Aussie teen fiction

Cover for Looking for AlibrandiOh, Australia. Home of red dirt, too many snakes, and some super readable YA fiction. I picked up another one from the new book pile yesterday entirely due to the blurb quote by Melina Marchetta. Marchetta writes books about — brace yourselves — teens with issues (so, all teenagers, because who doesn’t have issues?), but they’re funny and sad and beautifully written. She’s probably best known for Looking for Alibrandi, which was made into a movie, but the one I return to most often is Saving Francesca (and sequel The Piper’s Son).

Cover for Feeling Sorry for CeliaAnother favourite writer from across the pond is Jaclyn Moriarty, author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and sequels. She writes quirky novels told through notes left on the fridge and letters from a character’s subconscious and other epistolary ephemera, which is a favourite trope of mine (see my Epistolary Novel list). Two of her sisters are also authors (I recommend Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, currently being filmed as a TV series), albeit for adult readers — what a disgustingly talented family.

Cover of WildlifeFiona Wood rounds off my top three Aussie contemporary YA authors — a colleague wrote a lovely post about my favourite of hers, Wildlife, which covers grief and friendship and living out in the bush with a bunch of teenagers. She’s also written Six Beautiful Things, a modern genderswapped retelling of Cinderella, and Cloudwish, a super sweet story about Vietnamese-Australian Van Uoc Phan, wishes, and Jane Eyre.

Any other fans out there? I’ve been writing down Marchetta’s recommendations from her blog and adding them to my list of Aussie YA, so if you’re stuck for something to read do take a look. Or let me know if I’m missing someone amazing!

Cover for YellowCover of The Yearbook CommitteeCover of The First ThirdCover of The Flywheel

Is there Life After Pi?

Life of Pi
Life of Pi

Author Yann Martel could be forgiven for wondering if there would be life after Pi, given the smash success of his book Life of Pi.

Almost everyone loved Life of Pi – it has even been made into a blockbuster film. I say almost everyone, as truth be told, I was not that much of a fan. And a shared rite of passage road trip with my husband (watching the film of the book on a tiny screen on a bus jolting from Pnomh Penh to Siem Riep in Cambodia) didn’t do it any favours either. It was a trip as far removed from cool waters and tigers as it was possible to be. To this day there are small pockets of Cambodian dust nestled in my luggage. I can picture us still, sitting jammed into seats designed for daintier people, with our individual thought bubbles whimpering “We should have flown. We should have flown”.

The High Mountains of Portugal
Life After Pi

So I was ready,  in a clean-slate kind of way, for Martel’s next offering The High Mountains of Portugal. Devoid of tigers, small boats and large oceans, Martel has instead turned his prodigious story-telling talents to include three interlocking tales, all set in Portugal and all involving love, loss and the meaning of life. It is at one and the same time an intricate, yet mesmerising read. If I do not allow myself to become too distracted by certain wierdnesses (take backward walking, the Jesus Christ/Agatha Christie connection and the Iberian Rhinoceros for example), I would sum it up as follows:

  • In any life, there will be some bad times of loss and heartbreak
  • You will need to be able to ask for help
  • You will need to be specific with your requests for said help
  • Help will also come from unexpected quarters
  • Always read the instruction manual carefully
  • A lot of your problems you will have brought upon yourself
  • While you yourself are hurting, you are still capable of inflicting great harm on others

One hundred years of solitude

It is such a rare read, that in the end you may find yourself falling back on prior reading connections to make any sense of it all. It reminded me of the magical realism of 100 Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and the poem Kindness by my favourite poet Naomi Shahib Nye. But mostly what it did not remind me of was the author’s previous novel, Life of Pi.

And one final point – nowadays we are all keen to trumpet what great films certain books would make. I can tell you with absolute certainty that I do not believe The High Mountains of Portugal will ever be made into a film.

You are going to have to read it!

WORD Christchurch: Moata’s picks of the festival

word-banner960

It’s out. The programme for Ōtautahi’s own literary festival, WORD Christchurch. And oh, it is chock full of goodies for anyone wanting to open their brains and fill them with bright, shiny ideas for a few days (25-28 August).

It also takes place in a bright, shiny new building namely in musical sounding The Piano Centre for Music and The Arts on Armagh St, just west of New Regent Street.

The festival programme is a refreshingly broad one that takes in the full scope of that which might fall under the umbrella of “literature”. There’s bound to be something on the schedule to tempt. Here’s my very cut-down wishlist (the full un-expurgated version is exhaustive and exhausting).

Picks of WORD Christchurch 2016

C1 Book Launch 1
Artwork from C1’s book about Christchurch’s quake-damaged buildings

C1 Book Launch: Let’s take a walk (Wednesday 24 August 6pm) C1 Espresso is one of my favourite post-quake places in town and owners Sam and Fleur Crofskey have been positively flabbergasting in their ability to imagine and innovate anything from a front counter clad in Lego to curly fries whizzing past diners in Lanson tubes. So why wouldn’t they also be publishing a book about the aftermath of the quakes? This session is a) free and b) in close proximity to aforementioned curly fries.

How are we doing, Christchurch? (Friday 26 August 11.15am – 12.15pm) If there’s one thing that Christchurch people have grown a taste for it’s talking about ourselves and our post-quake lives. This session will have Sam Crofskey of C1, Robyn Wallace of He Oranga Pounamu, Katie Pickles author of Christchurch Ruptures, Ciaran Fox of All Right? and Bronwyn Hayward. It’s another free event and I’m thinking it’ll make for a good chat to listen in on.

Reading favourites (Friday 26 August 2.15 – 3.15pm) Everybody’s got reading favourites and so do writers. Will Chris Tse, David Hill and Jolisa Gracewood treasure the same Kiwi literature that I do? Only one way to find out. Yet another free event, chaired by novelist and Academy of New Zealand Literature setter-upper Paula Morris.

Kiwi YA author, Ted Dawe
Kiwi YA author, Ted Dawe

No sex please, we’re teenagers (Friday 26 August 5.15 – 6.15pm) Anyone who was fascinated by the “yes it’s censored-no it’s not-yes it is” controversy surrounding Ted Dawe’s YA novel Into the River will want to pull up a pew at this one. Also discussing the vagaries of writing sex for teenage readers are international bestseller David Levithan, and sexual therapist Frances Young. Chaired by YA author Mandy Hager.

The Stars are on Fire (Friday 26 August 7.30 – 8.45pm) Seven writers take turns telling tales of burning passions in the Isaac Theatre Royal. Also John Campbell is there, probably being effusive. That’ll do me.

Read it again! Picture book readings (Saturday 27 August
1 – 1.30pm) As the parent of a toddler I’m always keen to have someone else take a turn with the picture book reading, or to find new books that spark young imaginations. Another free event with readings from Kiwi authors David Hill, and Mary Cowen and Lynne McAra.

Busted: Feminism and Pop Culture (Saturday 27 August 11am – 12pm) Things I’m into – feminism, pop culture. This really is a no-brainer for me as co-founder and editor of Bust magazine, Debbie Stoller talks all things lady with Charlotte Graham.

Cities of Tomorrow: A better life? (Saturday 27 August 5 – 6.15pm) City-building is never far from my mind these days and it’s not even my area of expertise but it is for Barnaby Bennett, Marie-Anne Gobert, Mark Todd and Cécile Maisonneuve. Kim Hill will be leading the discussion.

Duncan Greive of The Spinoff
Duncan Greive, Editor of The Spinoff

The Spinoff After Dark (Saturday 27 August 10 – 11pm) Modern media website, The Spinoff has become my go-to for news, opinion, and entertainment in the last year or so. I expect a rollicking good time at C1 with The Spinoff crew of Duncan Greive, Alex Casey, Toby Manhire and a nominally in charge Steve Braunias. Also, is the name of this session a “Peach Pit After Dark, Beverley Hills 90210” allusion? I like to imagine so…

The State of America (Sunday 28 August 12.30pm – 1.30pm) I went to a similar, identically titled in fact, session at the Auckland Writers Festival. How will this one compare? I’m looking forward to finding out. With three Americans historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely there should be a good mix of perspective with journalist Paula Penfold probing for answers on the confusing world of US politics.

Caitlin_Doughty_in_red_evergreen_background
Caitlin Doughty, Author and mortician

Ask a mortician: Caitlin Doughty (Sunday 28 August
2 – 3pm) You had me at the words “funny” and “mortician”. Caitlin Doughty, presenter of Ask a Mortician web series and author of Smoke gets in your eyes and other lessons from the crematory will be part of a morbid discussion with… the Christchurch coroner, Marcus Elliot. Priceless (but not actually, tickets $17 or $19).

The Nerd Degree (Sunday 28 August 5 – 6pm) It’s a podcast. It’s a nerdy pop culture quiz game. It’s humorous and improvised and I do love it and it’s part of the festival. Nerds battle nerds, in this case Brendon Bennetts, ITV science correspondent Alok Jha, YA author Karen Healey, cult film director Andrew Todd and mortician Caitlin Doughty.

There’s actually a heap more things but I’ll probably be lucky to manage these. What are your picks for the festival?

Pukapuka for pepi – Kitty Brown talks about Te Reo Māori board books

Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson are cousins who’ve worked together on creating brilliant bilingual board books in te reo Māori and English with Reo Pepi. Kitty is here in Ōtautahi, and is presenting a special Storytimes / Wā Kōrero at New Brighton Library on Tuesday 5 July for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. We had a kōrero with her.

Kitty Brown

Kitty and her whānau are in Ōtautahi for a while, visiting their granny who lives in New Brighton. Her husband and son Tama are now living in a housebus and Christchurch is the first stop in their plan to visit places and be location free. Her co-author Kirsten is a dance teacher and has a Fine Arts degree – as Kitty says “she works fulltime, she’s got 3 kids, she’s a major overachiever!”

Tell us a bit about the special Storytimes / Wā Kōrero you are doing at New Brighton Library on Tuesday 5 July.

I will do our three – they are really fun to read:

  • Karahehe (Animals) – animal noises
  • Kanohi (My face) – everyone can play along with finding parts of face
  • Kākahu (Getting dressed) – play with pretending to get dressed up

CoverI will also do a selection of my faves. I am a huge fan of reading aloud. One favourite is Taniwha taniwha by Robyn Kahukiwa which she wrote for her moko (grandchildren). I will also do a couple of waiata. Tama and I go along to the one at New Brighton Library so I know how it rolls and I know what not to do!

What gave you the idea of doing bilingual books?

Kirsten and I both had pepi at the same time – Mihi is only about four months younger than Tama. We were both on maternity leave at the same time, and we’re cousins. We live around the corner from each other; we are really close – then we had babies and we needed to really reconnect with our reo ourselves. We thought what better time to do it than with our own pepi – they are learning to speak, we’re learning to speak. But what happened is we couldn’t find many resources. There’s not enough, and there’s not enough beautiful resources. There’s not enough durable, chewable books that we can share with our pepi after you’ve used every one at the library and you’re getting the same ones out again. We just saw that there was a lack.

We had the same idea. She started drawing, and I started researching text. We’d probably still be doing that now if it wasn’t for the support of Te Pūtahitanga. They gave us startup money to publish our pukapuka.

What role does the library play for you and your whānau?

The library in Dunedin to us is quite important to our lives. Libraries are integral. We had a lovely email from a whānau who had found the Kanohi book at their local library. They sent us a photograph of their daughter and she had the same hat on that’s in the book. Because it’s in the pukapuka that she got from the library she’s wanting to wear this hat all the time.

Libraries are really important so that those resources get to the whānau. For us going to the library and getting the books out from the Māori section is important – we’re really proud to be contributing to that section to make sure it has more resources and whānau find new things there. You can never have too many books.

Are there any books or resources you’d recommend if you want your tamaraki and whānau to be bilingual?

We really like Carolyn Collis. I like the sentence structures that she uses.  We try to make our reo everyday. I also like NZ books that integrate a little bit of te reo. Also:
Peter Gossage
Robyn Kahukiwa
Gavin Bishop

CoverWhat are you currently reading?

Māori made easy by Scotty Morrison. Thirty minutes a day, sort of like a prescription.

What next for you and Reo Pepi?

We are inspired by our tamariki again. They are just reaching for new concepts and we’re just following what they do. Kirsten has completed the illustrations for a second set of three pukapuka. The second set should be ready to go for the new educational year in February:

  • Kaute / Counting – illustrated with toys from the rooms of our tamariki
  • Ngā Tae / Colours – illustrated with insects
  • Kai  / Food – illustrated with tamariki enjoying kai (market testing unanimously picked kai as the third topic!)

After that there will be a third set of 3 books. We are looking into additional resources like posters and wall charts.

We’re going to the IBBY International Congress in August. We are going to have a stall there.  It’s majorly exciting – we’ll be going to Joy Cowley’s 80th birthday at Auckland Library!

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If you are flying to Auckland or elsewhere, you might spot Kitty and Kirsten’s Reo Pepi mentioned in the latest Air New Zealand Kia ora magazine!

Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand – an interview with Emma Johnson of Freerange Press

Everyone’s talking about journalism, how it is changing, and where its future lies. We asked Emma Johnson about the upcoming Freerange Press publication Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. This multi-author title includes contributions from Peter Arnett, Brent Edwards, Mihingarangi Forbes, Simon Wilson, Naomi Arnold, Toby Morris, Paula Penfold, Nicky Hager, Morgan Godfery and Beck Eleven. Freerange is crowdfunding to get the book printed, and you can contribute until 2 July. The book will be launched at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival 25 to 28 August.

Don't dream it's over

Emma JohnsonTell me about yourself and your role at Freerange Press.

Freerange Press is a small cooperative, which means that I get to wear many hats, though my main role is that of editor. As I love books, languages, reading and writing, working as the editor is my favourite part of the job. This entails working with people’s words on several levels: the big picture stuff (a cohesive book or well-structured essay that facilitates the reader’s experience) through to the small, finicky details such as apostrophes and the right choice of word. I also project manage the books through to publication, deal with all of the various contributors (from designers through to sponsors), organise events, do media, sales and admin.

CoverWas there a lightbulb moment that led to Don’t dream it’s over?

After the release of our last multi-author book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, Giovanni Tiso (who is one of the other editors for Don’t Dream It’s Over) attended a conference on journalism and came to us with the idea that a similar approach to Once in a Lifetime – where different voices and perspectives are presented on an important topic in a single book – was needed to look at the challenges and opportunities facing journalism. We all agreed!

What do you see as the core purpose of journalism?

For me, journalism’s core purpose is keeping the public informed – through gathering news, the subsequent analysis of that news and bringing important stories or elements of culture into the public sphere. An informed public is essential to an effective democracy and to the notion of consent being attributed to decisions made by those in government.

You’ve got a stellar lineup of contributors – how do you about getting these people on board and managing such a large bunch of writers?

It was a combination of a public call-out and approaching people we really wanted to have on the book. Sarah Illingworth and Giovanni Tiso both work in journalism circles, so they had some really good ideas regarding potential contributors. Barnaby Bennett and myself also brainstormed. Then we explained the project and approached people – many signed on. I think that the number of them indicates the need to examine journalism and the timely nature of the publication.

Can you give some examples of journalism and news sites that are dealing well with the evolving media landscape – who is swimming, who is sinking?

I think sites like Pantograph Punch, which has great arts and culture content, and The Spinoff have responded to the challenging times and are both producing great writing, including long reads, by fantastic contributors. I think that mainstream media and traditional outlets are struggling and the quality of their journalism overall has slipped for a number of reasons. As revenue is limited, they have let lots of experienced staff go, which has emptied out the profession (and in turn the journalism that the public has access to), so they turn to clickbait and such to garner attention amidst the noise. There is more content, but less diversity (some genres are really struggling).

What IS the future of the media landscape in New Zealand?

This is the question that book seeks to explore – there are many responses and points of view on this. Many of the contributors have strong ideas about where it needs to go and what it needs to do – the difficulties lie more around the ‘how’, or more specifically, how we pay for it. As a society we need to look at what we value in journalism, and seek to address these challenges.

Can you tell us a bit about your Pledgeme campaign – can people still contribute?

As making books in New Zealand is expensive, and as we wish to pay everyone (at least a little) for their work, we are crowdfunding to help get us over the line with our cash flow for printing. Our target is $11,500 (budget breakdown is included on our campaign page). We have lots of great rewards too. You can contribute until 2 July.

What do you think about libraries?

Libraries are extremely important to our communities – they are reservoirs of knowledge, and the keepers of memories and the ways we express ourselves. Most importantly, they are cultural hubs that are available and open to all,  for free.

What are you reading/watching/listening to?

I have been reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante – such wonderful writing and translations. I have also just finished Silencing Science by Shaun Hendy – one of the great BWB Texts.

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Find out more

Get a taster of the upcoming book Don’t dream it’s over – Read Navigating the waters of Māori broadcasting by Mihingarangi Forbes, published on the Pantograph Punch website.

Lumber on an epic scale

cover of BarkskinsI discovered at the weekend with a rapidly beating heart, that one of my all time favourite writers,  Annie Proulx, has released a new novel.

Thirteen years since her last novel, Barkskins is, by all accounts, a rip snorter. According to what I can glean from good old Mr Google, it is 736 pages long, spanning 3 centuries, and tells the story of two French immigrants in the new land of America. They are bound to a feudal lord for three years and are sent to work in the dense and remote forests of the New World in exchange for a promise of land. The book follows them and their descendants from 1693 through to the 21st century and various family members travel all over the world, including to little old New Zealand.

Annie Proulx first caught my eye when I read The Shipping News, another great story of families, set in Newfoundland. I have never forgotten the ways she described snow and ice and barren landscapes and the families and eccentrics who lived amongst it.

Cover of The shipping news

Accordion Crimes was also a favourite, charting the lives of immigrants settling in America through the life of an accordion that is handed down through families; Jewish, Irish, Italian and many others.

Both The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain (a short story originally), were also made into movies, both well worth watching.

Ms Proulx, now in her eighties, was a bit of a late bloomer, with her first short stories published in her 50s and her first novel in 1992. She has gone onto to publish 13 works and win over twenty literary prizes, including a Pulitzer prize for The Shipping News.

Her novels and short storys are filled with hard bitten complex characters and landscapes that are wonderful described, I find I get immersed in her stories and I think this is because she herself has led a full and intense life, always on her own terms. She has been married and divorced three times and has raised three sons alone. She worked as postal worker and a waitress, and early on a writer of magazine articles on everything from chilli growers to canoeing.

She has two history degrees, drifted the countryside in her pickup truck, can fly fish, fiddle, and hunt game birds. But for all her life experience, she has said that she likes to write about what she doesn’t know, rather than draw on what she has already experienced. If you haven’t read her books, I strongly recommend them.

So, I’m on the library waiting list, hoping the book arrives quickly so I can again revel in her wondrous prose!

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

CoverForgiveness is in short supply in this world. It’s a nice idea but it’s hard to be forgiving. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity is a gentle memoir about forgiveness and perseverance, set in arguably one of the most unforgiving and hostile environments in the world – Israel. Or Palestine. Depending on your views.

The author, Palestinian Muslim and medical doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, knows loss and hardship. He lost his three teenage daughters when a tank shell hit their home during a Israeli military offensive targeting their neighbourhood in the Occupied Territories.

Somehow, he’s managed to reject any bitter and wrathful feelings toward the Israeli military and the state of Israel in general, and maintain a hopeful vision for the future. Izzeldin is a medical professional who’s worked in Israeli hospitals, alongside loyal Israeli colleagues, who share common concern for reproductive health and children’s well-being.

Written chronologically, Dr Abuelaish recounts his early years beginning with his birth in a Gaza refugee camp. Then the story moves us along the road to studying medicine in Egypt, London and Harvard. A path which was paved with ongoing hardship, hard work, and sometimes, sheer luck. Almost every aspect of daily life was hampered – and this made his attempts at educational and economic mobility almost impossible.

Palestinians are used to negotiating labyrinthine checkpoints, bizarre and ever-changing regulations, and regular bureaucratic barrages. And it was no different for Mr Abuelaish during his academic pursuits. Somehow he managed to maintain his composure and sanity, and come out the other end as a highly regarded medical professional and the first Palestinian to work in an Israeli hospital treating Christian, Jewish and Muslim children. Really quite miraculous.

The military assault on his family home comes in a sort of looming climax that you anticipate as you begin reading from the start (after reading the synopsis on the back of the book!).

Despite the seemingly insurmountable hardships, its not a bitter or angry recollection and commentary, but a book which seeks a realistic and progressive (not aggressive) future in Palestinian/Israeli relations. Naturally the narrative is infused with personal impressions, experiences and details of family and community life which is written in such a way that makes you feel like you connect somehow. This animates his story and the stories of other Palestinians and Israelis.

Some might say he’s a dreamer, but so far it seems to be working for him as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and highly regarded medical professional. You decide.

Quite the tear jerker. Check it out.

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The other two eBook platforms – Askews and Wheelers

4391492We are very lucky at Christchurch City Libraries to be blessed with a trinity of eBook platforms. OverDrive, Askews and Wheelers all have their own individual characters and strong points. OverDrive with its sheer size tends to take the bulk of our eBook market. This is probably not surprising considering it is our largest, oldest (introduced 2008!), and most familiar platform.

If you love your eBooks like me then please don’t forget that there are other options apart from OverDrive. Like two scrawny kids on the sidelines wanting to prove their worth to you Askews and Wheelers are waiting for their chance …

  • Askews: Britannia’s eBook collection with assorted British titles, authors and publishers. These titles are best enjoyed with a cup of tea and cucumber sandwiches while watching the polo. If you get nervous around horses and don’t like cucumber then a random couch with potato chips is just as useful.
  • 9781927262511Wheelers: As Kiwi as Billy T and just as entertaining with its New Zealand focused content and authors. It includes hundreds of titles including the West coast based mystery and Booker Prize winner The Luminaries and Dan Carter talking all about himself. I mean where else are you going to find a title like The Great Weta Robbery?

Remember size is not everything and these smaller gems can reveal a new world of literary content. All you will need is a library card number and password/PIN and a willingness to go off the eBook beaten track.

Another country? Mainlanders discussing ourselves – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

I am bordering on late when I arrive at a packed out Upper NZI Room at the Aotea Centre for a session that, as a South Islander, I feel duty-bound to attend.

I’m pointed in the direction of of a clutch of empty seats near the back by one of the friendly festival ushers/helpers.

This session dares to ask – is the South Island, home to 23% of New Zealanders, another country? Is there something distinctive and different about hailing from the Mainland?

Joe Bennett, Fiona Farrell and Brian Turner
Joe Bennett, Fiona Farrell and Brian Turner (Image supplied)

Ready to answer these, and similarly not-that-serious questions are Christchurch writer Fiona Farrell, Otagoan, poet, and former sportsman Brian Turner, and transplanted Banks Peninsula raconteur, dog enthusiast and columnist Joe Bennett.

Radio New Zealand presenter (and non-Mainlander) Jesse Mulligan is in charge of wrangling this trio and extracting what wisdom he could on the topic of Te Waipounamu.

As a dyed in the wool Cantabrian myself the notion that the South Island might be considered sufficiently “different” and “special” from the rest of New Zealand to warrant it’s own hour of discussion was in itself a little off-putting. We’re the normal ones by which the rest of the country may be judged, thanks – I said to myself in a way that somewhat alarmingly reinforced the stereotype, and caused me to peer out from behind my metaphorical eyepatch. But I am not alone. When Mulligan asks who in the crowd was a Mainlander, a sea of arms waved in unison. No red and black stripey scarves were seen, nor are any couches set alight, but early days…

Yes, it seems that this corner of the Aotea Centre was packed to the gunwales with South Islanders. Here we had all converged…to hear us discuss ourselves. But perhaps if you’re a Mainlander who lives in Auckland, the chances to gather like this are rare? Kia kaha, my southern brothers and sisters, kia kaha.

Each representative of The Other Big Island is asked to read something that speaks to their identity as a South Islander.

Cover of The villa at the edge of the empireFarrell chooses a poignant passage from her book The Villa at the Edge of the Empire about solastalgia, the feeling of distress caused by the loss of a familiar landscape or environment. My one Cantabrian eye moistens noticeably.

Turner chooses to read several things by different authors including Margaret Atwood and Ronald Wright. I can’t remember the exact details but the theme seems to be that of the rural landscape being irretrieveably altered and damaged in the name of “progress”. What definitely sticks with me was how he describes himself as “a cussett sort of a coot”, because who, outside of a Larry McMurtry novel, talks that way? Splendid.

Bennett is rather less lyrical in his description of Turner who claims to sometimes call “my pet rock”. Certainly the difference between the two men is stark – Bennett all rambunctious energy, Turner barely moving and thoughtful. Mulligan, to his credit, manages almost to reign Bennett in at times, which is generally the best you can hope for, in my experience.

Bennett’s reading is of a very brief passage from a Owen Marshall short story “Cabernet Sauvignon with my brother”, which he chooses for a very specific description of dryness that he feels really perfectly captures that place.

I love the accumulated heat of the Canterbury autumn. When you rest on the ground you can feel the sustained warmth coming up into your body, and there are pools of dust like talcum powder along the roads. It’s not the mock tropicality of the Far North, but the real New Zealand summer. It dries the flat of your tongue if you dare to breathe through your mouth. After spending the vacation working on the coast, I was happy to be back in Canterbury.

Mulligan then asks a questioned designed to provoke, “why don’t you move to Auckland?”

Cover of Into the wider world: A back country miscellanyThe answers were vary in the degree to which they take the question seriously. Turner, with some earnestness observes that he needs wide open spaces and “the sounds of silence that aren’t silence”.

Farrell quips that she “probably couldn’t afford it” (A ha! An Auckland property market joke – they’re easy… but they’re still funny), and Bennett says it has never crossed his mind and points out how wrongheaded, presumptuous and arrogant the question is in the first place.

Discussion moves on to the portrayal of the South Island in the media and Bennett claims that the northern-driven media are often patronising and fall back on the trope of the South Island as “a visitable theme park of prejudice”. Cripes.

Farrell, recalls with dismay how, after reviewing the covers of a weekly publication that may also be a sponsor of the festival so shall not be named, *cough* The Listener *cough*, for the year 2013, found that 25 were about food, and Christchurch didn’t feature once. You can almost but not quite, hear the “tsking” from the audience.

Farrell also paints an interesting picture when discussion of a South Island personality comes up when she says that the myth of two old codgers meandering down a country road discussing cheese really is a myth – they’ve likely sold their farms to foreign interests and are incredibly wealthy, meanwhile the majority of the rivers have been left unswimmable. And yet, we should fight to try and keep some part of this myth of wide open spaces, and bucolic beauty alive and real.

In the end, did we learn anything about what it is to be a South Islander from this session? Maybe the northerners in attendance did? It was certainly entertaining enough to hear the conversation, though I couldn’t help thinking, since all the panelists were of a different generation from me, that what being a Mainlander means to them, might be quite different to what it means to a part-Māori Gen Xer from Linwood. But maybe that’s a different discussion again?

Find out more

Lists for the Listless

A popular read for cold, rainy days

It’s been a miserable, dark, rainy afternoon – I admit, it’s the first time in a long time but even so I’ve got used to good weather now …

As Autumn, (crisp and blazing riots of red and orange hued leaves) becomes clumps of wet, slippery mulch on pavements and in gutters, my thoughts turn to hugely enjoyable reads in the warm and dry ‘Inside’ that will blot out the slowly encroaching cold and wet ‘Outside’.

My reading recommendations normally come in the guise of ‘Have you read?’ conversations with friends; looking at the If you like… website page or the close scrutiny of library blog posts such as those recently written by the Library Angels attending the Auckland Writers Festival – I hastily place a hold on the work concerned and cross my fingers that the entire population of Christchurch are a little slower off the mark than me.

Roberta, Masha and Moata: Festival angels
2016 Auckland Library Angels. Flickr 2016-05-05-IMG_4074
a ‘gem’ of a read

Today, I engaged in a spot of ‘playing around’ within the Bibliocommons catalogue and found the following. If you type ‘Rainy’ in the search box and then choose the option ‘List’ from the Keyword drop-down menu you locate page upon page of lists created by people around the world who have the word ‘Rainy’ somewhere in the List headings they have created. Not just recommendations of books you understand, but DVDs, music, crafts for all age groups.

Of course the drawback is that you spend a long time wading through the information and writing down titles to put in your ‘For Later’ shelf but still it’s another way to locate a hidden  gem that needs to be read, listened to or watched.

Anyone else out there utilise this facility?  Anyone make their lists public for all to see and glean information from? Or place anything of interest in their ‘For Later’ Shelf from these Lists?