The re-masculation of the book.


The Guardian website never fails to amuse and to give me food for thought.  I have just read a small piece about how to get men to read more.  One suggestion was to “re-masculate” books so they will seem more interesting to the male psyche, including changing an obviously feminine cover to depict something more blokey, altering character names from the feminine to the masculine, and perhaps cutting out a bit of the romance.   Can’t see that working.  However  the cunning idea of  creating a TV celebrity, (such as a Gordon Ramsay prototype), who could be a foul-mouthed, profanity wielding aggressive type, badgering and hectoring men to read in the same way that Gordon apparently gets men into the kitchen, really caught my attention.

This larger than life personality could go into libraries and yell at male librarians for making the library too “girlie” friendly, suggest wall to wall flat screen TVs, get rid of all the relationship and self help books, and for “bleep” sake, no more chick lit, saga’s or women’s weeklys!  This or course would be shown on prime time TV. 

Not blokey

I know that this all sounds rather sexist and silly, and that not all men fall into the sport loving couch potato stereotype, but certainly as a librarian I have always noticed that women are our more requent customers.  According to the Guardian article, 48% of women fall into the “page turner” category, while only 26% of men are part of this elite group.  Meanwhile men get lumbered with the “slow worm” label, of only reading one or two books a year, where only 18%  of women are guilty of this misdemeanor.  This is all very interesting and somewhat states the obvious, but has someone ever worked out why women read more than men, and is there a role for libraries to maybe help change these statistics?

Untouchable Girls – The movie

The Topp twins. It’s no exaggeration to say that they’re about as Kiwi as you can get without actually being a small flightless bird. Lynda and Jools Topp have been entertaining all heck out of New Zealanders for the last 25 years with their assortment of comic characters, country music…and yodelling.

We’ve got three “two for one” vouchers for the twins’ new documentary film Untouchable Girls – The Movie which is released 9 April.  The Sydney Herald says it’s “more fun than a possum up your trousers!”…and they would know, I guess.  Anyway, check out the movie trailer below and if it looks like something you might be interested in taking a friend (or twin) to then email us at including your name, phone number, library card number and address. We’ll be in touch with the winners about getting them their vouchers (competition applies to Christchurch City Libraries members only). Entries close Thursday 9 April and the vouchers are valid until Wednesday 29 April.

If you’re feeling like reminding yourself of some of the genius that is the twins Topp, then have a gander at what Christchurch City Libraries has to offer –


Coffee drinkers are diabolical

I don’t like coffee. It’s far too bitter for my tastes. Though I do sometimes envy coffee drinkers their passionate love of the stuff. That look of relaxation and satisfaction on their faces when they get their hands on (and lips around) that first cup of the day almost makes me wish for another vice…but not quite. Coffee breath is right up there with smokers’ breath and coldsores on my “list of reasons not to snog someone”.

Writer Ben Obler clearly doesn’t have any such qualms. He obviously loves his cuppa-joe because he’s gone to the trouble of compiling a list of the top 10 coffee drinking scenes in literature. I mean, I’ve got to ask – is this not the unhinged behaviour of an addict?

What other top 10 literary scenes might other fanatical enthusiasts conjure up? The chicklit crowd might offer up the top 10 scenes “where the previously totally unsuitable suitor delivers a speech so moving that the heroine is rendered incapable of rebuffing him and they fall into each others arms”. Top 10 descriptions of trains (model or otherwise)? I’d like a top 10 of cheesecake eating. Truly the possibilities are endless.

What would be the subject of your literary top 10?

Silence is golden

I really like going to the movies, but often the actors ruin it for me. Maybe that’s why silent films appeal – the actors don’t speak, and I can project onto them. Also the outfits are often really good. So it was with great pleasure that I happened on Silent Movies : the birth of film and the triumph of movie culture, a stunning new collection of essays and images on the beginnings of the film industry.

Silent film wasn’t all damsels tied to train tracks. This book demonstrates the variety of work that was being created. Such a new medium naturally lent itself to considerable experimentation. The book pays homage to the work of art directors, cinematographers and directors and is lavishly illustrated with stills, promo materials and posters from the Library of Congress’s memorabilia collection. The cover photo for example of Clara Bow is beautiful.

If you are already schooled in the history of cinema, this may not offer any new information, but it does provide a nice condensed examination of the international film industry from 1893 to 1927. What I am most impressed about is the coverage of the industry outside the U.S. Author Peter Kobel examines genres such as horror, westerns and comedy. Apparently interest in the preservation of silent films has increased in recent years. Director Martin Scorsese is a big advocate for tracking down and restoring what is lost (he writes the foreword for this book). Continue reading

Great opera season coming up

This year’s Opera season is underway with the Southern Opera performance, Blooming Opera, arias with a floral theme, followed by a performance of Gianni Schicchi, a one act comedic opera by Puccini. Gianni Schicchi was recently directed in Los Angeles by Woody Allen in what Opera News described as a triumph. The Radio New Zealand reviewer described Southern Opera’s version in equally glowing terms, calling it engaging and entertaining, with virtuoso acting, perfect casting and great pacing. Next up is The Magic Flute in October.

For those who missed it, the library has a DVD and CDs of Gianni Schicchi . The DVD was recorded in 2004 at the Glyndbourne Opera House and the CDs feature Mirella Freni, Roberto Alagna, and Leo Nucci or Miriam Gauci, Mabel Prelstein and Yordy Ramira under the baton of Alexander Rahbari. The Opera was originally part of a trilogy of one act operas know as Il Trittico, although they are apparently rarely performed together. We also have CDs and a DVD of the whole thing.

Also on offer this year are the HD Met Opera screenings at the Rialto, with some fantastic offerings including, Salome featuring Karit Mattila, Dr Atomic, Le Damnation de Faust, La Rondine, Thais, Orpheo ed Euridice, Lucia di Lammermoor, Madame Butterly, La Somnambula and La Cenerentola. Recordings of all of these, except Dr Atomic, are available at the library if you want to familiarise yourself with the music before the screenings.

If you are willing to venture a bit further afield, New Zealand Opera will be performing The Italian Girl in Algiers and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin during the year, in both Wellington and Auckland. Recordings and DVDs of both are available in our collection.

If you’re not fast enough to get our CDs and DVDs, or if you just don’t want to make the trip, try the recordings available on our NAXOS database, which you can listen to FREE on your home computer . You will need broadband and a PIN for your library card (for help ring 941 7923, or email

Commonwealth Writers Prize Regional winners announced

Will this win?  Dont ask me, Im bound to be wrong.
Will this win? Don't ask me, I'm bound to be wrong.

It just goes to show that I’m nothing if not a really rubbish literary pundit. When the Commonwealth Writers Prize regional shortlists were announced I put my money on Aravind Adiga to at least make it through to the semis. Twas not to be however and I am left to reflect upon the fact that projecting popularity is not a strong suit of mine (when I first heard about The Piano I thought it sounded like the kind of movie that people would stay away from in droves – so I have a history of getting this sort of thing wrong).

So perhaps I should just stick to facts, just the facts (ma’am) and tell you that a single New Zealand book has made it through to the final “round” of judging in the awards. The year of the Shanghai Shark by Mo Zhi Hong will compete with the following titles in the “Best First Book” category –

  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif (Pakistan)
  • Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas (Canada)
  • Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan (Nigeria)

A full list of the regional winners in can be viewed on the official website. The winner will be announced at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival on 16 May.

But what I really want to do is direct…

I was watching a movie t’other week on the telly-box starring that wunderkind of nineties indie films, Ethan Hawke, when I suddenly remembered that he had also written a novel that I had actually enjoyed reading. And so I wondered “How many other bona fide movie stars have written novels”?

My idle musings started well as Carrie Fisher’s work immediately sprung to mind. Postcards from the edge would have to be her most well-known book (due to the successful film starring Meryl Streep) but she’s also penned The best awful and Surrender the pink. Her latest non-fiction work, the punnily titled Wishful drinking, hit the library shelves just recently.

And then my movie star novelist list ground to a halt. There are plenty of actors of varying degrees of fame in both films and television that have written novels, but none that I really judged to be “stars”. Until I came across Steve Martin, who in addition to acting and directing has written several novels and plays. One of his novels Shopgirl was made into a film of the same name starring…Steve Martin, natch.

I did discover in my poking around in the catalogue and Googling that there are a healthy swag of British thesps who have written fiction. What is it about British comic actors that makes them more likely to pen novels than other actors or actresses I wonder? Amongst the field are such names as – Michael Palin, Ben Elton, Ardal O’Hanlon (aka Father Dougal), Julie Walters, Meera Syal, Nigel Planer (Neil, when he was a Young One) and the inimitable Stephen Fry. I’m also intrigued by the novels of Rupert Everett, luvvie playboy extraordinaire, but sadly we don’t have any of his, though I may try out his autobiography. It sounds a hoot.

And back to Ethan Hawke, which is where we sort of started.  His book The hottest state is now a movie, written, directed by, and starring Mr Ethan Hawke.  Maybe writing a novel is a good way of securing yourself a directing gig?

Does anybody else have any favourite actor-slash-novelists to add to the mix?

Exotic Creatures of the Deep

The Sparks’ new album, Exotic Creatures of the Deep, is referred to on wikipedia as “chamber pop,” and on my first listening I found myself describing it as Philip Glass does pop-vaudeville. Repetitive, kooky and almost posingly “original” (with titles like “I can’t believe that you would fall for all the crap in this song,” and “(She got me) pregnant”, this bunch of rather silly pop songs are most enjoyable if you don’t try to listen to them all in one sitting.

Apparently The Sparks have been influencing the evolution of popular music since 1970 and have always stayed one step ahead, changing their style, defying genres and avoiding classification. I’ve only just discovered them, but my colleague Hugh remembers them from their younger days as “mismatched brothers – one was the good-looking one, with long ringlets and the other one looked like Adolf Hitler’s bastard son.”

They are playful and bold and sort of horribly, post-modernly cool-because-they’re-n0t-cool (2 very straight-looking brothers in suits). I … like them … I think.

Necrology, March 10 – March 20

Necrology – a list of notable people who have died recently. Now a regular feature on our blog.
  • Robert Anderson, 1917-2009
    Author of Tea and Sympathy which proved a hit for Deborah Kerr both on Broadway and the big screen
  • Geoff Moon, 1915-2009
    New Zealand naturalist and photographer who has produced many award winning books, particularly on New Zealand birds.
  • Anne Brown, 1915-2009
    Original star of Porgy and Bess who turned her back on the US, claiming racial discrimination
  • Natasha Richardson, 1963-2009
    Actress who escaped the shadow of her thespian dynasty to become a star in her own right
  • Eric Simms, 1921-2009
    Naturalist who became a familiar voice on the BBC and created a nature reserve on the A1
  • Alan Stripp, 1924-2009
    Wartime codebreaker who later lifted the lid on his secret work in books of both fact and fiction
  • Donald Trounson, 1905-2009
    Diplomat and amateur ornithologist who attempted to complete an index of Australian birds
  • James Whitmore, 1921-2009
    Award-winning actor with a social conscience and the tough guy looks and style of Spencer Tracy

Sci-fi scene in good health

Who’d be a literary judge? A thankless task if every there was one – everyone thinks you’ve been bought, are pandering to populism or just chose the book that had the prettiest pictures.

The Sir Julius Vogel awards, which honour New Zealand writers of fantasy, science fiction and horror, avoid that by having fans vote, with the winners announced at the National Science Fiction Convention.

It’s a cunning move, epsecially as this year the competition is fierce. The young adult section is typical – Helen Lowe (who’s Thornspell broke into the American market) battles it out with Margaret Mahy, Ella West, Fleur Beale and Glynne MacLean. Lowe and West are also up for the best new talent award.

Whoever wins, the fans are the ones who voted for it, and they can battle it out with hexes, light sabres and Vogon poetry if they want. Armageddon, anyone? Love it or loathe it, it seems this slice of New Zealand genre writing and its fan base are in good health.