Tom Thumb – for real?

Cover of The autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb
The autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

I have to say I was a little intrigued when I saw the title:  The autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb: a novel.  Was there really a Tom Thumb, let alone a Mrs Tom Thumb?  Apparently there was-  and he even had the title general bestowed on him.

This year two novels and a children’s non-fiction book have been written about either Tom Thumb or his wife.

It is written from the point of view of Mrs Tom Thumb (aka Lavinia Warren) and is a fascinating and believable account of her life and times, which take her around the United States and then the globe. It is even a love story of sorts. All this and she was only 32 inches (82 cm) tall.

If,  like me, your interest in this diminutive couple has been tickled,  you can look up some of the historical newspapers in The Source and see actual articles of the Thumb’s exhibiting around the world.  You’ll need a library card and PIN to access these sites and it’s best to search under General Tom Thumb (aka Charles Stratton).

So are there any novels you’ve read that reinforce the old age adage – Truth is stranger than fiction  (so why not base a novel on it)?

Bridging gaps

CoverI have recently read The Cardturner by Louis Sachar (of Holes fame).  Believe it or not it is a young adult novel about bridge – yes the card game.  The ‘cardturner’ of the title is Alton, who ends up turning cards for his blind uncle at his bridge games. Of course with Louis Sachar, it’s never just about the situation but all about the characters in them with a bit of surrealism thrown in.

Some of the bridge may get a bit much for those without an interest in card playing but Alton, who narrates the novel, puts a whale before technical bridge talk and gives a summary at the end of it, for those who want to read the story without getting bogged down in technicalities.  I read the technical bits, as a long-time card player, although not of bridge, got suckered in and now want to learn how to play.

For other potential players you can 

So anyone else out there fixated on contract bridge or some other slightly guilty pleasure?

What is the outlook for feminism in the 21st Century?

Princesses & pornstars by Emily Maguire

The statement certainly made me wonder what the outcome for feminism and women in general will be if all of the younger generation think that way. I was looking forward to Your skirt’s too short, one of the events at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival. Unfortunately the Festival was cancelled due to the earthquake. It was going to feature panellists Marilyn Waring, feminist and gender rights expert, and Emily Maguire, journalist and novelist who is widely published with articles and essays on “sex, religion, culture and literature”.

So any inspirational feminist texts that particularly made an impression on you?

The Press Christchurch Writers Festival – Here I come!

CoverI too have been lucky enough to be selected to attend the Press Christchurch Writers Festival. I’ve even changed my gravatar. I’m going to see one of my favourite authors – Barbara Trapidospeaking about her latest novel Sex and Stravinsky. It reminded me a little of her Travelling hornplayer in its style where coincidences abound in the run-up to the finish. Trapido also features in Good stories.

If you want to know more about Barbara Trapido, try British Council: Contemporary Writers  for a profile. This gives biographical information and critique her books up to Frankie and Stankie so is a bit outdated. Or best of all check out Trapido’s writing room on The Guardian’s website.

Is anyone else hoping to catch Barbara at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival?

To DVD or not to DVD?

For those cold nights when you’re snuggled up on the couch and in the mood for dvds, largely because you’re knitting and you haven’t worked out how to knit and read at the same time, what you need is a good movie.

Thankfully the library not only keeps me well stocked in reading material, it also keeps me well stocked with DVDs. I’ve had a couple of really good dvds out recently.  Bottle Shock with the lovely Alan Rickman playing a British wine connoisseur in France who decides to do a blind taste testing with French wines up against Californian wines – with surprising results and is based on a true story no less.

Another gem I  stumbled on A common thread , is about a 17 year old who discovers she’s pregnant and goes to work for an embroiderer for haute couture designers.   The diving bell and the butterfly  is about former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, which shows the aftermath of a debilitating stroke through his eyes.  In both movies, action takes second place to narrative and could be described as bleak, but both are stunning movies in terms of cinematography and heart. 

Here are some tips if you’re trying to find something to watch on the catalogue and don’t want to look through all 5599 listings on the catalogue:

  • In ‘Search catalogue” – type in your favourite actor and click on author – limit material type to “dvds and videos”
  • If you have a favourite distributor ie Hopscotch and Madman films distribute largely independent films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Wrestler and docos such as Microcosmos – in “Search catalogue” type in Hopscotch and limit material type to “dvds and videos”

Otherwise if you’ve seen something that takes your fancy on the Bestseller dvds – if you have the patience you can always see if there is a lending copy that you can place a hold on.  The only thing with this is that you may have to wait months for it to come in and it will cost you $3- 4 for the week ($2 for reserve charge plus the AV rental) so $5 for the week for a Bestseller movie doesn’t seem so bad.

So…read any good books lately?

With the (can I say crappy?) weather we have been having lately, if you’re anything like me all you want to do is curl up somewhere warm with a good book.  (I started this blog last week and looking at the comments on A good book, a log fire, jazz and mulled wine –  many of us love to read somwhere warm in the winter.) 

So I thought I would take this opportunity to mention two books I have been recommended by library users, and to see if I can glean any more reads in return to get me through winter.  Firstly, a book I finished recently is The Senator’s wife by Sue Miller.  This is a wonderful character driven novel that made me want to go to bed early so I could read.

I think the same customer also recommended the book I’m reading now.  Another fantastic character driven read, especially if you like using novels as a form of escape. In the heart of the canyon by Elisabeth Hyde is about white water rafting trip down the Grand Canyon with an unlikely grouping of people and a stray dog that turns up their first night on the trip.  You’re suddenly transported to midsummer heat in Arizona – now that would warm you up! 

So any other recommendations to add to my list?

Anyone else in the Marina Lewycka fanclub?

"We are all made of glue" by Marina Lewycka

Marina Lewycka’s latest offering has just turned up on hold for me.  It came just in time as I had devoured A bone to pick by Charlaine Harris and I was looking for something more.  I  tried the Aurora Teagarden series earlier in the year but up until recently we didn’t have the second book  in the series.  It was a good, quick read but I think I might leave Aurora to her murder mysteries.  The characters are less engaging than those of the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Phew – didn’t really need another series.  I need a bit more meat with my potatoes at the moment.  

The meat came in the form of  my well timed hold from earlier in the blog – “We are all made of glue”.  I am only a short way in but I find myself skulking off to bed early to read it and finding non-populated parts of the staff room to indulge.  It has lovely quirky characters with history and mystery.

I find it really hard to believe that it took Marina Lewycka, of Two caravans and A short history of tractors in Ukrainian fame, so long to be published.  Unless it is because publishers are like the New Zealand Immigration Service and don’t know what a treasure they have.  I have found all of her books thoroughly readable with colourful characters  and interwoven plotlines that aren’t so convoluted you get lost in a plot-hole on the road to the end of the book. 

So what is the meat (or meat substitute) and potatoes on your plate at the moment?

Books in to movies – I say yes, you say …?

Christchurch City Library catalogue link to Sherlock Holmes
His last bow; and the case-book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This in response to Zac’s blog post Should books really be made into movies. I know I could have commented in the comments but the more I thought about it, the more I had to say so bear with me. Now Lisa has swung into the debate with her blog Shutter Island : Good; Leo : Not so Good, now here is my two cents or is the going rate 10 cents? 

I too saw some movies over summer including Sherlock Holmes and The Lovely Bones – yes, both books. One of the things I noticed was that over half of the movies that were being advertised were based on books.

A lot of people are of the school that movies based on books aren’t as good as the real thing. In many cases this is true but look what it does to the reserve lists at the library. Because of the movie Sherlock Holmes, my husband and I have discovered the joys of Sherlock Holmes – the novels. Holmes was as Guy Ritchie portrayed him – a brilliantly analytical, drug-taking, street fighter who was more than likely manic depressive. Who would have thought! They’re a really good read.

And then there is the True Blood series. I couldn’t get Prime when it first came out so I tried the books to see if they were worth giving a go. Sadly they were – great pulp reading. I say sadly because now my reading is centring around Sookie Stackhouse, closely chased by Sherlock Holmes with the odd novel thrown in to break it up a little. So are any movies that inspired you to read? Or any movies that are better than the book?

Vintage style fabrics

I have to say I have always been a sucker for the whole shabby chic movement with the gorgeous vintage fabrics.  This lust is being kept well fuelled by some new offerings by the library  such as Rachel Ashwell’s  Shabby chic interiors and Cathy Kidston’s Sew! and her not so new Tips for vintage style.

Given the reserve lists on these items, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who drools (chicly of course) over the glossy pages.  My biggest problem with it all has been my inspiration has often been curbed by trying to find the right materials – in most cases the material itself.  Imagine my joy when I was introduced to a wee treasure trove of a shop in Tarras that had beautiful jewellery, second hand shabby chic furniture and even wonderful vintage style fabrics.  Great for when I’m down in Central Otago but what to do when at home?

Last week I finally checked out a local offering: Femme de Brocante.  If you love fabrics and like me have trouble sourcing vintage style fabrics, this place is fantastic.  Now if I could just get the hang of sewing…

All about Eve (Christmas that is)

A Kiwi night before Christmas

I used to love Christmas Eve as a child.  I would put clean sheets on my bed (the pretty ones with tiny orange rose sprigs on them), have a bath and get into clean pyjamas, watch the Christmas movie on television, have a Christmas story and then spend the night tossing and turning because it was too exciting to sleep.  I would give  up at about 5am and sit on the couch staring at the presents under the tree with my brother and sister until our poor parents finally joined us at some still ungodly hour.  One year in a bid to get a bit of a sleep-in on Christmas Day our parents (poor deluded darlings) put all of our presents in pillow cases at the end of our beds but we kept going in to show them the presents we had gotten. 

This year I have my own very enthusiastic not quite four year old and chubby cheeked cherub of just past one to start our own traditions with (I know Lucy has already had a couple of Christmases but I’m only just getting organised enough for the Christmas trimmings – so to speak).  These may not turn in to traditions as such but this Christmas Eve the Christmas stories will be  A Kiwi night before Christmas and the Christmas caravan – not just in a bid to support our local talent but to hammer home the lack of snow at Christmas. 

And the music on the drive down to Hawea?  A mix of Abba, Neil Diamond, John Denver and The absolute best Christmas album in the world – ever (that is the actual title but still quite good even if you don’t like Christmas music). 

So what is on your Chrismas Eve agenda? Have a Merry Christmas and if it doesn’t go to plan, just think how glad you are that you don’t have to listen to our music selection on a five hour car trip.