Calling all Book Fiends – to the library book sale

slowThe Annual Christchurch City Library Book Sale is on again.  It’s book buying time again. Yeehah! Diary 11th/12th March and remember the tables are constantly reloaded, so going after work doesn’t mean you miss out. On Friday, they close at 7 pm.

I thought when I started working in the libraries that my mania for reading, borrowing and owning books would calm down … it has, a smidge. Nowadays I keep myself for the one book sale a year. Last year I promised Mr Bishi that I would restrict myself to non-fiction as we still haven’t read some of the fiction I purchased a couple of years ago and all the bookcases are bulging. The look of disbelief and the resigned note of his voice were uncalled for I felt.

Undaunted I headed for Pioneer Stadium and the travel and cooking sections and with neck crooked at a suitable angle and decent sized box ready at my feet I went searching. I was hoping for Slow by Alison Gofton a really good slow cook book I had borrowed but desperately wanted to own. Found a copy too! … And all the other books that tickled my fancy of course.

On one of my many raids at the Library Book Sale I noticed the woman in front of me was picking up the very books I would have gone for if she hadn’t been in front of me.  What to do? We had words … nice words. Turns out she too worked on the eyecatching ways of my sort of cover unless she knew and liked the author already. We agreed to trawl different aisles. It seemed to be the most civilised outcome.

Big bargain book sale

CoverThe magazines are so cheap, worth buying just for the sudoku and crossword puzzles that haven’t been done because our customers respect that it’s a borrowed item and the articles of course. 10 for a dollar I call that excellent value. CDs, DVDs $3. Get that book the kids love that you constantly borrow but would love to own for $1.

And if you are a Friend of the Library (subscriptions in by 28th February) you get to go to the Sale Preview and pre-purchase and help your Libraries at the same time.

In the meantime, will I see you at the world famous in Christchurch Annual book sale? Do you have this thing about owning books as well as borrowing them? Don’t be ashamed you are not alone. Come to the sale and see just how many of us there are.

Like the Library Book Sale event on Facebook for updates.

November 17th was World Premature Birth Day and I missed it…

Cover of Just A Moment Too SoonThank goodness though I can scrape into World Prematurity Awareness Week, well, I could if I lived in Australia. My awareness is only due to my thoughtful library colleagues alerting me. You see, they have lived vicariously through the birth of my little grandson at 24 weeks and 5 days gestation. Also through the trials and tribulations he and his loving parents are still experiencing, so you understand why I am writing this blog late rather than never.

The Empire State Building was lit purple for World Prematurity Day. I think that gives you an idea of how big an issue “early birth” is and how the numbers are increasing worldwide. 15 million babies are born early every year. Some very early; some just a few weeks early.

The stress for them and their families is unimaginable. They are so very tiny and apart from the fight for survival they could potentially suffer brain bleeds, necrotising enterocolitis, heart malformations, bowel malformations, visual and hearing impairment, lung disease or learning disabilities. They also grow considerably more slowly outside the uterus and frequently take some years to achieve the growth rate of their peers.

Cover of Coming Home from the NICUMy grandson Ari, classed as “just viable”, was born weighing 700gms which is one and a half pounds of butter to those who struggle with baby weights in metric as I do. He was also born in the U.K. and we live in Christchurch, New Zealand, adding to our stress time and again over the following tense months. Waiting for communications from our daughter’s partner; trying to find out how he was… What happens now apart from the obvious breathing tube down his throat, wires attached to him all over (there wasn’t a lot of all over to attach them to either), incubator, etc?

For the mother there is also the sense of loss of pregnancy. She may grieve for what should have been a time of blooming and pleasure. No more sickness, just a blossoming baby. When the due date of baby arrives it is frequently a day of tears.

Cover of Ready for AirFortunately for all of us Ari is a wee fighter which is as well as he has chronic lung disease. This means he is still on oxygen and still in hospital at 5 months old – his actual age – but if you consider he was due in mid-September and it’s now mid-November, he is 2 months old.

The library was a good source of information, both in terms of what to expect and of the biographical aspects of premature birth.  It was good to be able to read heart warming stories of babies who survive their traumatic starts, grow into stroppy teens and healthy adults.

Were you a premmy?  I have met so many adults who were born early, but you would never have guessed it.  Have you been down this road within your family?

Bonjour, Ciao, Buenos Días!

A few years ago we had the chance to spend two weeks in a friend’s very basic cottage in the Bourgogne. The opportunity of pretending to be French or at least pretending to live there? Heck, yes. The house had no electricity and a few inside/outside issues. One being the hornet community that had recently crowned a new Queen and were very busy making babies and a new home on the gnarled antique beam above our bed in the attic. What was wrong with some nice fresh air circulating round the nest, boys?

The sole tap and loo being outside was nothing like as big a problem as Queenie and the crew turned out to be. One of them managed to get their revenge and stung me rather painfully in the armpit. Fair do. The local volunteer fire brigade who came in their shiny brass helmets and 2CV Citreon truck (Ooh la la) had removed the nest and its occupants, but failed to rid us of some very confused boyos.

Undeterred, we gave our all in the name of science; we tested the quality of the products of local pâtisseries and boulangeries and caused a bit of GBH to the ears of the local populace with truly awful French pronunciation and grammar. Bliss. Two weeks was enough for the waistline but not for the soul.

Cover of Driving over LemonsSo then of course the “Why don’t we up sticks and move to France/Spain/Italy” mood took over. I mean, plenty of people have done it. Chris Stewart for one. Chris was briefly the drummer for Genesis in its infancy, but his Dad said there was no future in the band and he needed to get a real job and possibly a haircut too. He didn’t listen to his old Dad and being an itchy-footed sort of bloke he travelled, developing his drumming skills in a circus, learning the guitar, and working, amongst other jobs, as assistant pig man.

This turned out to be his epiphany: he loved farming! Decided Seville in Spain would be a good place for a guitar playing, agriculture loving young man and his girlfriend. Driving Over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree are his first two books on their life in Spain and to my mind the best. We get to know the area, the lifestyle of the locals, mostly farmers, the history and the poverty of the surrounding area and Chris and Ana’s endeavours to survive and make the farm work financially.

Jamie Ivey and wife Tanya had the let’s ups sticks etc moment… while holidaying in France, enjoying some lovely Rosé. They believed they could see an opportunity to set up a small wine bar selling only Rosé wines. Now those of us who have read Peter Mayle‘s A Year in Provence will know that the French excel at bureaucracy and their civil servants can thwart the best of us. Starting with Extremely Pale Rosé I have followed their trials and tribulations from my armchair.

Cover of Vroom by the SeaPeter Moore makes me green with envy. In Vroom by the Sea, Pete, an Australian, tootles around Sicily, Sardinia and the Amalfi Coast on Marcello, an orange with white “go fast stripes” Vespa 1972 Rally 200. We’re most of us suckers for nostalgia; the Italians, it turns out, are no different and love Marcello. On a scooter there are no barriers to stopping and chatting to the locals, smelling the garlic, the sea, experiencing life. Another one for the bucket list.

Working, as I am so fortunate to do, in most of Christchurch’s libraries, I get to see a lot of travel books. I find it so hard to go past them if the cover/blurb looks remotely interesting. Do you travel vicariously as I do? From your armchair with a good book? Or have you broken free once, twice or altogether?

The Northern Frights

It’s wintertime and darkness is falling
Crime is thriving and the body count’s high.
Your neighbour’s dead
and your boss is in prison
So hush your mouth or you might die.

Cover of Last RitualsThis pretty much covers it if you read or watch Scandi Noir (Dark Scandinavian fiction) which, unlike those early raiders from Northern Europe, has quietly snuck into our consciousness. The translators have been busy and we’ve got Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish books and DVDs on our shelves for those keen to part company with their wits. Up to now my fave mystery writers have been British for a bit of the dastardly, but I love a bit of scarily dark and god knows these people seem to spend a lot of their time in deep blackness, so no wonder they’re good at maliciously murderous moments mostly occurring in the long, long nights. These days it’s Håkan Nesser, Jo Nesbø, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Karin Fossum, Åke Edwardson that have me peeking through the curtains, locking the doors…

Cover of Frozen TracksStieg Larsson‘s Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc) were the books that initially took me over to the dark side. In Swedish unsurprisingly the original title was Men Who Hate Women. Undoubtedly nasty, but utterly readable and unputdownable. There is a good reason they shot to number one in the bestseller lists. The main character, Lisbeth, a survivor, does her damnedest to balance out the injustices done to women in this series. I was rooting for her the whole way through. They’re violent but I still fully recommend them if you haven’t already been tempted. This despite being a complete wimp who would normally hide under the bed from such fiction.

Cover of The Girl with the Dragon TattooIf you don’t mind subtitles (and the brain adapts remarkably quickly to reading the screen and watching at the same time), The Killing could keep you awake for a while. But for me The Bridge is the best. Only two series so far. A body is discovered on the exact half way mark on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark, which brings in a police team from each country. Good characterisation of the cops and the villain, and the storyline moves well with twists enough for me to have accused all and sundry of being the murderer. I’m hoping like mad there will be a third. Excellent entertainment.

Not scary, but equally entertaining is a Danish TV political series, Borgen. Never dry, it’s a behind the scenes machination of several political parties and their leaders jostling for the best position and attempting to form a government after an election too close to call. Birgitte Nyborg, leader of one of the small parties, becomes the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark. A tough job and hard on the family life and relationships. She is dealing with crises, making policy, pondering who to trust, and handling the media. It certainly rang bells as we watched our various small parties jockeying to be the party that joins the big guys in Government. Compulsive viewing once you get who’s who, and what they want, sorted out.

Do you like your books and viewing slightly chilling and grisly? Is your current reading and watching becoming a bit tame? Fancy seeing something of Scandinavia (mostly in the dark)? Check out these titles and let me know what you think. Any other books / authors in the Scandi Noir genre that you’d recommend?

Scratch and grab

Cover of Chicken Whisperer's Guide to To Keeping ChickensWhen I told various people we were thinking of getting a couple of hens they assured me we would love having them. My thoughts were more along the lines of: chooks = garden turned over and manured = eggs. Not ‘chooks – I’ll love having them in our life’.

The first few nights of the fat bottomed girls being in residence in the coop involved our flatmate climbing into the coop, showing the girls where the roosting bar was and physically lifting them into place. A new ramp was made, the f-b girls learnt to motor up it in no time and the flatmate went back to having a life.

Cover of Dirty ChickWe are quite besotted with the big footed raiders already, but due to space restraints we’ve stopped there. Otherwise there would be a couple of pigs grubbing around somewhere as per Antonia Murphy, author of Dirty Chick. She moved to New Zealand from the US, her pipe dream being to have a bit of land, some chickens etc. Things get a bit out of hand and ever so slightly stressful as her stock wander the neighbourhood amongst other things. Let’s say she takes to country life with gusto… I wouldn’t say she calmly bestrides the chaos, but she copes with great humour and I am quite envious of her menagerie.

Cover of The Chicken ChroniclesAlice Walker on the other hand had been raised with chickens for eggs and meat and finding herself living in Mexico realised they were missing from her life. Enter Gertrude Stein, Babe, Glorious, Rufus and Agnes of God, turning her thinking to the interdependence of humans and the chickens. The Chicken Chronicles is more a memoir of a journey.

Meanwhile at Chez Bishi, and I can’t say we weren’t warned, Camilla and Priscilla have been escaping their carefully established playground away from my vegetable gardens and been caught scratching and grabbing with the odd guilty glance over the shoulder and then running away when in danger of being put back in the playground. The kids would never have got away with what these two chicks manage.

Are you thinking of taking on some egg laying devices? Still sitting on the roost perhaps? Afraid you might find yourself clucking round the garden with small feathered friends in tow? Take the plunge: you’ll be in good company.

Chook lit

The children are adults and left the coop so we thought we’d fill it with chooks instead. I blame my gardening hero Janet Luke – she who has quail, rabbits, miniature goats, bees and ducks at her place. That’s eggs, meat, milk, honey and more eggs. Not sure if she has started killing the ducks yet, but she knocks off the bunnies regularly and is working on a nice fur blanket. She also has a standard size section as opposed to our large allotment sized property.

Cover of Backyard ChickensAfter the mad measuring of space available for potential chicky coop, I turned to library books on chicken coop design.

Alas, despite much considered research, this aspect has proven to be the downfall of Ma and Pa Bishi’s chicken farm. Neither of us thought it through until it was too late and the girls were proving that the darn thing was too high and the pitch of the roof too sharp and they really weren’t all that fussed about going to bed up there, never mind laying their eggs in the right place. Like good new parents we were concentrating on things like chicken selection, rearing, diseases, food etc. and “can I give up some of my vege garden and can we actually squeeze in a two-chook-coop?”

Unfortunately (or fortunately from his point of view) Pa Bishi was the builder and a very proud builder was he! This was his contribution to family history, an ‘A’ frame chicken coop. In the days before the girls moved in he was frequently to be found at the window staring admiringly at his handiwork. Alterations were obviously the answer and major ones at that, but male pride was on the line here. So how to broach this delicately? I don’t know, I’ve never done delicate approaches. But !#@!&#!! seems to have done the trick.

Cover of The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping ChickensTo date one ramp with grips and a ground level entry have been added and Priscilla the partying chook has shown the cowardly Camilla how to do things when it’s bedtime. Camilla is a bit slow and so far has been physically put on her roost each night. She doesn’t seem to mind and somehow they both get down each morning. I’m a nervous wreck from worrying about the girls and Pa Bishi’s feathers are ruffled, but he’s carried out the necessary alterations to Chez Chic.

Do you manage to successfully keep chickens? Wish you could? Like the concept but afraid to put it into practice? Check out the books above – they are really helpful. The girls are lovely and cluck away in our garden and one day I won’t worry about them at all.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In my case it wasn’t Ms Woolf but her namesakes. After all I’d been raised on European children’s literature and these critters featured a lot. Admittedly never in the Secret Seven or Famous Five, but I had a fertile imagination and the night time was when those boyos promoted themselves to driving cars and generally getting round on two legs. Leading to a terrified wail in the night.

Cover of Phobias or The Way of The WorrierFears, irrational or otherwise – a lot of us have them. Fear of spiders, arachnophobia. Why and when did spiders produce such fear in some of us? Robert the Bruce wasn’t turned off from his close encounter, far from it. And of course there’s “aratnophobia”. I’ve seen someone clear a metre-high-plus bench top in one leap, to escape a rat. Needless to say the rat was legging it in the other direction equally as terrified. In his case quite rightly, as he bought it in the end and she came down off the bench.

Then there’s Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, which reduced parts of a generation to a jellied mess whenever a large flock of starlings or similar gathered nearby.

Cover of Freeing Your Child From AnxietyIt has been suggested that one in six of us suffer depression or a chronic anxiety disorder and there are plenty of books in our libraries on the subject that would suggest this might not be too far off the truth. In Phobias or the Way of the Worrier Tim Weinberg looks at the range of phobias – from common to bizarre. He examines scientific and psychological research to make sense of this strange world. And he shares his own journey in overcoming his fear of heights.

Anxiety, fears and phobias are not all limited to adults either. Freeing Your Child from Anxiety has easy, fun, and effective tools for teaching children to outsmart their worries and take charge of their fears.

Christchurch City Libraries have Conquer Your Fears and Phobias for Teens currently on order.  Holds or reserves can be placed on this book now.

Nerves and butterflies are fine — they’re a physical sign that you’re mentally ready and eager. You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that’s the trick. ~Steve Bull

It’s all in your head

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I want to share my connection and reading on this subject with you. It’s not something we talk about openly very often, but I find that the more I speak to people about mental health, the more I realise there are very few of our families or friends unaffected by some form of poor mental health.

Cover of The Nao Of BrownNao Brown has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but she’s unaware of this. To her the morbid obsessions, and other rituals and compulsions that she is quietly aware of, are different but no more. She is a young woman wanting to become a comic book artist, wanting a career, looking for love – really no different from most of us.

The Nao of Brown is a graphic novel which I chose partly because I enjoy comic books with good graphics, tick, and a good story, tick. That one of my loved ones also has OCD was coincidental, however it did give me another insight into how obsessions rule the mind. A very small insight. I really cared for Nao and wanted her to realise her dreams. An enjoyable story, not at all depressing, quite realistic and great graphics.

Cover of ManicReading Terri Cheney‘s Manic was a deliberate choice. Terri has bi-polar disorder, or, as she would have been labelled some years ago, is a manic depressive. Her mania started at high school; she got through university and made herself a career as an entertainment lawyer. She writes in an alarmingly frank way, which can be disturbing, but she delivers her story with hindsight and humour. She spent five years searching for the right medicine to get her brain stabilised from the illness. Years of highs that got her into some extreme situations and years of hard-to-comprehend debilitating lows –  all of which have made her an amazingly strong woman. To survive what she has been through and write two books about it is a feat of courage.

Journeys with the Black Dog is a wonderfully apt title for a book of inspirational stories of bringing depression to heel. Written with raw honesty and sharp humour, it’s an encouraging reading for anyone coping with the “black dog”.

You have to admire the people who contend daily with some form or other of poor mental health and carry on, live their lives and frequently hold down jobs. Have you read similar books to these and gained some small idea of how it must be for someone with a mental illness? Talked openly about mental illness? Or felt it was perhaps too intrusive?

I’m on the road again

I first got the travel bug on my 10th birthday when my best friends and I went to see Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday.  I was smitten and not just with Cliff. To buy a big bus and you and all of your friends head off to Greece! Or anywhere for that matter. My girlfriend’s playhouse became a bus and then in my late teens I was off to the UK. I met Mr Bishi in London and we started our travelling in a VW Beetle with tent and gear in the back for our grand European tour honeymoon.

A little older, more responsible, widely travelled and back in NZ, getting away is just that bit more expensive, but I hanker after visiting favourite places and seeing new ones. What to do? No brainer really: live vicariously through travel books, the quirkier the better.

Cover of Sleeping AroundBrian Thacker is Australian and it shows in his style of writing (humourous and irreverent) and his continual wearing of shorts. Using Couchsurfing.com, GlobalFreeloaders.com etc., Brian is travelling on the smell of the traditional mechanic’s wiping cloth. He’s bed testing/couch surfing to Reykjavik, Istanbul, Kitchener, Rio, places he’s never been. In fact you might say he’s been Sleeping Around.

His potential hosts he chooses carefully. A lot of profiles mention their desire for guests to use the loo instead of the bathroom floor and generally that they like to party and drink copiously. No-one boring – the more outlandish the better. His liver takes a bashing and he lacks sleep, but he certainly sees places through different eyes. No longer a tourist but a friend of a local. Ideal.

Cover of Narrow Dog to Wigan PierLike a lot of people I have “Take canal boat through canals of UK” on my secondary bucket list. Being secondary, there is little hope of this happening. This makes the stories from Terry Darlington featuring wife Monica, Jim the cowardly thieving whippet who hates boating, and their English canal boat Phyllis May all the more fun.

Together we’ve been across the English Channel (a first for a narrow boat) and down to the Med and along an Indian River in the south of the good ole US in Narrow Dog to Indian River and I joined them in their earlier journeys around the UK in Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier. Darlington’s writing is funny and I’ve been transported to some beautiful places (some with insects that bring to mind small aircraft), have met the “gongoozlers” on the towpaths, and have visited the pubs where Jim scoffs pork scratchings.

But it was Dervla Murphy who got us attempting to cycle from the UK to Australia*. She is modest, fearless, tough, funny, Cover of In Ethiopia with a Muleextremely fond of beer and my hero. At the age of 30-something, she headed off on her bike from Ireland to Nepal. She made it and having a social conscience she stayed and worked in  the refugee camps. Once she got a taste for travel she was soon off again and over the years has cycled, ridden or walked – whatever works for the terrain (but never used motor transport if she can help it). When her daughter was barely old enough, Rachel adventured with her mother to India, Cameroon, Baltistan and beyond.

She is a personable woman and it comes through in her writing.  I admire Dervla hugely; she is a very brave woman and brilliant travel writer.

Not forgetting the library’s own Armchair Travel Newsletter which brings us new  and recently released titles.  I’ll end up anchored to my armchair in the Spring sunshine in Christchurch, but in my head I’ll be enjoying some of these new titles that I have already reserved.

Do you travel dangerously, wittily and vicariously? Admire writers for their get up and go and the ability to string the words together in an interesting fashion? Use their books as a guide for your own travels?

 

*We left the tandem in Iran due to a severe shortage of money and made it to Australia with $3 to our name.

 

 

Coincidences happen, don’t they???

When Mister Bishi, aka Dave, was a stripling, he and a friend left Sydney and travelled overland to the U.K. They were at a bookstall in Connaught Circus in the middle of New Delhi (along with goodness knows how many other thousands) when he overheard some English travellers with very distinctive Birmingham accents (Brummies to fellow Brits).

Being a Brummie himself, he soon found out they were heading to Sydney and offered to give them some names and addresses in Sydney where they could get a bed. Turns out they already had a few, and lo and behold, they were the same people whosw details Dave was about to pass on.  Much head shaking and “Would you read about it” and then… “Oh, and we have the names of a couple of brothers also. Do you know Dave and Trevor Bishi?”

Cover of The Coincidence AuthorityNow I call that a coincidence, but Dr Thomas Post, The Coincidence Authority, would disagree. Using mathematics he would have me believing the odds were quite high for this to happen. Regularly referred to as the Coincidence Man, Tom, a lecturer in Applied Philosophy at a large London University, is quite confident of his ability to explain logically why events others see as coincidences, just plain aren’t.

It could be said he is a tad arrogant. Until the “unlikely” event of a human pile up at the bottom of a long escalator in the depths of Euston Station. He breaks an arm and is entwined with a lovely young woman while they both wait to be rescued from under the mess of suitcases and bodies.

Tom would very much like to meet the lovely young woman again, but has no idea of her name or anything else. But of course this is a book about coincidences and Azalea Lewis comes to him for help as a coincidence expert. Her life from a Manx village to Uganda and to the present has been a series of extreme coincidences. She has tracked down the history of her birth mother and now knows that there are three men who might be her biological father. Azalea and Thomas’s lives become entwined as they try to make sense of what has happened and what she believes will happen.

The story moves at a good pace and frequently I was reluctant to put it down and finish my lunchtime reading. The coincidences are out of the ordinary, but I wanted to solve the mysteries of Azalea’s life as much as she did.

I picked up this book simply because of the cover.  Never heard of the author before and wasn’t really sure I wanted to be bothered reading it when I got it home. However, once started I was hooked. Hence this blog: I like ’em, you hear about ’em!

Cover of Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math JazzTo really get to the bottom of the odds or chances of something happening there is Coincidences, chaos and all that math jazz with the mathematical theories in a readable fashion. Helping to understand simple things deeply.

With chapter headings such as “Origami for the Origamically Challenged” (me) and “A Synergy Between Nature and Number” it covers all the title promises. And it’s readable for the scientifically challenged.

Where do you sit on the coincidence fence? How remarkable do you think Mr Bishi’s experience was?