Thinking in the Garden – WORD Christchurch

Cover of Philosophy in the GardenIn the last three and a half years I’ve spent more time reading books on gardens than I ever did when I owned one. I’ve done even more thinking about gardens since attending the Philosophy in the Gardens session at WORD, where philosopher Damon Young talked about authors and their gardens.

Highlights included Jane Austen – lover of apricots and syringas, although one cynic in the audience was moved to ask “was she a gardener or a pointer?” A gardener it seems, along with George Orwell, Emily Dickinson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Nietzsche, Voltaire and Colette. Even Proust, a man who barely left his cork-lined room, owned a bonsai or three.

And is Young a gardener? Yes, but not a good one. He claimed he could recite a list of the plants he has killed in much the same way as the warriors in The Iliad who, preparatory to killing a man, recite a list of those they have killed before. Ah, the perfectly placed classical reference – one of the things you go to a book festival for.

Virginia Woolf’s Garden was on my For Later list before the session, but according to Young it was Leonard Woolf who won the prizes. Now it’s to be joined by Philosophy in the Garden.

WORD Christchurch:

The Interestings – WORD Christchurch

There are some similarities between Jules of The Interestings and the author, Meg Wolitzer admits.

I did go to an arty summer camp when I was a teenager, and I too was from the suburbs. Everyone else seemed to be from New York City and I found them fascinating, they were so sophisticated but not jaded. I met my closest friend at this summer camp, and at the end of it I was changed. I couldn’t go back to who I was before I went away.

So far, so similar. But The Interestings isn’t just a nostalgic look at one teenage sumMeg Wolitzer — WORD Christchurchmer, it’s about the moment when you find your people, your cohort. Kate de Goldi describes it as a novel about a group or community anchored by the main narrative of Jules. It’s a novel about how talent does or doesn’t last, the way some things fade over the decades, and the way we shuttle back and forth in time within our thoughts.

But what about Wolitzer’s other novels?

The Ten-Year Nap:

I was interested in exploring what happens when women stop working to be with their families. After you have children, time seems to stand still for a while.

The Uncoupling:

I wanted to write about the aging of women’s desire over time, but when I tried it sounded like a magazine article. Instead I used the idea of this literal spell that is cast over a town, because when you think about it love is like a spell. When you’re in love you want to talk to your lover ten times a day, but when you’re out of love suddenly you don’t think about them at all.

And then there’s Wolitzer’s upcoming novel for young adults, Belzhar, featuring a main character at a boarding school for highly intelligent teens with emotional issues. The title is a play on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and the novel asks, “What is the thing that we just can’t bear?”

Wolitzer talked about the angst that teenagers go through, and how there is no hierarchy of pain — the despair teens experience is the worst thing that has happened to them, and should be taken seriously. With that and Sylvia Plath it sounds like a grim read, but judging from the laughter during Wolitzer’s session and the humour inherent in her adult novels, I can’t imagine that it will be anything but enjoyable.

Cover of The Interestings Cover of The Uncoupling Cover of Belzhar

P.S. Just for reference, Wolitzer recommends pairing her books with a nice sauvignon blanc.

How to think about exercise – WORD Christchurch

Cover of How to think about exerciseAt all the festivals I attend, I like to do a pin stab. That’s where I open the fold-out programme, close my eyes and make a jab at the page. Then I go to that event. No matter what. This year, my jab landed on Body and Mind – How to Think About Exercise which is the title of Damon Young’s latest book.

Well, let’s be frank here, I don’t usually have any problems thinking about exercise. But I had a sinking feeling this festival event would end up making me feel bad about not actually doing it. Still, a pact is a pact.

The audience was reassuringly normal looking. I had feared being sandwiched between gym jocks. Damon himself  looked suspiciously toned, but co-host Marcus Elliott had a suitably disarming presence. But thirty minutes into this one hour event Elliott was still introducing Damon and we were still nudging around the topic of Philosophy:

Philosophy has to make sense in the context of my life and there is a moral dimension to this. Debate about current moral issues is vital, but debate is not just talking about your prejudices.

So far so good, the word exercise hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Whew. But here it comes:

For too long we have broadly defined people as “bookish and ethereal”or “physical and dumb” This is plain bunkum in Damon’s opinion.This notion of dualism is in fact what stops us from flourishing. His book teases out the benefits of removing this duality and breaking down the insidious capture of the notion of fitness by the young and the beautiful (philosophically speaking, whatever beauty may be. But let’s not go there right now).

Put quite simply Damon encourages us to disentangle how we look from who we think we are – our character, in other words. Just find a form of exercise you like. And do it. Think about what you are doing and take pride in this enhancement of your sense of self.

At the end, I elbowed my way out of the room and to the front of the book selling queue. Down the steps and I was second in line at the book signing table. When I handed my little book across, I said to Damon: “I can’t believe I am buying a book on exercise and one with such an ugly cover as well!” He laughed and took the book and signed inside:

To Roberta,

May you not judge this book by its cover!



WORD Christchurch:

Te Kupu o te Wiki – The Word of the Week

Kia ora. To celebrate Te Reo Māori we are publishing kupu (words) and whakataukī (proverbs).

Kīwaha (colloquialism)

E mea ana koe
You bet

Kupu (word)


Kei ngā rangi ngā manu e rere ana.
The birds are in the sky flying about.


He manako te koura i kore ai.
There are no crayfish as you set your heart on them.

This is similar to not putting all your eggs in one basket. You could also consider this as Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

Browse our Te Reo Māori resources.

This week in Christchurch history (1 September – 7 September)

1 September 1888
Earthquake causes damage throughout City. Cathedral spire badly damaged.

Earthquake damage to the Cathedral spire, in 1888 and 1901 [1901] Christchurch City Libraries, CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0059
Earthquake damage to the Cathedral spire, in 1888 and 1901
See this image on our website.
4 September 2010
The Darfield earthquake woke Canterbury at 4:35am. The magnitude 7.1. quake was centred 40km west of Christchurch.

5 September 1985
French agent Dominique Prieur convicted over the bombing of the Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior”, transferred from Mt Eden Jail to Christchurch Womens Prison.

6 September 1878
Railway to Dunedin officially opens. The occasion was marked by a banquet (The Star, 6 September 1878 via Papers Past)

7 September 1850
First Canterbury Association settlers sail from Plymouth, England on the Charlotte Jane, Randolph and Cressy.

7 September 1863
G. Lumley convicted of manslaughter. (Monday September 7 1863 Supreme Court in Lyttelton Times, 9 September 1863 via Papers Past)

Christchurch chronology
A timeline of Christchurch events in
chronological order from pre-European times to 1989.

More September events in the Chronology.