Halloween – What’s the scariest book ever?

HalloweenLibraries are scary places … where else would you find Frankenstein rubbing shoulders with Adolf Hitler?

We’ve got a backgrounder on Halloween that gives you information on the day and what it means. It also mentions scary movies such as John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).

The Internet Movie Database has a section on Horror movies including a list of the luminaries of the genre such as Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, and Alfred Hitchcock. Scary movies in our DVD collection include The Others, House of Wax (the 1953 version starring Vincent Price not the 2005 one featuring fright inducing Paris Hilton) and The Amityville Horror. If you like scary reading, see our list of horror writers. The Bram Stoker Awards are a good source of hot horrors, and you can see the newest horror titles every month on our New Titles page.

What’s your favourite scary book?

Stephen King is the maestro of terror, but my vote goes to House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. It is a big and fearsome thing, with layered narrative, copious footnotes, and an overwhelming sense of doom and claustrophobia:

Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer Will Navidson and his girlfriend move with their two children to a house in an unnamed Virginia town in an attempt to save their relationship. One day, Will discovers that the interior of the house measures more than its exterior. More ominously, a closet appears, then a hallway. Out of this intellectual paradox, Danielewski constructs a viscerally frightening experience … The story of the house is stitched together from disparate accounts, until the experience becomes somewhat like stumbling into Borges’s Library of Babel … the novel is a surreal palimpsest of terror and erudition, surely destined for cult status.


Scandalmongery – The Rape of the Lock revisited

The rape of the LockThe 18th century saw the emergence of a tabloid culture, and a fascination with gossip and scandal that shows there is nothing new under the sun. Magazines like The Spectator and Town and Country, and pamphlets like “Characters of the Present Most Celebrated Courtesans Exposed, With a Variety of Secret Anecdotes Never Before Published,” exposed and berated money grubbing ne’er do wells and jumped up heiresses. 

Alexander Pope’s famous poem The Rape of the Lock was based on one such real-life scandal:

When Pope composed his satirical epic, he was shining a spotlight on a suspected affair between the British aristocrats Arabella Fermor and Lord Robert Petre, two mainstays of the London party scene. (The intrigue became common knowledge when Petre publicly cut off a lock of Fermor’s hair.) In doing so, Pope provided the template for today’s gossip writers: a middle-class striver who hung on the fringes of patrician circles, privy to upper-class dirt while maintaining his ironic distance.

This drama forms the basis of a new historical novel which has been garnering good reviews for its mixture of sauciness and intelligence – The Scandal of the season by Sophie Gee.

If you want to find out more about Pope’s poem, University of Massachusetts has a resource online, linking to versions, chronologies, commentary, and artist interpretations. Aubrey Beardsley produced some beautifully delicate drawings, in an 18th century style utterly appropriate to that gilded age (see The Rape of the Lock as he envisions it – a delicious frothy confection of a picture). Beardsley is well known for his literary illustrations, especially for Oscar Wilde’s Salome. He wrote and drew The Story of Venus and Tannhauser or “Under the Hill”.

30 days of night

30 days of nightWriter Steve Niles originally conceived of his Alaskan vampire story 30 days of night as a movie but after pitching it unsuccessfully he teamed up with artist Ben Templesmith to produce the story as a three issue mini-series of comics.  It went on to become an underground success and in a nicely ironic turn of events it was the subject of a bidding war when movie rights to the story were optioned.

The film version which was largely shot in New Zealand and features Kiwi actors such as Manu Bennett, Joel Tobeck, and Chic Littlewood (!) as well as Hollywood hearthrob Josh Hartnett opened in the U.S. earlier this month.  New Zealanders will have to wait until 3 January 2008 for it to hit screens here but if you just can’t wait, then you’ll be glad to know that the library now has the original comic mini-series.  Also available is sequel 30 days of night 3, Return to Barrow and coming soon Dark Days.



Miss PettigrewThe way publishing works these days is very similar to the movie industry – no surprise as the big ones are all multimedia – in the way that things are thrown out to the market and if it works that’s fine and if it doesn’t, move on. The result of this is that backlists – once a source of pride to some publishers – have become a thing of the past and there’s not much republishing done except for the more well known classics and cheap versions of the tried and true.

It has been interesting to watch the success of a small British firm called Persephone Books whose object is to publish fiction and some nonfiction by “unjustly neglected” authors. A lot of the material is similar to the Virago Classics series and they have been produced in similarly attractive and striking trade paperback editions with excellent introductions by enthusiasts (rather than ponderous intros by academics!)

Because small presses aren’t that well known – you won’t find their work in airport bookshops nestling up against the likes of Dan Brown and Nora Roberts – they rely on specialist bookshops and of course libraries to support them. Our library has a number of these titles and readers who don’t want to bother with the big brassy bestsellers nor with the instant depression of some literary fiction may like to try some of these. It is a chance to look at titles by writers from the past such as Mollie Panter-Downes, Dorothy Whipple, Marghanita Laski and Denis Mackail.

One of their most successful titles has been a likeable curiosity called Miss Pettigrew lives for a day by Winifred Watson. This droll tale about a put-upon governess who finds unexpected happiness in her encounters with a racy upper crust set has just been filmed with American actress Frances McDormand in the lead and it has real potential to be a sleeper hit.

Under the Mountain & Where the Wild Things are

Under the mountainSome popular books are being made into movies.

Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain is now to be made into a film (you might remember the 1982 tv adaptation starring old favourites like Annie Whittle and Laurie Dee) . It will be directed by Jonathan King, who directed the Peter Jackson-esque Black Sheep. King and Matthew Grainger as scriptwriters. Weta Workshop will provide creature design and special effects.

Where the wild things areAnother firm favourite is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are. It is being made into a movie with Spike Jonze as director, and he will write the screenplay with Dave Eggers. Jonze started out as a director of music videos, having worked with bands like the Beastie Boys. He has also created movies like the quirky and visually stunning Being John Malkovich. Dave Eggers is well known for books like his “A heartbreaking work of staggering genius” (surely another one to add to the catchy titles collection)

In other news of movie adaptations of popular books, The Golden Compass, the first film installment of the sublime Philip Pullman His dark materials series, will hit NZ screens later this year.

Get Folked

Fairport Convention have been called the best British folk-rock band of the late ’60s.  The band had an interesting career, with numerous line-up changes and the requisite 60s rock death tragedy.  In my opinion, the best line up centred on Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny.  Thompson is not only an acclaimed songwriter, but also a gifted interpreter of other’s material. On the acclaimed 1969 album, Liege & Lief, the band blend traditional folk tunes with electric instruments in a way that pays tribute to the originals and also rocks pretty hard. 

Thompson’s former wife and recording partner Linda Thompson  has a new album out. Versatile Heart is a country-ish mix of covers and originals.  Hers is an interesting story – vocal problems saw her drop out of the music world for a while, but she re-emerged a few years ago with the cutely titled, Fashionably Late.

For an insight into the world of 60s folk pop, I recommend reading Joe Boyd’s book White Bicycles : making music in the 1960s.  Boyd produced Pink Floyd’s first single and also discovered and produced melancholic folk hero Nick Drake.  Incidentally there is a also a  new Nick Drake album out, Family Tree, that includes home demos from before his debut album was released.  It also includes recordings by his mother and sister, which are kind of interesting in a way of illuminating the influences he was surrounded by. 

If you’ve heard all this stuff before, and are looking for some new folk to enter your life, I highly recommend Folk Off : new folk and psychedelia from the British Isles and North America, a good mix of strange and straight.

September 11 – in fiction, non-fiction, film & graphic novel

September 11Nobel Prize for Literature winner Doris Lessing has caused a bit of a stir with her statement “September 11 wasn’t that bad”. She is not the first writer to weigh on the 2001 terror attacks, and certainly won’t be the last. Writers have long felt the need to comment on September 11,  in their writing as well as in interviews.

A search on September 11 Terrorist Attacks in the library catalogue links to books and movies about the attacks (including United 93 and World Trade Center). One of the most powerful and immediate films is the documentary by French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet who filmed throughout September 11.

Fiction writers have also felt the influence of the attacks. The most famous example is probably Don DeLillo’s Falling Man. Toby Litt’s review in The Guardian Trembling air puts it well:

Falling Man is Don DeLillo’s 9/11 novel. Readers have been expecting it …  even as news of those attacks was received, DeLillo’s was the name that came to mind – just as JG Ballard’s did when the manner of Princess Diana’s death became known … What Falling Man implicitly says to its audience is … “OK, we saw the same thing, the same repeated footage of impact and explosion. But my job is words, and I’ve turned my seeing into saying.” At his best, DeLillo is one of the great seers and sayers of our time.

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Most people probably associate the 5th of November with Guy Fawkes Day but this date also marks a significant event in New Zealand history, that of the Invasion of Parihaka.

The Taranaki settlement of Parihaka had grown in the wake of the land wars of the 1860s and by the 1870s was the largest Māori village in the country.  This self-sufficient community was made up of Māori who had become dispossessed during the land conflicts and was led by two prophets; Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi.  In the face of further Government confiscations of land, this time around the Parihaka settlement, these men led their followers in a campaign of passive resistance and civil disobedience that involved tactics such as building fences across lands and roads, and removing pegs that had been placed by Government surveyors. 

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1980s Posters – Springbok Tour & Christchurch Rock

Springbok TourIn July, August and September 1981 New Zealand experienced civil disturbance as the South African rugby team toured the country.

We have added some 1981 Springbok Tour posters to our Posters collection online. See Springbok tour links for more information on the Tour.

The poster collection also includes a suite of 1980s Christchurch rock posters.

Lucy Hawking – “George’s secret key to the universe”

George's secret key to the universeGeorge’s Secret key to the universe is a new book by Lucy and her father Stephen, one of the world’s foremost theoretical physicists. Lucy came up with the idea of George and his journey through physics and the universe when she wanted her 9 year old son to have a book explaining his grandad’s theories.

We are interviewing Lucy tomorrow … If you have any questions you’d like to ask about writing for children or science for kids, I’d be happy to ask her for you …

Update:  I spoke to Lucy this morning and here’s our interview: Surfing the solar system.