Old friends, old friends, sat on a bench like bookends…

CoverWhile 2016 was taking its final victims, one smaller obituary caught my eye amidst the many articles on the passing of Carrie Fisher and George Michael. The obituary was for Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. At 96, we certainly could not say that Adam’s rich life was cut short, but to lose him at the same time as Carrie Fisher hit me a little hard.

Why? Because I think I can safely say that if Star Wars was the major film influence of my childhood (why yes, I am of an age that I saw Episode Four at the movies) Watership Down was my literary guiding star.

Like a perhaps-not-surprising number of librarians, I have a literary tattoo. Two rabbits make a small circle on the inside of my right wrist. Those familiar with the beautiful and terrifying movie adaptation of Watership Down might recognise them as the Black Rabbit of Inlé and El-ahrairah, the dominant figures of the amazing mythology Adams created for his rabbits.

I first read Watership Down when I was seven – it was the first “grown-up” novel I read. My Mum was reading it to me chapter by chapter at bedtime and I got impatient, wanting to know what happened next – one chapter each night just wasn’t enough! Therein started a lifelong love affair (and a tendency to read under the blankets by torchlight).

I became passionate about all things rabbit. I suspect this actually began earlier (I had a family of soft-toy rabbits), but this was about real rabbits, with real rabbit behaviours, and sometimes brutal realities.

I soaked up information about rabbits like a sponge, reading every book on the subject my local library had to offer. My poor parents also became the subjects of an intense campaign for pet rabbits. They managed to hold out for five years (pretty impressive as I was using every emotionally manipulative, devious and ceaseless tactic in my young arsenal). I’ve had pet rabbits pretty much ever since, save for a couple of gaps of a few years.

One of my most treasured childhood birthday presents was an illustrated hardcover edition of the book, full of beautiful watercolours and pen-and-ink sketches. It still has pride of place on my bookshelf, not least because I think my parents went to some trouble to acquire it. I also still have a cassette tape of the movie soundtrack – no videos in those days, let alone DVDs – though it’s a little stretched and wobbly now from endless hours of playing.

When I lost count sometime in my early teens, I had read Watership Down well over one hundred times. I could quote large sections by heart. I can still pretty much tell the wonderful rabbit creation story off the top of my head.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.

But when I look back over all the years of reading this book, what really stands out to me is the different things I learned at the various ages I dipped into it.

At seven I learned not only about rabbits, the English countryside, and its flora and fauna; I also gained – at a rather young age – an introduction to some quite complex philosophical ideas about the cyclical, amoral (as opposed to moral or immoral) nature of life and death: that there are no “goodies” and “badies” in the natural world of predators and prey.

In my early teens I became fascinated by the way the warrens represented different political systems, from the complaisant, bloated monarchy of Sandleford and the fatalistic puppet-state of Cowslip’s warren, to the brutal dictatorship of Efrafa and the idealistic Utopian society of the new warren on the Downs. What Adams portrays so well through his rabbits is how the human spirit reacts in each of these situations.

In my late teens I discovered Joseph Campbell and Karl Jung – and the hero-myths of El-ahrairah, scattered though the book, took on new meaning. Adams took Jungian ideas of the hero-myth and turned them on their head to suit his rabbits. El-ahrairah is not the young battling hero so common in human mythology, but is instead the Trickster figure (as is of course Br’er Rabbit) – often distrusted in our myths but who else would a prey animal look to, than a hero who always manages to fool his nemesis and live to run another day?

Since then I have visited Watership Down every year or so like an old friend, each time being drawn in and delighted anew by the sheer level of detail in Adams’ descriptions and his slightly old-fashioned, thoughtful style of conversing with his readers.

And yes, I still can’t listen to Bright Eyes, or read the end of the book, without sniffling a little.

Goodbye Mr Adams. Thank you for lightening a long car journey for your daughters by telling them a story about an adventuring band of rabbits, and going on to discover your writer’s voice at 55. You crafted a story that has shaped my life.

It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses. “You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be alright – and thousands like them.”

 

Podcast – Youth engagement in elections

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from New Zealand’s only specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

This episode discusses issues around youth engagement with elections such as –

  • youth engagement in the recent NZ local-body elections and disappointingly low levels of voter turnout
  • contrasted with high levels of youth engagement in the American presidential elections despite those elections being less immediately relevant to the lives of young people in Christchurch
  • the role of memes (and social media in general) to encourage youth engagement – the positives and negatives of this type of social commentary
  • what lessons might be taken from these two experiences and brought to bear on the national elections next year
  • the responsibility of youth leaders in encouraging youth engagement in elections

The panel for this show includes host Sally Carlton, Tayla Reece Work of Youth Voice Canterbury, Tei Driver of Global Development Tour 2017 and Sofie Hampton of Christchurch Youth Council.

Transcript of audio file

Organisations mentioned in the show

Find out more in our collection

Cover of The electoral politics in New Zealand Cover of Vote cover of Voters' victory Cover of Class, gender and the vote Cover of New Zealand Government and politics Cover of Virus of the mind

More about Speak up – Kōrerotia

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According to Helen: Best reads of 2016

These are my top 10 books of 2016 – a mix of poetry, novels, and non-fiction that I loved and still wish I hadn’t finished (grumble grumble).

Cover of Book of longingBook of Longing

I have always been a big fan of Leonard Cohen‘s incredible music and was in no way disappointed by his poetry. This anthology is every bit as beautiful, poignant, and playful as his lyrics. I definitely recommend seeing out 2016 by reading this reflective and enlightening collection, and remembering this sadly missed genius.

North and South

To my eternal shame, I only read the book of ‘North and South’ for the first time this year, despite having watched the wondrous BBC series at least 50 times (and yes I am unashamed). I enjoyed every minute of this book and not only because I could envisage the dashing Richard Armitage throughout the novel (not wholly) but because of its fascinating story, real characters, and gripping narrative. A must read for anyone who loves classics – or even just an outstanding novel.

Cover of Nightingale WoodNightingale Wood

‘Nightingale Wood’ is a fun and fabulous Cinderella story set in the 1930s. It is a truly magical read that will make everything you read after seem vastly inferior (trust me, I still wish I hadn’t finished it, *sigh*).

The Fit

I enjoyed every minute of this hillarious, tragic, and poignant novel. Hensher handles some heartbreaking themes with perception and humanity.  ‘The Fit’ well earned its place in my best books of 2016.

Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman

This collection of short stories detailing the exploits of A J Raffles, a cricketer by day and society thief by night, is incredibly fun – and incredibly good. Lovers of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy these stories which are set in the same era as Holmes and told with the same flair. This is a new author to get addicted to.

Eugene Onegin

I just loved Pushkin’s beautiful novel in verse. Onegin’s dreamy prose, fabulous heroine, and exquisitely sad story made this not just a best read of 2016 for me, but one of my best reads ever.

Cover of Public Library and other storiesPublic Library and Other Stories

This weird and wonderful book was definitely a highlight of this year. While a very fitting subject for me to be reading about it was also a moving, wacky and constantly gripping read.

Shadowed Journey

Did I have a huge soft spot for this book because it was written by a distant ancestor of mine? Yes. But did I genuinely love this book with its adorably bad romantic story, and its wonderful evocation of New Zealand during the 1950s? A big yes. Oh and have I reserved more titles by this author? You bet, yes.

Cover of Oscar's booksOscar’s Books

This wonderfully warm and engaging biography must be the ultimate work on Oscar Wilde. Wright manages to get right into the mind of this incredible genius with an endearing obsessiveness, intelligence, and warmth.

Phantom Terror

Written with flair, honesty, and scintillating detail, Zamoyski’s latest work looks at Europe during the paranoid and anxious post revolution period. While reminiscent of one of Zamoyski’s earlier works (‘Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries 1776-1871’) ‘Phantom Terror’ is still a must read for any lover of grippingly written history. Zamoyski is a master historian who consistently manages to bring the past to life with a new and important perspective.

Want more reading recommendations for the best of the year? Check out our bumper Best Reads of 2016 post.

Helen
Linwood Library

David Bowie : The Man Who Stole the World DVD

On 10 January 2016 David Bowie died, leaving us his last album, Blackstar. The world as we knew it changed forever.

The Man Who Stole The World DVD is a tribute to the man “who stole the world and put it in a better place”, according to the narrator. The short documentary, the first to be released since his death, covers David Bowie’s life and music, looking at what made his albums so ground breaking; changing people’s perceptions of themselves, music and society.

I was worried, as a huge fan, that it would be corny and sensational. It isn’t. This is a moving account of the man’s life and incredible creativity. The DVD includes interviews with people who had a business or personal relationship with him, such as English DJ Paul Gambaccini and former NME photographer, Kevin Cummins. Some of the footage is new, and some you may have seen before.

Merry Christmas, David Bowie Fans

Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)
Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)

More music resources

Christmas on Zinio

Read Christmas issue eMagazines on the go – Check out the titles available via Zinio.

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Te Rerenga Kōrero – Waimarie!

Kia ora. To encourage the use of Te Reo Māori Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – The Māori Language Commission publish weekly Māori phrases that can be used to support or cheer someone on.

Waimarie!
Lucky!

akina te reo rugby

School holidays! Holiday programmes, events, and activities – December 2016 to January 2017

School holidays are on – find out what’s on for Christchurch children. Check out the holiday programmes and activities at our libraries and learning centres, and shows and performances for kids.

Holiday programmes

Library and Learning Centre holiday programmes and activities

Our libraries and learning centres offer a variety of accessible, safe and affordable activities for children during their school holidays. Programmes and activities are aimed at children between the ages of five and 15 years:

Activities include LEGO animation, Maker Space, Minecraft, LEGO mindstorms robotics, summer sewing, photo fun, and Bee-bots story adventure.

Summertime Reading Club

Christchurch holiday programmes

The following organisations are running holiday programmes for kids in the summer holidays:

Search CINCH, our Community Information Christchurch database, for more Canterbury holiday programmes.

Find an OSCAR programme (Out of School Care and Recreation) and view this map of OSCAR programmes in Christchurch.

Shows, movies, and performances

Kid friendly movies on in the holidays include: Moana, Sing, Rogue One, Ballerina, Middle School: The worst years of my life.

Outdoor movies

This summer there will be some outdoor movies to enjoy!

Outdoor Cinema at the Arts Centre

Outdoor Cinema at the Arts Centre movies will be shown free-of-charge at 5.30pm and 8pm, the first for children followed by a later screening for the adults. North Quad, Arts Centre.

    • Fri 09 December: 5.30pm: The Muppet Christmas Carol; 8pm: Love Actually
    • Fri 13 January: 5.30pm: Finding Nemo; 8pm: Goldfinger
    • Fri 10 February
    • Fri 10 March

Christmas movie night at Re:START

Grab the family and get into some free Christmas entertainment at Re:START. Bring a cushion and head down – the outdoor screening begins at 6:30pm and in addition there’s late night shopping hours until 9pm and extended food options, with some of the city’s best food trucks on hand. The new Re:START Play:ZONE will also be available!

Summertimes

Summertimes includes lots of local events to enjoy in Christchurch. Check out the list of events aimed at whānau and kids, including:

Things to do, and places to go in Christchurch

Margaret Mahy Playground - new slide and towers

Margaret Mahy playground

For more events and activities, search Be There and Eventfinda.

Improbable places and improbable food

9781781315323Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners hides interesting gems of information behind a unprepossessing cover and layout.  I was somewhat disappointed that the photos were in black and white, but as I explored the book I realised that this just adds to the general sense of abandonment and improbability.

Each place is devoted a couple of pages and includes a map and photos. I was fascinated by Slab City located in California.  It is described as “the last free place in America” and occupies 640 acres of concrete and debris-littered land.  People live rent free in makeshift homes that over the years have attracted the dispossessed, the lost, plus plenty of libertarians and eccentrics.  After the 2008 financial crash some people ended up there out of total necessity as their homes were foreclosed.

Another Californian oddity is Colma, with a small population of only 1,400, the dead on the other hand – close to 2 million – occupy seventeen cemeteries.  Gives a whole new meaning to the “dead centre of town”.

An abandoned tourist resort in Cyprus also piqued my interest.  Once a mecca for the wealthy and famous, it was abandoned after Turkish troops occupied the part of the island where it was located, and tourists and residents alike fled.  For forty years Turkish soldiers were the only ones to benefit from the resorts high-end hotels but it has now been left to Mother Nature.  It remains out-of-bounds but word has it that the ghost resort is still full of once fashionable cars and, more excitingly, 1970s clothes!

Aquafaba: Sweet and Savory Vegan Recipes Made Egg-Free With the Magic of Bean Water
Really … have you ever heard of anything more unappetising!? Apparently the name comes from a combination of the Latin root words for water and bean.  Aquafaba mimics the properties of eggs and can even be whipped up into a tasty pavlova, although I have my doubts.

There is a good news story around it however, with the online vegan community getting right behind the idea. A host of people are trying out recipes and ideas to get the ideal Aquafaba experience, and this is replicated in this book.  Certainly the pictures look quite appetising and range from the savoury to sweet, including a rather lovely looking lemon meringue pie.

Someone else give it a go and let me know the verdict!

Something for the coffee table

CoverBitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper and Arsenic in the Victorian House by Lucinda Hawksley

This is the sort of book that you can just meander through, looking at the pretty pictures and picking up a bit of information here and there –  exactly my sort of non-fiction!

Arsenic is of course a poison, prevalent in whodunnits. What I didn’t realise was that it is also a wonderful enhancer of colour, and was used extensively in wallpaper.  Not only were these papers poisonous to those unfortunate enough to work in the factories that produced them, but a gas was produced when they became damp. This was not an unusual situation when many houses had little heating and cold damp conditions.

A lovely – if slightly chilling – book to flick through with fascinating anecdotes, luscious illustrations of the wallpapers and stories that flesh out the history of arsenic and its victims.

CoverGreat Houses Modern Aristocrats by James Reginato

This is another wonderful book to dip into. The author is a writer-at-large for Vanity Fair, and I really enjoyed the way he brings the homes – and the people in them – to life.

We are introduced to Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma who sits in the chair with a steady, suspicious and steely gaze, while her sister (standing) describes her older sister as “the personification of the stiff upper lip”.  Patricia apparently has more titles than any woman in England and Queen Elizabeth reportedly gets a bit flustered in her company:

She was Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for thirty-three years, until she retired in 2004.  “When I turned eighty, I said, ‘for goodness sake, I can’t drive a tank any longer'” she explains.

Many of these homes are impossibly expensive to keep up. Some have been turned into variations of a Disney theme park, but many of the occupants have developed clever and surprisingly interesting ways of making a bob or two.

The Honourable Garech Browne of Luggala in Ireland has been a champion of Irish music, forming Claddagh Records and sponsoring the Chieftains.  The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava specialises in prize cows and artisanal yoghurt. When asked what supermarket she would prefer stocked the yoghurt she replied that she “hadn’t a clue” because she had never been to a supermarket!

Even the cover intrigues me, a young aristocratic couple and their son – mother and son perched on top of an ornate ladder (as you do) and the young father leaning nonchalantly, dressed in what looks like his grandfather’s military jacket, surrounded by old books and paintings.  All very otherwordly.

Trevor Noah in my Christmas stocking!

Born a CrimeSouth African born comedian Trevor Noah is a terrific talker – let there be no doubt about that. But can he write? Well here’s our chance to find out with his hot-off-the press biography Born a Crime.

Not the first sentence in the book, but right near the start of Chapter 1, is the following sentence:

I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car.

And the book careens onward from there. It is hilarious, heart-warming, revealing, educational, embarrassing (if you were born white in South Africa when I was), and yes, it is extremely well written.

Trevor Noah is worshipped in South Africa and by South Africans worldwide (I attended one of his shows in Christchurch a couple of years ago). On my recent SA holiday, all over Cape Town and Durban I saw people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and genders wearing Trevor Noah Born a Crime Tees. There were even a smattering of Trevor Noah for President shirts – and it is my one holiday regret that I did not buy one!

But he is also internationally known as the host of the award winning Daily Show, and now has his home in New York. If you are one of the few souls yet to hear him at his best, have a listen to this clip on airport announcements. Straight after that you might like to make a list of all the people who would love to find this book in their Christmas stocking, here’s mine:

  • Mothers and sons – Noah is at his best when he is on this topic;
  • People who love biographies of  the Poor Boy Makes Good ilk;
  • People who thought they understood South African politics (pause here for hysterical laughter);
  • South Africans everywhere;
  • People who like a good laugh – and that’s pretty much all of us.

But, it’s not really a book review if you just love everything, so I have to confide that I hate the title Born A Crime which I don’t believe does the book any favours. Even though Noah references the title on page 26, it just doesn’t work for me.

So, in answer to the question “Can Trevor Noah write?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Trevor Noah can indeed walk the talk!

Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473635289