September 2008


Even when you work at the library, you sometimes forget the breadth and depth of goodies we have. And if you want comedy at its sparkling finest, I’m pleased to inform you we’ve got Jeeves and Wooster on DVD. According to Nick at Alice in Videoland, lots of people are exploring Hugh Laurie’s work prior to his role as a curmudgeonly doctor on House and discovering Bertie Wooster. Goodness knows what they think!

Love among the chickens

Love among the chickens

I haven’t read any P G Wodehouse but he’s definitely on my ‘to read’ list.

We also discovered the first episodes of Dr Who in the library. It was the one programme I wasn’t allowed to watch as a young un, mostly because it gave us kids bad dreams. William Hartnell as the Doctor is worlds away from the adorable David Tennant – he’s old, a bit creepy, and his mop is more a fluffy white bouffant than artful spikes. But all the elements are there – the iconic intro music, the Tardis, and the Daleks make their first appearance in the Terry Nation penned second episode.

If you want to sample our DVD collection, just pop into your local branch and see what’s on the shelf, or see our complete DVD collection listing.

This October Christchurch Repertory is staging 84 Charing Cross Road, one of the classic novels combining letter writing and the joy of reading and books.

This is a brilliant, bitter-sweet, true-life story, based on the 20 year correspondence between a struggling New York writer, Helene Hanff, and a London ‘antiquarian’ book dealer, Frank Doel.

The book by Helene Hanff was adapted for the stage, and was filmed with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins in the lead roles.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Another book which blends letters and the love of literature to great effect is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I get the feeling this book is going to be big via word of mouth – I heard of it via the wonderful Bookman Beattie and can but agree with his positive review.

It is set in 1946 and revolves around the correspondence of Juliet with her friends, an American charmer, and the islanders of Guernsey. The joy of this book is its combination – brittle Noel Coward societyisms, Jane Austen-esque romances, and even the intercession of the cold brutality of World War Two and concentration camps.

This book might spark a bit of renewed interest in Charles Lamb too, as the reading of his diaries plays an important role in the story. I knew a little about him (and the tragic murder of his mother by his sister Mary) from the Peter Ackroyd novel The Lambs of London. Charles is known best as the writer (along with Mary) of Tales from Shakespeare

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society shows his enduring appeal beautifully :

He had a genius for sympathy that not one of his great friends could touch. When Wordsworth chided him for not caring enough about nature, Charles wrote, ‘I have no passion for groves and valleys. The rooms where I was born, the furniture which has been before my eyes all my life … old chairs, old streets, squares where I have sunned myself … have I not enough, without your Mountains? I do not envy you. I should pity you, did I not know, that the Mind will make friends of any thing.’

The back story to the writing of this novel is also an engaging one. It was the first novel from a 70-year-old former librarian, Mary Ann Shaffer. Not long after the sale of her manuscript, Mary Ann’s health declined and her niece Annie Barrows took up the role of editor. Mary Ann died early in 2008 without seeing her book in print.

Max Cryer, well-known televison personality, entertainer and author of books on New Zealand words and idioms and on the national anthem, has had the inspired idea of putting together a book on the stories behind popular songs. Love me tender is full of surprising facts about how the most standard of the standards were written but it doesn’t go into what makes a song attractive to many different types of singer.

Love me tender

Love me tender

My Way came immediately to mind, what with Sid Vicious‘ version being preferred over Frank Sinatra‘s by outgoing Parliamentarian Katherine Rich . How could I have imagined when the news of Sid’s death came through to the British Hotel in Lyttelton in 1979 and we all raised a glass to his memory that 30 years later he would be name-checked in a positive way in the debating chamber of the New Zealand Parliament.

Few could deny that Sid was cool in a doomed sort of way and his fashion stylings were infinitely superior to Frank’s but hoping some of his cool would rub off by claiming his version of anything was better than one of the  singers of the twentieth century seems a tad desperate to me.

It’s pretty certain that none of Sid’s songs will be in Love Me Tender but it may be possible to ask Max Cryer which version of My Way he prefers, as he will be sharing songs and stories from the book at South Library on the 20th of October at 12 pm. To book phone 03 941 7923.

As a self-proclaimed fashionista (is there any other kind?) it was with some interest that I pounced upon a new biographical offering on one of the first ladies of New Zealand fashion, WORLD powerhouse, Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, namely All that glitters.  However, rather than diving straight into the book to find out more about the “outrageous, fascinating and impish” doyenne I found myself quite taken aback by the cover photograph which features the impish one looking decidedly grey of hair.  One of L’Estrange-Corbet’s signatures, other than her bright red lipstick is the sleek black bob that she usually sports and taking into account her high-flying fashion designer lifestyle the obvious lack of colouring on her head came as a bit of a shock.

It was then that I remembered an article that I’d read some time back about a movement among “ladies of a certain age” to eschew hair-dyeing in favour of a more “authentic”, age-appropriate look (they’ve even got their own graygirls website)  So the question is, which one of the following books has Denise been reading, and as something of a trendsetter will fashionable ladies everywhere be following suit?

Oh, and I think the gray looks fabulous on her, in fact I can’t wait until the bob turns completely white.  She’ll be quite striking! And do check out All that glitters – she has had a fascinating life, dahlings.

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Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford

Did you know that 2008 is the centennial year of Sir Ernest Rutherford’s Nobel Prize win? In celebration, New Zealand’s most physics-ally-gifted son may be reaching out from the grave to murder fellow scholars. Well, so says the BBC and a lot of other news sources. Is this just classic colonial-bashing or did Sir R’s experiments leave a deadly legacy of radiation at the University of Manchester? Well the investigation is on-going but if you want to read more about Ernest, you can check out our Nobel prizes backgrounder, our kids fact sheet (with recommended reading and websites) or read some books about him.

The audacity of hope

The audacity of hope

The battle to be the next President of the United States has entered a new field – children’s books. There are two new picture book biographies out about the two candidates.

Barack Obama’s is called  Barack Obama : Son of Promise, Child of Hope and is by renowned children’s author Nikki Grimes.

John McCain’s is called My Dad : John Mccain and is written (in case you didn’t already guess) by his daughter, first time writer, Meghan McCain.

The blurbs for both books are pretty saccharine. We read that “Ever since Barack Obama was young, Hope has lived inside him.” Aww… and the book about John McCain is “making this American hero come to life before young eyes.” Awesome.

This picture book style of politician biography for living politicians is a relatively new trend. A Amazon search for children’s books on George Bush bring up only traditional text based non-fiction and searching for Bill Clinton brings up the same, along with a book of paper dolls! No pop-ups though.

Alexander McCall Smith is following in the footsteps of Dickens, Thackeray and many more classic authors by serialising his novel  Corduroy Mansions on the Daily Telegraph culture pages. The serialisation began on September 15 and will appear each weekday for 20 weeks until February 13. You can get your free daily dose by email , RSS feed or podcast or just visit the website and read or listen to the novel episode by episode.

Andrew Sachs, best known as Manuel in Fawlty Towers, is the reader.

McCall Smith has had huge success with a several series of novels – the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,  44 Scotland Street, Sunday Philosophy and Von Igelfield.  Corduroy Mansions will be available in book and audiobook form in 2009.

Looking around for other authors who have ventured into serialisation I came across Wilkie Collins The Moonstone and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Stephen King wrote The Green Mile and The Dark Tower as series and also The Plant and Michael Faber allowed the Guardian to serialize The Crimson Petal and the White.

Teach yourself visually

Teach yourself visually

Yesterday I opened the internet to look up a database, but instead of my normal home page I saw a page offering me free tropical holidays and star cursors. Hmmm…I thought…I know, I’ll close down the window and – as you may have guessed by now, if you are technically minded, closing down my window only resulted in more windows springing up and propagating; all offering me animated smiley faces, astrological love calculators and all manner of dodgy goods. LuckiIy I was at work, so I called IT and my computer was back to normal within minutes. But not everyone can have a help desk on call and that’s why I’ve listed some of the resources I rely on when my computer at home stops working and I can’t call the help desk to come and fix it.

1 – My husband (but I’m not telling you his phone number so you’ll need to rely on number 2)

2 – The sites on the Library’s internet gateway. These include PressF1 and annoyances.org

3 – The library’s collection of computer books which include the excellent Teach Yourself Visually series, this series has step by step instruction illustrated with screen shots and big red arrows telling who what to move where. Its motto is “Read less, learn more” and, even for a librarian, it’s hard to disagree.

Elizabeth McCombs

Elizabeth McCombs

You might be fed up with Labour and National and the Winston sideshow as the election on November 8 looms, but before 1893 women didn’t get a vote – and the first woman MP Elizabeth McCombs didn’t get into Parliament until 40 years later!

So on Suffrage Day we celebrate the women who fought for their rights and for ours. We’ve just added some brief political biographies of local women in council to the web site – from Christchurch’s “Women in the Council Chamber” exhibition, initiated and co-ordinated by Cr Anna Crighton.

Other ways to celebrate:

Kate Sheppard Memorial

Kate Sheppard Monument

Friday 19th September 12.30 p.m. – All women are invited to bring camellias to Our City O-Tautahi, to place on the Kate Sheppard Memorial. Bring a poem or a personal statement.

You might also like to join Women on Air for their celebration of Suffrage Day at 7:30pm Christchurch Girls’ High School Auditorium – it features authors Megan Hutching, Janice Marriott, Virginia Pawsey and poet Bernadette Hall.

Those Women on Air girls can really pick the authors to bring to Christchurch. Earlier this year they hosted the extremely talented Linda Grant, who has just made the Man Booker short-list for The clothes on their backs. I’ve loved all Grant’s books and she writes for Vogue and she has a blog about clothes so I would have gone to see her anyway but the the smug feeling of having heard her read from a book that might just win one of the biggies on the literary award scene and from having a signed copy is an added bonus.

Grant is an Orange Prize winner but she’s not the favourite to win this one. Even the bookies were surprised when Salman Rushdie didn’t make the short-list and seem to think Sebastian Barry might be the winner this year.

The women writers on the Oranges Are Not The Only Prize panel at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival were generally in agreement that prizes can make a difference to sales and in bringing books to the public’s attention and so it has proved for The clothes on their backs. Just making the longlist saw it jump from selling 11 copies in the week before the announcement to 144 the week after. In library land books on long and short lists certainly generate more reserves, just like a review in The Press or the Listener or a mention on a popular blog.

fascinating piece in the Guardian Online  about Booker deliberations through the 40 years of the prize detailed some of the shenanigans the judges have got up to in picking the winners. The general message seems to be that it’s something of a horse trading exercise so the novels the judges thought should have won but didn’t and their picks as the best of the Bookers are particularly interesting.

More than one judge chose J.G. Farrell’s The seige of Krishnapur as the best winner and Penelope Fitzgerald’s The blue flower as most undeserving loser (‘a grotesque oversight” according to Paul Bailey).

And when The bone people won in 1985 the women’s co-operative who had published it “came up in full island dress to collect it, chanting a Maori praise song”, in Marina Warner’s bemusing phrase.

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