Bibliophiles – Mashing up books, authors and literary characters

I’ve just read a delicious review in The Observer called The Romantic Librarian. It looks at Alberto Manguel’s new book The Library at night. There is a nice comment on librarians:

Alphabetising their stock or relying on fractionalised decimals like Dewey, librarians are obsessive classifiers who impose on chaos an order they know to be fictional and false. Their crazed logic makes libraries, as Manguel says, ‘pleasantly mad places’.

The Library at night reminded me of Ex Libris: Confessions of a common reader by Anne Fadiman. A Salon review sums up its appeal:

an unapologetic confession of raging bibliophilia … a modest, charming, lighthearted gambol among the stacks. It serves up neither ideas nor theories but anecdotes about the joys of collecting and reading books.

Jasper FfordeIt seems to me that the natural outlet for a bibliophile author is to play with books and authors and even literary characters in your writing. Jasper Fforde’s exuberant books do well in this arena – fiction, fun and favourite literary figures getting to cut loose from the page and take on new roles. Where else could you get to see an army of thousands of Mrs Danvers clones (Mrs Danvers is that grim housekeeper in Rebecca) wreaking havoc?

Funnily enough I saw this tshirt called Attack of Literacy yesterday. It looks a zombie Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and Jane Austen etc look ready to lay the smack down (by the way, Peter Ackroyd, one of the world’s best biographers had just published Poe: a life cut short).

Authors are easily commandeered into literary characters. I’m not sure about the trend for making them into detectives … there’s a fictional Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter and even a Dante out there solving mysteries. And the industry of making sequels, prequels and other additions to famous books continues on apace (but never say never because I do enjoy Emma Tennant playing with fiction classics). It makes sense in our mashup culture to play around with what’s gone before and make it new.

Warrior Women – Soldiers and Supergroupies

Carhullan ArmyI’ve been reading two books that seem to be poles apart – but both are about strong women …

The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall is the vein of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and other dystopian tales. Narrator Sister escapes from the regimentation of a life in a factory with a loveless relationship and her fertility controlled by The Authority, to “The Carhullan Army”, a sisterhood of women living off the land and learning to fight. It’s a brutal existence with strong relationships forged. The physicality and psychology in this book make it hard to put down, and harder to forget.

Author Sarah Hall is going to be at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, and I am looking forward to hearing her speak now I have read this book (and the interview Why I write in The Guardian):

… romantically, I’d love to work through the dogwatch of night, but my brain shuts off after 7.30pm. There’s nowt doing after Corrie.

Let's spend the night togetherLet’s spend the night together : backstage secrets of rock muses and supergroupies by Pamela Des Barres looks at the lives of a whole different set of strong women. I’d heard of legends like Cynthia Plaster Caster and Bebe Buell (mother of Liv Tyler) and their relationships with various rock gods but there are plenty of interesting characters here. Tura Satana was a burlesque dancer, starred in a Russ Meyer’s movie and had a fling with the King. Cherry Vanilla has some great tales about Bowie and Iggy Pop – and the nucleus of The Police played in her group The Cherry Vanilla Band.

I’m fascinated by the rock star names which come up and how the different women talk about them. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page seems to have got most of them hot under the collar, and I was surprised to see one girl promoting her liaison with Rick Springfield. Pamela Des Barres is a charming raconteur and it is easy to picture her and the women she interviews laughing and gossiping up a storm. That’s how it reads.

The Stopping Place

Stoping placeThe Stopping Place will do nothing to help the mystique of the librarian.  Ruby is a quiet gal who works at the library trying to blend into the background by making herself as invisible as she can, with dark, dowdy clothes.  Down in the library basement, Ruby slowly unravels the life of Lady Breck, whose diaries and personal effects are being archived.  Ruby sees something in the documents and photographs that parallel her own past which she has kept hidden from her colleagues.  I could go further but don’t want to give anything away as this is the first book in ages which I just wanted to consume, to lose myself in the depths of the text, and don’t want to stop others from having a similarly fulfilling experience.  It is so richly written you can almost smell the archetypal woods,  that part of her story takes place in and you certainly get as caught up in her life as she does in Lady Breck’s.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on a literary prize list later this year. 

Read any good “blooks” lately?

“So what the heck is a blook?” I hear you ask. Essentially a “blook” is a book that is based on a blog (or other website). Publication of blog or website based books has increased in popularity over recent years so much so that there are now enough produced to have their own literary competition, The Blookers (of course). Last year’s Blooker winner was My war: killing time in Iraq by American “grunt” Colby Buzzell (any blog that gets glowing reviews from Kurt Vonnegut and Henry Rollins is worth a look, in my humble opinion). Winner in the comics category was Mom’s cancer, the true tale of cartoonist Brian Fies’s mother’s battle with metastic lung cancer that started its life as a webcomic. It’s clear that there is as much scope in blooks as there are in books with less “digital” beginnings.

It’s a testament to the continuing appeal of books as physical items that punters will pay money to buy books that they could read on the internet for free. If you still prefer your recreational reading on paper rather than lap-top then, as well as those blooks mentioned above, you might like to consider the following – Continue reading

Ngāi Tahu launch migration history

On Monday night Ngāi Tahu : A Migration History was launched at Canterbury Museum. Edited by Te Maire Hau and Atholl Anderson and with a foreword by Sir Tipene O’Regan, this beautifully-presented book is a way for all people to share in the rich history of our land.

Based on the work of English journalist Hugh Carrington, who in turn based his writings on the knowledge of Oaro elder Hariata Beaton-Morel and other scholars, this text is supplemented by whakapapa, commentaries, maps and stunning photographs of original manuscripts, artworks and scenery. An interview with the editors is planned, so keep an eye on the library website for details.

For an introduction to Māori history of marae and notable sites around Christchurch and Banks Peninsula visit  Tī Kōuka Whenua and listen to the memories of local Māori associated with those places.

Ngāi Tahu : A Migration History is published by Bridget Williams Books in association with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

Anarchy in the living room

I’m not really one for housework, so Punk house : interiors in anarchy was destined to be a winner with me.  Sure, a nice looking coffee table book edited by Thurston Moore (from Sonic Youth) might not be very punk, but these places deserve some kind of treatment.  Be it warehouse, treehouse, basement or farm, these low-cost dwellings provide shelter for touring bands, gig venues and the creative hub where many zines are published. I guess the houses could be viewed as a continuation of the 60s commune. 

The author and photographer Abby Banks was once in a band with the great name Vomit Dichotomy (is that when your liquids and your solids come out separately?).  Her idea for the photos came when she went to see some bands play at a punk house.  The house was for sale and its distinctive decoration was about to be dismantled.  Banks wanted to document it before it went away.  Quoted in the New York Times, she said  “I just think they’re really important and beautiful. For some people it will be their lifestyle forever, but for others it’s just a phase.”  The ephemeral nature of the houses is demonstrated by the fact that many of the places no longer existed by the time  the book had been published.  This got me reminiscing about some of the house set-ups I’ve visited that aren’t around now.  Christchurch must have had many similar establishments over time.  I’d love to hear about them.  

Hey Kids… Comic Books!!

With the Armageddon Expo coming to Christchurch on the 26th and 27th, what better time to have a weedaredevil rave about what is (along with mills & boon romance novels) surely one of the most underrated and often ignored literary forms… the super-hero comic book. Sure, there is a lot that’s best avoided unless you’re a teenage male with a fascination for spandex clad bodies, but here are some essentials from our library catalogue you really should give a try.

The comic book (since a recent interview I read with Ed Norton about his role on the upcoming Incredible Hulk movie I’ve sworn off using the g word) that has kept my faith in the genre in recent years has been Daredevil. Wipe your mind of the terrible movie from a few years ago, this is one of the best titles on the comic book racks today. Take your favorite Scorcese gangster flick, throw in blind superhero Daredevil (and the occasional supervillain) and you’re close to why this title works so well.

One of the most creative writers in comics today is Grant Morrison. Almost anything penned by Morrison is comic book gold. Try his run on X-Men or his current reinvention of the big blue in All-Star Superman.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon has been doing epic sci-fi adventuresomeness* with the X-Men recently also.

Currently being made into a Hollywood blockbuster is the ‘unfilmable’ Watchmen by comic deity Alan Moore. On its publication 20 years ago this book turned the comic book world on its head and proved that comics could be ‘real literature’ too.

Comics without pictures… hmm? Austin Grossman’s novel Soon I Will Be Invincible follows the triumphs and downfalls of evil genius (and wannabe world dominator) Doctor Impossible. Superhero novels (hey! where are the pretty pictures) are usually doomed to failure in what is essentially a visual medium but Grossman’s mix of humour and pathos really clicks in this unique first novel.

There you go, a few starting points for anyone wanting to sample this multi-coloured world of diabolical schemes and utility belts. Hopefully, you’ll be hooked (and I’ll have someone else to talk to about Matt Murdock and his latest run-in with Mr Fear).

*it’s in my dictionary

Portsmouth and the Price of darkness

The price of darknessStill mourning the end of the Inspector Rebus series? Never fear there is a new morose, middle aged cop in town. Well not exactly new but Graham Hurley’s Joe Faraday series does capture some of the seedy flavour of the Rebus novels. Set in Portsmouth, colloquially known as Pompey, these police procedurals have more twists and turns than a twisty-turny thing. The bird watching DI Faraday is infinitely more sensitive than the Scots hard man Rebus but this sensitivity is nicely off-set by DC Winter your more stereotypical boozing, womanising British copper walking the thin blue line.

The price of darkness the eighth in the series has just been released and promises to push the Faraday novels into the limelight.

Return of the Grievous Angel

Gram ParsonsLike Hank Williams before him, Gram Parsons lived a country life the rock n roll way. Drinking and drugging left him dead at 26, but in this short period he managed to produce some of the most influential music of the 60s and 70s.  He termed his original blend of country folk psych rock Cosmic American Music, and it can be viewed as the roots of today’s popular alt-country movement. I’ve perused a couple of biographies of Gram, but David Meyer’s Twenty Thousand Roads : the ballad of Gram Parsons and his cosmic American music is probably the best I have read.  It’s well researched, but if you are not a fan of extensive musical family trees and long digressions, stick with one of the lesser biographies. 

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Freakonomics

freakEconomics to me seems to be an irrelevant mass of confusing statistics and maths. This book helps change that view as the two authors, (one an Economics professor, the other a campaigning journalist), attempt to make the reader think beyond the assumed, question the findings of experts and understand that people act because of incentives. Life is more complex than newspapers would have us think.

After reading this book you’ll have the surprising and sometimes shocking answers to thoses niggling questions like: what causes the fall in crime rates? Do the efforts of parents guarantee their offspring will be successful? Does a child’s name affect its status? Why do most drug pushers live with their mothers and are Estate Agents cheats ? Read Freakonomics and find out …