Falling off the literary horse

Book CoverI’m the sort of person who studies literary form like a seasoned horse-racing enthusiast – who’s won what, who’s been rated by whom, who’s appeared on the shortlist, who’s got the best looking cover (okay, I’m shallow). I select what I hope will be winners and, even if they’re not, I take comfort from the belief I’m up with the in-crowd.

Last year however I totally lost track of what was hot and what was not. My concentration went away with my ability to sleep and I found myself reading crime. Elizabeth George, Benjamin Black, P.D. James and Ian Rankin were favourites and following the antics of their intrepid sleuths kept me diverted from the bumps in the night.

Now things are settling down a bit (hopefully, fingers crossed), I’ve decided to get back into something a little more challenging. I’ve perused the Literature guides at Christchurch City Libraries. I have caught up on the Literary prize winners, scanned the 100 most meaningful books of all time and found the Best reads 2011 list to be a cornucopia of literary delights.

I’ve started my re-education with Major Pettigrew’s last stand after a recommendation by robertafsmith. It’s an insightful story, light but beautifully written. I’m enjoying every word. It’s great to be back in the literary saddle again.

Now that I’m back, what do you recommend to keep me there?

Fun is … unravelling!

Cover of Knitty GrittyFor years it seemed to me that my nan sat in front of the television watching countless episodes of Coronation Street knitting what seemed like never-ending, but progressively larger versions of the same bottle green sweater for her 10 grandchilden who all attended the same local schools.

Typically, as she and my other grandma both kept us well provided with woollen garments, I never felt the need to learn.  Not saying she didn’t try but I wasn’t exactly a willing pupil!

My New Year’s resolution in 2011 was finding pastimes to keep me occupied and away from the television.  Well, I was still in the same room as the TV, but certainly couldn’t concentrate on viewing whilst getting to grips with a new interest.  A variety of short-burst ‘enthusiasms’ ensued and then a colleague suggested I try my hand at knitting.

I thought I would start with a scarf – mistakes occurred but the end result was snaffled by my  niece so I consoled myself that it obviously wasn’t too shabby an effort. Confidence at high levels I then attempted a sweater…  thank goodness for literature that explains how to correct mistakes.  My new hobby appears to be UNRAVELLING on a major scale.  The hours of fun I have had!!

Fortunately I have located both library books and magazines devoted to knitting  on the subject to assist me through this steep learning curve.  I have also discovered some interesting links in the library’s handicrafts page.

What New Year’s resolutions do you propose making in 2012?

Budget resolutions

It’s been a hard year for all our finances. My budget is not quite meeting around the middle (a bit like my clothes after all that ’Xmas eating) and it is time to take action. My New Year’s resolution is budget, budget, budget.

Looking around for some help I tried the catalogue and found lots of books to help me.Cover of "Survive the crunch!"

The last two look as though they might suit.

A bit of low-budget cookery might help things along too.

Of course if I was really onto it I’d try a bit of op-shopping or turn my lawn into a vege garden.  However for the former I’d need a bit of fashion flair, and for the latter I’m afraid I’d need a book entitled Gardening for the neglectful gardener.

More help on personal finance from our website.

OverDrive offers Lonely Planet travel guides!

Did you know that under the city of Paris there is a series of catacombs that contain the mortal remains of approximately six million Parisians? Their bones had been transferred to old quarries under Paris to relieveBook cover overcrowded cemeteries in the 18th and 19th century. How do I know this? It is just one of the many tips I have found from the Lonely Planet e-book guides now available on OverDrive!

You can find out where the best shopping is in Hong Kong, or learn how to bargain in the dusty  souqs (markets) of Egypt! You can find out how to hunt for truffles in Italy and establish the cheapest way to get around California? Your answers lie within!

All titles are “maximum access”. This means they are always available! So no holds or waiting necessary and you and your traveling partner can download the same guide onto your own devices! That way no fighting!

Enjoy – and if you need someone to carry your bags please feel free to give me a yell. Please? I have a student loan and mortgage so am not too proud to beg!

The mad rush to the sea

Thinking about our annual mass exodus to beaches and sea side towns on Boxing Day got me wondering if it was always so.

A bit of research on our website confirms that a seaside culture had grown up in the nineteenth century and those who could afford it holidayed at the sea. The Governor-General, for example, traditionally retired to Northland for “fishing and sunshine” and in 1894 Kaiteriteri was already a popular gathering (or trysting)  place at New Year.

It was not always so for the working man though. The law didn’t make even Christmas a holiday until late in the century; before that it was a regular working day for many. According to New Zealand History Online the summer break as we know it started to be popular in New Zealand from the 1920s, by which time most people had a week of holidays.

Travel was not by car, but by train and boat. Train excursions were popular right from their inception in the 1870s. However by between the wars newspapers referred to the holiday queues for boats and trains as the mad rush. As early as 1910 four express trains left Christchurch for points south every day during the holiday period. It all sounds a bit reminiscent of travelling in Europe. Motor cars didn’t become the main mode of transport until the 1950s.Image of Christchurch railway station, Moorhouse Avenue, in 1960

Perhaps that explains why we had such a large and forlorn (I always thought), railway station built in Christchurch in the 1960s. Someone hadn’t caught up with our change in travelling habits.

Get down with your bad self at Naxos Music Library

LogoThe Naxos Music Library offers library members access to over 800,000 (and growing) musical tracks.  Musical genres include:

  • Classical – including ballet, choral, opera, orchestral and musicals;
  • Jazz;
  • Gospel;
  • World;
  • Folk;
  • Spoken word;
  • Chinese music;
  • Relaxation music.

You can select works by composer, artist, period, instrument or genre.  Although music can not be downloaded the ability to create streaming playlists allows for hours of continuous enjoyment.

If you find yourself loving this resource, don’t forget Naxos Video Library (not available to use inside community libraries) which is a performing arts video library containing concerts, operas, ballets, feature films and documentaries.

Access these and many other fantastic electronic resources  from home with your library card number and PIN, or at our open community libraries through the Source.

National parks: taonga of the land

A popular holiday destination for New Zealanders over the coming weeks will be those beautiful and unspoiled natural havens – our national parks.

We have many far-sighted individuals to thank for the opportunity to visit these stunning pockets of wilderness. The first was a Tūwharetoa chief called Horonuku Te Heuheu. Concerned that an argument over ownership would lead to the splitting up of the central North Island volcanoes area, he gave the land to the Crown for a national park. In this way he preserved both the land and its tapu. It became Tongariro National Park in 1894.Book cover

Perhaps unsurprisingly the government’s early desire for national parks had less to do with preservation than with lucre. They were run mainly as tourist and recreational  areas in the hope of making the country money via tourism  – and with no regard for the native flora and fauna. Indeed various individuals introduced such great “improvements” as heather, lupins and deer to them, with official blessings.

Bad behaviour wasn’t confined to those little episodes either.  According to Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Arthur’s Pass National Park came into being as a result of the scandalous predations of visitors delivered there from Christchurch on excursion trains in the 1920s. They stripped the plants of  flowers, cut down trees and generally despoiled the place. However, by this time there were more conservationists around and both they and the locals lobbied until it became a park in 1926.

Thank goodness for the wisdom of those like Horonuku Te Heuheu and enthusiasts like  Harry Ell and his ilk.

We have some wonderful books to help you make the best of these precious places – coffee table books  for stay-at-homes, or visitor guides and tramping guides to take with you on your trip, or even mountaineering guides if you’re really feeling energetic.

What is your favourite national park?

Christmas – It’s a mixed bag this year

At the risk of bringing a bit of a damper to the celebrations, I think it’s important to acknowledge that for many people Christmas is a bit of a mixed bag this year.  On the one hand there is the chance to celebrate, and to kick back with friends and family; on the other there is the ongoing nature of daily lives affected by damaged homes, uncertainty and loss. It really is a time to take care of ourselves and each other.  Perhaps you are feeling overly anxious, a bit grouchy, stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or all of the above!  Considering the year we have had all of these feelings are completely understandable.

The self-help section of the library has some fantastic material that could help.  Sometimes ‘self help’ evokes bad press,  but in this collection there is plenty of good solid sensible advice for those of us in need of a bit of care and understanding.

Don’t forget to use our CINCH database if you feel that you need to find someone, or an agency with whom you could talk to. Our Earthquake recovery page on the library website might be worth looking at again, as it has many agencies that are still working actively in Christchurch.

You might also want to check out some of these titles:

All blacks don’t cry by John Kirwan.  Personally I think this man should be nominated for a knighthood!  A very personal story that normalises depression and offers hope.

Dealing with depression by Caroline Shreeve.  Some books on this subject proclaim one approach as providing the magic cure – this one gives a good overview of a number of strategies  including medication and alternative therapies.

Cover of "5 survivors"The mindful way through anxiety by Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer.  The authors describe how to gain awareness of anxious feelings without letting them escalate.  Lots of stories, self-quizzes and step-by-step exercises.

5 survivors: personal stories of healing from PTSD and traumatic events by Tracy Stecker. Theauthor outlines the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the progress of each survivor.  Those living with untreated PTSD may see themselves in these stories and realize they are not alone. It is also useful for friends and family of those who have been  impacted by the trauma, and aims to give more intimate understanding of a loved one’s struggle and pain.

Dancing through the dark

Book CoverIf you are related to, are friends of, live next door to, have your paper delivered by school age children, chances are you’ve been invited to attend a performance to celebrate the hard work they’ve put into their chosen pursuit this year.

Initially, I cringed at the thought of squeezing into a crowded auditorium packed with proud parents to spend two hours of precious Christmas planning time watching a show, but I seized the moment and went to one ballet and two jazz dance performances. And I’m so glad I did – it’s been enchanting.

The young people and the dance teachers of Christchurch have somehow achieved the impossible and brought a bit of magic to this battered city. Thanks guys. You’ve lifted my spirits. Three hearty Christmas cheers to you all!

Useful resources for dancers and dance-lovers:

The Stations of the Cross

In 1984 Colin McCahon went to Sydney for the opening of a small Coverretrospective of his work. While visiting the Sydney Botanic Gardens he became confused, disappeared and was missing for 28 hours before he was found in a psychiatric hospital where he had been placed because he was unable to say who he was.

When Martin Edmond found this story he “thought and thought about it and at some point conceived the idea of of replicating that lost journey…to arbitrarily choose a route and along it find equivalents for the fourteen Stations of the Cross.”

In Dark night: Walking with McCahon Edmond writes about his walks from the Botanic Gardens to Centennial Park, where McCahon had been picked up in a routine police sweep after spending the night outdoors. Edmond made the walk several times, at different times of day on different days and nights, observing the world he entered immediately he began walking  “the world of street people, of the homeless and the bereft, of the abandoned.”

It’s a side of Sydney few visitors see, but there is a lot more to this book than ‘a brilliant exploration of a city and its denizens’, as the jacket says. Edmond also has some acute observations about Colin McCahon, and art, and families, and religion, and faith.

I first heard of the possibility of this book a few years ago at an Auckland Writers and Readers Festival when Edmond was an one of the authors. He told the story of McCahon’s disappearance and mentioned that Alexa Johnston, at the Festival  that year with her lovely book about baking, had been a curator at the Auckland Art Gallery and was with the McCahons at the Sydney Botanic Gardens when Colin McCahon went missing. Finding all this absolutely fascinating I kept an eye out for the book –  but I had to wait a while.

The wait was worth it in so many ways. I loved this book but there is one thing missing, possibly deliberately left out for reasons best known to the author.  A map of the walk. As it is I have to go back through the book and plot it out because if I am ever in Sydney I am making a pilgrimage to these stations of the Cross.