Ok, I confess. I am a literary snob. I happily join the ranks of uptight people who read books described by the Times and Margaret Atwood as ‘meaningful’, ‘thought provoking’ and ‘poignant’. I revel in subplots, experimental language and universal themes. Yearly, I anxiously await the Man Booker Prize list so I can rush to the computer and place holds on at least five titles.
However, I have been feeling out of touch recently. A series of delightful female customers have asked me for advice in finding a ‘light read’. I was coming to dread these interactions because they left me gabbling and sounding like I didn’t know what on earth I was talking about, which I didn’t, and I hate that. “If you like…” help pages only go so far.
So, when the Five Book Challenge came along, I decided to leap in and tackle my greatest fear – Chick Lit. The snob in me was appalled but you’ve only got to look at the statistics to see how popular the Chick Lit genre is. Danielle Steel alone has sold over 530 million copies worldwide whereas many titles that make the Booker shortlist have trouble covering publishing costs. I started to wonder if there is more to Chick-Lit than I realised.
My first problem was finding where to start …
Jackie French is one of Australia’s most prolific children’s authors. She puts out at least 2 books a year for a range of different age groups, from picture books to young adult novels, and she writes on all sorts of topics. Historical novels for children are her speciality and she always includes some of her research at the end of her novels so that you can see where her ideas have come from. She has written 3 brilliant books lately – Baby Wombat’s Week, Queen Victoria’s Underpants, and Oracle.
Baby Wombat’s Week is the hilarious follow-up to Diary of a Wombat, illustrated by long-time collaborator and one of Australia’s best illustrators, Bruce Whatley. Baby Wombat’s Week follows a week in the life of a baby wombat who (much like his mother) likes to sleep, eat, and generally create havoc. He destroys the garden, tunnels into the house and makes friends with a human baby. Parents will sympathise with the mother wombat and kids will love the cute baby wombat and his silly antics.
Queen Victoria’s Underpants is Jackie’s latest picture book collaboration with Bruce Whatley. This charming and witty tale is the story of how the very first pair of royal underpants were made for Queen Victoria. During Queen Victoria’s reign, few women wore underpants, but the Queen requests some to be made for her. But what sort of underpants would she want? Silk or linen, lace or frills, long, short or knee-length? The story is witty and the illustrations are stunning. I particularly like the expressions of the characters that Bruce Whatley always does so well.
Oracle is Jackie French’s latest novel and once again, it’s a historical novel, but set in a very different time and place from her earlier novels – Ancient Greece. Nikko and his sister Thetis live in a small village in the mountains, but one day they are taken from their hard life into a world of luxury. They are trained as acrobats to perform for the King of Mycenae and soon forget their old life. But Nikko’s sister is both cursed and blessed – if she speaks she must tell the truth. When Thetis tells the King a truth about his future, their world comes crashing down around them. Jackie’s historical detail is amazing and her descriptions of life in Ancient Greece (the sights and smells) were so clear in my mind.
I recently watched Sleeping Dogs again – the library has the video, C. K. Stead’s book Smith’s Dream, and the soundtrack, which is heavy on Murray Grindlay. While some aspects have naturally dated, much of the film has stood the test of time – a testament no doubt to the book, and the skill of director Roger Donaldson.
I’m thinking The Quiet Earth will be next. Or should I choose another Kiwi film?
Which New Zealand films have stood the test of time for you? Or are they all too cringeworthy?