Who is that Illustrated Man?

cover imageRevisiting childhood memories as adults can sometimes leave those memories… paled. Or smaller. Or totally rocking!

As a kid I loved reading Ray Bradbury, not an author usually associated with childhood reading. I can’t remember how I came across the iconic American writer in the first place. I was never assigned to read The Illustrated Man or Fahrenheit 451 in English class. Yet after this revelatory discovery, I consumed as many Bradbury books as the school library held. 

Recently, I reread The Illustrated Man (25 years after the first read) and discovered that time had erased most memory of this short story collection. I wondered what had so appealed to me as a child about this book? Published in the 1950s, much of  The Illustrated Man takes place in the future. 2005. Or 1979. Or 1990. Books that include rockets or interplanetary travel don’t interest me. Now I realize that these topics must have interested me once.

With this most recent read-through, I chose to not reject the book at every mention of Martians or space explorers, food-delivery tubes or electro-magnet dusting machines. Instead, I marveled at Bradbury’s extraordinary gift at exploring the subtle division between impressionable children and stoic adults, as well as humanity’s conflict between technology and psychology. The heartbreaking tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick at the end of the story, “Marionettes, Inc.” struck me as deeply devastating the second time through as it did the first.

Have you tried revisiting favourite childhood reads? What was your reaction?

Five book challenge on steroids?

coverProfessor Jim Flynn is a world recognised expert on intelligence. He has written The Torchlight List – two hundred books which he hopes people will begin to read (or re-read) to gain an understanding of the world.  Reading these books  will, he believes, free people from being just “swept along by the river of time with no real comprehension of what is happening to them”.

Like all lists, it is intensely personal. Prof. Flynn is an American who has taught at Otago University for many years. As a New Zealander you might want to see something of our culture reflected there . So instead of a book about American socialist Eugene Debs you might want to read something by John A Lee. He  recommends books by the American Civil War historian Bruce Catton and maybe reading Judith Binney or James Belich would be better for us New Zealanders. On the other hand the American Civil War has a powerful fascination and much can be learnt that is applicable to all internal conflicts. The treasure house still has a copy of Bruce Catton’s centennial history of the civil war.

In his introduction he launches a five book challenge – to read:

His bet:  “at least two of these will move you to tears and awaken emotions beyond anything pop culture can do”. The other challenge is “Read for forty minutes before bed each night to clear your mind of the day’s concerns”.

I’d have to say reading at the end of the day often sends me to sleep but I’m tempted to read two of the five just to see what I think.

Holiday reading highs and lows

As per usual I set off on my annual summer camping  holiday with a pile of books.  My camping companions were also similarly kitted out, and I was interested to see what they were reading .

Keith Richards LifeKeith Richards biography seemed a popular choice amongst the men, and the verdict from my friend Grant was that it was quick and easy to read, just the ticket for the beach holiday.

I was therefore surprised to see my camping neighbour Jude reading The Room by Emma Donoghue.  Not my idea of a nice light read for a relaxing holiday, but she declared that though not a Booker winner, it wasn’t nearly as torrid as she thought it might be, and gave it a tick.

I started off with the new Jane Smiley Private Life.  Big mistake.  All three camping companions read this book, but agreed that it could easily have been retitled ‘Boring life’.  I gave up and read the last pages to get an idea of what happened (nothing much).

Hand me down worldMy husband loyally read the Christmas present I gave him, the new Lloyd Jones Hand me down world.  He is usually a slow and ponderous reader but  finished it off in record time, so I’m presuming he enjoyed it.  He then moved on to To heaven by water by Justin Cartwright  and has declared it very good, and one that I might even enjoy!  (We usually read very different books, he goes for the slow stuff, big on description, low on dialogue, where I am the complete opposite, so I am a bit dubious).

Jonathan Franzen Freedom seemed to be a popular choice by all concerned, (although a bit heavy to hold while reclining on the beach) and the new Barbara Trapido, Sex and Stravinsky was also declared a hit.  I read The Rescue by Anita Shreve and then promptly wished that I hadn’t bothered, and then thankfully pounced upon Joyce Carol Oates, Little bird of heaven.  Although not the most cheerful of authors Oates has created two very compelling characters, and I was grateful to have last found something that I could actually get my teeth into.

What were your holiday reading highs and lows?

Library tourists

South LibraryTwo very keen punters in Auckland have been inspired by the new supercity and its sudden abundance of libraries to visit every one of the 55 libraries and blog about them. Phew and hats off to Latitude of Libraries and Auckland Libraries Super Tour 2011. It is early days yet but I did enjoy the visit to New Lynn Library describing some beautiful pieces of Crown Lynn on display,  including thoughtful writing and interesting book titles. Neither blogger is a librarian or works for Auckland City Council.

Here in Christchurch we operate on a more modest scale but I got to thinking about being a library tourist. With 22 libraries could we do speed touring? – all the libraries in one day. Or themes – most scenic trip – New Brighton to Sumner to Lyttelton to Little River and Akaroa  (with a side ferry trip to Diamond Harbour). Or newest libraries (visiting Upper Riccarton, South and Parklands would see you criss-crossing the city) , small but perfectly formed (Little River, Akaroa, Diamond Harbour, Redwood) and so on…

Have you ever been a library tourist? Any recommendations?

Group Art

If you’re down at the Arts Centre seeing the buskers (and no doubt half of Christchurch will be), pop into the SOFA Gallery and have a look at some seminal New Zealand art works. Pat Hanly painted the rainbow murals in the Christchurch Town Hall and around the same time was commissioned by Hamish Keith to make some paintings to hang in the Auckland Medical School.

Based on Shakespeare’s Seven ages of Man, they have been there ever since, until the re-furbishment of the Medical School has allowed them to visit  Christchurch, where Hanly and Keith went to Art School.

Cover of The Group show 1965Speeches at the opening mentioned an infamous student flat in Armagh Street (“we were known as the Armaghtians” came an interjection from the floor) and The Group, the informal association of  artists who wanted an alternative to exhibiting at the Canterbury Society of Arts.

This got me thinking about The Group, which lead me to idly type The Group into the Search Heritage option on the Christchurch City Libraries home page, which lead me to a some fascinating stuff.

Exhibition catalogues from 1927 to 1977 have been digitised and the covers are a treat in themselves – talk about a trip down a memory lane of fashions in typefaces and graphic design. What was exhibited makes for very interesting reading as well. Niceties of art vs craft seem to have been ignored, as jewellery and pottery shared space with paintings by some very resonant names.

Time to get the kids keen on gardening and the outdoors

It’s nearing the end of the school holidays and the sun is shining. This is a perfect time to get the kids outside without book coverhaving to drive them to the beach or for a walk in the hills. Let’s get them outside in our own backyards.

There are many books on gardening with kids in our libraries. We have some great books for parents about how to provide kid friendly gardening spaces and about encouraging them to participate. Children’s gardening books are written in a style appealing to them.

If your child is really not interested in gardening at all try books on outdoor activities.

Enjoy the simple fun of watching the sky

CoverDid you ever rip up an old sheet to make a tail for a kite? Or make flour and water paste to stick down the newspaper of your soon-to-be-flying creation?

Even if you didn’t, the simple joy of flying a kite can be yours for a few coins – or you can watch other people do it for free at New Brighton on Saturday. It’s Kite Day – head along with the whanau and re-discover the simple fun of watching the sky.

Come fly a manu tukutuku (kite)

…or two.

Not long until Tip Top Kite Day, what a great day out for the whole whanau!

If you want to make a kite on the day, come along to the New Brighton Library on the 29th of January between 12 and 3pm and you can craft your own flying device at a fun session put together by Creative Junk  and the New Brighton Project.

Mr Nicholls' Kites flying at New Brighton Library
Come to the New Brighton Library and have a peek at the cool kites on display courtesy of Mr Jim Nicholls.

Would you like to know more about kites? Check out the latest info on the Christchurch City Libraries webpage.

Te Manu Tukutuku
Would you like some books about kites?

Oh! And the Buskers Festival  will be on at New Brighton on that weekend too!

Fun times ahead, New Brighton certainly is Canterbury’s Playground.

Vampires – but not as we know them

We all know the typical Twilight-esque vampire, all yearning, suppressed sexuality and teenage angst – oh and a little blood lust thrown in.

Then there’s the TV series True Blood, based on the  Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris (which I love) but its sexuality is not at all repressed,  and the blood quota is pretty much up there with Carrie.

I have just discovered (ok, I’m a bit slow sometimes), a whole new twist and I loved it. Let The Right One In is by Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist. Oskar lives with his mum in a high rise building in the western suburbs of Stockholm. It’s the early eighties and he likes listening to Kiss on his Walkman, solving puzzles – including the Rubik’s cube – and pasting grisly murder stories from the newspaper into his scrapbook.

A young girl his age, Eli, moves in next door and offers him a compelling friendship and help in dealing with school bullies. But Eli is not your typical 12 year old waif, and the story grips you as it is slowly revealed Eli is a vampire. But there is no full-on sexuality, just intensity and not a fang in sight.

Some of the classic concepts of life as a vampire are there: aversion to sunlight, needing to be invited into a home and not just walk in, and the never ending quest for, shall we say, ‘food sources’, but being a vampire is almost a side issue to the emotion and intensity between these two young people, trying to make sense of their worlds as they are. The community around them is horrified by the sudden increase in murders and disapearances that start around the time of Eli’s arrival.

Watercolour – give art a go!

coverThis year I’m studying watercolour painting. It’s a tricky process. The paper needs stretching, the paint never stays where you put it and if you mix the wrong pigments together you end up with mud. It can be frustrating but when it works, watercolour is wonderful.

Forget the idea that watercolour paintings are limited to depicting bland landscapes and posies of flowers. Emil Nolde, Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso all used watercolour to create powerful images. One of my favourite contemporary watercolourists is British painter, Shirley Trevena. The artist’s rich and vibrant works are glorious and she discusses her approach in an open and easy-to-understand way.

New synthetic pigments have added a punch to the pale old palette and today watercolours are portable, reasonably priced, easily mixed with other mediums and are funky so why not give them a go? There is plenty of encouragement and tuition available through art groups and courses.  I can virtually guarantee that watercolours will prove a challenge right the way through 2011.