John Gray but not the Mars and Venus one

Black massThe John Gray who writes on the big questions drew a pretty full house on Sunday. Chairing the session was Tim Hazledine, Economics Professor at the University of Auckland. He got it off to a good start by saying he was going to have a different format for questions at the end. To sort out blusterers, fools, irrelevance and Scotsmen (don’t know why they got a mention but lucky for him that Joyce wasn’t at the session to give him what for), he had a new system whereby any questions would be put on cards and then enveloped and delivered by the two pages so that only sensible coherent questions were asked. Given some of the questions we had heard from the floor at most sessions, this was a good idea.

Is progress an illusion? Gray feels that in some areas – e.g. science and technology – progress is a fact but in areas like ethics, politics and art it’s a myth. he used as an example, what he called “the rehabilitation of torture” whereby it had moved from an absolute and a huge prohibition to the recent use of torture by the world’s largest democracy (waterboarding as a tool by the U.S.) As another example, slavery may have been abolished in the 19th C. but it essentially returned in the 20th under Stalin and Mao.

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Anne Enright – the anti-Rose of Tralee

Anne EnrightThe Man Booker winner 2008, Anne Enright, predictably drew a big crowd on Sunday morning and she proved to be an excellent speaker but the speaker and the chairperson didn’t jell particularly and it led to the session being interesting but somewhat frustrating.

The chairing was done by a local based writer, Kapka Kassabova, who was very intense. The role of the other person on stage is to ask the questions and guide the session along. They don’t have to be self effacing but they do have to realise the session is centred primarily on the guest. I am pretty sure it wasn’t an ego thing with Kapka who certainly sounded sincere and interested throughout but she got too caught up with the questions she asked to concentrate enough on the answers!

When Anne Enright was asked what “breaks” the women in her fiction, the answer she got was that we could just as easily ask, what breaks men as Anne E. felt wearied by questions that start “women….” as she is not necessarily putting herself out there as some sort of spokeswoman for the women of Ireland or for women in general. Unfortunately Kapka K. wouldn’t give up on this and kept it going.

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It ends with a bang

… and not a whimper. It’s all over now, the authors are flying off, many heading to the Sydney Writers Festival.

I took in 3 sessions on Sunday, An hour with Anne Enright, a session with Loretta Napoleoni and John Gray and the grand finale. Standouts of the day:

  • Anne Enright reading from her new book of short stories. I pre-judged her as a bit downbeat, but she did the funniest reading about a cleaner having 3 wishes, wishing for Raquel Welch’s body and being annoyed with the silicon and arthritis.
  • Chris Trotter singing Bob Dylan’s The Chimes of Freedom at the end of the session on globalisation wth Loretta and John Gray.

Books on buses – now this was genius.

  • Steve Braunias read from some ridiculous NZ conspiracy book (no, not Ian Wishart), and Heather O’Neill confessed to being a rock biography fan – especially “No one gets out of here alive” (should I be ashamed to admit I loved that too? Its the Doors (man!). 
  • Sarah Hall confessed a predeliction for “how to” books and read from a 1971 book about undoing a maiden – it seemed to involved taking a girl to a railway station and having your wicked way with her in a variety of locations, including engineering and coal sheds …
  • Luke Davies talked about “The Story of O” (it’s a bit saucy and “Eyes wide shut”ish – oh sorry I have read this too). And the razzle mag Oui.
  • Our own Kate de Goldi praising the joys of “Philharmonic”, a 1970s fiesta of classical music and naughtiness.

So big thanks to my colleagues Richard, Joyce and Philip, and the team back at Christchurch for making this happen, and  to all the authors and book lovers we’ve met. Ka kite ano.

Listen to our end-of-festival wrap

So the festival comes to an end. In Richard’s words “we are knackered, but we made it.”

Hear the Christchurch City Libraries festival team sum up their thoughts on the final day, and on the festival as a whole as they head back to the Garden City. Duration 5 mins 24 secs. Listen on our Festival page, or right here.

Although the carnival is over, the team have lots of nuggets still to post here and publish on the library website, and of course all of our permanent festival content will stay on our festival page.