What the Book Club is Reading (March) – Part Two

Find The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest in the library catalogue

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson is the third book in The Millennium series and has been eagerly awaited by the book club. We all read the first book – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and circulated it speedily, the second book – The Girl Who Played With Fire – was devoured equally speedily and then we had the wait until the third book was available in English (translated from the Swedish).
The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest has been released as a movie and it’s well worth viewing. It’s one of those movies where the transition from book to film was not a backward step and either medium could be enjoyed without the other.

Find The Stone Cutter in the library catalogue

Another Swedish crime writer who has her books translated into English is Camille Lackbeck – her latest novel is The Stone Cutter. Local Detective Patrik Hedstrom is called to the site of a drowning, a little girl has been found caught up in a fisherman’s net. Enquiries into her death soon prove that she did not die by drowning in the sea and it becomes a murder investigation.

Find One Red Paperclip in the library catalogue

One Red Paperclip : the story of how one man changed his life one swap at a time by Kyle Macdonald – the story behind what happens when Kyle decides to see what he can get for one red paperclip. One red paperclip, a dream, and a resume to write. And bills to pay. Oh, and a very patient girlfriend who was paying the rent while he was once again “between jobs.” Kyle wanted to be able to provide for himself and his girlfriend, Dominique. He wanted to own his own home. He wanted something bigger than a paperclip.

So he put an ad on Craigslist, the popular classifieds website, with the intention of trading that paperclip for something better. A girl in Vancouver offered him a fish pen in exchange for his paperclip. He traded the fish pen for a doorknob and the doorknob for a camping stove…and he was on his way.

What the Book Club are reading this month (March) – Part One

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Find The Elegance of the Hedgehog in the library catalogue

The book club I belong to is not your usual book club. We do not all read the same book and we don’t discuss the plots. We meet monthly and bring along the books we’ve been reading. We lend each other the books we have just read and we pitch the books to each other over a glass of wine and some nibbles. There are some givens. If a book is definitely worth reading we say that and the book will pass from person to person until we’ve all read it. If a book is not worth it we consign to a book drop (like the bookshelf at the gym). The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is the tale of Renee, who is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment. She has a secret life as a lover of fine literature and foreign films but the inhabitants of the apartments see her only as they wish to – as a concierge. The arrival of Kakuro Ozu and the friendship of Paloma Josse changes everything.

Find the The Trepass in the Library Catalogue

The Trepass by Barbara Ewing – Set in 1849, this novel explores the lives of Harriet and Mary – two sisters who live with their father in London. Their father, Sir Charles, is obsessed with Harriet and it is Mary who keeps her from ruin. But Mary succumbs to the cholera epidemic and Harriet is forced to make to make her escape to New Zealand. The 10pm question by Kate de Goldi

Find The 10pm Question in the library catalogue

– everyone who has read this so far in the book club has been unable to put it down and it’s become one of the books “that everyone should read”. Frankie Parsons (the main character) is twelve going on old man: an apparently sensible, talented Year 8 with a drumbeat of worrying questions steadily gaining volume in his head: Are the smoke alarm batteries flat? Does the cat, and therefore the rest of the family, have worms? Will bird flu strike and ruin life as we know it? Is the kidney-shaped spot on his chest actually a galloping cancer? But it’s the real question about his Mum that Frankie cannot ask.

A disobedient girl

Susanna Moore

Susanna Moore was a symphony in colour co-ordination at 11 a.m on a Saturday and a wholly fascinating subject, ably conversed with by Caroline Baum.

Commendably Baum dispensed with an introduction but not the detail that when Moore left Hawaii for New York she took with her 20 pairs of alligator shoes. Asked about sharing a home state with President Obama, Moore let drop that they went to the same school.

This combination of the seemingly trivial with the serious set the tone for the rest of the session, which ranged from whether or not Moore believed Warren Beatty has slept with 12,000 women (she worked for Beatty and thinks the figure is a little high), to her opinion of the Roman Polanski case (he’s her daughter’s godfather, she doesn’t want to see him in jail but she thinks he should return to face the consequences of his actions).

Moore’s latest book, The Big Girls is ostensibly about women in prison but really it is a study of families in their endless manifestations. Moore read a lot for two years before she began writing, at the beginning she thought all the women on death row for killing their children would be mad and at the end she hadn’t changed her mind, although she found she liked some and loathed others.

Moore has taught writing in a jail but was kicked out for bringing in magazines and books for the prisoners, although the real reason was probably that she became more trouble than she was worth to the guards. Teaching two days a week at Princeton is something of a contrast, although the prisoners can be more inventive and creative, less inhibited, simply because there are no expectations.

In the Cut is probably her best known work, possible due to the film version with Meg Ryan. Questioned about  whether the heroine  was punished for refusing to be afraid, Moore answered no,  they get you either way, you might as well go out fighting.

Some of the audience were disappointed that One Last Look, her novel set in colonial India, was not discussed, and it does sound fascinating. Reading the journals of Emily and Fanny Eden, who joined their brother Lord Auckland on his passage to India, Moore noticed the adoration Emily felt for her less-than-impressive brother and thought “Hmmm”.

Moore was one of the people I was really looking forward to seeing at this festival and she did not disappoint, I’m going to hunt out her first three novels (sometimes known as the Hawaiian trilogy) and catch up with One Last Look.

Cultural cringe

In 1961, when I was six years old, my parents took me to Auckland. My sisters were leaving on an overseas trip on a cruise ship and we were going to see them off.  Taking the term “overseas” literally I was desperately disappointed when we got off the ferry in Wellington to find that everyone still spoke English and looked just the same.

The next day we took the tram to the zoo and I was thrilled to see an Indian woman join us wearing a wonderful sari in beautiful colours. I immediately expressed my excitement by pointing at her and saying “look Mummy” in a nice loud voice. I then stared at her in great fascination until we reached our destination, restrained from going to grill her about India only by my mother’s puzzling annoyance and my new  friend’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for my admiration. The tribulations of being part of a small ethnic minority must be many!

Fortunately this scenario is unlikely to be repeated in contemporary Christchurch. The bland days of 1950s and early 60s culture has given way to a much more pluralistic society and a vibrancy much contributed to by a wide variety of cultures. Today I have the pleasure of mixing with people from all sorts of cultures every day. These days we celebrate our multicultural society with festivals like Culture Galore and the Lantern Festival.

Festivals like these also give us the chance to enjoy music and dance from all sorts of ethnic traditions. Along with our increasing awareness of ethnic diversity has come an interest in World Music. It is a genre with an increasingly wide audience and festivals like WOMAD have an enthusiastic following.

If you’re interested in finding out about it try the World Music The Rough Guides, on CD and in book form. They are excellent guides to get you oriented. The National Geographic has  a great website where you can browse videos of music from different regions to get an idea of what you like.

Once you’re started the library has a great collection of  world and folk music, both on CD and streamed free online and these can give you a chance to expand your musical horizons for very little investment. Try searching for World Music or Folk Music on our catalogue, or have a look at Music Online in our premium databases.

Dead Dames – Mary Webb 1881-1927

Clive Owen made me read Mary Webb.  The fright wigged Mr Owen starred in a tv adaptation of Mary’s book Precious Bane.  I loved it, and read the book, and then all of her books. They had the doomy ruralness of  Thomas Hardy, and a Bronte-esque brooding.

Mary learned from her beloved father George Meredith a rich knowledge of the countryside, and appreciation of the legends and history of Shropshire.  But her life wasn’t an easy one. At the age of 20 she was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an incurable thyroid disorder. Mary became very self-conscious as the disease caused protrusion of the eyes and goitre.

She married Henry Webb in 1912 and the couple left Shropshire to live at Weston-super-Mare where Henry was a teacher. She wrote her first novel The Golden Arrow here, and much of her writing came from the homesick perspective of yearning for Shropshire.

Her novels achieved literary acclaim, but popular success eluded her. Perhaps her highest achievement was the award of the Prix Femina literary prize for Precious Bane (her fifth novel).  The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, loved the book and sent her a letter.  By then both her health and marriage were  in decline. Her last novel Armour wherein he trusted, set in medieval Shropshire, was left as a beautiful fragment.  She died aged 46 in a nursing home.

Months later, the Prime Minister acclaimed her ‘neglected genius’. Posthumous fame arrived as her books were republished and were bestsellers in the 1930s – so popular that Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm parodied their style.

Her novels were made into films and tv series. In the 80s, Virago republished her work. And 2010 is another year of resurgence –  Mary Webb: Neglected Genius is the first exhibition about Mary’s  life and literary output.

Read more of our series on classic women writers Dead Dames, a celebration of International Women’s Day.