Madly looking forward to Music in May

Saturday sees the first New Zealand Music Month performances in libraries and I am uncharacteristically looking forward to working on Saturday in the Central Library because I can also catch Fire Thief .

This trio plays their own material and were great the last time they played in Central – if you like a bit of acoustic pop/rock you’ll like Fire Thief. Are they named after the Terry Deary children’s book? Or am I just a sad old librarian who thinks everything has to be named after a book?

Monsters are Attacking Tokyo!

Here’s an amusing little novella whose presumption you’ll find amusing.

In Shambling towards Hiroshima, the U.S. Army is facing a bloodbath when it invades Japan in 1945 and there’s not enough uranium to construct the A Bombs. So the Ultimate Threat is three Godzilla type creatures which the Allies plan to unleash on the Japanese mainland.

After some of the scientists working at the secret laboratory start feeling guilty about breeding giant psychopathic incendiary lizards as biological weapons, the Navy call on the services of Syms Thorle. As the Olivier of Monster movies, his job is to shock visiting Japanese envoys, making them aware of the ferocious fate that awaits their country if they fail to surrender. Continue reading

Recent necrology, 20-27 April 2009

Necrology – a list of notable people who have died recently. Now a regular feature on our blog.

  • John Matheson, 1928-2009
    Dunedin born conductor and coach, associated particularly with the English National Opera and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

What’s the time Mr. Wolverine?

What time indeed? Well, it’s very nearly popcorn scoffing time for fans of one of the more hirsute X-men (Beast being rather more hairy though not as bolshi) as X-men Origins: Wolverine comes out in cinemas this week on 29 April.

Wolverine was always one of my favourite X-men characters with that winning combination of surliness and admantium skeleton. He’s like House but instead of cutting sarcasm he has cutting knuckle-knives. I am also excited to see that characters from the comics such as Gambit will be turning up in the film (what can I say, I like that Cajun accent).

If none of this makes any sense to you then all you need to know is that there was a comics series called The Uncanny X-men which spawned a successful series of blockbuster films and that the latest one is due for release, oh and Hugh Jackman is involved, and the whole thing was sort of leaked on the internet, and they filmed some of it in New Zealand. Phew.

Those of you more attuned to pop culture references about genetic mutants might be interested to know that the library has a good selection of Wolverine-related tales in our collection. Grrrrrr!

New Zealand Music Month cometh

Every year here at Christchurch City Libraries we like to celebrate New Zealand Music Month with free performances in our libraries. This year’s programme is out in your local library now and the website has more details about the performers. Our Events Calendar will also be listing the performances as they get closer. If you missed out on the free jazz last week this is the ideal chance to get your fix of local musicians. We’ll also be doing a ‘borrow 3, get 1 free’ deal on CDs again and there will be the chance to win an Apple iPod Touch.

Watch this space!

Anzac, Poppies, Remembrance

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row …”

The Poppy has become an international symbol of remembrance for fallen servicemen and women. Canadian John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields”, appeared in 1915 and since then the wild red poppies of Flanders have been associated with the terrible slaughter of war.

Anzac Day, April 25 is tomorrow. If you haven’t been to a dawn service or some other memorial service, it is worth going. Somehow, remembering military disasters and sacrifices worlds away produces a blend of pride and sadness that is a significant part of our national mythology. Gallipoli, Cathedral Square or the little war memorial at the crossroads outside a country town – the feeling is the same.

Anyone delving into our nation’s history or our own family histories is bound to come across the military history that is the background to Anzac Day and the development of New Zealand as a nation with it’s own unique identity. Christchurch City Libraries has heaps of material – try our Anzac Day resources as a starting point.

Associated with Anzac Day is the annual Poppy Day appeal, held on the Friday before Anzac Day. RSA volunteers throughout New Zealand offer red poppy buttonholes in exchange for donations to the RSA Welfare Fund. The first Poppy Day Appeal was held in New Zealand in 1922, which makes it one of the oldest nationwide appeals in the country. The style of the poppy has evolved over time but the meaning has remained constant — remembrance and welfare. A new feature for 2009 was the Mobile Poppy. Make a donation now and you can choose wallpaper and ringtones memorabilia for your phone. You can also leave your thoughts on the online Wall of Remembrance.

Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan

Last year at the Christchurch Writers festival I went to hear Marion Halligan read from one of her books. She is obviously very popular in her homeland Australia, but she was not an author I knew anything about, and unfortunately I found the excerpt she read to be a bit dull.

I was therefore quite surprised when I was intrigued enough by a review of her latest book, Valley of Grace to reserve it. I then spent a couple of days sick in bed, and found myself (and my dripping nose) transported to Paris, the setting for this book, and obviously somewhere that Halligan is very familiar with.

Central to the story is Fanny, who seems to embody all that is French; elegant, understated and chic. She meets and marries Gerard, a talented restorer of old Parisian buildings. Fanny works in an antiquarian book shop, so there is a ample opportunity via their two professions for Halligan to recount fascinating historical titbits about the history of the city, as well as the story of these two people and their desire to have a child.

For smallish book there are a number of side stories, including memories of the French resistance, a lecherous lecturer and his long suffering wife, death and the process of dying (with a wonderful visit to Lourdes), a heartbreaking story of a hidden and abandoned child, friendships, sexuality and the agonies and pleasures of raising children. There are detailed and luscious descriptions of houses and interiors, gardens full of fresh produce and dainty flowers, descriptions of cakes that sent me diving to the pantry, and a feeling that I wanted to pack my phrase book and head off to Paris tomorrow.

I’m wondering now if I judged Marion Halligan too harshly, perhaps she was just having a bit of a bad day at the Readers and writers festival and chose the wrong passage to read, (or perhaps heaven forbid, it was me, and I had festival fatigue), but whatever the reason I wish she had read a piece from this novel, because I know that I would have been first on the reserve list if she had.

Living (and accessorising) vicariously through books

I do love a big glossy coffee table tome. Particularly if it features photographs of designer items that I will never in a million years be able to afford. I may never own a pair of Manolos but certainly I can gaze upon images of them and sigh.

New to library shelves, and destined for the coffee tables of under-funded fashionistas everywhere, are several titles that feature such drool-worthy photographs.

  • Vintage shoes – 100 years of vintage footwear are discussed and displayed in this rather fetching title from fashion author Caroline Cox. My favourites were the twenties t-bars and the white go-go boots.  Oh, and the foreword’s by Christian Louboutin…sigh.
  • Salvatore Ferragamo: Evolving legend 1928 – 2008 – contains up close and personal images from the King of shoes. Whether it’s the be-jewelled heel of a red satin ballet pump, or the straps and sequins of gorgeous sandals, you can see the luxury oozing off the pages. Photography so detailed you can almost feel the texture of the leather. Tres satisfying. Handbag fans may also be interested to know that it’s not just shoes that are documented.
  • Valentino: Themes and variations – features voluminous pink ruffles, intricate beading, elegant silouhettes, piping, seams, pleats, draping. It’s all there crisp and colourful. If you press your nose up against the page you might smell the perfume of some wealthy heiress or film star. In this case goddess is in the details.
  • Blahnik by Boman: a photographic conversation – in which the shoes of one Manolo Blahnik are photographed as art. The photos are big, the text is minimal, and the shoes are arranged as “still life” studies where they are artfully balanced on apples, workbenches or sculptures. Although it might seem a little contrived all the images manage to evoke something of the “personality” of the shoe. But then I’m a bit obsessed with footwear generally so it’s possible I’m reading more into it than there is. Perhaps.
  • Gothic: dark glamour – is in a rather different, um, vein but still has stunning photographs of clothes I can’t afford which is why it’s included here. This book is about more than just fashion and goes into where the term “Gothic” came from. Everything from church spires, to Byron, to corsets and of course black, black and more black is brought together in this essay on the darkly beautiful, death-obsessed “Goth” aesthetic.  Spooky pretty.

Play Golden

One look at Golden legacy : how Golden Books won children’s hearts, changed publishing forever, and became an American icon along the way and I came over all nostalgic. My fave was The Three Little Kittens (cats! in mittens! cute!). My other big love was the Poky Little Puppy, which is Little Golden Books’ biggest seller.

They might be viewed as quaint today, with questionable sexual stereotyping etc, but the anniversary has seen the reissue of many titles and some collections.

What are your memories of Little Golden Books? Did you have a favourite?

Not quite at the other end of the scale is Play Pen: new children’s book illustration. Showcasing some of the best new children’s book looks. The visual diet of children has expanded considerably since I was a kid, and television, comics, computer games have all enhanced the viewing experience of the child. This has had a huge impact on the range of book illustration that is out there now, and the range of media both digital and tradition. Featuring some of my favourites like Alexis Deacon, Marc Boutavant and Sara Fanelli.

If you come over all excited after reading it, and are a hankering to do a little children’s book illustration, you might want to look at Writing and illustrating for children.

Action Man action

When it comes to dolls, Barbie is the undisputed queen of the hot-pink castle. No question. And though over her career she’s taken on a lot of roles and occupations she’s still not a toy that boys gravitate to so much. Barbie may have an extensive wardrobe, having been clothed by everyone from Karen Walker to Diane von Furstenberg but I don’t remember a Barbie playset that ever featured hand grenades…or an M3 submachine gun. No way. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every invading army in your backyard, it’s gotta be Action man. Accept no substitute.

Unless of course it’s G.I. Joe, the American the “movable fighting man” upon which the UK version was based. Action Man was launched in Britain in 1966 and author N. G. Taylor acquired his first Action Man toy “Action Soldier” the same year. His book On land, at sea and in the air: Action Man is a lovingly pieced together homage to the British action toy and flicking through its pages you can really see the “bordering on obsessive” love that this avid collector has for his childhood toy.

The thing that gives this book added appeal is that, not only are there lists and pictures of all of Action Man’s uniforms and accessories, but in each case he is posed as he would be if he were real. Mountaineer Action Man leans against a rocky outcrop with his Primus stove. Wetsuit-clad Navy Frogman Set Action Man wields his knife at the water’s edge. Cricketer Action Man takes his stance at the crease, complete with shin-pads and wickets. He’s at least as animated as any of the blokes you’d see in a Farmers catalogue. My personal (and possibly controversial) favourite would have to be Panzer Captain Action Man, because that black outfit is rather chic.

For those with a love of Action Man (or other action figures) the following might interest –