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.

Christchurch’s first Mayor – William ‘Cabbage’ Wilson

On the 10th June 2016 it will be 148 years since eight councillors unanimously elected the first Mayor of Christchurch. There have been 46 Christchurch mayors, but William ‘Cabbage’ Wilson was our first.

Photograph of a painting of William Barbour Wilson, first Mayor of Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-D-0542. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22726768
Photograph of a painting of William Barbour Wilson, first Mayor of Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-D-0542. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22726768

‘Oh dear’, I hear you say; what an unfortunate nickname to be saddled with. I couldn’t agree more. Now before your imagination takes flight…  the nickname was earned because of a hat made of cabbage tree leaves that he wore. It also served to differentiate him from two other prominent Christchurch William Wilsons – ‘Nabob’ and ‘Parson’.

But I digress. William Wilson had far more to be remembered for than just an unusual nickname, hats made of leaves and what was apparently a fabulous combover. He was a very prominent nurseryman and landowner in the central city as well as being quite active in the community and local politics;  which led to him being elected as Christchurch’s first Mayor.

However the higher you rise the further you have to fall. And this is what happened in spectacular style to William Wilson. It all began with his fraud conviction from the sneaky use of land that he was trustee for.  Hot on the heels of this scandal, his wife came forward to seek protection from his abuse as she feared for her life. Apparently he didn’t feel that he was in enough hot water so he tried to break into her house for which he was arrested.  His fall from grace was complete.

However, in an odd twist he did manage to get re-elected to council 10 years after his stint as Mayor and this caused an uproar among 5 of the sitting councillors who resigned in protest. Well, that won’t make you popular among your peers, will it? Big news at the time and thankfully he managed to perform his duties without further scandal; but his time in the world of politics was drawing to a close.

He did manage to claw back some respectability though for his ability to grow prize worthy vegetables of substantial size. Try to imagine a cauliflower that was over 3 feet in circumference and weighed 11 pounds! That’s nearly 5 kg of cauliflower – pass me the cheese sauce!

So with such a legacy to be remembered for, its little wonder that we don’t exactly celebrate the man and his achievements. Maybe it’s also a great shame that his bad behaviour has so overshadowed the good work that he achieved in his lifetime. Fortunately, we do still have daily reminders of what he did contribute to our city – even if we are unaware of it. Next time you are driving down Wilson’s Road past AMI Stadium spare a thought for our first Mayor as the street you are driving on was named for him. When you next admire the lovely old trees that grace the centre islands of Fitzgerald or Bealey Avenues or maybe the trees on the banks of the Avon River, don’t forget that William Wilson was Subcommittee Chairman for the landscaping of these areas. Finally, something beautiful and lasting to be remembered for.

More about William Wilson

Now that your interest is piqued about Christchurch mayors, see what some of them got up to in their lives:

Spec’ Fic’ in Chch

Spec Fic… what‘s that? Spec Fic is short for Speculative Fiction and was first used by R.A Heinlein in 1953 in a Library Journal as an umbrella genre for fiction about “things that have not happened”: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the bits in between. Spec fic is alive and well and happening in Christchurch as last weekend’s Spec Fic meeting to celebrate local Sir Julius Vogel awardees testifies.

Cover of The Heir of Night by Helen LoweAbout fifty people gathered in the Fendalton Library boardroom to congratulate four Vogel award finalists, two of whom won in their category. Beaulah Pragg, herself a published author, introduced the session and multi-award winning Helen Lowe who spoke about the importance of the genres and the place of awards. Fantasy, she told us, is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality, as the myths and folk tales of hundreds of human cultures attest. While writers write for the delight of storytelling and because the stories demand to be told awards can still be tremendously affirming to those who frequently work in some isolation. Moreover, events like this demonstrate the importance of the literary community supporting and celebrating one another.
Read Helen’s keynote on her blog.

The best of Twisty Christmas talesThe first finalist speaker was Shelley Chappell, who was short-listed for both best novella and for best new talent. Shelley has a PhD in Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature from Macquarie University in Sydney but writes for all age groups. Many of her YA titles are re-tellings of fairy stories, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstilkskin. Re-telling fairy tales, often with a twist, writing new ones, and exploring their development has become a fairly popular genre with several notable proponents such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Catherynne M. Valente and Jack Zipes.

Tim Stead has written a trilogy of book and seems well into the next trilogy. The ‘The Seventh Friend‘ was a finalist for Best Novel and have been warmly reviewed on Amazon. He was also a finalist for Best New Talent.

A.J. Fitzwater was the winner of the Best New Talent award, although she said that she’s been at it for five years so being called “new” was an odd thing to wrap her head around. She read us an excerpt from her latest story about to be published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue 61 – “Long’s Confandabulous Clockwork Circus and Carnival, and Cats of Many Persuasions” which seems to have a ‘carni-punk’ setting so look out for that one. A. J. also spoke about her experiences at the prestigious Clarion Writers workshop last year where she underwent an intensive six weeks of tutoring and writing with top writers such as Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, Nora Jemisin, and Catherynne Valente.

Spec Fic displayOur final winner was Rebecca Fisher who won the prize for Best Fan Writing. Fan writing isn’t the same as fan fiction, but rather is awarded for blogging, interviewing, reviewing and other forms of writing about speculative fiction. She has a popular blog They’re All Fictional, guest blogs at various sites and is a top reviewer on Amazon so if you’re into the genres she’s one to follow.

Connecting with New Zealand genre authors and their work isn’t always easy, so events like this are really important. If you want to find out more about these great authors follow the links above and keep an eye on the Sir Julius Vogel Awards and the SFFANZ (for science fiction and fantasy) or other NZ book sites.

Armchair travel

One of my favourite aspects of reading is being able to travel without leaving my chair, but sometimes a book’s setting is so evocative that I find myself idly scanning the local travel agent’s window for flights on the way to the supermarket.

Cover of My Real ChildrenSometimes I even get a bit obsessive, flicking through guide books at work and investigating the history of whatever country has captured my interest. I’ve always been this way — a tour through the UK as a child was filled with trips in search of Swallows and Amazons, Beatrix Potter‘s cottage, and A. A. Milne‘s Hundred Acre Woods. I’m a total nerd about literary landscapes.

My most recent obsession was sparked by Jo Walton’s My Real Children. Patricia Gowan, slowly succumbing to dementia, can remember two life histories: did she marry Mark, have four children and an unhappy marriage, but live in a more peaceful world than our own? Or did she meet Bee, have three children and a wonderful relationship, but suffer setbacks and a world filled with war?

I’m always a fan of alternate histories, and the experiences and choices Patricia makes are certainly thought-provoking, but the holidays Patricia spends in Florence were what really grabbed me. In her timeline as a travel writer Patricia and Bee spend a lot of time in Italy, and the descriptions of their summers there — eating gelato from Perché No!, drinking vino bianco in the sun — well, it makes me drool. I’ve even started learning Italian with Mango Languages. Un centinaio di gelati, per favore? And the Art Lover’s Guide to Florence has me trawling the Uffizi Gallery online. I have it bad! Luckily my next read, The Borgias, should cure my Italy obsession.

Are there any books you’ve read that get you filled with wanderlust? Let me know in the comments — especially if flights are cheap!

NoViolet Bulawayo: The Interview. WORD Christchurch

Chatting with NoViolet at WORD

Straight after NoViolet Bulawayo‘s presentation on her book We Need New Names at WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, I cornered her for a chat. We settled at a table with a view at Rydges Hotel, one that overlooked Latimer Square and the Transitional Cathedral. Perfect. I set up the recorder, the coffee arrived and we were on our way:

You’ve just spent an hour, centre stage, talking about your book to a very large audience. How do you feel about speaking in public like this, is it similar to the story-telling of your childhood?:

I have had to get used to it, but what makes me more comfortable is if I am talking to people who are interested, who have read the book and who have actually paid to hear me! So that makes me feel OK. As for the story-telling, I can say Yes and No. It does feel like oral story-telling in some ways, only now I am having to do it in English and I can feel the language being a barrier all the time, in ways that I don’t feel when I am talking in my home language where it just flows better for me.

How do you fit writing into your day?

For the most part I write in my apartment though I also feel comfortable writing at my school library because I spend quite a bit of time on campus. I write wherever I am, I don’t have any really serious requirements. The actual writing is just part of my everyday life, but I do prefer working early in the morning. I go to bed early, like 9:30 at night, then I wake up early and work. I write better at that time of day, but  sometimes a story just comes to me and wants to be written. Then I won’t wait till morning!

Tell us a bit about teaching writing:

I was teaching at Cornell, then I took a two year break to do my writing Fellowship but I am going back to teaching now. It is a fun and rewarding experience. I base most of my teaching on my own writing experience as opposed to my reading experience because it helps me to speak from the bone. I do read widely, and I bring that to my teaching as well, and I also learn from my students – all the time!

You must be seen as a role model for young writers, what advice would you give any aspiring young writer?

Be comfortable in your own voice. Young people are at a time in life when they are not so sure if they are enough. They may not have seen themselves in books yet. I start by giving them the licence to be who they are. I also encourage them to read, a lot. They have all sorts of distractions nowadays, what with Internet, but if they want to write, they have to read.

Was reading important in your home when you were growing up?

Unfortunately not. I was brought up by people who had not been to school. So it is hard for them to pick up a book and read. But after mum died (NoViolet’s mother died when she was 18 months old), I lived with my aunt. When my sister, who is two years older than I am, went to school, I had a hard time staying at home, so they let me go to school and see how I would fit in. And I was intelligent enough and I just carried on from there. I was always two years younger than everyone in my class, right through to matriculating from high school.

Let’s get the Zimbabwe connection clear, do you still have family back in Zim, and are they proud of you?

Oh yes, most of them still live there, and they are learning to understand what I have achieved, as I don’t come from a literary heritage. It was hard for me even to explain to them what the Booker Prize was! Once I had the physical book in my hands though, that changed. My father came to both my book launches and I think that is when he realised what I had done. Even though he won’t talk to me about the book, he expresses his pride to other people. We did not grow up with compliments. It is a cultural thing, not a success thing. Still I love my country and I am hoping, in the future, to spend my time between the US and Zim and maybe give something back to my country.

How about books and libraries?

Oh, I must laugh here, because I used to steal library books. Well, not steal-steal, but my friend borrowed the book and never gave it back. I will never forget that book, it was called The Growing Summer. So for all my primary school years I could not use the school library. I was just heartbroken. When I got to high school, it was such a relief for me to be able to use the library again! I could just inhale a book in a day or two. My father would read the books too. It was one of the ways we started to bond. Now, because I am such a sucker for languages, I read all the time, I am reading  Jhumpa Lahiri right now. I don’t read graphic novels, but many of my students do.

Last week  Doris Lessing‘s estate bequeathed 3000 books from her personal library to Harare Library. What do you think of that gesture?

It is an extremely generous gesture. It shows a connection with Zimbabwe that means a lot. Our libraries are really hard pressed for books. Even our bookshops are empty now. She did a great thing there. It helps us to start to think in terms of giving back.

Then it was time to take the photo, get NoViolet to sign my copy of her book, and say good-bye. I hope we will meet up again sometime soon.

WORD Christchurch:

The creator of the Moomintrolls – Tove Jansson Centenary

Saturday 9 August was celebrated in Finland and worldwide as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson, Finnish artist and writer. Born in Helsinki into a Finland-Swedish family of artists – her father was a sculptor, her mother an illustrator – Tove Jansson is perhaps best known in this country as the creator of the Moomintrolls.

Tove JanssonFinn Family MoomintrollMoominsummer MadnessMoominland MidwinterMoominpappa at SeaMoominsummer MadnessThe Exploits of MoominpappaWho Will Comfort Toffle?The Moomins and the Great FloodThe Dangerous JourneyThe Exploits of MoominpappaMoominland MidwinterMoominvalley In NovemberTales From MoominvalleyComet in Moominland

Fantasy newsletter May 2014

A selection of covers from the latest Fantasy newsletter. This and other newsletters can be subscribed to from the libraries’ website.

Cover of The Tropic of Serpents Cover of Reflected Cover of Seven wonders Cover of Baptism of Fire Cover of The war of the grail Cover of Powers: supergroup

Quite Graphically Fantas(y)tic

If anyone had told me that I would become a huge fan of fantasy graphic novels with an anthropomorphic badger and more, I would have suggested they change their prescription.

Cover of Grandville Bete NoirDon’t get me wrong – I like graphic novels, well, some anyway.  I give a wide berth to superheroes and the like, but Grandville and the nicely put together Detective Inspector LeBrock and his terribly English, monocle-wearing sidekick Detective Sergeant Roderick Ratzi have me hooked.

The Grandville books are set in a steampunk world with murder, greed and political conspiracy as the themes. When I reserved the first book in the series I had no idea they were fantasy, or that my would-be heroes were animals. While most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, there are a few “doughfaces” representing humans.

England has recently won independence from superpower France (Napoleon won!). The far right have bombed Robida Tower, with the English being accused. Having created the fear, the scheming politicians/moguls plan to unite their citizens in a war against terrorism, thus overcoming any further socialist republic tendencies. They are working on the explosive finale, but not if our heroes have anything to do with it.

Cover of Grandville Mon AmourArchie LeBrock is no gentleman when it comes to dishing out justice and the body count is high in Grandville, the first book in the series. Think working-class Le Carré, Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming and pure fantasy. The steampunk theme is a perfect match for the characters and the stories, and adds an extra quality to the whole series. I found myself studying the background instead of just reading the words and moving onto the next frame.

The English resistance movement have struggled against France and have won independence, but at what cost? LeBrock and Ratzi find power does indeed corrupt and they have to face the unthinkable in the second title in the series, Grandville Mon Amour. Once again they burrow their way through the political system to find the rotten apples at its core. As a wee sideline, we get a small hope that Archie might find love again.

I love the sly digs, the twisted, quite fictional history and the visual and verbal puns which are a large part of the pleasure of reading these books. Despite my initial wariness (I mean, fantasy!?) I will read these books again and wait for the next two that will finish the series. I’m yet to read book number 3, Grandville Bete Noir, having saved it for a treat.

Cover of The Tale of One Bad RatI first came upon the terrific penmanship and fertile mind of the author of the Grandville series, Bryan Talbot, with The Tale of One Bad Rat set in the Lake District of England.

It would be hard to find a graphic novel less like standard comic books than this. I loved the almost Beatrix Potter-like watercolour drawings and the moving story of teenage runaway Helen and her pet Rat. Her story evolves, her past and her reasons for running away slowly becoming obvious as Helen tries to deal with her fear and self-loathing and  find her place in the world. An excellent combination of a sadly familiar story with a satisfactory ending, enhanced by beautiful drawings.

Have you ever had your reading tastes altered by a book, as firmly as I have? Ever tried reading graphic novels? Put a book back on the shelf after spotting the word “fantasy” and thought, not for me? I have enjoyed having my head turned by all of these books and will be more open-minded (I hope) in future.

Science fiction newsletter

This month’s science fiction newsletter includes the following titles:

The Time Traveller's Almanac Iron winter by Stephen Baxter Work done for hire by Jow Haldeman Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie Orfeo by Richard Powers A pleasure to burn by Ray Bradbury

For more newsletters or to subscribe to this one go to our newsletters page and click the big blue subscribe button.

You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books! The best weapons in the world!

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