Serial killers

Face facts, life has bad patches. I’m in one right now: post Italy holiday blues; Skype meltdowns in the middle of calls to the grandies; and Pneumonia.

GormenghastTime was I would have bounced back from all of this, but now it feels more like I am seeping. Seep-back requires that you do nothing. This is so much harder to do than one might have thought.

What I really needed was a good book. And the best books for holidays and dark times are serials. The first serial I ever read was way back in my twenties – The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake – a cultish read at that time. I loved these books and I remember, in particular, that my understanding of the importance of setting and naming in a novel stems largely from these reads. Ah Steerpike, Titus Groan and Fuschia!

DissolutionForty years passed before I read another serial: The Dissolution series by C.J. Sansom. Far surpassing anything else written about the time of King Henry VIII, these books get down and dirty with England at the time of Henry’s reign and they do this through a hunchback lawyer – Shardlake – as the main protagonist. If you’ve read Hilary Mantel and have tired of Philippa Gregory, do yourself a favour and try Sansom’s clever murder mysteries set in Cromwell’s time.

My Brilliant FriendAnd that was it for me and serials. Until we went on holiday to Italy, and right at the last minute I remembered that I’d been given the first book of The Neopolitan Series by Elena Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend. I popped it into my hand luggage, and what a wise move that turned out to be.

Written in Italian and translated into many other languages, I have become a Ferrante groupie. I now know that this is the pseudonym of an author who wanted her real identity kept secret (but who has just been outed by a nosy journalist). I’m also now aware that there are actual Ferrante tours of Naples  which visit all the main locations mentioned in the books. And I’ve learnt that a TV series on the Neopolitan Novels is currently being filmed in Italy.

But mainly I fell onto the couch, and into another world of family and friendships and fall-outs. A world that does not stop after one book. A world peopled by characters so real you want to slap them, or as said by reviewer John Freeman writing for The Australian:

Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.

I’m saving the fourth and last book for my Christmas read, my not-so-Secret-Santa gift to myself!

Any suggestions for other very readable series?

My Library – Robyn Chandler, Manager of Literacy Christchurch

Literacy Christchurch (formerly known as ARAS – Adult Reading Assistance Scheme) celebrates its 40th birthday today.  ARAS began on 13 December 1977 as a pilot scheme initiated by the Canterbury WEA (Workers Educational Association), with 8 volunteer tutors and 8 students.

Robyn Chandler, manager of Literacy Christchurch, talked to Jan Orme, Senior Library Assistant, Outreach and Learning Team for the sixth issue of our magazine uncover – huraina.

Professionally, what does the library mean to you?

So many things – university, education, nurturing, empowerment, research, choice, access to knowledge – the library is a place of instruction and delight, and such a key feature of a free society. It’s a world of information and cultural richness rather than a set of walls. Libraries have provided both education and entertainment for me.

And personally – what’s your favourite part of the library?

CoverDo I have to pick only one? I love the displays of artwork and artefacts, the children’s section and its sense of potential. I tend to focus on one area of a collection for a while – mountaineering, gardening, local history, music, art… recently the graphic novel collection (loved Northern Lights). But if I had to focus on just the one area because I had a time limit it would be the new books – there’s always something to find.

Would you please share some highlights of your own literacy journey?

CoverI remember sitting outside the University library on a bleak winter’s day reading the 19th century novel Wuthering Heights, the words collapsing the distances of history, space, and culture. I was there, on that “bleak hill-top,” lost in the “atmospheric tumult.”

On a professional level, it would have to be becoming a volunteer literacy tutor and having the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life and sharing their literacy journey for a time.

What would you say to your learners who are new to using the library?

I would want them to know that they are in charge of their library experience and that there are people available to support them with their library choices and needs. I would advise them to not be intimidated and to be aware of the resources available to them and that library staff are more than happy to help. The library is there for everybody; the library belongs to us all.

We’d love to see more of your learners in our libraries, what would be your best advice to help us achieve that?

The most important thing new library users need to see is a friendly face and to feel welcomed, to see proof that the library is there for them and their community. Some of our learners have English as an additional language and it would be nice to see more welcome signs in other languages. I’m really pleased to see that families are going to be able to take part in the Summer Reading challenges this year, this kind of activity encourages novice library users to participate in what’s going on in the library. Doing things with whānau can feel more natural than doing things alone.

What would be the one book you would take to a desert island?

I’m going to cheat – my desert island will have WiFi and I will be accessing the library’s great and growing collection of eResources. Me, my device, and more media than I’ll ever be able to get through … a whole world at my fingertips.

Read online in uncover- huraina issue 6, p 16

Mona Anderson’s tale of High Country life

A River Rules My Life has been re-released!

Originally published in 1963, Mona Anderson’s unique perspective of a woman’s experience on a South Island farm brings to life the High Country of days gone by.

Deep in the Rolleston Ranges, in the Main Divide of the Southern Alps, Mount Algidus Station is isolated between the mighty and dangerous Wilberforce and Rakaia rivers.

Mona crosses the Wilberforce as a new bride in the 1930s to start her life in this harsh environment. To get to her new home she must ride a dray cart for hours in a freezing wind – perched on top of all her worldly possessions – including a piano!

Mona’s observations of everything from errant cooks to brave horses are quite matter of fact and entertaining, while sad events are accepted as a part of life.

When World War II takes away many farmhands never to return, Mona and her husband Ron are stretched to do many jobs, and Mona has to muck in – feeding the men, and working alongside them – often on horseback.

Poetry and “back country” ditties pepper the tale, including one written by the author. Most notable are these lines written by a young hand leaving to join the Army:

Oh land of river, rock and spur / Of sunkissed hills and sky so blue / I, a humble musterer, Will ever leave my heart with you. / Tho I dwell beneath some distant sky / My memory will ever turn / To mates I knew in days gone by / And evenings when the camp fires burn. / For I am leaving you this day / To return again. But who can tell, / For good or bad. I cannot say.  Mount Algidus, I wish you well.

The charm of this book includes quaint “station names” for many local features; such as Bustmegall (Bust my gall) Creek, More-rain Hut and Boulderstone Creek (the Rolleston). Mistake ‘Hill’, at 7000 feet illustrates the Southern capacity for understatement.

Filled with thrills and spills (no-one is spared a dip in the Wilberforce), this book is a cornerstone of New Zealand back country life and a must for your holiday reading list.

More information

A River Rules My Life
by Mona Anderson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775541141