The Displaced Reader gets arty

Cover of FacebooksSometimes, if we’ve been good, librarians are allowed out to go visit other libraries. And sometimes, when we’ve been particularly amazing, we get to go to special places – places that may not be open to the public in the same way that, say, the Central Library Peterborough or the Linwood Library at Eastgate or Upper Riccarton libraries are.

The Christchurch Art Gallery library is one of those places, and recently a group of us went there for a visit. Located in the middle of the Art Gallery building, it’s a bit like the Gallery itself: closed but open. You can’t just wander in and poke around, but you CAN call the Gallery and make an appointment.

Fernbank Studio: away past elsewhereSo why would you do this?  People who visit here are looking for a deeper level of information than you might find on the shelf at your local library. If you are interested in art (and by interested, I mean you’ve looked at all the fantastic art books that the public library have, and still want more; or you are researching local artists both past and present, or want to know the background to the story behind the latest Court Theatre production), it’s THE place to go. There are specialist books and magazines, archives full of ephemera relating to artists and exhibitions, folders of press clippings and more.

The collection itself is primarily focused, naturally, on areas related to the Art Gallery, so you probably won’t find heaps of information on, say, the Italian Renaissance, but you WILL find, for example, things related to Picasso’s lithographs, because the Gallery owns one of them.

So for anyone with a deeper interest in all things arty, or a need for specialist help in specific areas, you could do no better than to arrange a visit – the librarian is warm and welcoming, and not at all scary, and there are treasures untold waiting to be discovered!

What’s in a name?

Cover of Traditional Molvanian baby namesWhen I eventually quit my day job and become an internationally-recognised award-winning author, one of the first things I think I will struggle with is what to name my characters. After all, much like when you name your own children, or pets, this is a decision you will be living with for a very long time. Not only does a name have to fit the character, it has to be memorable (but not in a bad way), believable, spellable (for all the glowing reviews), not have hidden meanings or unfortunate initials; and perhaps most importantly (and unlike real life where you really can name your first-born after great-great-uncle Ethelred), NOT belong to (or sound even vaguely like) any of your friends or relations.

I have been known to throw a book down in disgust if a character’s name is too annoying. This mainly happens when reading old-style fantasy or science-fiction novels, but can strike at any time. It can also extend to names of places, imaginary animals, food-type things …  the list of possible naming offences goes on and on. If a name is too hard to pronounce (because we all say them out loud at least once while reading a book), or looks odd on the page, or is just too similar to something familiar, it becomes distracting rather than enhancing, and as mentioned above, can lead to book-throwing tantys.

I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to pick names and know you’ve got them right. There are lots of helpful (and not so helpful) books and websites out there, but they are a slippery slope to time-wasting, so if you ARE searching for that perfect name for your dashing and romantic male lead, be careful – in just 2 minutes on one name generator site I came up with:

  • Jeb Deneau – mysterious romantic cowboy with slightly foreign past.  I’m thinking dark hair, slightly too long, blowing in the prairie breezes, and a pair of piercing green eyes that have seen things I cannot imagine.
  • Morris Weems – nervous accountant who never leaves the house/office, except to buy expensive medication for his ailing and elderly pet dog Mr Wuffles.
  • Bernie Rub – a mob enforcer with a dark and violent history, but also with a heart of gold.  And an ex-stripper girlfriend.
  • Johnathan Holiday – a dapper gentleman, lean in stature, with a propensity for linen suits and cigarillos. I’m unsure whether Johnathan will turn out to be a bad guy or a good guy.

A fantasy novel name generator offered a table of 119 names, all of which ended in ‘TH’, and made me feel like my front teeth had been knocked out.  I’m thinking QuehonathUhonyfth and Cheendoith may have to wait a while for their story to be told.

A Dungeons and Dragons page offered me Brawler Ricdak Dragonskin the Bloodblade, which sounds great, but would be a real bugger to use when filling out forms.  And this great blog post led to all sorts of other time-wasting too.

If you want to go the traditional route and use an actual book, check out our wide range of naming books in the library.  And if you want to read about what real authors do, have a look at some of the author interviews we’ve done over the years – heaps of them talk about how they name their characters and places.

What’s your perfect character name? Have you actually changed your own name? And if you’re a real author, share your character-naming secrets with us, please!  Elvira Nawnart, Xyratis Firestomp and I would be more than grateful.

Thanks, Mr Dewey! (I think …)

Bookshelf, by Alex JohnsonAs you know, librarians live to create order from chaos.

Over the years (centuries) that libraries have been in existence, librarians have developed and tested dozens of different ways to organise books and information on shelves.  Different libraries use different systems, and for different reasons. Here at Christchurch City Libraries, and at many other public libraries and school libraries, we use the Dewey Decimal System for our nonfiction books.

Not in fact named for the middle of the three nephews of Donald Duck, but designed by Melvil Dewey of Amherst, Massachusetts in the 1870s. It was initially published in 1876, with the second edition of his by-now-copyrighted system arriving in 1885, under the eye-watering title Decimal Classification and Relativ Index for arranging, cataloging, and indexing public and private libraries and for pamflets, clippings, notes, scrap books, index rerums, etc.  (Note Mr Dewey’s somewhat unusual approach to spelling – another of his passions!)

I love people who are passionate about things, and use that passion to create something new.  And I do love Mr Dewey and his system. I also LOVE that apparently before Melvil started his masterwork, many libraries had a shelving system based on the height of the books, and the date they were acquired. This would have been very handy for the customers who frequently arrive at the desk here in the library, saying things like, “I can’t remember what it was called, but it was a really big book, and I read it about 5 years ago.”

In my madder moments (and yes, there are a few), I think about how I would go about rearranging the library shelves if given the opportunity.  There was a trend last year for arranging your home bookshelves by colour, which led to some amazing rainbow-type displays.  I have friends who organise by personal ranking, or how many times read, or completely (but purposefully) randomly.

And I think about how Mr Dewey would cope with today’s subjects – things he may never have dreamed of having to choose a number for, like one of my personal non-fiction faves: the Zombie Survival Guide, and the always-contentious sections on religions, self-help and how sugar (or carbohydrates, or CFCs, or coffee) is the enemy. It always makes me glad I am not the person who decides which books end up in the Fiction (made-up) versus the Non-Fiction (true stuff) sections of the library.

How about you? How are your bookcases organised at home? Do you separate paperbacks from hardbacks? True stories from made-up ones? Award-winners from pulp fiction? How would you go about reorganising the library if you had absolute power over the shelves?  And what “non-fiction” subject or title have you been surprised by recently?

Confessions of a serial UFO collector

Search the catalogueThis is not a post about flying saucers. I wish it was.

Instead it is a shame-faced, but public, confession that I am a serial unfinisher. My house is full of UnFinished Objects, and my desk drawers are overflowing with photocopied instructions for papier mache owls, bracelets made from bottletops, fairy houses for the garden, artisan cheesemaking pamphlets, pallet bookcases …

I have rubbish bags full of rusty metal things, at least half a dozen broken umbrella frames, hundreds of fat quarters, and an overflowing box of mismatched and unusable jewellery bits. I have plastic Easter eggs, sheets of stickers, seven types of glue and a heat gun.

On my couch this very minute is a knitted picture frame, still to be sewn together, blocked and hung on the wall; one-and-a-third knitted socks; and four books on beaded embroidery, Scandinavian quilting, found object crafting, and paper art.

I’m telling you this because July’s theme here at the library is Creating. I was thinking about this the other day, and making big plans to create something cool and crafty (for “create”, substitute “go shopping, buy lots of stuff to take home and leave on the table for 7 weeks, then put in a bag in the cupboard”). Then I thought, NO. This madness must end. July must not be the month of adding yet more UFOs to my house, but instead must be the Month Where Bronnypop Finishes All The Things She Hasn’t Yet Finished And In The Process Makes Mr Bronnypop A Happy Man – MWBFATTSHYFAITPMMRAHM. Catchy title, right?

And I can even make this into a work-related thing:  remember we often talk about the Five Book Challenge?  How about the Five UFO Challenge?  This month, why not join me in finding FIVE UFOs in your house, and committing to actually finishing them? I’ll post my progress if you also comment below …

If you need inspiration, check out some of the library’s books on arty-crafty recycling, but remember: the aim is to FINISH what you’ve started, NOT to start something new.

Unless of course it’s utterly amazing, and clearly needs to be begun tonight, and you PROMISE you’ll finish it.


Search catalogueI’m not sure why I torment myself in this manner, but I have signed up for regular emails advertising big events and shows that will be coming to Auckland. This is with the clear understanding that I won’t actually ever GO to them, but once in a while something arrives that makes me stop and think, Maybe THIS will be the one thing I save up my 50 cent pieces for.

And Wicked, the musical based on Gregory Maguire’s bestselling book, may be that one thing. I saw it in Melbourne a couple of years ago, and absolutely loved it, so I’m already thinking about how much time I will need to spend looking  under the couch cushions for loose change.

Most of us know the original 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, and some of us are aware that it was based on a novel written in 1900 by L Frank Baum. Fewer people know that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was only one of a series of over 15 Oz-based books written by Baum, or have any idea just how pervasive the Oz story has become in some literary and cultural circles. A bit like Alice in recent times, the wizard, the good and wicked witches, the flying monkeys, the yellow brick road, AND Dorothy and her little dog too, have appeared in all sorts of places, spaces and forms.

I personally know all the words to Elton John’s 1973 hit Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; will never forget the 1978 movie The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson; and have come across innumerable booky references to Baum’s characters and worlds, most notably for me in Stephen King’s epic gunslinger fantasy series The Dark Tower. We had the Disney version at home too (See the picture! Hear the record! Read the book!), and I can still belt out that classic and emotionally inspiring song, “Ding Dong! The witch is dead!” with very little prompting.

And while I have to admit that (again, like Alice and her Wonderland crew) the story and characters still leave me feeling a little uneasy and unsettled, even (quite frankly) a bit creeped-out, there’s no denying that Baum’s world and work has left an enduring mark on our culture, and one that looks to be continuing for some time.

Show us a story

CoverAnd Joe the Roundabout Tavern regular took his eyes half hopingly, half warily around his bar just in case he saw a mug or two he and his pals could beat up on, and just in case yesterday’s madman had returned to back up.  Then he clapped his hands together: So. So who else’s got a story to tell?

This is a paragraph from Alan Duff’s One night out stealing. It caught my eye when I was doing some booky housework along my fiction shelves here at Central Library Tuam, and started me thinking about stories, and bits of stories. We are launching ourselves into New Zealand Book Month here, and celebrating all things EnZed. And I thought to myself (because I have a mind like a mayfly), how much fun would it be to just dart around the shelves, picking up New Zealand books at random, and finding fabulous paragraphs that tell a story all their own.

Now obviously, it’s always nice to read a whole book, and get a complete story; but I reckon sometimes you can tell a story in just a paragraph or two. I’ll show you what I mean – here’s an extract from one of my favourite books here in the Aotearoa New Zealand Collection:

One night in the early 1850s, an odd event took place at a Christchurch ball. JT Peacock, a shipping man, had a partner for a quadrille, but they were without a pair to dance opposite to them. This caused a man named Joseph Longden to stand and stare contemptuously, and after the ball Peacock pulled his nose. Longden was a partner in Canterbury’s first stock and station agency, and could not ignore the affront to his dignity. He brought an action against Peacock, who was fined 2 pounds, but said that he thought the money well spent.

See? Worlds and layers of story, history and back-story, all in just a few sentences.  How cool is that?

So here’s my NZ Book Month challenge to you – either pick your fave Kiwi read, or make like a mayfly and cruise the shelves. Find a story that tells itself in just a few lines, and post it here. And let’s see how many New Zealand stories we can tell …

Fan girl squee – meet one of my fave authors!

As part of NZ Book Month celebrations here in Christchurch, we have very cleverly managed to organise a couple of visits by Karen Healey, one of my most favouritest authors ever.

I came across Karen’s first book Guardian of the Dead purely by accident. Sifting through a pile of new books some years ago, I found a cover that I really liked, and put it on my desk. It was only when I took the book home and started to read, that I found that it was a local book, by a local author, and set in and around my very own Christchurch. Jam-packed full of excitement, mystery, magic and Maori myth, it kept me riveted till the very end. I loved the way Karen had blended European and Maori history, literature and legend, and had set the book in a Christchurch that was absolutely recognisable.  Her second book, The Shattering, followed a year later, and was just as good a read.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Karen’s third book When We Wake. I took it home and devoured it in one sitting. It’s the story of Tegan, 16 years old and living in Melbourne in 2027. She goes to a political rally, is caught in an assassination attempt and shot, and wakes to find that she’s become the first person to be cryogenically frozen and revived. It’s 100 years in the future, Tegan has lost everyone and everything from her former life, and things in the future aren’t as rosy as they should be. In fact, they seem to be worse than they were when Tegan was alive the first time round.

Karen HealeyYou can come and meet Karen Healey and hear her talk about her books and writing as part of New Zealand Book Month celebrations.  She’ll be at Upper Riccarton Library on Tuesday 12 March at 5pm (with pizza for tea!), and at Central Library Tuam on Thursday 28 March, also at 5pm.  Bring a copy of her book/s with you, and she may even sign them for you!

If you want to read more about Karen, try her website. Read our 2010 interview.

New. Zealand. Book. Month.

1 March 2013 – New Zealand Book Month starts. But what is this Book Month, I hear you ask? If you are like me, and addicted to grammar, there are a number of possibilities. Month celebrating New Zealand books? Month celebrating books in (but not necessarily of) New Zealand? Or if you’re really lateral-thinking, a new Month celebrating books in/of Zealand, largest island in Denmark.

Less likely, that last one, I admit. So let’s have a look at what the official website says:

The clear goal of New Zealand Book Month is to form a North to South community of readers. Kiwis passionate about books, determined to share them with each other and spread the word. Telling and retelling stories, and recommending new books to read.  From friend to neighbour, school bus to sporting field, workplace to playground.

This sounds pretty good to me, whether I am thinking about New Zealand books, books in New Zealand (or even Denmark, really). As someone who can frequently be found reading, on buses, in the workplace, in playgrounds, even on a sporting field (although only by mistake, this last one), I think the idea of passionately and determinedly sharing my love of books and reading has to be a good thing.

And even though a small part of me wants to shout, but EVERY month should be Book Month, I reckon we can put some extra effort in for a few weeks. Let’s challenge ourselves to READ more, SHARE more, and spread the booky love in March.

While there’s still a few days left before celebrations officially kick off, why not think about something YOU can do in March? A bit like New Year’s resolutions, but without all the sweaty exercising and guilt-trips.  Here’s some ideas (or feel free to add some of your own below):

CoverKaren HealeyCover Rachael King

  • Attend an official Book Month event (find library events here, or scan the NZ Book Month website for more local happenings).
  • Find and enjoy a great Kiwi read – Christchurch-based, or further afield.
  • Be like the old shampoo ad – pick your favourite book, then go tell two friends, and then they can tell two friends, and so on and so on …
  • Visit your local library and check out the staff picks and hot picks (or even better, ask your friendly librarian for their favourite reads)
  • And as an extra for experts kind of challenge, find and read a book about or from Zealand, Denmark.

The grumpiest books I know

CoverWe are now more than a month into 2013, and those irritatingly perky people who make New Year’s resolutions have stopped asking me what mine are (I find the threat of violence helps at these times). For some reason January for me was the month of grumps (at home, where even the cats and rats are depressed), and at work, where I seem to be fighting central city traffic, extreme exhaustion and far too much hayfever. And what’s with this crazy weather? 30 degrees – how is that okay?

Nana-naps and Telfast aren’t doing it for me, nor are brisk lunchtime walks round the block. Even reading gorgeous shiny house and garden magazines isn’t pulling me out of the slump. In desperation last week I was contemplating something along the self-help lines, when I came across Is it just me or is everything sh**. It made me remember how much I laughed when I was reading A year in the Merde. And how much I love David Sedaris, James Hamilton-Paterson, and Nigel Slater.

Is it my contrary nature that makes me want to be grumpy and pessimistic when all around me are happy people loving the high temperatures and leaping around talking about how great summer is? In winter, I come alive, and am happiest when there are heaters and blankies and big cups of hot chocolate, but right now even the possibility of icecream isn’t enough to make me smile. Grumpy books, though – they do seem to do the trick.  So I’m off on a new mission – find the grumpiest books I can, and read them all, and glory in the grumps.

I might still have that bowl of icecream, though …

It’s the end of the world. Again. Armageddon Expo is coming.

Dust off your Daleks and polish up your Pokemon – Armageddon is early this year (9 and 10 March 2013). Our household is full of very earnest discussions about what shade of grey is acceptable for which character, and whether international shipping can be relied upon to deliver the necessary in time for the big weekend. The girl-child is attempting two different cosplay costumes, one from the insanely popular Homestuck online comic series, and the other from something that I am not even beginning to understand. There’s body-paint involved, and horns made out of papier-mache, and that’s all I care to know, frankly.

If you or your dear ones want to join the madness this year, fear not – the library has a range of resources to help sort out those pesky costume issues, study up on pop culture and comics, or just embrace your inner fanboy/girl.
Armageddon Expo 2010Armageddon Expo 2012

And if all else fails, and inspiration is still lacking, travel back in time and read our reports from previous years’ Armageddon visits.