“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most articles celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen this year will begin their tribute by incorporating this celebrated opening sentence from ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

And, what better way to start a conversation about Jane Austen? These are the words which introduced many readers to her world – an ideal world where the terrible Mr Wickhams and Mrs Eltons of life get the endings they fully deserve, and the worthy Elizabeth Bennets’, and Anne Elliotts are awarded the endings that invariably cause readers to whoop and swing from the chandeliers in undignified and un-Jane Austen-like fashions for hours on end.

This year, the world of Austen is being celebrated with many events and exhibitions such as a trail of Jane Austen book-benches, a nine day regency festival in East Hampshire, and even Jane Austen banknotes.Hampshire have promised to celebrate her bicentenary with a yearlong commemoration of walks, performances, competitions and much more. The tourism these events will attract is predicted to run into tens of thousands, bearing in mind that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ on its own has sold over twenty million copies over the past two hundred years and has never been out of print.

So why, you may ask, the continuing devotion to Jane Austen?

Like all timeless authors, Austen means so many things to so many people. There is the‘Andrew Davies Austen’ of Colin Firth in a wet shirt, the Bollywood Austen of ‘Bride and Prejudice’, the zombie Austen of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies‘ – and even a children/poultry-friendly version of Pride and Prejudice entitled ‘Mr Darcy the Duck’ (get em started young, that’s what I say).

It’s as if each generation are reinventing Austen and making her into want they want (and, in some cases,) believe her to be. While this may sadden some devotees, it is a wonderful tribute to Jane herself. Like all enduring authors, we are comfortable with making her books very much our own. She has created a timeless world, and two hundred years on, the voice in her novels remains approachable, like a fun and faithful friend.

Cover of Mr Darcy and the dancing duck

And contrary to popular opinion, Austen is so much more than regency Mills and Boon. Yes, men, I am looking at you – whether you are a closet Janeite or just too embarrassed to pick up one of her books, I am here to say rest assured, pick one up, you will be in good company. As I have painstakingly told many men who argue that there are no scenes of hand to hand combat in Jane Austen and all the men do is dance for crying out loud, there are actually many things about Austen which have historically appealed to men.

CS Lewis and Rudyard Kipling were proud fans, and wordy historian Paul Johnson has unabashedly admitted that he prays to Jane Austen each night. There are more reasons for this devotion than you may suspect. For a start, there are few authors more insightful when it comes to studying human nature. One only has to look at Lizzy Bennett’s journey to self-discovery, and her recognition of human frailties and deceptiveness  – or to the sharply drawn, all too vivid characters like the dreaded Mr Collins and the awful Caroline Bingley. Somewhere along the way, we have all known people like this.

There is also timeless humour in Austen’s novels that any reader can appreciate. Take the classic Mr Bennett line –

 “That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough”;

or Fanny Dashwood’s sharp observation that,

“People always live forever if there is an annuity to be paid to them”.

And of course, Jane Austen is a fine writer (this isn’t a news flash). Concise, witty, and sharp, her novels just couldn’t be bettered. Take the scene in Emma just after Knightley gallantly rescues Emma’s socially inferior friend by asking her to dance. Austen captures Emma’s growing appreciation of Knightley in just one concise conversation:

“Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr Knightley.
She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me”

In just a few words, Austen has said everything.

Admittedly, she doesn’t tell epic stories on the scale of some of her peers (e.g. Walter Scott) but then, would we still be reading her so voraciously two hundred years on if she had? Readers will always be able to relate to the themes of love and friendship and part of Austen’s timelessness lies in this. Austen’s novels are the ultimate comfort read- we know that things will end happily and our favourite characters will marry the right man but we can also feel good, intellectually, about reading her novels. There is wisdom and perceptiveness in her work and unlike many novelists of her time, it is not injected preachily but with a sharpness and humour that make her a sheer delight to read.

So how to commemorate Jane Austen’s 200th death anniversary on July the 18th? I personally plan to get out my ‘Marrying Mr Darcy’ board game, drink from my favourite ‘searching for Mr Darcy’ mug and watch back to back adaptations of her novels clad in my prettiest gown and bonnet. My sister, currently studying in the states, is attending a Jane Austen ball on campus this year so maybe I can even borrow her beautiful regency dress and do my grocery shopping in style. If you are favouring a slightly more conservative approach, (understandable, I concede) then why not commemorate the day by sitting down with one of her books or television/movie adaptations and discover her for yourself. In her own words

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

As ever, she was right.

More Jane Austen

Helen
Central Library Peterborough

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Gail Honeyman’s brilliant debut novel features one of the most quirky and utterly original heroines you are likely to meet – Eleanor Oliphant, a quiet, socially inept office worker who ‘survives’ each day.

Cover of Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine

Unpitying and unambitious, Eleanor struggles with a past she can hardly bear to remember and which readers come to learn more of as the story unfolds. Eleanor is ‘completely fine’ simply because she has to be. She lives by the same carefully scheduled timetable each week of lunchtime meal deals, visits to the grocer for two bottles of vodka, and Wednesday talks with her vindictive ‘mummy’ until, one day, she meets Raymond, a clumsy, ‘unhygenic’ IT man from work. When the two rescue an elderly man who has collapsed on the side walk, an unlikely friendship begins to form between them, the type of friendship capable of showing Eleanor it is never too late to reclaim your life and allow yourself to be happy again.

Simultaneously, Eleanor finds ‘the love of her life’, an arrogant rock star who she concedes she hasn’t met just yet, leading to some hilarious ‘encounters’. There is a great passage where Eleanor glimpses him in Tesco’s and feels she must give him the benefit of her shopping wisdom via her sole means of communication, Twitter:

@eloliph
A Tesco Club Card is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. You should DEFINITELY sign up for one. A concerned friend xx

@johnnieLrocks
Tesco: stop pushing Big Brother spy-slash-loyalty card on here. It like living in a police state, yo #hungover #leavemealone #fightthepower

As ever, Eleanor remains touchingly oblivious. She is brutally honest herself, ‘helpfully’ telling people things they should not be doing and becoming stunned by ‘how rude’ they can be when they do not respond. She has lacked social contact for so long, that lack of knowledge rather than rudeness seems to be the cause of her faux pas.

Gail Honeyman has created a very remarkable character in Eleanor Oliphant. I loved the sensitivity with which Honeyman handled her past. It is impossible not to be moved by Eleanor’s observation that:

“When you read about ‘monsters, house hold names… you forget they had families. They don’t just spring from nowhere. You never think about the people that are left behind to deal with the aftermath of it all”

Or by moments such as when Eleanor, moved to tears, thanks Laura the hairdresser for making her ‘shiny’. Perhaps the part I loved most about this book though was the sheer warmth and ultimately, hope in Eleanor’s story. Her story is full of touching as well as hillarious moments which give a huge lift to the otherwise very distressing theme of crippling loneliness. There is a lovely scene where Raymond brings the convalescing Eleanor a Spongebob helium balloon:

“He passes me the ribbon, and the balloon soared towards my low ceiling, then bobbed against it as though it was trying to escape.
‘What is it supposed to be?” I said. “Is it cheese?” I had never been given a helium balloon before, and certainly not one this odd looking.
“It’s Spongebob, Eleanor,” he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. “Spongebob Squarepants?”
A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.”

I haven’t fallen in love so much with both a book and its narrator for a long time and happily give this brilliant novel a ten out of ten. If you’re looking for a witty, sensitive, uplifting read which perfectly captures the best and worst that life can offer, this wonderful book is a perfect choice for you.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by Harper Collins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008172121

Helen,
Central Library Peterborough

Podcast – Human rights in the era of Trump

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

This episode discusses Human Rights the era of the Trump presidency specifically –

  • increasingly inward-facing politics
  • the overarching importance of the commercial sector and the impact of economics and equality
  • the disconnect of the political elite from the people they are supposed to represent
  • foreign and domestic policy decisions
  • the role of the media
  • decisions being made about women’s and other’s rights

Preceded by reflections from long-time human rights advocate John Pace, listen as panellists Peter Field (University of Canterbury), Howard Klein and Laurie Siegel-Woodward (expat Americans) and Kevin Clements (National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago) discuss this huge topic.

Transcript – Human Rights in the era of Trump

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An invitation to celebrate Jane Austen

Jane Austen coloured version
Portrait of Jane Austen, 1873.

Be not alarmed ladies and gentlemen on receiving this invitation to celebrate 200 years of Jane Austen with Central Library Peterborough’s most dedicated Jane-ites. Come in your prettiest bonnet (or top hat if preferred) to discuss Austen’s novels over cups of tea and the most accomplished array of finger food there is.

A pleasing display celebrating all things Austen from the perfect novels by the lady herself to the weird and wonderful crime, zombie and even poultry tributes will also be present for your diversion.

Places for our charming book group and afternoon tea may fill quickly and it would not do to miss your invitation. So what are you waiting for? Come over to Central Library Peterborough to talk Lizzie Bennett, Mr Darcy, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Eliott, and all of Austen’s beloved creations on 18 July, the 200th anniversary of the death of one of the world’s most adored literary giants.

Phone us on 941-7923 or come in person to our handsome estate to register your interest in this free event. For when will you ever be able to attend a more agreeable gathering with such engaging conversation?

Need some Austen inspiration? Take a look at Helen’s Guide to Jane Austen which will advise you on Austen’s works from best to not quite as good (because lets face it, there’s no such thing as bad Austen).

More Jane Austen

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter

“Happee Birthdae Harry” as Rubeus Hagrid so aptly said twenty years ago.

Yes, its hard to believe, but this year, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone’ celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its first publication, and my generation of twenty-somethings can now, finally, feel old.

Together we and Harry Potter went through school (admittedly with less owls and enchanted halls on our end), and gradually ‘grew up’ through both good and bad experiences (though again, less trolls and horcruxes’ were involved), losses, and gains. Harry Potter really was the story of our generation. I remember my father bringing home the first Harry Potter book with a casual ‘the woman in the shop said this was quite good’ (yes – they hadn’t quite taken off at that stage).

From then on, as each book in the series was released, there would be a flurried, exciting day where me and my two sisters would charge down to our nearest bookstore and buy a copy each (the only way to avoid an ugly scene). We would then spend the next day (and night) with our noses buried in its pages, never emerging until the very last sentence had been read. One year we were so immersed in the latest installment we let our log fire go out three times, and forgot to eat any food until dinner time (a very monumental thing for us).

Twenty years on from our first introduction to Rowling’s incredible world, I not only feel old, I also feel oddly proud that ‘Harry Potter and Philosophers Stone’ is every bit as good to me as  when I first read it all those years ago. Reason enough, I think, to break out the butterbeer and cauldron cakes.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

As a young girl I loved magic books (what kid doesn’t) particularly E Nesbit’s ‘Phoenix and the Carpet‘ and CS Lewis’ Narnia. I also loved boarding school stories like Enid Blyton’s ‘St Clare’s’ series and Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’, so finding an author who so beautifully married together boarding schools and magic was simply the best thing ever.

Not only that but Rowling was also incredibly funny. There are passages which still make me gwarff out loud like Lee Jordan’s ‘impartial’ quidditch commentary:

“So-after that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating-“
“Jordan!” growled Professor McGonagall.
“I mean, after that open and revolting foul-“
“Jordan, I’m warning you-“
“All right, all right. Flint nearly kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to anyone I’m sure…”   .

And Ron’s pragmatic reply to Harry’s question:

“what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?”
Ron: “Throw it away and punch him on the nose.’

Some comic relief and cosy moments at the Burrow actually manage to transform these books into go-to comfort reading for me (except for the last book I guess- and the end of the fourth and the sixth and, well, a few other moments…).

Cover of The phoenix and the carpet  Cover of The chronicles of Narnia: Complete collection

And of course the stories are damn good. Who doesn’t love a story which features the underdog (in this case an unloved orphan) transforming into a honourable hero with the skills and courage to save the (wizarding) world. In addition, as the story grew both in intricacy and character development, so did Rowling’s first generation of readers. The stories’ growth really couldn’t have been better timed. There were always strong themes of sacrifice and loss running through Harry Potters story but, somehow, Rowling managed to introduce more intricate, often darker ideas like Horcruxes, the death of Dumbledore, Snapes’ heartbreaking love for Lily, and the supremely evil professor Umbridge’s ‘takeover’ of Hogwarts, just as her audiences were growing in reading level and maturity.

Rowling always celebrated important character traits too such as loyalty and knowledge, themes which will make her stories timeless. Ron and Hermione sacrifice a happy, normal life to follow Harry on his quest; Snape sacrifices his own name and safety to avenge Lily and keep the mission going and, in the end, Harry makes the ultimate sacrifice, his own life, to rid the world of Voldemort.

Knowledge is celebrated through Hermione, the cleverest witch of her time and Dumbledore the epitome of wisdom. It is doubtful if Harry’s quest would have progressed as successfully had it not been for Hermione swotting up on virtually every wizarding book under the sun including material on horcruxes, and had it not been for Dumbledore’s private lessons with Harry in which they discussed Voldemort’s past.

Cover of Harry Potter and the chamber of secretsCover of Harry Potter and the goblet of fireCover of Harry Potter and the prisoner of AzkabanCover of Harry Potter and the Order of the phoenixCover of Harry Potter and the Half-blood princeCover of Harry Potter and the deathly hallows

And who couldn’t love the world Rowling managed to create? An amazing world of Quidditch, pet owls, wizarding schools, and so so much more. Somehow, Rowling still managed to also ‘keep it real’ by having very real themes of love (in many forms), and painful loss. Perhaps this is part of Harry Potters huge appeal – that perfect mix of magic and reality.

Rowling also includes some great hat tips to ancient mythology. Like St Patrick or Herakles, Harry Potter has power over serpents (though admittedly Harry takes a somewhat more passive approach to Herakles and has a reasoned chat to his snakes rather than killing them in either hand from his infancy). Cerberus, the 3 headed dog like guard of the underworld, even makes an appearance as Hagrid’s beloved pet ‘Fluffy’, and there are frequent references to Rowling’s own personal favourite of mythical creatures – the phoenix, the ultimate symbol of renewal celebrated in Greek, Roman and many other mythologies. Also, like all mythological heroes, Harry is on a ‘quest’ which only he can achieve. Wise as Dumbledore is, and loyal as Hermione and Ron remain to the bitter end, Harry still must go on his own and leave his companions to confront the essential menace and conquer the root of all the evil.

Cover of The tales of the beedle bardCover of Quidditch through the agesCover of Fantastic beasts and where to find themCover of Harry Potter and the cursed child

I also love Rowling’s clever use of latin within spells and potions (For a start, ‘accio’ sounds so much more impressive than ‘fetch’ and ‘felix felicitis’ far more meaningful than ‘lucky day’), and one has to admire the hidden meanings dedicated Potter fans manage to unearth behind seemingly innocent phrases. Take Snape’s first question to Harry:

“Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
Some dedicated Potter fans insist that what this really means is ‘I bitterly regret Lily’s death’, because, according to Victorian Flower Language, asphodel is a type of lily while wormwood means ‘absence’ and symbolizes bitter sorrow. Just as rabbis take a passage in the Torah and discuss its complexities and multiple meanings for many days, so it seems, do Potter fans for a snarky question from Severus Snape. There exists a sort of Harry Potter midrash. Who knew?

With a gripping, intricate story, quite literally magical setting, strong characters, and great humour, there is so much to love and celebrate about this incredible series. Rowling has helped to inspire a whole generation of bookworms and after twenty years, more beautiful reprints, and more spin off movies, it looks as though she will continue to work her magic for new generations to come.

Further reading

Helen
Central Library Peterborough

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Wheowheo ana te haere!

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.

Wheowheo ana te haere!
They went at full speed!

akina te reo rugby

Podcast – Child poverty and the Budget 2017

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

Co-host Sara Epperson of CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) joins Sally Carlton to interview Paul Dalziel, Professor of Economics, Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit at Lincoln University, and Helen Leahy, CEO of Te Putahitanga, Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency for Te Wai Pounamu, on the Budget 2017 as viewed through the lens of child poverty.

  • Part I: Paul Dalziel
    Budget 2017 in its economic context; key elements of Budget 2017; putting Budget in layperson’s terms
  • Part II: Helen Leahy
    Budget 2017 and its implications for whānau; family vulnerability and resilience
  • Part III: Discussion
    Government-civil society partnerships and the importance of holistic approaches to family wellbeing; pros and cons of statistics-based funding models; prioritising economic growth against other types of growth

Transcript – Child poverty and Budget 2017

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Te Rerenga Kōrero – Koirā!

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.

Koirā!
Yes, that’s the one!

akina te reo rugby

Finding Gobi

I was so glad I got the chance to read Finding Gobi as I have been following Dion and Gobi’s story via the news and social media for some time.

Cover

Written in the third person, the story almost has a fiction feel, even though you know it is true. It is a light and easy read, suitable for young and old.

It tells the story of Dion, an ultramarathon runner, who is competing in a gruelling 155 mile race across the unforgiving Gobi Desert. A stray dog chooses Dion as her owner, even though Dion didn’t realise it at the time. After the first day of running beside Dion, crossing rivers, sharing his food and bed, It didn’t take long for the determined little yet to be named “Gobi” to melt his heart.

There really isn’t a lot to say, other than if you love heart-warming stories about, dogs, determination, resilience, love, and  friendship, this book is for you.  A truly heart-warming story for all dog lovers.

Tania Cook

Finding Gobi: The True story of one little dog’s big journey
by Dion Leonard
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008244521

Te Rerenga Kōrero – Mau mau ana!

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.

Mau mau ana!
Caught! Nabbed!

akina te reo rugby