W is for Wild

For an urban dweller whose forays into the natural world are, more often than not, limited to irregular visits to the beach, walks in the park and working in my demanding garden, Helen Macdonald’s memoir H Is for Hawk was a revelation. A taste of the wild, like a cold keen wind from a far off place where humankind is peripheral. I found it fascinating, weird at times and somehow refreshing. I should mention that it was the Costa Book of the Year for 2014.

Cover of H is for HawkThe book describes a period in Macdonald’s life when her father dies suddenly and she falls into a deep and disorienting grief. In an attempt to find her feet again she buys a goshawk and sets about taming it. Not as strange as it may sound! As a young girl she had spent hours watching sparrow hawks with her father and in her 20s had become an experienced falconer. The hawk “was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life”.

What follows is an absorbing, brilliantly and beautifully written account of her life submitted to the needs and habits of a tamed, but essentially wild, predator. A time which takes her to the edge of madness and back. During the training of “Mabel” – an ironically genteel name – Macdonald occasionally and frighteningly finds herself losing her sense of human self.

To train a hawk you must watch it like a hawk, and so you come to understand it’s moods. Then you gain the ability to predict what it will do next….Eventually you don’t see the hawk’s body language at all. You seem to feel what it feels. Notice what it notices. The hawk’s apprehension becomes your own… I had to put myself in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her, and as the days passed in the darkened room, my humanity was burning away.

Well, it seems that’s what she wanted in her dark time of loss. However she does come out the other side and Mabel is integral to her healing. Not a method you’ll find in the self help books. Interweaving her own story is a biographical tale of the author T H White (The Once and Future King, The Goshawk) who, also in a search for peace within himself, engaged in agonisingly unsuccessful attempts at hawk taming. And woven through all of this again are fascinating accounts, and the arcane language, of falconry history. A rich tapestry of a read.

Cover of Ocean notoriousAfter quaffing some rather more domestic reads the next “wild” book to catch my eye was Ocean Notorious by Christchurch writer Matt Vance. Vance is an intrepid sailor, expedition guide, photographer and fabulous writer with a long standing passion for the Southern Ocean. This is the ocean at our back doorstep, which most of us never encounter, apart from icy blasts blowing in from the south-east. It is the most feared body of water on our planet, infamous for it’s raging winds, monstrous waves and horizontal rain. But people willingly, even eagerly, go there!

Vance takes us to our neighbour islands, closer to our shores than Australia: the Auckland, Bounty, Antipodes, Campbell and Macquarie Islands then on to the wilderness that is Antarctica. He introduces us to people have gone there and sometimes never returned – ocean explorers, polar explorers, sealing gangs, Second World War coast watchers, crazy-brave sailors, wildlife enthusiasts, conservationists, research scientists, artists, writers.

Celebrating Father’s Day

Father’s day makes us pause, remember and show love and appreciation for our dads.

Dad and Daughter
Dad and Daughter

Some of us resist the  overt commercialism of it, while others of us love to buy gifts; either way most of us find it impossible to ignore. So kids everywhere, young and old, make or buy cards and plan something special. (often with a tad of help from mums and teachers.)

Do we find it as easy to make a fuss of Dad, as we do Mum? Breakfast trays adorned with a posy in a vase may not cut it for him. Though a tray with the Sunday paper might. What do dads want from their children on Father’s Day?  A quick verbal survey of some dads I know, varying in age, came up with these answers:

  • a card with genuine expressions of why they like having me as their dad.
  • real time together on the day – something we choose to do together.
  • a day trip, somewhere we don’t often get to go.
  • a meal out together.
  • letting me show them photos of when I was a kid.
  • hugs and no hassling for the whole day.
  • the latest Lee Child and whiskey would be good
    an undisturbed sleep-in then bacon and eggs.

Not many surprises there. Dads here mostly want to hang out with their offspring and /or have some rest. Unlike the traditional German Father’s Day Hike when men hightail it into the woods, pulling a wagon laden with beer and wine. Quite a different emphasis! To be fair in Germany the day is also known simply as Men’s Day.

Father's Day Outing
Father’s Day Outing

Parenting is not something we’re taught in school. It’s a strange new land for all of us who take that journey and we can often need advice and especially encouragement. There is a wealth of resources for fathering right at the library. Not to mention BabyTimes and StoryTimes held weekly in our libraries.

Dads, however you choose to spend it have a very happy Father’s day! We wouldn’t be here without you.

Cover of Don't puke on your dadCover of Fathers who dare winCover of The night of the living dadCover of Beginning fatherhood

Celebration at Parklands

People love libraries. For library staff it’s a great satisfaction and inspiration to hear from customers the many and varied reasons why.

!0th Anniversary morning tea
10th Anniversary morning tea at Parklands Library

Parklands Library recently enjoyed celebrating its 10th anniversary with a full week of events for customers and staff beginning with a morning tea hosted for our celebrities – valued customers and friends, and founding and current library personnel. Warm welcomes from Sam Ludemann, Dan Daley and Carolyn Robertson, and karakia from Betty Situe began our proceedings. Musicians Dan Callahan and Alan Hawes provided just the right ambience for a gentle time amongst the tea and coffee cups.

Our calendar continued with with our incomparable Zac McCallum taking Hip Hooray Story Time, and an enthusiastically attended 3D printer demonstration, attracting curious customers from 4yrs to 86 yrs of age. Saturday was our Big Day Out with live music performers, Dylan Jonkers, Better than Bacon in the morning and The New Brighton Pirate Ukulele Band in the afternoon. Face painting and entertainment from Tania tale teller extraordinaire, ensured we had a buzzy, happy time with something for everyone.

New Brighton Pirate Ukulele Band
New Brighton Pirate Ukulele Band

What was especially heartwarming during this week was the amount of positive feedback staff received from our customer community (that’s what birthday celebrations are for after all). Cards and messages flowed in and people took time to tell us, fervently, just how much Parklands Library was a source of help and comfort to them in the very hard post-quake years and currently while rebuild issues continue. Warm, friendly, safe place, stability, information, connections, distraction and relaxation were some of the words we heard. “The library helped me get through.”

We’re back to a quieter busy-ness now, grinning at a comment we heard along the grape vine from a newcomer to Parklands, on our big day,  “Parklands is the best library in the universe!” And we have the lingering scent of celebration lilies.

We still have our usual roster of interesting community events on the go, so feel free to pay us a visit!

Tell me a story : audiobook bliss

Cover of The adventures of Augie MarchScrolling through shelves of audiobooks on Overdrive recently I came across The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, I’ve always skirted round this heavy weight literary man (multiple award winner including the Nobel prize for Literature in 1976). This time on impulse I decided to “give him a go” and I’m chuffed that I did! I was immediately hooked by the opening paragraph and the narrator’s gravelly, fast paced “Bronxy” voice.

I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city — and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles

For me an audiobook is completely at the mercy of the narrator; if the voice, inflection, pace etc doesn’t grab me, that’s it, no matter how enjoyable the writing. In this case both work so well together. From the word go I became absorbed in the life story of Augie, a poor Jewish boy born to a simple minded mother and a long ago absented father in the Chicago of the early decades of the 20th century (Al Capone, Prohibition era.)

I was impacted by Bellow’s sentences let alone the epic tale full of vivid, larger than life characters trying to get ahead and live the American dream. It did require very focused listening so as not to miss out on the richness of the language or get mixed up with the many characters. Also it’s a long book and there’s a limit to the amount of sitting around listening an able bodied person can do. So I’ve been doing a kind of relay – listen, read the book, listen and knit, read the book.

So many knockout sentences but I’ll leave those discoveries to you if you so choose! Except for another little taste, a description of Grandma Lausch, Russian pogrom refugee, not really Augie’s grandmother, but ruler of his childhood household nevertheless.

She was as wrinkled as an old paper bag, an autocrat, hard-shelled and jesuitical, a pouncy old hawk of a Bolshevik, her small ribboned feet immobile on the shoekit and stool Simon had made in the manual-training class, dingy old wool Winnie(her dog), whose bad smell filled the flat, on the cushion beside her.

Augie takes us on a series of often bizarre adventures, as he tries  on different lives inspired by people he comes across, on into post WW2 America; ultimately most are a wrong fit. He never does settle but in the end he celebrates the ride. Martin Amis, among many others, called this “The Great American Novel”. Worth checking out.

Cover of The LacunaBarbara Kingsolver is another great American writer and, apart from her wondrous ways with words, she has the gift of being able to narrate her own work with a warm, clear and expressively easy to listen to voice. She takes on different characters and different accents with aplomb. Hearing her read The Lacuna, probably the finest of her novels, is a real treat. I love this book and find her narration adds to its magic.

I listened to it as a pre-loaded digital audio book from CCL’s Playaway Collection that let me listen while moving about and “getting on with things”.

This story, coincidentally, covers the same time span as Saul Bellow’s novel. Very briefly, for readers who haven’t caught up with The Lacuna, the story’s protagonist is Harrison W Shepherd born, like Augie March, in the 1920s in the USA to a less than ideal family situation.

It takes us for a time to Mexico and into the lives of Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera and of Lev and Natalia Trotsky who are hiding from Stalin and his Secret Police. Harrison in his early 20s becomes part of these two remarkable households as cook, secretarial assistant and friend. He is “uncurious about politics”. He cares about people and writing. He becomes inextricably involved. Consequently he is devastated by the eventual murder of Trotsky at the hand of a guest he himself invites into the guarded house, and by the confiscation of his own writings along with Trotsky’s.

Oh… I just had to delete a big paragraph outlining more of the plot! Hard to keep quiet when you fall in love with a character(s) and feel honoured by knowing them, their aspirations, trials, hopes and sorrows, the burden of events beyond their control. There’s a lot of good stuff in here about friendship, art, history, the Cold War –  its propaganda and witch hunts, the damage of Press inaccuracies and lies and the fragility of a man’s heart and of his reputation. It looks to be a tragedy and in many ways it certainly is but the ending is a not. It’s a very rich listen!   According to Muriel Rukeyser a US poet of the same era as our two stories said,

The universe is made up of stories not of atoms.

I reckon we’re never too old, too busy or too anything, to bend our ears to a gifted story teller.

Heard of Persephone Books?

Some Persephone titles

Ladies in grey

You may not have come across these elegant, unassuming ladies in our library shelves, well groomed in dove-grey covers and creamy-white spine labels. Don’t be misled by their quiet twinset and pearls demeanour. Take a chance and have a browse! You might be seduced by their petticoats, their gorgeous end papers.

Who are Persephone Books and what have they to say for themselves? Let me have the pleasure of introducing you.

The name is a clue. In Greek mythology Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, being rather beautiful, is stolen away by her Uncle Hades to become his wife and queen of the underworld. She emerges only in spring, thus becoming goddess of Spring and Vegetation.

Persephone publishers chose this imagery for their mission of rescuing twentieth century works published over 60 years ago, largely by women, which have been neglected and in danger of falling into obscurity. Intelligent, thought provoking and beautifully written fiction and non-fiction, focusing on women’s lives in the difficult and changing world of the first half of the last century. They talk about relationships, sexual politics, domesticity, war, separation, austerity,  single women, work, social comedy. They are often subversive but in a quiet way; feminist before Women’s Lib kicked in.

Colleen Mondor writing for Bookslut blog says

These are books written about people and places and a way of life that no one seems to write about nearly as well anymore. The kicker, of course, is that they are all just flat out great to read.

Attractive endpapers
Attractive endpapers

The collection currently stands at 110 titles. Christchurch City Libraries have 13 of them. Personally I’d push for more. A further mention of their petticoats! For the lovely endpapers Persephone have cleverly chosen prints of fabrics current in the era of the books’ original publication and which complement the emotional tone of the books. For me these greatly add to the retro appeal and sensual pleasure of these publications.

Meet just a few of the ladies at your library.

Mollie Panter-Downes wrote a weekly London Newsletter for The New Yorker during WW11 and twenty-one of these appear as stories in Good Evening, Mrs. Craven Lightly handled and sometimes poignantly comic.

In her mother’s day a pregnant woman spent a good deal of time on a sofa, thinking beautiful thoughts and resolutely avoiding unpleasant ones; people took care not to speak of anything shocking or violent in front of her.  Nowadays shocking things turned up on the doorstep with the morning paper; violence was likely to crash out of a summer sky on a woman who could move only slowly and who was not as spry as usual at throwing herself on her face in the gutter.

The stories portray the lives of Londoners, mostly women without men, who have normal, day to day human concerns while coping with the deep anxieties of living through the continual bombing, with gas masks, blackouts, lack of sleep, food shortages, the evacuation of their children, fear for their menfolk overseas. The “stiff upper lip” was their way of handling such a ghastly time. Did you know that the death toll for British civilians in WWII reached 62,000?

In Daddy’s Gone A-hunting (1958) predating Revolutionary Road  by three years, Penelope Mortimer (more famous for The Pumpkin Eater) writes honestly about the depression experienced by many housewives in the fifties.

Ruth is a housewife trapped in a commuter suburb, and heading quietly for a nervous breakdown while her husband, sons at boarding school, and daughter at university live their lives elsewhere. The women around her are…

Like little icebergs, each [wife] keeps a bright and shining face above water; below the surface, submerged in fathoms of leisure, each keeps her own isolated personality.  Some are happy, some poisoned with boredom; some drink too much and some, below the demarcation line, are slightly crazy; some love their husbands and some are dying from lack of love; a few have talent, as useless to them as a paralysed limb.”

Dorothy Whipple in “They were Sisters” They Were Sisters (1943) explores the very different marriages of three sisters (shades of Chekhov) Lucy, Charlotte and Vera. On the surface a gentle read but lurking underneath is the shadow of domestic violence.

Others titles are much more light hearted and fun. I especially enjoyed romping through Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day by Winifred Watson (1938). Miss Pettigrew, a staid middle aged, recently laid off governess, is mistakenly sent to work for night club singer, Delysia Lafosse, glamorous, ditzy but generous hearted, and in the course of 24 hours finds her life transformed. A truly “ripping” read full of comedy, poignancy and loose living 1930s-style.

In  Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (1932) Julia Strachey writes about truly awful things that can happen in the last hours leading up to a wedding. The bride-to-be fearing she has made a dreadful mistake, drinking a lot of rum, her ex boyfriend arriving, her mother constantly praising the weather, peculiar relations abounding and who knows what’s going to happen next!

Both of these have recently been made into films, which shows the extent of their contemporary appeal.

I’m hoping, Dear Reader, that something here piques your curiosity and you have a real good winter read.

Karen W.
Parklands Library

Parklands enjoyed New Zealand Music Month

One of the great things about community libraries is the way we can source local expertise and NZMM was a perfect excuse for us to throw out our nets and land some sparkling talent for all to enjoy at Parklands Library.

NZMM Bryony Matthew

We opened with singer/songwriter Bryony Matthews. Just returned from a year’s stint in Europe enjoying the live music scene, including the Iceland Airwaves Festival, Bryony captivated us with a soulful presentation of original songs about her emotional and physical journeying. This gig led to live slots for Bryony on The Breeze Radio and Plains FM, a happy outcome to playing in the local library!

NZMM Matt HowesBright, smooth jazz was up next, brought to us by Matt Howes, a poised and accomplished young guitarist and member of the NZ Jazz Orchestra, who took us through relaxing and rocking pieces from names including John Scofield and Miles Davis. With great aplomb Matt turned technical difficulties with loop pedals into an opportunity to interact with his attentive and appreciative audience, letting us into some secrets of interpretation, counter melodies, and techniques of “swinging” a melody. We wish him all the best for his season with the Jazz Orchestra.

Our next “audience” was in the business of making music. Ten young people turned up to Tuesday Tunes to explore GarageBand with our own Betty Situe. Ipads were the instrument of choice and basic principles were quite quickly mastered, resulting in some interesting original pieces, which were burned to a disc to be taken home. A very successful event and hopefully to be repeated.

NZMM James DanielsPeople came from across town to hear Parklands based James Daniels of The Breeze radio station, joined by fellow musicians, Tony Clark and Malcolm Harris to wow us with “songs world famous in NZ”, the ones we’ve sung around the barbie. Old favourites from Kris Kristoffersen and John Rowles, “How Bizarre,” the theme to “Princess Bride” all created a fun, happy whānau atmosphere of joining in and clapping along to first rate singing and guitar playing. A great day out!

Music Month would not be complete without performances from our children and the Queenspark Primary School Choir was first to entertain family and friends with their enthusiastic singing of a variety of engaging songs, some featuring wonderfully energetic actions.

Parkview School Choir gave us a happy programme including “Haere Mai Everything is Ka Pai”, “Just One Earth”, “I got the Sun in the Morning”, and a swinging version of “Yes Sir That’s my Baby” obviously enjoyed by the singers and certainly by their audience. All in all sweetly satisfying.

On the last Saturday of May we brought Music Month to an end with a bang and our biggest audience yet. Friends, family and customers watched and listened and, in the case of one little girl who almost stole the show, danced to Better Than Bacon, a talented up-and-coming young rock band. Kayne Child on lead guitar, Josh McCaffery on bass, Joel Coleman on drums and Keira Jonkers, singer/songwriter and instrumentalist, had feet tapping and hands clapping with songs like “Joker and the thief” “I love Rock n Roll” and “Can to Can’t”. A highlight was Keira’s superb original song “No Noise Pollution”. With each musician gifted and committed, this band is one to watch for.
NZMM Better than BaconWhy limit ourselves to the month of May? We hope to continue listening to local musicians throughout the year. Watch this space!

For more photos of performances at Parklands and our other libraries check out our NZ Music Month Flickr 2015 set.