books are different from eBooks – they are not downloadable but they are online for you to search on your phone or tablet any time of the day.

These concerns are of the personal type – maybe things you are not completely comfortable to discuss with others. Topics include mental health, teen pregnancy, diet, and suicide.  Anyone can post opinions to the internet or Facebook, but that does not mean they are true or helpful. If you are seeking valid information on these topics, these are a good place to start.

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The End of Black Sabbath’s touring

black_sabbath_barclays_center_march_2014
Black Sabbath at Barclays Centre, Brooklyn, 2014. Photo by MusikAnimal CC-BY-SA 4.0

Black Sabbath is touring the world for the last time. It’s appropriately called The End.

The Auckland show was on April 28th and then they rock Dunedin on April 30th.

I’ll be grabbing my black t-shirt and jeans and flying down to Dunedin to do some headbanging to the wonderfully heavy sound. Ozzie is one of the few old rockers that can still sing like he did in his youth. I’m so excited!

Cosplay and Comics at Papanui Library

Love reading and drawing your own comics? Do you want help with your drawing, assistance with your technique and tips on comics, publishing etc and a free comic? All of this for no charge? Right then get yourself signed up for our free comic drawing workshop at Papanui Library with Spencer Hall, artist/cartoonist. The workshop is for ages 12-18, registered attendees only and a limit of 30. We won’t let you go hungry either, there will be pizzas from Hell.

comic book day posterThere was a waiting list of disappointed young cartoonists last year so don’t delay, break out the light sabers, shake out those capes, slap on the face paint and come dressed as your favourite comic book/Manga character and be in for a prize.

International Free Comic Book Day is on Saturday 7 May this year but our event, which will include free comics courtesy of Comics Compulsion, will be on Saturday 21 May.

The selection of free comics this year ranges from Dark Horse to Archie to Strawberry Shortcake to Titan’s Assassins Creed to Love and Rockets. Something for all tastes.

To see what you might be missing check out last year’s pictures.

Meanwhile back at the library our comic book collection grows apace. We have comic books about Men who dress as Bats, Women as Cats, Green Men, muscly men, and animals that talk, Bart Simpson and Adventures, Mysteries, Funnies, Scareys, the lot. I was delighted to see Scrooge McDuck, nephew Donald and the Beagle Boys make a comeback in hard cover. Made me quite nostalgic for my young reading self.

Watch out everyone! Here comes Cat

The library is the perfect place for finding new friends and discovering hidden treasures. A couple of weeks ago my wife discovered a series of picture books about a mischievous cat that had the whole family laughing out loud.

Cover of Here comes the tooth fairyThere are currently four books in the series written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda – Here Comes Easter Cat, Here Comes Valentine Cat, Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat and Here Comes Santa Cat.  Each of the books is a hilarious conversation between the reader and Cat.

Cat is a bit grumpy. He hates Valentines Day and he’s jealous of the Easter Bunny, but the reader helps Cat work through his problems. Cat is tricky too so you often have to get him back on the right path again. He tries tricking the tooth fairy and wants to send Dog in to space in a rocket.

These books are so funny because Cat interacts with the reader using just signs that he holds up and his facial expressions. Here’s just one example:

From Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
From Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

We loved Cat’s facial expressions. Claudia can show you that Cat is up to no good just by raising his eyebrow or showing him smirking. Cat holding up the signs works really well too because you often have to use these to work out what Cat is thinking.

We originally got just a couple of the Cat stories but we had to reserve the others because they’re just so brilliant. They’re perfect for both young and old and you won’t mind reading them again and again. We even have an eAudiobook copy of Here Comes Easter Cat through OverDrive that is narrated by the author, which is fabulous.

Headscarves and hymens: Why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution

Mona Eltahawy by Personaldemocracy. cc by-sa 2.0

Over the years I’ve had ambivalent feelings toward feminism.

However, this has changed markedly as I’ve encountered the work of people like Egyptian-American journalist and feminist commentator Mona Eltahawy, whose book Headscarves and Hymens states the case for “why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution”…and arguably a reformation.

This book came up on my radar because some argue it’s a key feminist work! And such works are important because they bring feminist issues to the forefront of the simple male mind, making me much more sympathetic toward the feminist movement and forgiving feminism’s sins against me…

After all, as a child, I blamed feminism for mother forbidding me to play with the muscular toy figurine G.I Joe, the plastic embodiment of the American military industrial complex.

Mother didn’t want me corrupted by a perverted depiction of masculinity, which promoted jingoistic American nationalism and war.

However, as I’ve grown older, and gotten (somewhat) educated, I came to realize that feminism is critical to the evolution of civilisation…

For most of history, the “fairer sex” has been subjugated by wicked men like G.I Joe, who deprive women of their civil liberties and sit on the couch in their horrible underwear, with their feet on the Ikea coffee table.

Which bring’s my trivial childhood recollections to an end, because sadly, the political, economic and social circumstances many women endure the world over are harsh and lamentable… such as those depicted in this read…

Headscarves and HymensIn this book, Eltahawy argues that throughout most of the Middle East, women experience on-going political, economic and social subjugation. She claims this is a region which doesn’t uphold plurality, individuality, autonomy and tolerance: the principles which underpin Women’s Rights in various countries.

There is a catalogue of personal experiences and statistics which Eltahawy refers to in order to buttress her impassioned claims.

Her travels into Egypt’s social and political cocktail of unrest gave her a multitude of insights into what many female citizens face there: simply walking through public spaces and riding trains means enduring a gauntlet of ungoverned, regular and almost casual sexual harassment. Women have no recourse against this because the Egyptian state doesn’t seem to care about this sexually violent culture.

Further to this, Eltahawy was arbitrarily imprisoned, sexually assaulted and beaten by Egyptian police after she partook in protests there.

Eltahawy argues thousands of women share these kinds of experiences throughout the entire Middle East every day.

She details how women have little economic and legal mobility in the region. Custody disputes over children, domestic violence, divorce and succession etc are regulated and determined by laws derived from archaic religious statutes, which favour men and almost completely deprive women of any control over family or assets.

Even basic privileges are denied, such as driving, participation in sports, wearing make up (because it “prompts sexual harassment’), and travelling alone without a male family member. Much of which is overseen by religious police throughout the region.

Elathawy argues this totalitarianism is the result of ultra-conservative Wahhabist and Sunni Islamic doctrines which are espoused throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa.

Critics have argued that her views are analytically shallow – that the Middle East is not culturally and theologically homogeneous, and that she posits mono-causal explanations that are borne out of her own Western-centricity which is covered by a misguided feminist veil.

However, that being said, a fact check on Pew, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International websites seem to support her claims.

In any case, this book has shone a light on my own white, male privilege, reminding me that feminism is a critical movement for humankind, and not just a force which wants to send young boys to school in Roman sandals.

Have a read and see what you think – of course your amazing Christchurch City Libraries network has copies you can borrow.

Our blog is a forum for public debate and as such we welcome your comments and feedback on our posts. Opinions expressed in posts and in the comments are not necessarily those of the organisation. 

Halswell Heroes

I started to research the Halswell Heroes late last year, as Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre was gearing up to open. The project involves staff from nearby libraries; Upper Riccarton and Spreydon as well as the staff from the old Halswell library. We all chose a soldier from the Halswell War Memorial, and have been researching him, his family, and his war service, in order to create a biography for him on Kete Christchurch and a poster to display in the library.

Posters of Halswell Heroes on display at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre
Posters of Halswell Heroes on display at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

It’s been an excellent project and through it, I’ve learned heaps about the Halswell area and the men who enlisted (and some who were conscripted) to fight in the First World War. I feel like I know these men, and discovering different quirks about them helps us all remember that they were very real people.

I’ve learned that the Collins family lived near Halswell school and sent three sons to the war; Archie (Sarsfield), James and Frank (who signed up in Australia). James and Frank survived but Archie is on the Halswell War Memorial because he died from influenza a few days before the war ended.

Harry Manship too, died of illness, though unlike Archie he never made it home to New Zealand. Harry was part of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, along with George Ferguson and John Alexander Huntly Holmes.

Patrick Cunningham was a farmer’s son, a quarry-man and a bacon curer, but the fact that stuck with me was that he was known as ‘Paddy White Waistcoat’ because of his snappy sense of dress. He was childhood friends with Patrick McGough, who was a ‘prominent figure at all entertainments’ (ie, he never missed a party).

Walter Bryden joined the army not long after his little brother Albert had been killed at the Battle of Fromelles, in France. Walter and Patrick Cunningham were killed on the same day, 13th of June, 1917.

Thomas Ellis loved hockey, Edward Moyna loved tennis, and John Holmes took his own horse with him to war. James Archibald was known as ‘Boysie’ and once got in trouble for swearing at an officer.

Albert Wills lied about his age to get into the army, had both measles and mumps when he was away at war, and was only nineteen when he was killed in France.

Isaac Warren was a conscientious objector from a huge Cornish family, who went to war with his younger brother Abraham and on the same troopship as Douglas Guiney. Douglas edited the troopship magazine called The Link to keep himself and the other men entertained on the long voyage from New Zealand to war in Europe.

Some of the men fought in more than the First World War. George Weir Ferguson fought in the Boer War when he was still a teenager, and was killed at Gallipoli in August 1915. Herbert Moyna, Edward’s brother, survived the First World War and went on to fight in, and survive, the Second World War as well, though he was unlucky at home; his girlfriend died before he left for the First World War, his wife died two years after they were married, and his mother died just before he left for the Second World War.

The display of Halswell Heroes at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre
Display of Halswell Heroes at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

There are so many more stories; some of these stories we know, and you can read about them on the Halswell Heroes page of Kete Christchurch, or in the library at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre.

You can also see a magnificent Canterbury Mounted Rifles regiment display at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre, on now until the 30th of April.

You might know something about these men that we have not been able to find. If you do, please let us know, we would love to learn more.

This project is a work in progress. The staff at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre have now started to research names from the Halswell Hall Roll of Honour, so do keep checking back as the list keeps growing.

You can see more pictures of local soldiers in our new collection of First World War soldiers portraits.

We Will Remember Them.

 

 

Te Kupu o Te Wiki – Tina (lunch)

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori we are publishing weekly kupu (words) and phrases that can be used with children.

Kupu (word)

tina
lunch

He aha hei tina māu, e te tau?
What would you like for lunch, my darling?

Whāngahia te Reo