Sick leave and my personality change

Winter ailments are striking early. In library after library staff are succumbing to lurgies and being booked off work. When it happened to me, my first thought was: Goodie, now I will read all the books on my shelves that I’ve not had time for.

I started with My Name is Lucy Barton. This was the wrong book at the wrong time. Lucy is sick in hospital having a disjointed trip down memory lane with a truly dysfunctional mother. It is beautifully written, but a Get Well Soon read it is not.

Cover of The life changing magic of not giving a f**kUnfazed, my hand reached out for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I needed a life change, and heaven knows the cupboards were long overdue for a bit of attention. After one chapter I lost the will to live. There is only so much origami-like folding of underwear that an invalid can handle. Instead I selected The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k (How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do With People You Don’t Like.) That’s more like it!

HyggeNext up Hygge. This is a Danish word for the concept of Happiness. I soon realised that I had been mispronouncing it for months. Irrationally, this kind of wrong-footing really annoys me. I still call it Higgy*. Anyway, it is the trend du jour. I was feeling quite ho-hum about it all until it got to the bit where you feel all higgy because you do generous things. I had my usual perverse reaction to this. Who exactly is feeling good here? The giver or the givee? Just for the record I would be enraged if people  kept leaving little containers of home-made jam on my doorstep and hung freshly baked bread rolls from my front doorknob. Clearly I was not in a good mental space.

And that’s when I realised that I was going about this Sick Leave reading all the wrong way. What I really wanted to do was rip out my lungs and have a go at them with a meat cleaver. I wanted violence. I was after blood. In quick succession I read two wonderful murder mysteries (The Fire Maker by Peter May and I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill) and followed them up with my first Literary Western (The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt). I felt better almost immediately.

Cover of The Fire maker I shot the buddha The Sisters Brothers

We may have put an end to blood letting and the use of leeches in modern medicine. But that doesn’t stop it from being the way to go when you are feeling enraged by ill health. Give it a try!

*[Ed: For the curious it’s closer to “hoo-ga”. You’re welcome]

Librarians who write!

The Library of Unrequited LoveI’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me: “You should write a book!” Sometimes this is said after I have told a funny story, sometimes when they realise that I belong to not one but three book groups, but quite often it is said simply because I work in a library.

This got me thinking about how many librarians have actually written books. Let’s start with real live librarians working in Christchurch City Libraries right now:

  • Dylan Kemp is one of the Poets in Residence at a Christchurch community library. He has three published books of poetry to his name. Dylan is a poet who often focuses on relationships in his writing. In real life he speaks just like his poetry: thoughtfully, honestly and with kindness.
  • Andrew Bell is our resident coastal poet. He has two poetry books and a book of short stories in our collection. Andrew takes situations and observations from life (and Andrew is very perceptive) and turns them into beautiful writing that makes you want to say: Yes This Exact Thing Has Happened To Me!
  • Beaulah Pragg has the first of her Young Adult, Fantasy/Science Fiction novels – The Silver Hawk – in our collection. In a world of gender-role reversal set somewhere out there on “the rim”, Beulah’s imagination appears unstoppable – there is even a sequel in the offing.

TendernessBut wait there’s more. In the past, authors Sarah Quigley, Bill Nagelkerke, Dave Welch, Richard Greenaway and Margaret Mahy were all librarians working at Christchurch City Libraries. And internationally, well-known authors who have worked in libraries include: Philip Larkin, Anne Tyler, and Angus Wilson.

Sophie Divry, who wrote The Library of Unrequited Love, has a main character who (in a ninety page rant to a man who slept the night in her basement workplace) tells the story of her dead-end library job and her fantasy love-life for a customer. She has to have written this book in a library.

Librarians who have actually written and had books published know the hard yards that have had to be done to write a book, get it onto a shelf, and to have a hand reach out and choose it. They know best whether a library is a great place for an aspiring author to work.

As for me, I remain…..The Hand That Reaches Out!

List of Librarian Writers

Books written by current Christchurch Library staff.
Books written by current Christchurch Library staff.

 

On Love and Art and Maps

On our very first date my husband and I discovered that we share a love of maps.  In retrospect I can see now that we were coming from completely different planets, so to speak. His the planet in which the words “Cadastral” and “Great Circles” featured majorly. Mine the planet of the isolated farmhouse at the end of the road and my desire to visit it. But we both still find maps beautiful and own several sets of topographic maps. We have kept quiet about this bond, until now that is. Because Art and Maps are IN.

A Map of the World According to Illustrators and StorytellersTelling your life story through maps is the new therapy de jour. A great place to start is with a beautiful book entitled A Map of the World According to Illustrators and Storytellers. This book plays down accuracy in favour of getting the message across. Eighty-nine creatives map out their lives and their places. The variety of approaches is gobsmacking. One of my favourites is the Happy Planet Map on page 212. It may inspire you to look at your surroundings, and your life, and create your own map of how you feel about them.

Mapping ManhattanAnother take on maps and art and life  is Mapping Manhattan A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers. Here random New Yorkers were given simple, identical outline maps of New York and asked to tell their story of this city in any way that they liked. Seventy-five posted back their offerings to Becky Cooper who put them together into this fascinating little book. She says of this initiative:

Maps and Memories are bound together, a little like songs and love affairs are.

Making Art from MapsIn Making Art from Maps, the author Jill Berry starts from the belief that we all love maps. She loves them and she also loves art. These two loves started gelling somewhere along the way and resulted in this book where Jill and forty-one artists take maps and do astonishingly transformative things with them. This 2016 book would be a useful addition to the library of anyone who likes playing around with paper.

And closer to home, Even Smith’s Journal recognises that the day of the map is upon us in their online magazine of January 04 2017 with an article entitled Retro Maps of Modern Cities. The idea behind this approach is to treat maps as art and not just as guides to places.

So, if you’ve tried journalling and failed; succumbed to colouring-in and now sit with several partly completed books; and possibly even resorted to adult join-the-dots books (and please let this be just a very few of you) – but still you feel hollow, still your life mission has not been revealed to you, then let it be known that Mapping Your Life is the trending new thing.

More about maps

 

What were you reading when …?

Britt Marie was hereWhat were you reading when all the events of 2016 took place? Looking back on my reading year, here’s what brought me a bit of comfort in those weird and wonderful times:

Brexit – well I never saw that one coming. The book on hand was Britt-Marie Was Here – another winner from Fredrik Backman, the author of the sensationally successful A Man Called Ove. This novel is set in small town Sweden (still a member of the EU by the way), so a bit of a geographic link there.

The election build-up in America – would it never end? I got through a whole heap of reads like The Portable Veblen. Nothing like an American novel on squirrels and dysfunctional families to get one through the voting road show.

 Leonard Cohen died. I took solace in a murder mystery The Lewis Man by Peter May. All grey skies and peaty remains and the odd bird on a wire. Perfect.

The satanic mechanic Trump got elected – I was on holiday in Cape Town and indulging in a very South African read The Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew. One of those Alexander McCall Smith type reads – with recipes thrown into the mix as well. I just buried my head in the sand, something like the ostriches in the book.

When the Kaikoura quakes hit, I was still on holiday. It was a weird feeling to be so far away from New Zealand at that time. I’d moved on to a short, whimsical read that I picked up in an independent bookstore – The Reader on the 6.27. Translated from the French, this is an enchanting novel about the love of books and reading. It served me very well at that time.

John Key resigned while I was reading The Muse. This is a great novel to immerse yourself in by the author who wrote The Miniaturist. I preferred this second book (and the first was not bad The Reader on the 6.27at all either). If you are an art lover and would like a change of scene to Spain, this should go onto your list.

Finally what was I reading at the end of the year? One of those crumbling mansion, upstairs downstairs, governess novels – The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan. And dipping in to the silliest book I found all year Knit Your own Moustache. No I am not making this up!

How about you? What books sustained you last year? What books are carrying you gently into 2017?

Trevor Noah in my Christmas stocking!

Born a CrimeSouth African born comedian Trevor Noah is a terrific talker – let there be no doubt about that. But can he write? Well here’s our chance to find out with his hot-off-the press biography Born a Crime.

Not the first sentence in the book, but right near the start of Chapter 1, is the following sentence:

I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car.

And the book careens onward from there. It is hilarious, heart-warming, revealing, educational, embarrassing (if you were born white in South Africa when I was), and yes, it is extremely well written.

Trevor Noah is worshipped in South Africa and by South Africans worldwide (I attended one of his shows in Christchurch a couple of years ago). On my recent SA holiday, all over Cape Town and Durban I saw people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and genders wearing Trevor Noah Born a Crime Tees. There were even a smattering of Trevor Noah for President shirts – and it is my one holiday regret that I did not buy one!

But he is also internationally known as the host of the award winning Daily Show, and now has his home in New York. If you are one of the few souls yet to hear him at his best, have a listen to this clip on airport announcements. Straight after that you might like to make a list of all the people who would love to find this book in their Christmas stocking, here’s mine:

  • Mothers and sons – Noah is at his best when he is on this topic;
  • People who love biographies of  the Poor Boy Makes Good ilk;
  • People who thought they understood South African politics (pause here for hysterical laughter);
  • South Africans everywhere;
  • People who like a good laugh – and that’s pretty much all of us.

But, it’s not really a book review if you just love everything, so I have to confide that I hate the title Born A Crime which I don’t believe does the book any favours. Even though Noah references the title on page 26, it just doesn’t work for me.

So, in answer to the question “Can Trevor Noah write?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Trevor Noah can indeed walk the talk!

Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473635289

I draw the line

Art Before BreakfastIn any interaction where I mention that I try to draw every day, there is a point straight after the words leave my lips when I can hear the drawbridge being cranked up, and see the intervening moat filling up with tablets, apps, Pokemon and the sundry small, useless products of 3D printing. And, as if from a distant galaxy, I hear the person on the other side of the moat say some variation of the following: “Oh I can’t draw a thing. I can’t even draw a stick man.”

And let’s say, just for the moment, that you are stick-man challenged, still I bet you had the chance to draw and paint and play music when you were at school. What is a great concern for many educators nowadays is that the swing to a predominantly technology-based education system like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) means that many children will be deprived of the opportunity to develop their own direct, tactile creativity, and will be doomed to a life of thinking that creativity is the manipulation of someone else’s genius.

ArtlessWhich is why I am such a huge fan of The Big Draw – The world’s largest drawing festival. Most education systems nowadays focus on STEM curricula. The Big Draw is part of an initiative to change STEM to STEAM through the addition of the Arts. And we have a chance to be part of this initiative at Art Box Gallery in Christchurch until Friday 28th October. Art Box is the venue for the Christchurch Big Draw which has invited 20 New Zealand artists to show us just how important drawing is. How we simply cannot afford to let Art slip through the cracks. How the British Arts Education Trust believes  “Art can change lives”.

I went along to The Big Draw with my colleague and art-buddy, Masha. Debra McLeod was in attendance to share some arty gems with us – she is always so welcoming and knowledgeable. It was a struggle to drag Masha past Ina Johann’s Parallel Lines – mapping another life (and it was only exhibit 2 of 20), and I wanted my little drawing books to morph into the likes of Mario Luz’s Sketchbooks.

All the artists in this Big Draw exhibition are known in their field and for sure you will come away with a different slant on life. But here’s an idea – maybe the next Christchurch Big Draw could feature the sketchbooks of ordinary, everyday sketchers: the people who draw though they will never be known for it, and the children who are just starting out on drawing.

Back we meandered to Central Library Manchester – just that little bit altered. There to search out more beautiful drawing books. Paul Klee is reputed to have said that drawing  “is the act of  taking a line for a walk”. To-day Masha and I took a walk for the lines!

Roberta and Masha with Sandra Thomson's Coral Reef and Fated.
Roberta and Masha with Sandra Thomson’s Coral Reef and Fated.

Of beards and men

Of Beards and ManI have never seen my husband without a beard. Were he to remove it in the dead of night and presume to present himself at breakfast without this major accessory, I might fall about with the vapours and require resuscitation. Come to think of it, I have never dated  any man without facial hair. Heaven knows what this says about me!

Good thing then for both of us that it’s 2016 and Beards Are In! Without turning a hair, turns out I have married a fashion icon – and all because he couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle of shaving when he was very young. And it was OK in his particular field of endeavour – engineering. Only geologists are more likely to have facial hair, and I dated one of those as well.

Exactly how popular are beards right now? According to the Huffington Post June 2015, over 67% of New York men have beards. After reading a very entertaining review in The Oldie magazine on the book entitled Of Beards and Men (The Revealing History of Facial Hair), I did a catalogue search only to find that Christchurch Libraries did not (yet) own this book. Which is why we have the marvelous Request An Item form online. If ever you see an item you would love to read, and we don’t have it on our shelves, you can put in a request for the library to buy that item – and you may well be lucky. Like I was with Oldstone-Moore’s fascinating book on the history of beards – of which he says:

To a surprising degree, we find that the history of men is written on their faces.

But even if history is not your bag, there are loads of other books where facial hair plays a prominent role:

Book-O-BeardsFor example, have you ever been mortified when your little one screams blue murder at the sight of their first bearded man? Try Book-o-Beards which is billed as a “wearable book”  This means it has “die-cut holes, which invite the reader to try out the six bearded masks.” This is beard-speak for: How To Terrify Your Toddler At Bedtime In Six Easy Steps.

Once you’ve damaged the littlies, move right on to your resident Young Adult with the graphic novel: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil which is a “smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here”.

After that, how about a bit of travel writing with the intriguingly entitled Drinking Arak Off An Ayatollah’s Beard, or perhaps you are more interested in a gender record breaker? There’s To the Poles (without A Beard) about a young British woman who walked into the record books by becoming the first British woman to reach the South Pole on foot, and a year later hauled her sled to the more physically challenging North Pole.

The Art of Growing a BeardSome people, however, need instructions for everything. Not for them the simple act of ceasing to shave. Oh No, they need a book to tell them how to grow a beard, and amazingly, the library has that too. The Art of Growing a Beard will help you to get your beard “through the awkward growing-in phase with dignity, and tips on everything from grooming to eating and kissing.”

But let Oldstone-Moore (who does indeed sport a beard. I checked) have the last word:

The clean-shaven face of today, Oldstone-Moore says, has come to signify a virtuous and sociable man. Whereas a beard marks someone as self-reliant and unconventional. History, then, has established specific meanings for facial hair, which both inspire and constrain a man’s choices in how he presents himself to the world.

So, not only has my husband saved time on shaving (and money on the cost of  razors for something like 35 years), but he is also self-reliant, unconventional and something of a trendsetter.

Who’d have thought!

See some facial hair of days gone by in our set Moustaches for Movember.

The Beautiful Librarians

The Beautiful LibrariansI get a little frisson of excitement when I am reading a novel and one of the characters turns out to have had superior career guidance and is a librarian. And September was my month of librarian-related reads. It all started with The Beautiful Librarians, a 2015 poetry collection by Sean O’Brien:

The beautiful librarians are dead,

The fairly recent graduates who sat

Like Francoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters

With cardigans across their shoulders

On quiet evenings at the issue desk,

Stamping books and never looking up

At where I stood in adoration.

This Must be the PlaceThen I started to see patterns, and books with library characters jumped off the shelves at me. Like Teresa in Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel: This Must be the Place. Teresa meets a young man when she is helping tourniquet his nephew’s wound. He asks if she is a nurse and she replies:

“No, a librarian” she said, adding, “but we do a first-aid course as part of our training.”

Well, let’s just say that he was lucky he got her and not me. But he tracks her down, visiting all the libraries in Brooklyn. Although this really is Love At First Sight (good luck with that all you first-aidy library types), they absolutely do not live happily ever after.

The Quiet SpectacularAnd you might not identify with this particular librarian, but the choice of library characters is wide, and there will be one for you:

Take Loretta, who is a school librarian in Laurence Fearnley’s 2016 novel The Quiet Spectacular and who has embarked on compiling The Dangerous Book for Menopausal Women while waiting to collect her son from after-school activities. Hesitant in her dealings with semi-feral packs of teenagers in the school library, she forms a bond with one of them – Chance. No one falls in love with Loretta at first sight, but there is more to library life than that. There’s involvement in even one person’s life that helps to turn it around. Agree?

The Book of SpeculationAnd not all the books I discovered are about lady librarians. The Book of Speculation has a young male librarian – Simon Watson. Simon is a loner who is about to lose his library job.  If the words “crumbling” “mysterious package” and “antiquarian bookseller” are a turn-on for you, then you will love this book. It also has a stunningly beautiful cover.

All these books are recent additions to the library collection. All are well worth reading.  All involve librarians. So all you librarians out there, remember these books as you hand out your gazillionth computer pass, download your umpteenth document and wrestle with the wonders of 3D printing yet again. Know that you still have allure, that your library mystique is still there. And that, at least in the minds-eye of these four authors, you remain A Beautiful Librarian!

Are you a Wonderful Relic?

Time You Let me In
You read (and write) poetry

Are you a Wonderful Relic? I am. But how do I know? I first came upon the term in one of Johnny Moore’s columns in The Press (Friday 19th August 2016). He had the following to say:

I pay myself less in my business by generating an income elsewhere – writing for the wider Fairfax audience on the Stuff platform and for those wonderful relics who keep the whole boat afloat by continuing to buy and read the physical paper.

As I was sitting up in bed at the time – sipping my morning tea and paging through said newspaper (to which I subscribe), I think we can safely say that I am a Wonderful Relic. And I love it, so much better than being an Old Age Pensioner, a Gold Card holder or a University of the Third Age wannabe.

But don’t assume you have to be old to be a Wonderful Relic. Some people are born that way – and a lot of us seem to end up working in libraries. Check your Wonderful Relic status in this little quiz:

  • Art Jornal Courage
    You keep an art journal

    You subscribe to a newspaper or a magazine (1 to 2 points)

  • You also buy books (1 point per book)
  • You go to Literary Festivals like WORD Christchurch (1 point)
  • You belong to a book group (1 point per group)
  • You read poetry (1), write poetry (1), read your poems in public (off the scale Wonderful Relic – allocate yourself as many points as you like.)
  • You keep a paper diary (1), you keep a journal (1), you draw in both of them (off the scale Wonderful Relic – see above)
  • You love stationery shops – after libraries, they are your favourite places (1 point each)

And it’s not that you disdain the use of eResources, you can download eBooks using OverDrive, use PressReader, take courses on Lynda.com and play around on Photoshop with the best of them. But when push comes to shove, at heart Wonderful Relics are aesthetes – we like things to look good, we are tactile in our approach to life and that may be where technology falls short for us.

This morning I heard, yet again, the dull thud of my morning paper hitting the front door. I remembered Johnny Moore and his reference to Wonderful Relics keeping the whole publishing industry afloat and as I took my first sip of tea I thought, it’s OK Johnny because like all the other Wonderful Relics:  I will go down with this ship!

Book Group
You belong to a book group

 

Tickled Fiction – WORD Christchurch

Can Kiwi writers do comedy? New Zealand writers are repeatedly told that their work is too dark, too serious. Is this true? Three local writers got together at this event to tickle this topic. Here’s what emerged:

Damien Wilkins

Damien Wilkins. Image supplied
Damien Wilkins. Image supplied

Damien read from his novel Dad Art – in his words ‘a mid-life crisis book about a basically contented life with a pulsing vein of anxiety’  – and it was funny. Not in a here’s-a-funny-joke way, but in subtle observations that make you think ‘I know someone exactly like that’  (and it may even be me). His excerpt was an account of a motley crew in a Te Reo class. Think I recognised myself there! Damien feels that one of the ways that comedy works in fiction is through structure, that is repeated references within the story. A sort of insider knowledge type of humour, one in which he has ‘created echoes’.

Danyl Mclaughlan

Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied
Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied

Danyl read from his novel Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley. Set in the Aro valley near Wellington, Danyl researches his novels very carefully – after all he knows people who live there. When asked if readers take offence at some of his observations, he replied that what seemed to offend them most was if he altered the geography in any way! He’s a big believer in writing funny stuff in, thinking it is fantastic and then removing most of it on the next reading. Definitely a ‘less is more’ approach to comedy in writing. He also likes to make fun of conventional wisdom but feels that makes his humour unpalatable to the ‘cultural gatekeepers’.

Robert Glancy

Robert Glancy. Image supplied
Robert Glancy. Image supplied

Robert (call me Bob) was all set to read from his latest work Please Do Not Disturb, but had brought the wrong book. By this stage we were nicely warmed up so we all thought that was hilarious. Instead he read from Terms and Conditions – his novel on being a Corporate Lawyer. In this book the devil is in the detail. He calls himself ‘the devil’s ghost writer’. His advice to readers is – always read the small print! He loves the act of writing but says that self-editing ‘is like performing an autopsy on yourself’. Bob finds tackling topics from weird angles can be funny. He also writes what he likes. You are always going to offend someone in his opinion. If that’s a worry to you, you’re in the wrong job.

They all hated the title given to this festival event – Tickled Fiction, finding it childish, shallow and borderline pervy. Put on the spot in question time Bob said he liked ‘You Write Funny’ as an alternative.

As indeed they do, write funny, that is.

WORD Christchurch