Mercury Rev strangely attractive

If you like your music dreamily romantic, melodic, poetic and intriguing lyrics (with a compelling and high pitched male vocal thrown in the mix), Mercury Rev is the band for you. Snowflake midnight is their latest album, and in a cool nod to the download era you can visit the Mercury Rev website, join their mailing list, and get the companion album Strange Attractor for free.

The library has a good selection of previous Mercury Rev CDs. I’d recommend Deserter’s Songs (NME’s album of the year for 1998). It’s tuneful, soaring and has a bit of a bluesy feel. All is Dream is marvellous too, a bit more spacey and psychedelic – the track “Nite and Fog” would make a good Halloween song:

Vampires want darkness
Monsters want souls
Spiders want corners
But you want it all

Cat on the Island

Cat on the island
Cat on the island

The library has just received the latest book by Gary Crew. Crew is a writer of large format picture books for older children and teens. Cat on the Island is his first book that is based in New Zealand. It tells the true story of the establishment of a lighthouse on Stephens Island (now a wildlife refuge) and the extinction of the Stephens Island Wren.

The imagery in this book is amazing. Cats are portrayed as red monsters with yellow eyes and interspersed through the book are double page spreads with no words, just magnificent graphic pieces of art.

Crew’s books are always well illustrated and also have a concise, haunting story. There is nothing worse than a beautiful book with a mediocre story! First time illustrator Gillian Warden, an artist who specialises in surreal bird portraits, expertly pulls out the details that allow the words and pictures to work so well together.

This book would be a great resource for older children and teens who are studying extinction, ecology, endangered species…the list goes on.

What’s the name of that book?

You know the one? The one about the enchanted toothbrush or the one about the rats that declare war on the invaders from Venus? Well, these books don’t exist (as far as I know), but all of us have a book whose title we yearn to find out. Usually it’s a childhood favourite and as the desire to find the book grows, the memory gets worse and worse.

Books & AuthorsOf course one could ask a friendly librarian or access our databases.  One of them, Books & Authors lets you browse by Character, Subject, Location and Time Period, and provides a visual representation of your matching books. There’s free access to this premium website in our libraries and from your home computer, although you will need to be a library member (with a PIN on your card) for the latter service.

Another service is provided by Abebooks in their Booksleuth forum. You will have to register, but this is free and provided access not only to a community forum, an on-line book group and a book finding service, but the invaluable booksleuth tool. Divided into the categories of general, children’s, science-fiction, romance and non-fiction, I’ve found my elusive titles about 90% of the time.

As the information providers are enthusiastic and friendly amateurs like oneself, one feels part of a club of worldwide readers, who are only too willing to help fellow bibliophiles. One also picks up ideas for books worth reading as well as those wretched elusive titles!

80s New Romantics invade Christchurch …

Tony Hadley
Tony Hadley

If only. What I wouldn’t give to see the Blitz regulars brightening up the streets of Christchurch – eyeliner, flouncy shirts and ill advised hairdos – they’d have the emos running for cover.

For those who want to relive the glory days of the 80s, Paul Young and Tony Hadley are touring NZ. Paul Young you’ll remember for such tunes as “Wherever I lay my hat (that’s my home), and Tony Hadley was the lead singer of Spandau Ballet (by the way, the deliciously overwrought drama of their video for I’ll fly for you shows how videos were done back then – like mini potboiler movies).

I read Tony’s autobiography To cut a long story short a few years ago, and it was a pretty good addition to the pantheon of musical reminiscences. Another Spandau member, Martin Kemp (who has had an acting career since then – starring in Eastenders, and also as one of “The Krays” with his brother Gary) has also written a memoir True.

Adam Ant
Adam Ant

If you really want to dive into 80s music autobiographies, try the upcoming Duran Duran treat promisingly titled Wild Boy by Andy Taylor. DD was always the ultimate 80s band – cocaine snorting, model dating, with naughty videos set in far off exotic climes.

Or you might enjoy the autobiography Stand and Deliver by one of my favourite 80s babes Adam Ant. He was a pocket Adonis, rocking the dandy highwayman look that has been much imitated. He has a wealth of life experience to draw on, with a career that started in the punk milieu of the 1970s (even starring in Derek Jarman’s movie Jubilee).  In later years he moved into acting. He used to date stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Heather Graham. Adam has suffered from bipolar disorder. He’s an interesting, complex man regardless of the music.

PS: for a touch of NZ in the 80s, an episode of Gloss is available on the fabulous new NZ on screen website.

Waugh and Orwell

George Orwell & Eveyln Waugh in love and war
The same man : George Orwell & Eveyln Waugh in love and war

Two of my all time literary heroes are George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. The readability of their plots, the crispness of their prose and the 1930’s settings of many of their works has always appealed to me.

Although I have read several biographies of both I was unaware of how much esteem each felt for the other. Despite their differing views on religion and politics, it is surprising how much they had in common. Orwell, for example, was working on a review of Waugh’s works during his final illness and received letters of praise for both Animal Farm and 1984 from the latter. Both despised the effects of the Twentieth Century on Britain and the world; both hated political correctness, their public school upbringing and cant and hypocrisy; both were disgusted by relativism, material greed, ignorance and the rule of the ill-educated specialist. Basil Seal, the anti-hero of so many of Waugh’s books, is a typical example of the new man they fear and loathe.

Their compatibility is shown in one of the most moving chapters of the book in which Waugh visited the dying Orwell, an event of which I was hitherto unaware. What I wouldn’t give for a verbatim account of this meeting!

It cannot be a coincidence that both of these writers remain popular today. Their style, honesty and refusal to compromise have meant their works have survived while most of their contemporaries have been been forgotten. After reading Lebedoff’s book I feel inspired to re-read all of Waugh’s works, in addition to my regular perusal of Orwell’s.

The Believers by Zoe Heller

Notes on a scandal
Notes on a scandal
Zoe Heller is the author of two previous novels, Everything you need to know, and the Booker nominated Notes on a scandal (also made into a movie starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett). Like these two novels The Believers is full of dreadful characters who make reading a real pleasure!

The awful Audrey is married to Joe Lativinoff, a radical New York lawyer who suffers a massive stroke leaving him in a coma.  Audrey is by far the star of the book, and is one of those people who likes to “tell it as it is”…

She had never felt guilty about her lack of maternal zeal.  Hers was the sane response to motherhood, she thought.  The shiny eyed parenting maniacs she encountered when she dropped her daughters off at school…..they  were the crazy ones.

Her daughter Karla suffers stoically from her mother’s jibes about her weight, while other daughter Rosa risks her mother’s wrath when she announces that she is going to follow a path to become an Orthodox Jew.

Audrey laughed…”My beliefs are based on observable fact and scientific deduction.  Rosa thinks there’s an old man in the sky who has a F………. heart attack every time a time a Jew eats a prawn!”

Lenny, the adopted son is the only one of her children for who Audrey feels any true affection.  His addiction to heroin is not of huge concern to Audrey, and in fact it keeps him close by and in need of her constant support.  Her son’s sponsor, who, has the temerity to suggest that “family is often a big part of an addict’s problem” gets a frosty, “excuse me” in response.

At times there was a sense of disbelief that a family such as this could really exist, but the writing is so good that I felt myself increaslingly drawn into the ghastly drama of it all.  Would Audrey become a nicer character and realise her faults, was it possible that Lenny had kicked his addiction, could the impossibly good Karla have an affair with the local newsagent, and would Rosa don a wig and a headscarf and head off to Israel?

To find all this out you will have to read the book – and perhaps there will be a film, I could think of some wonderful actresses of a “certain age” who would make a wonderful Audrey.

Welcome to the eighteenth century

If you like costume drama, “The Duchess”, with Keira Knightley as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, bids fair to be suitably sumptuous. (At least if the plot gets dull, you can admire the costumes and the art direction). I’m hoping that “The Duchess” may kick off a publishing frenzy for eighteenth-century biography, diaries and letters.

Amanda Foreman’s bookGeorgiana: Duchess of Devonshire gives a full account of her life, in particular her relationship with her interfering, dominating mother, her problems with gambling, and her involvement in the Golden Age of Whig politics.

Elizabeth and  Georgiana
Elizabeth and Georgiana

Caroline Chapman’s Elizabeth and Georgiana: the Duke of Devonshire and his two Duchesses explores the Devonshire menage-a-trois in more detail. An aristocratic affair : the life of Georgiana’s sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough by Janet Gleeson looks at the life of Georgiana’s only-slightly-less scurrillous sister Harriet, her affairs and her children. Harriet was the mother of Lady Caroline Lamb, and quarrelled with Byron over his pursuit of her daughter.  Some observers of the time believed that Byron was really in love with Harriet herself, and used Caroline to get closer to her mother.

If you get hooked on eighteenth-century biography, also try Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard,  Jane Dunn’s Read my heart and Flora Fraser’s Princesses: the six daughters of George III

Unfortunately, the books don’t have the fabulous dresses on display that the movies have. You’ll just have to imagine them.

The Indefatigable Tim

I have a small confession to make.  I wasn’t exactly sure what the word “indefatigable” meant but I felt certain that it should somehow apply to Tim Shadbolt.  Thankfully the trusty OED online tells me that it means “unwearied, untiring, unremitting in labour”.  Whatever other multi-syllabic adjectives might apply to Tim Shadbolt, certainly he cannot be accused of lethargy or a lack of energy or work ethic.

Now in his sixties, New Zealand’s Mayor-for-hire-of-questionable-dancing-prowess hasn’t slowed at all.  On the contrary, he’s currently out and about promoting his latest book and made an
appearance on Sunrise last week, chatting to Oliver and Carly about his writing career.  In amongst all the other things for which Shadbolt is famous (concrete mixers, ballroom dancing, that dopey grin, shameless self-promotion etc.) it’s easy to forget that he also writes quite well.  But of course he’s got a rather good writer uncle, Maurice Shadbolt, from whom he can glean writing tips and Shadbolt admits that he has indeed benefitted from avuncular authorial advice.

Shadbolt’s first book, the spectacularly titled, Bullshit and jellybeans documents a time in New Zealand history when he was at the centre of the activist movement.  In fact he claims he wrote the book while he was in solitary confinement (there not being much else there to occupy his time).  In addition to the biographical works, Invercargill’s mayor has also dabbled in poetry.  Though I suggest skipping his 1980 book on concrete construction (unless that’s what you’re into, of course).

Regardless of what you think of Shadbolt as a mayor, dancer, or actor even (he was in The world’s fastest Indian) you can’t deny that he’s had a very eventful, entertaining life so those with a taste for the autobiographical might want to get their reserves on for Tim Shadbolt : A Mayor of two cities forthwith.

Lettes be friends

Characteristically late for Kathy Lette‘s Press Literary Liaison last week I rounded the corner of a steepish Lyttelton Street and saw a woman in the distance. She was descending the hill in red heels high enough to require the support of an escort and the fact that she wasn’t from New Zealand was obvious a block away, I’m not sure why. Was it that she was wearing bright colours? Was it the shoes? The grooming?

How to kill your husband

Whatever it was, it was immediately evident that she wasn’t a civilian and it turned out to be the lady herself, resplendent in a suit featuring fabric printed with the latest book cover. Where do you get something like that made? I should have asked her but she was just a bit too scary.

It was an extremely polished performance and one that had obviously been done many times before, more stand up comedy routine than book reading, with a very nice class of name-dropping. Barry Humphries lives over the back in London, when he’s home Lette gets an email to say he is “poised at her rear entrance”. Donna’s fave Stephen Fry is another neighbour. Deep sighs greeted the story of writing for an American sitcom in the eighties and turning down a date with a young unknown because she didn’t “date actors. They put other people’s words in their mouths without knowing where they’ve been”. Years later, at home with two young children and covered in vomit she turned on ER and was transfixed by what she’d missed – George Clooney.

My favourite name was Nigella Lawson – Lette’s husband was engaged to her before he married Lette and she often wonders if he’s had cause to regret it, as she “uses her smoke detector as a timer”.

The one liners just kept on coming; these are a few that I remember. Breast feeding mothers are “meals on heels”, any woman who says she’s not a feminist has “kept her Wonderbra and burnt her brain”, she wrote Puberty Blues to show her friends they didn’t need to be “sperm spitoons” and when called upon to present the cups at a recent polo match she found Princes William and Harry are not averse to a bit of “flirtation and frottage”.

For women of a certain age (and they seemed to make up most of the audience) Puberty Blues was one of those passed from hand to hand books, still fondly remembered thirty years later. As Lette is about to turn fifty next up is Menopause Blues – how can she resist? I would certainly recommend seeing her if she comes out to promote it.

In the meantime all her books are amusing light reads, perfect for the holidays.

My Culture heroes #1 Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry

With the aforementioned Jeeves and Wooster watching, I feel it’s time to salute one of my heroes Mr Stephen Fry. He’s a Renaissance man and a mighty fine writer. Plus he’s anything but a Luddite, check out his web site Stephen Fry to get a flavour of the many strings to his bow.

I think my first encounter with this strangely alluring gent was his role in Blackadder as the unctuous Lord Melchett. Or was it him as Oscar Wilde with young Jude Law as Bosie (what admirable casting on both counts)? Or Fry and Laurie? I’m not sure, but he made an impression.

Here’s a few choice Fry selections from his back catalogue:
Making History – what if you could go back in time and stop Adolf Hitler even being born? That’s the pretext of this supersmart novel. I’ve read a heck of a lot of time travel novels, and this is one of the best.

Stephen Fry in America
Stephen Fry in America

Moab is my washpot – Stephen’s autobiography. It’s a toe curlingly honest depiction of his youth, naughty public school days and thereafter.

QI – hosted by Stephen – gave rise to The Book of General Ignorance,  a great tool to bash foolish facts and beliefs.

Coming soon: Stephen Fry in America.

And of course there’s plenty more Stephen Fry stuff at the library.