Cheeta the potty-mouthed chimp

Once upon a time I thought dirrrttty words were best spoken in a plummy poshey-oshey voice but since discovering Me Cheeta, “the greatest celebrity autobiography of our time” I now know that filth comes best from an ape. Scurrilous, defamatory, racy and rude Cheeta’s tale spans a life lived in the fast lane during the golden age of Hollywood. From the barbarous jungle of Liberia to the barbarous jungle of Hollywood, Cheeta went on to scale the heady heights of fame as Tarzan’s trusty sidekick.

Cheeta dishes the dirt on all the famous names of the era, Rex Harrison is described as “an absolutely irredeemable [rude word!] “, Maureen O’Sullivan (Tarzan’s Jane) is an “old trout” and Lupe Velez is an “adulterous canicidal bitch”. Chapter 8 has been completely excised “on legal advice’ what salacious and unfounded gossip have we missed?!

So apart from being a hilarious spoof what is the point of it all? It is beautifully written; the early chapters describing Cheeta’s life in the jungle and his separation from his family are positively eye-moistening. But most poignant of all is Cheeta’s love for the ultimate alpha male Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan, a big-hearted, misguided but beautiful human-being. The real author behind Me Cheeta is editor James Lever who was commissioned to ghost-write the story by his publisher Nick Pearson at Fourth Estate who’d read a news report about Cheeta’s 75th birthday celebrations. In preparation Lever read a multitude of memoirs from the 1930’s and 1940’s the most affecting being Weissmuller Jnr’s memoir of his father who died in poverty and obscurity after six disastrous marriages. So this spoof autobiography is also about the dangers of fame and the futility of celebrity, I hope you are listening Paris Hilton. Read, guffaw and enjoy.

What’s big in 2009: A stab in the dark.

At this time of the year you often find articles about what the most popular books or trends were for 2008, as well as the first ruminations about what might be the big sellers for 2009.  The Guardian Weekly, who are always up with the play, has a link to some publishers predictions.  They seem to be making stabs in the dark about what might be big, and so I thought there should be  no reason why I couldn’t have a go as well.

Obama – we can’t seem to get enough of him.  His inaugural speech was for sale the day after the event, which I thought was pretty impressive.  Books on his wife Michelle are also starting to emerge, and I’m sure that there will be a big pictorial of her “style” within the next few months.

Books about Iraq and Afghanistan are still very popular, and especially anything that concentrates on America’s role. By his own rules: the story of Donald Rumsfeld has obviously been sitting on a publishers desk waiting for a good opportunity to get the widest coverage, and what better publicity than a new President and a possible new approach to the Middle East?

Craft books are always popular, and personally I couldn’t be happier.  Emphasis seems to be on making do, using up those old scraps, creating masterpieces from junk and generally indulging ourselves in creativity.  What better way to cope with the doom and gloom by creating something that only your mother could like?

No longer are we getting the business books on how to be a millionaire in two weeks.  What happens to all these titles?  Should we keep them until there’s a turn around in the economy, or start using them for fire starters?  You can either choose to be an eternal optimist and read A Millionaires options: Unlocking the secrets of successful options investment, or perhaps  Sophie Greys’ ( The Destitute Gourmets ) new book,  Live well, spend less is more realistic.

Dieting books are still being churned out by the dozen. Fat: An appreciation of a misunderstood ingredient goes against everything we have been taught to believe in the last ten years, and The Writing diet: write yourself right-size has great possibilities for bloggers, I can feel the pounds disappearing already!

So don’t miss the opportunity for your say in what’s going to be big this year.  Any ideas for Fiction perhaps?  I’m going for more of the feel good genre, escapism, and less of the misery.  Perhaps even Science Fiction?

Five lucky folk are on the “Revolutionary Road”

We asked you to name your favourite literary couple and tell us why you like them (and we only bribed you a bit by dangling a double pass to new film Revolutionary Road at you) and we had some great replies.  After much deliberation we have selected five lucky winners and this being awards season I think, at this point, that we can splash out on an imaginary drum roll.  The winners of a double pass to Revolutionary Road are …



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Vampire romance (but not a lovelorn teen in sight)

You’d have to be living in a box (or a coffin?) not to realise that vampires are hot right now.  First there was the release of the first Twilight film (based on the Stephenie Meyer book), and more recently HBO series True Blood has garnered ex-pat Anna Paquin a Golden Globe for best actress in a TV series.

The show is based on Charlaine Harris’s Southern vampire series of novels and is less well know than the phenomenally successful Twilight but is much more to my tastes, being a bit more “adult” in nature.  The man responsible for bringing True Blood to the TV screen is Alan Ball (better known as the creative force behind another death fixated series, namely Six Feet Under) and in doing so he has provided all those things that HBO does so well, sex, violence, swearing,  substance abuse, dark humour, oh, and did I mention sex? 

I’ve been reading the books upon which the series is based and they are saucy, humorous, seductive and are a fast, well-paced read.  No delusions of literary grandeur here just good, old-fashioned blood-sucking fun.  The books revolve around the character of  Louisiana native Sookie Stackhouse: waitress, telepath, and one half of a pretty sexy human/vampire couple.  The other half is one Civil War-vintage Bill Compton, who I’m pretty sure could kick Edward Cullen’s sulky butt (if he felt so inclined).  The novels all take place in a world where the invention of synthetic blood (by the Japanese, natch) means that vampires no longer need to hide, but can “come out of the coffin” mainstreaming into human society, voting, buying blood at bars, etc.  Though of course there is still deep-seated prejudice and suspicion from much of the human populace and Sookie finds that having a “pale and interesting” boyfriend isn’t without its complications (and dangers).

Hopefully, one of the New Zealand television channels will pull finger and buy the series for broadcast here.  With the local interest provided by the winsome Miss Paquin I think they’d be on to a winner.  It just remains to be seen how late in the night they screen it.  It sure ain’t for kiddies.

Last chance for “Revolutionary Road” tickets

Just a gentle nudge to remind you that our competition, giving you a chance to win a double pass to this Oscar nominated film, closes Wednesday 28 January.   Entry is as easy as dropping us an email telling us who your favourite couple in literature is & why (my personal fave? Jane Eyre and Rochester)  –  email us at including your name, phone number, library card number and address. We’ll get in touch with the winners and hook you up with the tickets (competition applies to Christchurch City Libraries members only). Winners announced on 29 January.

Based on the novel by Richard Yates, the film has already snaffled Kate Winslet a Golden Globe.  Will it also get Oscar recognition?  Read more about the film in our earlier post, or check out Robyn’s thoughts on the novel.

Sylvia and Ted Versus Henry VIII, Mary and Anne Boleyn

This weekend I had a bout of DVD watching – The Other Boleyn Girl (which much to my annoyance seemed to have a totally different story from the cracking Philippa Gregory historical novel), Salem’s Lot (1979 version of the classic Stephen King work, starring a rather lovely David Soul). But the one I want to blog about is Sylvia.

The movie Sylvia, about poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, has a strong NZ connection. It was  directed by Kiwi Christine Jeffs and was filmed in part in Dunedin. You can spot Kiwi extras too – in one scene local actresses Robyn Malcolm and Theresa Healey swarm around Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes.

The casting in this movie is one of its strong points – Gwyneth Paltrow embodies Sylvia highly strung, artistic fragility and Daniel Craig has all the brooding menace and intensity of Hughes. Oh, and for all the talk of a “blond James Bond” Daniel has dyed his hair and eyebrows to play Hughes.

 “The Other Boleyn Girl” was a silly (and less interesting than reality) reimagining of Henry VIII and the Boleyn sisters as a kind of cat fight between Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman for the love of grumpy non-redhead king Eric Bana. But “Sylvia” seems to stick to the known facts, and does better for it. Especially when you are dealing with such a fascinating reality.

1000 novels you must read

The Guardian has been publishing a cool feature this week – lists of novels you must read. It classifies them under headings like Love, Crime etc but it also has some neat features around it including Best dystopias (written by author Michael Moorcock).

There are more best reads lists on our web site. What makes this one exceptional is it doesn’t just give you a title and author, it entices you with exploration and description.

America in music

It’s a big old Stars and Stripes, star spangled banner day today as Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. There was a lot of talk about the founding fathers, the spirit of America … and Aretha Franklin rocking the joint in a hat with a big bow on it. And spookily enough a mashup utilising David Bowie’s This is not America is playing on my headphones.

Which has got me thinking about American music. Who are the bands and the artists that spring to mind?

  • Bruce Springsteen, troubadours and poets like Bob Dylan
  •  Motown  (the sound of the Motor City record label still sounds righteous at the age of 50. A recent Guardian poll tried to find the top Motown tune … what a task. I plumped for “Just my imagination” by The Temptations)
  • Madonna, Michael Jackson,  Hip hop and rap, Run DMC,  The Mamas and the Papas, Janis Joplin, Country,  Dolly Parton, Robert Johnson, Kanye West, Diana Ross, Elvis, Gershwin, Cole Porter … ok now I have made my head spin.

What song says America to you??

A small book with big ideas.

Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, The Story of a Marriage has created quite a stir in the reviewing world.  Some have loved it, some have labelled it trite and predictable.  I seem to fit somewhere in the middle, veering towards the former.

This is a small book that is big on themes and ideas.  It is certainly a story of a marriage, be it a rather unconventional one, but is is also a story of the effects of war, of 1950s America, prejudice, parenting and what it means to love. 

How Hollywood taught us to stop worrying and love the fifties.
Seeing is believing: How Hollywood taught us to stop worrying and love the fifties.

Perhaps the book tries to cover too many themes, and that certainly has been some of the criticism, but the 1950s were a time when issues such as racism and sexuality were beginning to fester, when the world was full of suspicion and fear, as well as recovering from two wars. 

Greer  manages to inject all of these issues into his book via the main character Pearlie.  As the book progresses we realise that although she is naive, she unwittingly represents major upheaval, and is symbolic of everything that 1950s America was fearful of. 

 It is hard to write about this book without giving away the plot and some of the surprises, however I can say that it grew on me, and that I was intrigued to find out what would ultimately happen to this rather tenuous, but strangely compelling marriage.

War is hell – Diaries from World War II

I’m a big fan of the war histories of Antony Beevor, have read about the fall of Berlin and the battle for Stalingrad, and Paris after the Liberation. Another way into the history of World War II is to read diaries or memoirs of the time.  They provide a unique and personal record … and during a war they acquire an extra layer of meaning and emotion.  It’s not just a backdrop, it is life.

Many generations of kids (and adults) have read the diaries of Anne Frank and been swept up in her story of a hidden life. If you want to read another perspective, The journal of Hélène Berr was published for the first time last year:

 In 1942, Hélène Berr, a 21-year-old Jewish student at the Sorbonne, started to keep a journal, writing with verve and style about her everyday life in Paris … about the effect of the growing restrictions imposed by France’s Nazi occupiers. Humiliations were to follow, which she records, now with a view to posterity. She wants the journal to go to her fiancé, who has enrolled with the Free French Forces, as she knows she may not live much longer. She was right. The final entry is dated February 15, 1944, and we now know she died in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, within a month of Anne Frank and just days before the liberation of the camp.

The  anonymous diary  A woman in Berlin : eight weeks in the conquered city gives a German perspective – as the Russian Army swarms into Berlin, the writer copes with deprivation, rape, and coming to terms with a new Germany:

Fending off the boredom and deprivation of hiding, the author records her experiences, observations and meditations in this stark and vivid diary. Accounts of the bombing, the rapes, the rationing of food and the overwhelming terror of death are rendered in the dispassionate, though determinedly optimistic prose of a woman fighting for survival amidst the horror and inhumanity of war.

But the war diaries that punctuated my teenage years were of a different mould – and the writer was comedian Spike Milligan. The series began with the niftily titled Adolf Hitler : my part in his downfall. The tragic and the comic are inextricably entwined, and I remember being all excited when the next installment of his memoirs hit library shelves. If you haven’t read them, get in amongst it. If you have, why not revisit … I think they might have to be on my 09 reading list.

Try searching World War II – personal narratives for more war diaries and stories.