The Most Beautiful Book in the World

It’s quite a claim to be The Most Beautiful Book in the World. When I saw this book title on one of the many reports that circulate the library, I couldn’t pass it up.

With simple yet vivid  prose,  Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt explores humanity’s highest qualities and darkest moments through his tormented, yet redeemable characters.

My favourite novella in this collection was Odette Toulemonde–a story about happiness. Odette Toulemonde is happy despite the fact that she doesn’t seem to have anything to be happy about. She lives in a poor area in Paris, sewing feathers on Parisian cabaret costumes.

Balthazar Balsan is a successful novelist and is unhappy despite the fact that, ostensibly, he has everything.

Odette believes she owes her happiness to Balthazar and his books. Schmitt describes how Balthazar’s work effects Odette:

…As soon as she got on the bus, she…began to levitate. From the very first sentence, Balthazar Balsan’s new book drenched her in light and carried her away into his world.

When Balthazar unexpectedly appears on her doorstep, a drama about their unusual friendship unfolds.

2010 Diversity Forum

Along with some of my colleagues I have been lucky enough to have been sent by Christchurch City Libraries to the 2010 New Zealand Diversity forum, which was held in Christchurch this year.  The forum is an annual activity of the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme which has three key objectives:  To recognise and celebrate cultural diversity, promote equality and foster harmonious relations.

The convention centre was filled with colour, vibrancy and a multitude of languages, and the Library was there with a booth highlighting some of the resources that we have

I enjoyed a session where we were treated to stories from women of Indian, Chinese, Dalmatian and Lebanese descent talking about what it was like for their families, and especially their mothers assimilating into a new country.  Their mothers were central to keeping the family cultural identity.  Often they had very little English, but they provided the family with familiar food, customs and language which kept their cultures and families connected.

A few book titles were mentioned and you can find them in our library:

Our webpages also have information for new migrants, or those wanting to find out more about their histories:

Weird and wonderful world of Shyness

Cover imageWelcome to Shyness, where the sun never rises and the darkness hides the dregs of humanity.  It’s in this strange place, in a bar called the Diabetic Hotel, that Wildgirl meets Wolfboy and they step out into a night that they’ll never forget.  Both Wildgirl and Wolfboy are hiding from a past they are desperate to forget, but as the story progresses we find out who they truly are.

This is Shyness, by the winner of the 2009 Text Prize, Leanne Hall is one of the most unique Young Adult books that I’ve read in a long time.  Leanne has created truly memorable characters that have so much depth.  You get drawn into both of their stories and can’t help but care about them.  The narrative alternates between the two characters so you see events from different perspectives and know how they feel about each other.

I also loved Leanne’s other creations, including the Kidds (dangerous children high on sugar and willing to mug anybody for a sugar fix), the Dreamers (teenagers who take drugs so that they can sleep and dream for longer), and the menacing Doctor Gregory.

The world of Shyness is terrifically weird but truly unique and once you get a taste of it, you’ll never want to leave.

Well-dressed Fiction

The most sartorially resplendent character in a work of fiction?
Several blogs have recently pondered just this question. It has also forced several library types to stop, think  and scratch their immaculately coiffed heads. C’est très difficile!

One complicating factor is the unholy number of novels which have been subjected to film or television treatment and therefore the meddling attention of a costume department. Was Holly Golightly a bonafide fashion plate? Or is she merely the cinematic creature of Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy?

The other worrying aspect to fashion and fictional characters is that, generally, well-dressed characters are portrayed as vile and vapid; I’m thinking here of the Land of Plenty’s favourite psycho Patrick Bateman and Runway magazine editor-in-chief  Miranda Priestly in The devil wears Prada.

I shudder to imagine what subtle character traits my own modish (or not) choices would indicate if, heaven forbid, I was dropped into a novel. Would my penchant for corsages and other floral accessories reveal me as a trivial female popinjay, a mere fribble and shallow coxcomb?! But back to the well-dressed…

Some genre contenders might include:

  • Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane -The fashion forward Deco sleuths showed stuffy Oxford dons just how to achieve stylish perfection in Gaudy night.Cover
  • Hercule Poirot– Perhaps fastidious rather than fashionable, Hercule’s clothes like his little grey cells are sharp and immaculate.
  • Lestat-Anne Rice’s vamp is a noted snappy dresser and I am reliably informed that fangs=fashion.

Rather more authoritatively Booker short-listed novelist Linda Grant The clothes on their backs picked three outstanding “Paper dolls”:

  • Dorothea Brooke, the “finely formed” heroine of  george Eliot’s Middlemarch
  • Duchesse de Guermantes from Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu
  • Orlando, not the Bloom boy, but eponymous hero/heroine of Virgina Woolf’s Orlando: A biography

So all you stylistas who’d make it down the catwalk on your best-dressed literary list?