Five minutes on a Thursday afternoon

Libraries have changed; everyone knows this. There are no shushing fingers, aisles of silence and stern librarians imparting knowledge (not sure there have ever been these, especially wearing spectacles down their noses and tweed skirts). The library is used by people from all areas of the community for so many different reasons.

Fendalton Library
Femdalton Library, Flickr CCL-2012-09-24IMG_7917

Libraries are true community spaces, and I decided to test this out by wandering around Fendalton Library on a Thursday afternoon at 2pm. Here is a list of what I found in 5 minutes… It reads a little like the twelve days of Christmas:

  • 9 people playing board games
  • 10 knitters knitting
  • 4 browsing the recent returns
  • 7 using the wifi on their laptops
  • 5 people reading
  • 6 in the non-fiction section
  • someone skyping in Italian
  • a mother reading to her child in our oversized chair
  • 5 students studying
  • a tutor teaching a young child maths
  • a group practicing conversational English
  • 4 people issuing books
  • kids returning a mountain of picture books
  • 2 people using the wifi on their phones
  • 8 people on the public computers
  • 1 on the photocopier
  • a boy making origami
  • 1 shelver shelving
  • two trolleys being emptied
  • two help desks being used
  • and someone asking where the toilet is

Whew! All over this fair city, libraries are full, librarians are working hard and people are finding what they need, interacting with others, enjoying themselves and gaining and imparting knowledge. Not a bad place to work I guess.

Avian Flu and the ‘Quiet Days of Power’

It started with the destruction of the world via avian flu and ended with mind control and memory loss via music. My last few weeks have been filled with two books from my go-to genre, dystopian science fiction, and both were rip-snorters.

Cover of Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a classic post-apocalyptic tale. A deadly flu that kills within hours sweeps through the entire world population, laying waste to all but a few hardy souls. We follow a group of survivors, whose lives intersect at various stages throughout the book. The interesting decision by the author to switch between the time when the flu hit and then twenty years later to see how society survived, coped and altered gives the story movement and contrasts, and I loved seeing where and when the characters met and re-connected.

The main story centres around a band of actors and musicians who travel through mid-west USA performing Shakespeare and classical music to the few survivors in scattered outposts: people eking out an existence without any infrastructure, centralised government and dwindling resources. Holding onto history, art and culture in such a bleak landscape seems both foolhardy and wonderful in equal measures.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill is a very different animal. Yes, people are struggling, living in a London very different to the one we know, but things are very different from Station Eleven. There is a power in charge, a cloistered order that have developed a powerful weapon they use on their own people to keep control. The weapon? Music.

Cover of The ChimesThe Chimes are sent through the air and there is no escaping them; they wipe people’s memories and keep them subdued: you almost feel music has become an opiate that makes the populace feel safe. With no written word, people use music and song to remember things, such as how to travel from one place to another. They also keep objects that help them remember family, places and their history.

I love the use of musical terms in their language, many of which I had to look up, such as Lento, which means slow and Tacit, which means a sudden stop in a piece of music. I was fascinated by the way music was both their prison and their saviour, the way the protagonists in the story used music to keep themselves alive and to try to bring down those in power.

The run was tacit. Clare and I followed the first of the two strange, twisting melodies. Ours moved straight into the fourth chord and pushed on presto, skipping and meandering and returning almost completely on itself  before branching straight out in a modulation to the dominant.

Simon, our main character, is an orphaned young man who soon discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

Both books fit my ideal of dystopia. People struggling in an alien world, even if it is our own in a different time or altered state. Heroes, villains and fascinating ideas to transport you and challenge you. Both books get the Purplerulz  purple seal of approval… read them now!

To learn more about the writing process and ideas behind The Chimes, read Masha’s great post about her interview with Anna Smaill.

It’s not vegetating, it’s enriching – honest! Binge watching TV

I’ve recently become a convert to ‘binge watching’ television series. Instead of the days where you had to watch an episode a week of your favourite drama, waiting desperately for Sunday night to roll around again,  there are so many ways you can set some time aside and watch episode after episode. The Guitar Man and I like to watch 2-3 at a time for a few nights in a row. Three such series we’ve watched recently that you can get from Christchurch City Libraries in boxed sets, are Peaky Blinders, Outlander and Hinterland.

Dinosaurs relax watching TV
Dinovember display at New Brighton Library, November 2014. Flickr CCL-2014-11-05-DinovemberNB-DSC.JPG

These are all very different and interesting in their own ways:

Peaky Blinders is a tale of gangs on the gritty streets of Birmingham after the First World War. It stars not only Cillian Murphy, he of the startling blues eyes and chiselled features, but our own Sam Neill, with a very impressive Northern Ireland accent. It’s a fascinating watch and one thing I enjoyed was the lack of ‘Game of Thrones’ gratuitous violence and random sex scenes. It’s gritty all right, but not excessive. There are strong women together with men both damaged by war and desperate to make better lives, in any way possible.

You think I’m a whore? Everyone’s a whore Grace, we just sell different parts of ourselves.

Outlander is a television adaption of the Diana Gabaldon series of books of the same name.  I’ve not read the books, as romantic history is not usually my bag, but it proved to be quite a riveting series, full of Scottish highland scenery, intrigue, romance, fights, and enough hearty men in kilts to keep anyone into hearty men in kilts happy. I also find you can never go wrong with a Scottish accent.

Hinterland is a gritty bleak murder mystery series, set, not in Scandinavia as all my favourite ones have been lately, such as The Killing and The Bridge, but in Aberystwyth, Wales. Interestingly, it is the first series to be filmed in both English and Welsh, with two different versions made. Each scene was done in English, then immediately in Welsh for the first time ever. Sadly, my Welsh leaves a little to be desired, so I only saw the English version. Wales does bleak very well and Tom Mathias, is a troubled DCI with a mystery past. It’s tightly scripted with great characters, but some of the crime scenes were a little bloody and graphic, just a heads up if you’re not into that sort of thing.

With the winter dragging on, perhaps a little binge watching is in order. Do you have some favourites?

Honey, Hives and Hierarchy

I don’t believe I have ever read a fantasy book before, science fiction sure, but not fantasy.  After a long reading hiatus, I was perusing a list of books nominated for various recent awards to kick-start me into reading again.

Cover of The BeesI must confess it was the cover of The Bees by Laline Paull that hooked me in – embossed and golden. Only when I started reading did I notice ‘fantasy’ on the spine. I always think about witches, dragons and ‘far away lands’ when I think fantasy, so a book about a plucky and rather magical bee and the hive she lives in didn’t fit the narrow idea I had of the genre.

The book is a debut novel for Laline Paull, a playwright and screenwriter, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, with judges calling it “an Animal Farm for the 21st century”.

We meet Flora 717 at her birth, fighting her way out of her hive cell.  She is of the worker class, destined to clean and tidy after others for her short life. But this wee worker is different. She speaks, unlike others of her class, and she has an intelligence that soon sees her crossing antennae with those in the hive of higher classes. As the seasons progress, changes in the hive bring on new challenges to both Flora and the hive.

As Flora’s tongue unrolled toward the head of nectar, tiny particles of orange pollen tingled against her fur. The taste of the nectar was so bright and the energy release so sudden that she almost fell off the flower head.

I didn’t think I’d find myself rooting for a humble bee, but I was willing her on to achieve, find joy, survive the horrors of wasp attack, disease and resentment from those who believed she was getting above her station.

Well written, tense in places and tender in others, it’s a great read. I recommend you add it to your list. Oh and it gave my husband and me an excuse to have silly pun duels. “Honey, I’m hiving trouble bee-lieving you.” “I shall wax lyrical.”

 

My Life in Books

I was busy, as librarians often are, returning items one day and to my surprise, I noticed I had returned three DVDs, one right after the other, in the right order, which uncannily mirrored a pretty large chunk of my life so far – all in three movie titles!

We Bought a Zoo encapsulated the child raising years, where at times my kids were monkeys, other times brainless chickens, and the teenage years were more like herding rabid hyenas into a bag.

Look Back in Anger were the divorce years. Bitter and twisted times, I was a wronged woman who wasn’t always kind, nor brimming with forgiveness.

The Spectacular Now is my present life. Well, not always spectacular, but often filled with much fun, love, laughter and music and more than a little dollop of gratitude.

Book cover of the grapes of wrathIt made me think of other movies or book whose titles could encapsulate a life.

The Grapes of Wrath could document the mornings after when I should have known better, and perhaps Someday, Someday Maybe, would aptly sum up my exercise regimen. What I Know for Sure, is that I know very little, and The Hunger Games covers that time period between morning tea and lunch.

A Short History of Nearly Everything is what I will tell you over Three Cups of Tea.

So, are there books or movies that remind you of your life, or parts of it? Can you encapsulate your life so far in three titles?

Getting all those ducks in a row

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, anally retentive, neat freak – the terms are out there.

Book Cover: The art of clean up

I’ve always been a little obsessive about order. When in stores, often red and large, my husband comes up to me and whispers “You’re doing it again”, and I realise I’m organising the bins of DVDs, making sure they are all up the right way, putting the ones that go together, well, together. If I am eating out and they bring cutlery, I will make sure they are straight and perfectly lined up, along with the salt and pepper and I’ll put things in order of colour, length, size – aahhh that’s better!

I actually feel agitated when I see disorder but can’t do anything about it.

At the library, I like to tidy, I like lining things up, straightening, and I get a real sense of calm when I have tidied and made things ‘right’. My brain relaxes. Libraries are perfect places to work if you have the ordered (compulsive) gene and I’m not the only one drawn to the order of a library shelf. So when a book arrived as a reserve for me, I did wonder about it, not sure I’d put it on hold, but it really appealed to me. I then found out a fellow librarian had put the book on hold for me, knowing I would love it. And I do.

Book cover: Unstuff your life

The Art of the Clean Up by Ursus Wehrli is a gem of a book. Well, it spoke to me. A book that on one page has an innocent bowl of alphabet soup photographed, then on the facing page has the soup sorted, so that the letters are lined up a-z and the carrot chunks are in a nice line underneath, perfectly spaced, you understand. On another page, the left page has a car park full of cars, on the facing page, the cars have all been parked in colour matching chunks. The photographs are lush and ordered and are  funny and quirky or weird and disturbing, depending on the way your mind works – I did a little survey among my workmates to see their reactions.

There are heaps of books out there to help you organise your life if you feel it is out of control. There are people who will come into your house and sort it all out for you, I have wondered if this is my dream job.

But I do wonder if it is healthy to fight your natural inclinations. I don’t fight my need for order, don’t get embarrassed by it or feel I have to curb it  and I think if you are a naturally messy person, just go with it. I guess as long as the health department doesn’t need to be informed, and it makes you happy, all is well.

Are you a lover of order or chaos? What makes your brain go aahhh?

Te Reo – pēpe hīkoi

Cover of The Value of the Maori LanguageI went to primary school in the sixties, and looking back it seems it was a time of tokenism towards Te Reo. This week, as you may well know, is Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Maori Language Week). We have come a long way since my formative years of stick games and children’s songs. I don’t remember being told what most of the words of AEIOU meant, and when we flung our newspaper roll sticks (tī rākau), or poi with abandon, we probably didn’t know the traditions behind our actions or, again, what the words meant of E Papa Waiari, which, I have just discovered, are quite sad and full of heartbreak.

As a Pakeha, from a long line of English and Scottish folk, but with my paternal ancestors landing on Banks Peninsula in the 1860s, I have only recently understood the importance of using the language, if even in a minuscule, baby-steps kind of way.

I realised a few years ago, how many Maori words have seeped into my life, and the lives of us all as New Zealanders. Even if we don’t use some of these words, they are known to us, we know their meaning and context and it’s just a small jump to start using them yourself.

The common words that are part of our vernacular, such as Kai, Mana, Whare, Hangi, Koha, Kia Ora, Waiata, Aroha, Iwi, Whanau and Tapu along with many others, are all part of our lives and I was made aware of this when I spent some time with a group of visiting Australian women. I found myself using  Māori words such as Mana or Kai or Waiata and seeing their confused faces and realising these words are  unique and special, and in fact a taonga for all who live in New Zealand.

I jumped a personal hurdle when I decided to say Kia Ora on the telephone when I answered it at the library. I felt as if I was not entitled to and that it was lip service, but I tested it out, and I am so comfortable, I also say it when I answer the phone at other places too. I’m not sure I’ll ever learn Te Reo in a full fluent way, but by being aware, embracing what I can and learning the meaning of waiata I sing, words I hear or see used, it can’t be a bad thing. Baby steps! Pēpe hīkoi!

Confessions of an Author Obsessive

Cover of The Crane WifeI’ve got a bit of a obsessive personality at the best of times (to my shame, I have been known to tidy DVDs at shops without even being aware of it), and when it comes to favourite authors, it manifests in a need to read every book they have ever written. This has often been frustrated by choosing authors who seem to only write one book a millennium or have written so many, my task seems Herculean.

When I read a writer who just ‘does it for me’, I then set about reading every thing they have ever written. Those who have written just a few I can mark off quickly, others are proving to be a life’s work for me.

It’s interesting how some vary in their skills from book to book, and others nail it every time. I sometimes start with their first book and work through in order of publication, or just randomly pick them in a crazy ‘throw my hands in the air like I just don’t care’ kind of way.

So, like a true obsessive, I will now list a few of the authors I have read completely or am working on. I’ll also give my tips, for what it’s worth, on how I think it is best to approach them:

Cover of Close RangeAnnie Proulx

Start with The Shipping News, then Accordion Crimes, Postcards, Close Range (which is a collection of short stories including the excellent Brokeback Mountain), and then move on to her other excellent titles. I’d leave Bird Cloud to the end. This is a non fiction account of her building her dream home in Wyoming and is possibly the least interesting, but that may just be me.

Patrick Ness

Start with the amazing Chaos Walking Trilogy, move onto A Monster Calls, then More Than This, and finish up with The Crane Wife and The Crash of Hennington. Mr Ness is one of those writers who needs to write more prolifically to keep me happy! There is a title of his not in the library:  Topics about which I know nothing – I’ve filled a request an item form (a useful form to use if you want the library to buy something).

Cormac McCarthy

Cover of Outer DarkThere are eleven of his titles in the library, and he is my slow and steady author. I love his work, but it is not always easy going and rarely light, so I pepper his works in among my other reading.  I’d suggest starting with All the Pretty Horses, then move onto Outer Dark, The Road, No Country for Old Men,  Suttree and then his other works. I’ve still got a few to read, and the added bonus with McCarthy is his works have such depth and strength of narrative and character (I’m not biased or anything), that they make great movies… so read the book, watch the movie of  The Road, The Sunset Limited (a play), The Counsellor and No Country for Old Men. 

John Steinbeck

An early obsession for me when in my teens, I think I started with Of Mice and Men, then moved onto Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, but perhaps it is time to finish that list off too.

Carol Shields

This writer’s works are only partly read by me, but Unless got me hooked, which led to The Collected Stories, Duet, Stone Diaries, Small Ceremonies and Larry’s Party. I still have several more to tick off the Carol Shields list.

Do you have authors you love with a passion, whose latest novel you are hanging out for? And who would you see as your ‘must read all’ authors?

May is the Month for Music Madness

I made a pact with my husband this year.  We would go to as many live gigs as we could get to and afford, and so far this year has been very rewarding. NZ Music Month at Christchurch City Libraries

With New Zealand Music month upon us, there are a wealth of local and wider New Zealand based acts to catch up with at your local library in addition to the usual offerings around town, and no matter what your tastes, you will find some great music to listen to.

With a range of venues in the city, and lots of musicians keen to entertain, there’s something on every day of the week. We have become the unofficial stalkers of a few local acts we love, such as Vintage Blue, a mellow polished duo that perform anything from jazz and old standards to the latest pop hit, with great arrangements.

We’ve seen The Johnny’s twice this year. They are a Nelson based, all  girl, Johnny Cash tribute band that really rocks, with a show that leaves you exhilarated. Runaround Sue is a local band, with the famous music legend Al Parks on guitar. Their high energy mix of originals and covers is well worth looking out for. Tami Neilson is an award winning musical force. She has the most amazing voice and channels such country greats as Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. But her own songs are the real standouts, ranging from honky tonk to blues and country through  a 50’s rockabilly filter. Her latest album, Dynamite, is yet to grace the library shelves, but keep an eye out, it’s truly awesome.

Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers are another local combo we’ve fallen in love with. I love their passion and energy. The local live music scene is certainly alive and well and many of the suburbs are seeing a resurgence in bars and other music venues to offer people a great night out in our ever transforming city. Addington has The Pedal Pusher and the Cargo Bar along with The Dux Live, and  there is The Miller Bar and the addition recently of Sullivans, who have decamped from their pre-quake Manchester street site. Riccarton’s  Trevinos and Fox and Ferret are popular haunts, as is the Fox and Ferret at The Palms. Revival Bar and Tequilla Mockingbird on Victoria Street, The Darkroom on St Asaph Street, Barretta on St Asaph Street and The Monday Room on Moorhouse Avenue and the new and flash Carlton on the Carlton Corner are a few that are close to the CBD and offering anything from quiet duos to rock and roll and trip hop dance music. The Bog Bar has reopened on Victoria street recently too. The Eastern

Lyttelton’s iconic Wunderbar is a funky wee venue and The Lyttelton Yacht Club has proved to be a wonderful location for Al Park’s talented finds, after his iconic bar bit the dust. Great Christchurch musicians such as The Eastern and Lindon Puffin, who will be both performing at Linwood Library at Eastgate during May Music Month, have been known to perform in the seaside town.

Find out more about Christchurch music venues online. So head to your local, or go to another suburb and check out the offerings.

Make sure you check out the live music at a library near you as well in May.

If you have a local haunt or great band you love to listen to, do share!

Songbirds Coming to a Library Near You

Ngā Manu Tioriori (The Songbirds), the Christchurch City Council Waiata group, are embarking on a couple of ambitious tours, aiming to spread the joy of song and Te Reo to as many libraries as possible during May Music Month.

The first tour is this Wednesday, 7th May.

They will be heading out to the North/ East side of town and will be visiting the following libraries:

  • Linwood Library 9.30am
  • New Brighton Library 10.00am
  • Aranui Library 10.20 am
  • Parklands Library 11.00am
  • Redwood 12.00pm
  • Shirley 12.40pm

On May 21st, they will head out to libraries on the other side of town, times and library locations are still being confirmed, but these libraries will be resounding to the sweet sounds of this talented bunch.

For times, keep an eye on the Christchurch City Library events page, or contact the library on 03-941 7923