Work – curse or necessity?

idleHere’s something that will make change your attitude to how and why you work. Far from defending bone idleness, the writer encourages the reader to see idling as a way of reclaiming time and the opportunity to do the things you want to do, even if they are only drinking or sleeping. How to be Idle urges us to not be deceived as trade unions have been, by bigger wages, but to see work as slavery that makes us cash rich but time poor. In his leisurely and amiable style, he also makes us question the improving value of work, the relentless growth of the 24/7 culture and states that any gains are in spite of, rather than because of, employment.

For Tom Hodgkinson, the Luddites were heroes who saw the Industrial Revolution as an enemy of their ability to control their own lives and work patterns and a force to make them the slaves of others. He mourns the loss of the tea break and late lie-in and scorns mirthless dictators like Margaret Thatcher who derided the benefits of 8 hours sleep. As he says, “if work was so … ennobling you’d see the Duke of Westminster doing his own gardening”.

Amongst the writers he praises are the authors of Affluenza which attacks the pursuit of wealth and possessions as environmentally destructive, disruptive to the community and ultimately unsatisfying.

He also recommends Nickel and Dimed a depressing, if fascinating undercover study of low wage workers in the USA. You’ll never take a motel cleaner or fast food server for granted after reading it.

Sport in the 70s

sportFor those of a certain age, the 1970s were the decade for appreciating sport. The stars were great: Ali, Pele, Korbut, Red Rum, JPR Williams, McEnroe, Palmer etc. Then there was the introduction of eye scorching colour television and a host of great sports commentators.

In his book Ali, Pele, Lillee and Me: a personal odyssey through the sporting seventies, Brian Viner provides a humorous and unashamed wallow in nostalgia, relating the sports events to his own childhood and adolescence and providing a great read even to those who loathe sport.

Shakespeare goes digital … & graphic

Hot off the press from Reuters comes the exciting news that all 75 editions of William Shakespeare’s plays printed in the quarto format before the year 1641 are going online: Shakespeare goes digital:

The process of downloading the quartos will begin next month and take a year to complete. Online visitors will be able to compare images side-by-side, lay one facsimile on top of the other, search plays and mark and tag the texts.

ShakespeareWriting about Shakespeare is a well that never seems to run dry. 2007 saw the publication of a book on Shakespeare in the Eminent Lives series – written by Bill Bryson. The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street looked at an incident when William was prosecuted for not paying his rent. The famous Australian feminist Germaine Greer looked at the life of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife.

In 2008, there are also some neat new unabridged graphic novels of Shakespearean plays arriving at the library from Classical Comics.

Henry VMore Shakespeare links for all you bardolators:

Once upon a time in the north – Philip Pullman is back

His dark materialsWhere would we be without the wonderful Beattie’s Book Blog? I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the world of books.

The latest gem from him links to an interview with Philip Pullman.  The exciting news is that Pullman is publishing a novella on the early lives of characters from His Dark Materials:

Lee Scoresby, the sardonic Texan aeronaut brought to life in the pages of His Dark Materials … is the hero of this latest offering from Pullman’s fantastical universe. Blown into the North by the winds of chance, he finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a battle against shadowy political figures driven by their greed for oil and money.
It is called Once upon a time in the north and is available in New Zealand in early April.

Genshiken and Combat Butlers

Best new mangaI spent the other year in Japan, where everyone reads manga. It is the perfect accompaniment for the hour long soporific train rides that are a characteristic part of daily life there. I made what I thought to be a considerable effort to seek out translated manga in an effort to try and get on the same page as everyone else. I was rather surprised, irked even, to find all the kids reading them when I returned home. However, it is only since I got back that I found some manga that I really liked.

I admit to a possible involuntarily rolling of the eyes at the mention of “graphic novel”. I know there have been many groundbreaking and award winning works by the likes of Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, Charles Burns and so on; all of which have put the graphic novel firmly in the realm of serious art, and rightly so. The two here are distinct form of graphic novel  (ugh, those words); Japanese manga. Manga has a very long history, and I think this makes it less self conscious about what is trying to do; they make no claims to be anymore than entertaining reading.

The first manga that stopped my eyes from spinning Genshiken, follows a club, clubs being a fundamental all pervasive part of Japanese  life, the Genshiken or  “The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture” (modern visual culture being manga books, manga T.V shows, video games etc) is a group otaku: an otaku being sort of a Japanese nerd, usually boys, obsessed with manga, video games, collecting weird memorabilia, and dressing up as their favourite manga hero. In addition, some of the groups club activities are somewhat lurid and I’d rather not detail them here in the fear that it may give the reader the wrong idea. (although my dear reader is now probably imagining something far worse… which  maybe more their fault than mine).

The series starts with Saki Kasukabe who is distressed to find her good looking, (that is to say he looks nothing like an otaku) if somewhat clueless boyfriend to be, is an unrepentant otaku. As a consequence, she is forced to hang out with the ‘freaks’ in their clubroom, all in attempt to get him to look up from the video screen and see what is right under his nose.

The writer and illustrator, Kio Shimoku gives us characters that may not sound that appealing but are endearing nonetheless. The otaku, despite all Japan’s famous cuteness, craziness and just plain bizarreness, are generally reviled. The sensitive depiction of these somewhat outsider characters is part of  “Genshiken’s” charm. Reading “Genshiken” made me painfully nostalgic for the country I’d left (not that I engaged in any of the activities of these freaks!) It helpfully provides an unobtrusive and enriching glossary for the various Japanese and otaku customs and gives an overall  feeling of arm chair travel. 
Continue reading

Truly, madly, deeply Minghella

Minghella on MinghellaBritish cinema lost one of its shining lights this week when director Anthony Minghella passed away at the age of 54.  Minghella was responsible for relatively few films in his directorial career but those projects that he did work on were remarkably well received. 

In 1990 he made his directorial debut with Truly, madly, deeply, a film that defies easy categorisation.  I’d describe it as a bittersweet supernatural romantic comedy, something like Ghost but with all the matter-of-factness and irony that the British do so well.   This film simultaneously introduced me to the charms of both Pablo Neruda and Alan Rickman and any film that can do that has got to be a lasting favourite.

Minghella is probably better known for his other films – The English patient (for which he won an Oscar), The talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold mountain, though he also wrote numerous plays.  In 2005 he published Minghella on Minghella in which he discusses the movie-making process.

For more information on the life and works of Anthony Minghella read the obituary from The Independent.

R.I.P Arthur C

British sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke has died at the age of 90.  Although most famous for his short story The Sentinel, which was made into the film 2001 : A Space Odyssey, Clarke authored over a hundred books.  Gene Roddenberry credited Clarke with inspiring him to create Star Trek.

Although the intergalactic space travel he predicted is not possible yet, many of his other fiction fantasies (such as satellite communication and men on the moon) have been realised.  Read obituaries for Arthur C. Clarke at The Guardian and BBC.

Morris minor

Jane BurdenFacts are fine things and the library has a very good backgrounder to the Christchurch Art Gallery’s Morris & Co exhibition that can help viewers find all they need to know about The Firm. Being terminally trivial myself, I prefer rumour and conjecture about the PRB WAGs so when a slide of Jane Burden flashed on the screen during a public lecture on the exhibition my mind wandered to the ‘stunners’ – the models who defined beauty for the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Jane Burden was a favourite model of both Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and was immortalised by Henry James as “A figure cut out of a missal–out of one of Rossetti’s or Hunt’s pictures–to say this gives a faint idea of her, because when such an image puts on flesh and blood, it is an apparition of fearful and wonderful intensity. It’s hard to say whether she’s a grand synthesis of all the Pre-Raphaelite pictures ever made–or they are a “keen analysis” of her–whether she’s an original or a copy. In either case she is a wonder.” She did have tooth-ache at the time of James’ visit, perhaps that accounted for the intensity.

Morris was the one who married Jane, but her relationship with Rossetti continued after the marriage, as depicted in the intriguing novel The Wayward Muse, billed as a “rich and romantic story of the passionate love triangle between William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement; his mentor, the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and the woman they both love.”

Lizzie Siddal (or Siddall) is my favourite of the ‘stunners’, probably because she seems the most tragic. She was an artist and poet herself but marriage to Rossetti didn’t save her from an early death from an overdose of laudanum.

In a paroxym of grief or over-acting Rossetti threw some of his poems into her grave with her, only to have her exhumed later so he could hook them out of the coffin and publish them. Legend has it that she was untouched and that her hair had continued growing so that the coffin was full of red hair. Such are the blatantly untrue details dear to a shallow person’s heart.

Perfect Pitch

As well as being the drummer in the splendid Animal Collective, Noah Lennox also releases solo albums under the Panda Bear moniker. His second solo album Person Pitch came out last year to high acclaim, and I’m really enjoying it at the moment.

The psychedelic vocals, layered guitar and percussion mean comparisons to Pet Sounds era Beach Boys are inevitable, but that’s just one dimension of this album. The blips, clicks and other sounds root it firmly in today’s post-DJ era.  My favourite track would have to be the epic Bros, which starts out like a 60s pop classic and becomes a droning celebration of solitude.

The album featured in lots of those “Best Ofs” that blogs and magazines (and libraries) really like.  If you want to find out a little more, there are some good reviews at Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound.

David Beach has won the Prize in Modern Letters

Abandoned NovelHot off the press:

Wellington poet and mail sorter David Beach has won New Zealand’s richest literary prize.
David is the winner of the $65,000 Prize in Modern Letters for his book of sonnets, Abandoned Novel.

The Prize in Modern Letters is valued at NZ$65,000, and is New Zealand’s richest single literary award. It was established by Glenn Schaeffer, founding patron of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. The prize is awarded biennially, and it is designed to acknowledge and advance the work of emerging writers from or based in New Zealand. More generally, it is a major vote of confidence in the work of New Zealand’s writers.

Congratulations to David on this wonderful prize.

Previous winners