A river runs through it

‘Eventide’:photo of an 1888 John Gibb painting of the river at Burwood. Original owned by the Parochial District of Burwood

Having spent most of my Christchurch life living east of the Square and close to the Avon River, I’m pretty passionate about the delights of those riverside suburbs like Richmond, Avonside, Dallington and out to New Brighton. The river has always been a source of beauty, fun, exercise and general place defining for my family. So I was pretty chuffed to see the folks at the Avon-Otakaro Network are organising a Spring River festival. I’d encourage people all over Christchurch to get in behind this. Take a trip across town and get involved in the programme.

Yes the roads are shocking (just go slowly) and you’ll see some pretty depressing sights, but the folks over the East side need your support. Check out local shops and spend some money there and visit three of our coolest  libraries – Parklands, Aranui and New Brighton. You can still walk and cycle along the river in many places, the beach is still the beach and the river, the Estuary and Travis Wetland still teem with birdlife. There is also The Breeze Walking Festival  from 29 September to 7 October which offers 22 walks for all fitness levels.

Eastern Christchurch and the river has always attracted interesting characters, like Professor Bickerton, and has been a happy hunting ground for local historians. Our own Richard Greenaway has explored the eastern suburbs in depth. A good example is his Requiem for a watering hole: The Bower Hotel. Another fascinating source of local history is Tim Baker from Aranui and you can’t go past Bruce Ansley’s Gods and little fishes for capturing the flavour of New Brighton.

Words and pictures

There’s a few things in the library that we librarians have a love-hate relationship with.  Sophisticated picture books are one of those things. Clearly, we love books – did I mention we are librarians? And clearly we also love order (librarians!).

And sophisticated picture books (you know, those over-sized books you find in the kids’ area, which look like picture books, but are way too grown-up for your average three year old) are truly things that inspire both love and hate in many of us. Well, in me, anyway. These books are big. Picture book big. But we classify them as children’s fiction, and so we have to find creative ways of shelving them in areas where they tower over their tiny brothers and sisters, lurk at the ends of shelves, get left in piles at the ends of rows, or even (gasp!) get hidden in the actual picture book bins. My librarian’s soul hates this uncertainty.

But oh! the books themselves. Given an unlimited budget and a house with an extra dimension to hold an infinite library, I would empty my wallet and fill my bookshelves with these works of art.

Tohby Riddle, Colin Thompson, Gary Crew, Shaun Tan, Dave McKean, Ben Templesmith: all artists who have the gift not only of art but of language.  Sometimes they write and illustrate, sometimes they team up with others to create books that truly transcend boundaries.  [Insert drivellingly adoring comment about the partnership between Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean].

Most of the time these books end up in the children’s area, but sometimes the content is just too grown-up for this, and you have to go exploring a bit further. Gaiman and McKean often end up with the adult graphic novels, along with Templesmith, whose art is gloriously bloodthirsty in a hauntingly horror-filled mixed-media, overlaid transparency and watercolours kind of way; and Gary Crew and Shaun Tan can be found loitering in the teens’ section. Both Shaun Tan and Neil Gaiman’s works have been turned into astonishingly beautiful movies – we have The Lost Thing here in the library on DVD, and Gaiman’s Mirrormask can be found in places like Alice’s. Colin Thompson’s illustrations have been turned into jigsaws and you can buy Tohby Riddle’s signed artwork online.

Above all, though, you can find them here at the library. It would make me more than happy if you came and found these books and took them home with you. Not only will you too be able to share and appreciate the beauty of these works of art, but then I won’t have to worry about how to shelve them …