It’s Oscar Time!

Cover of American SniperOscar nominations have been announced, you can catch up on lots of them from the Library before the February 22 ceremony (Monday 23 in NZ), as well as the books they are based on:

Best Picture nominees

American Sniper (based on this book by Chris Kyle) is up for six awards including Best Picture & Actor.

In Birdman (up for nine awards) an ex-superhero actor tries to mount a play based on the Raymond Carver story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Boyhood is on its way to the Library, get on the reserve list and watch this landmark Richard Linklater movie that was filmed over 12 years!

Haven’t seen The Grand Budapest Hotel yet? It’s been nominated for nine awards (tied for the most nominations with Birdman) and is beautiful.

Book cover of 85 years of the OscarThe Imitation Game may not be historically accurate, but hopefully the play it is based on (Breaking the Code) is, or the book that the play that the movie was based on (Alan Turing: The Enigma) is.

Selma is based on voting marches led by Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Read Marching for Freedom for an introduction to this topic, or listen to the music of the marchers online.

The Stephen Hawking bio-pic The Theory of Everything (also nominated for Best Actor and Actress) is based on Travelling to Infinity, a memoir by his first wife.

Whiplash is an original story based in the world of jazz. You can listen to thousands of jazz tracks on Freegal and our other Music eResources.

Best Actress

Book cover of Still AliceJulianne Moore has been nominated in the Best Actress category for Still Alice, based on the novel by Lisa Genova, about a professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Rosamund Pike is nominated for Gone Girl. We have the fantastic novel as well as the movie in our collection.

Reese Witherspoon has been nominated for her turn as a women who embarks on a huge solo hike after some personal tragedy. The movie was based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir – Wild.

Best Actor

Steve Carrell has been nominated for Foxcatcher, which is a bit of a feat for someone whose only other entry in the Library database is for Anchorman 2. We have the recently released book in now.

Best Animated Feature Film

We have The Boxtrolls, How to Train your Dragon 2, and the not nominated but phenomenally popular The LEGO Movie, although I was always more of a Torro girl myself.

Challenge Confessions

O.K. it’s confession time. I have been an abject failure at meeting my reading challenges for 2014.

A Year in Reading started out well; January, February and March have ticks beside them. But then things went to pieces. By April I was trying to make Mary Poppins do double duty  – as a book that has been made into a movie (already checked off in March) and a re-read from childhood. Cheating on my reading challenges – that’s what it came to.

There were some books I did read, but not in the month assigned to them: Cover for Sydney

  • A book from another country – Sydney by Delia Falconer. (I think Australia counts as another country).
  • An award winner – Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (actually it’s only been nominated for the Costa so far, but if there is any justice in the world it will win every literary prize going in 2015.) Cheating again – it’s a slippery slope.

Reading Bingo was marginally better, but again with the cheating.

  • A book with a blue cover – Middlemarch by George Eliot. Double cheat. Also June A Year in Reading – read that classic you have never read.
  • A book that is more than ten years old – Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.  Double cheat –  January A Year in Reading – a book that was published in the year you were born.
  • A book that became a movie – Mary Poppins. Actually a triple cheat. There are no depths to which I will not stoop.

What challenges will I fail in 2015 I wonder? Should  I make not reading Ulysses an annual non-event?

Best book covers of 2014 – My pick of New Zealand’s finest

This awards ceremony starts with the winners. My two favourites of the year:

Cover of Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks. I could have picked any of Dylan’s four covers represented below. The man is a massive New Zealand talent, and deserves all the kudos. Onya Dylan.

Cover of Creamy Psychology

Creamy Psychology
A survey of the work of photographer Yvonne Todd. Artists and photographers – like cartoonists – often have a head start when it comes to good covers. They have the images. And this is hypnotically creepy and yet alluring. Love it, and the title.

Let’s continue the awards ceremony with two strong Christchurch-focused titles. Potently distinctive, and both representing well what is inside.

Cover of Shigeru Ban Cover of Once in a lifetime

Last year I praised the array of fantastic cartoony covers on New Zealand books. I’m pleased to see more goodies this year. I feel like a Dylan Horrocks cover is so damn good, and generally indicative of an excellent book too. Two of them this year are his own collections.

Cover of Wake Cover of Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen Cover of Empty Bones Cover of Incomplete Works

More proof that artists give good cover. As do poets.

Cover of Creamy Psychology Cover of Waha Cover of Cinema Cover of Edwin's Egg Cover of There's a medical name for this

Beautiful fiction.

Cover of Of things gone astray Cover of The Drowning City Cover of Landscape with Solitary Figure Cover of Where the Rehoku bone sings

Some super covers for kids and teens.

Cover of Construction Cover of Doctor Grundy's undies Cover of NZ shore and sea Cover of Dappled Annie Cover of Sage. Cover of While we run Cover of A treasury of NZ poems

Very New Zealand. And evocative.

Cover of Reach Cover of Autobiography

Typographical delights.

Cover of How to be dead Cover of Arms race Cover of Infidelities Cover of Vertical Living Cover of Tell you what Cover of The Bright side

There is a boom of publishing in the area of First World War history. This has an appropriate solemnity and gravitas. As do some others employing black and white photography.

Cover of How we remember Cover of Prendergast Cover of Berry Boys Cover of Deadline Cover of Frank Worsley Cover of Iggy's airforce tales Cover of Patient Cover of The Mighty Totara

I love this one. Love love LOVE.

Cover of Peter Smith

A lineup of stuff can make for an attractive cover.

Cover of Pills and Potions

Book of the year. But though the cover is distinctive and recognisable (it looks a bit like the Shroud in Turin?), I kind of wish it had a Sharon Murdoch cartoon on the cover. She is on Twitter as @domesticanimal and is all kinds of awesome.

Cover of Dirty Politics

For more book cover and design, see the PANZ Book Design Awards.

The Great NZ Crime Debate – WORD Christchurch

The Great NZ Crime Debate and Ngaio Marsh AwardI confess to feeling a little weary sitting in my seat at 8pm, after a full day of thought-provoking sessions at WORD Christchurch. “You’ll have to take notes for me, I’m too tired,” I said to my neighbour, slumping over my bag.

Well, if I didn’t take notes it certainly wasn’t because I fell asleep, it was because I couldn’t possibly keep up with the fast-paced repartee and banter exhibited by all the debaters. Full marks to all contestants! Some may have lost the debate, but all were surprising, hilarious, bawdy, and full of snark and self-mockery. Joe Bennett was as always an entertaining MC, despite enduring much slander from both debating teams. (Who knew our Mayor had such a raunchy sense of humour?!)

Arguing the moot that crime doesn’t pay were lawyer Marcus Elliott, crime novelist Paul Cleave and amateur bank robber Meg Wolitzer.

The opposition put forward the idea that crime is profitable, headed by Mayor Lianne Dalziel (which seems a little worrying for Christchurch). Even more disturbingly, she had journalist Martin van Beynen at her side, with Timaru Police Notebook fan Steve Braunias bringing up the rear. As Marcus Elliott argued, if the government and the media are in cahoots, what hope is there for democracy? Luckily reason prevailed and crime was voted to not be worth the bother. Debate attendees are doubtless spreading peace and goodwill over the city even as I type.

Cover of Where the Dead Men GoAt the end we were privileged to hear the results of the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, winner being Otago lecturer and crime writer Liam McIlvanney for Where the Dead Men Go. A big congratulations to all the short-listed finalists, especially Liam McIlvanney, as well as a really big thank you to the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival organisers for creating such an entertaining event.

We need new names: WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

We need new namesZimbabwe came as close as it is ever likely to get, in having one of its daughters win the Man Booker Prize, when in 2013, NoViolet Bulawayo was shortlisted for her first novel We Need New Names.

I loved this book long before I read it, I concede maybe for all the wrong reasons.

I loved the author’s name – even if you do nothing else, say the word Bulawayo several times. Let it roll off your tongue, a slight stress on the “way” syllable, feel its roundness roll out like the Matopos Boulders that, as a tourist in Zimbabwe, you would most certainly visit. Beautiful.

I loved the title. It is a book in which names are very important.The names of characters, like Prophet Revelation Bitchington Mborro; Paradise, the squatter camp; DestroyedMichigan for Detroit; Bastard and Godknows who are Darling‘s friends. In politically volatile Africa, even the names of streets and buildings can change almost overnight. To this day, my Durban taxi trips require some verbal fancy footwork: If I say “Can you take me to Aliwal Street”, the driver will answer : “Do you mean Samora Machel?” If I ask for Samora Machel Avenue, he will always reply: “Oh, Aliwal Street”. But we get there in the end.

I also loved the book cover, so funky, so bright, so youthful. Because, NoViolet Bulawayo, born in Zimbabwe, is young and this is her first novel and it is quite brilliant.

And then I read it.

It is a book of two halves, the first part set in the euphemistically named Paradise, a squatter camp in Zimbabwe. The second half is set in America where Darling, the main character, has been taken  by her Aunt – with the promise of a better life.

NoViolet Bulawayo

As with all fiction, there is what is happens and there is how what happens is described. Many awful things happen. Do you want to read about a botched attempted abortion with a wire coat hanger on a young girl impregnated by her grandfather? No you do not. Do you want to read about the words Blak Power smeared in faeces on the bathroom mirror of a house that has been broken into? No you do not. Do you want to read about a lonely father, estranged from his daughter, dying of AIDS in a shack in Paradise? Probably not. But read it you will, because it is beautifully written and finely observed and has nuggets of joy and laughter and empathy the likes of which you may not have beheld for a very long time.

For me it is mainly a book about leaving a place where you were born, your homeland, and making a life in a new place and all the excitement and yearning that  accompanies this migration. The fullness of lack is contrasted with the emptiness of abundance. For make no mistake, people left and are leaving Zimbabwe:

Look at them leaving in droves, arm in arm with loss and lost. Look at them leaving in droves.

And then there is the writing. Interspersed with staccato juvenile backchat,  there are long repeated sentences whose Biblical cadence make you feel those passages could be sung. Her writing has few conjunctions and she favours repeated words for emphasis. She has killer similes and metaphors and for all the sadness of the subject matter, you will laugh. She is doing something different with English and you should read it to see what you think. As the Nigerian author Things Fall ApartChinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) is quoted as saying:

Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard of things with it.

It is a book with a forcefield all of its own. When I went to place it on my shelves, first I put it between The Lord of the Flies and Things Fall Apart. No, not there. Then I tried it between The Lower River and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs To-night. No not there either. Finally I placed it between The Grass is Singing and Cry the Beloved Country. Two classics. And that is where it belongs.

But I have saved the best till last. NoViolet Bulawayo is appearing at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival  in Christchurch this weekend. Sure you can read the reviews, of course I recommend you read the book, but you could actually meet her and hear her speak.

Writing comets like this do not often traverse our skies.

 

What is your 10pm Question? Get on board with our Community read

Community ReadI spied a poster in the library that has put a real spring in my step: Community Read 2014. The reason for this spring is a visit to Christchurch City Libraries by Kate De Goldi. She is coming to talk about her novel The 10PM Question and I can’t wait.

I read this book a number of years ago and at the time it struck a real chord. Frankie Parsons, a twelve year old boy, is on the verge of change. He has a head full of worries and Frankie’s Ma listens patiently to his 10pm questions. I had a son who also had a head full of worries and at the time I found The 10PM Question a reassuring read. Kate De Goldi deals sensitively and perceptively with the issue of anxiety and the challenges faced by Frankie and his family.

Kate is an award winning writer who cannot be missed.

Knowledgeable

Articulate

Thinking

Engaging

Dazzling

Enthusiastic

Gem

Observant

Lover of Literature

Dynamic

Insightful

I had the pleasure of listening to Kate a number of years ago and I promise you will not be disappointed. Come along to this free event on Friday 22nd August, 11-12pm, at the South Library Colombo Street, Christchurch. In the evening (7.30pm to 9pm), join the Court Jesters for some 10pm questions. Share your 10PM question and be in to win an iPod touch. The Court Jesters at South Library will improvise your 10pm questions!

Kate de Goldi – and many more authors – will also be appearing in a variety of sessions at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.

I don’t have a 10pm question but I do have plenty of 2.30am questions! What is your 10pm question?

Going clubbing

Cover: The LuminariesWhen one of my Book Clubs decided to read the Man Booker 2013 shortlist I was a bit sceptical. Yes, we could then decide if  The Luminaries deserved to win, but we would also have to read it. And – this just in – it is very long. Anyway, it all turned out swimmingly and I read and loved books I would never have looked at if they hadn’t been on the list.

Reading from a list was so successful we’re  casting around for another one. My suggestion was to consult the handy Literary prizes and book awards  page on our very own Christchurch City Libraries web site.  The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 looks promising,  mostly because of the judges:

  • Mary Beard, author, hugely entertaining television presenter,  blogger and admirable human being who has risen above some very nasty verbal abuse without being insufferable about it
  • Denise Mina, “the Queen of Tartan Noir” and owner of one of the best quiffs ever
  • Caitlin Moran, very funny, very rude and a woman who is is unafraid of the word feminist
  • Sophie Raworth, one of the BBC presenters at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Truly impressive
  • Helen Fraser, the chair of the judging panel and former Managing Director of Penguin U.K. She may not have written a book, but has surely read a few good ones

Cover: A girl is a half-formed thingA list chosen by this crew must be preferable to the system my other Book Club uses, where the members tick titles on a catalogue at the start of the year.  They then shiftily deny any knowledge of the books that arrive each month and steadfastly refuse to read them. Or perhaps that’s just me.

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 was Eimar McBride, who must be good, because if she could be a literary character she would be Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch and because she chose Anne of Green Gables as the defining book of her childhood. Although the book she always recommends is Ulysses –  “why don’t more people listen?” Because it’s impossible to read, that’s why.

Using the Baileys list also offers the opportunity to swig down the sponsor’s product (or rather sip it in a genteel fashion) while discussing the finer points of literary fiction. A winning combination.

Thank you Donna Tartt

Cover of The GoldfinchI have just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The story begins in Amsterdam with Theo, sick with a fever and locking himself in his hotel room, trying to work how his life could have turned out for the better – if indeed it could have. His life quickly moves back to New York where Theo is on the way to the museum with his mother to view her favourite painting and walks into a day that changes his life forever.

I was with Theo that fateful day and was compelled to remain with him until the end of his story. I was drawn to the array of colourful and memorable characters/rogues that Theo collides with during his life. I was fascinated by the different worlds of art, furniture restoration, antiques, drugs, and gambling. I was entranced by the rich detailed language and the suspenseful storylines, re-reading passages and thinking over the vividly described scenes. This was not an easy read with its themes of loss, obsession, and identity, however it quickly became a compulsive read and was difficult to put down.

I knew I was in the presence of a masterful writer …

A wilderness of gilt, gleaming in the slant from the dust-furred windows: gilded cupids, gilded commodes and torchieres, and – undercutting the old-wood smell – the reek of turpentine, oil, paint, and varnish. I followed him through the workshop along a path swept with sawdust, past pegboard and tools, dismembered chairs and claw-foot tables sprawled with their legs in the air. Though he was a big man he was graceful, a “floater”, my mother would have called him, something effortless and gliding in the way he carried himself. With my eyes on the heels of his slippered feet, I followed him up some narrow stairs and into a dim room, richly carpeted, where black urns stood on pedestals and tasselled draperies were drawn against the sun.

I loved it all. For me this was a pin prick book, it heightened my senses and made me feel more alive. Thank you Donna Tartt.

Challenged by the challenges

Well, it’s nearly half way through the year and I’m in a terrible mess with my challenges.

Cover of The KillsReading seven books off the Guardian’s List of Best Books of 2013 went swimmingly until I reached number seven: The Kills. It’s 1002 pages long. What was I thinking?

Reading Bingo is also shaping up to be a bit of a bust – I’ve got five squares crossed off my 25 square grid. And it’s May!

I actually cheated  and chose Mary Poppins for both Reading Bingo – “A book that became a movie” and A Year in Reading“In March read a book that has been made into a movie”. Tragic, but needs must. Now I feel the need to repeat (yes, hysteria is creeping in here) – it’s May and I did not re-read a favourite book from childhood in April. Would Mary Poppins do for that as well?

The only challenge I’m doing O.K. on is reading the 2013 Man Booker shortlist. One of my book clubs thought this would be a good idea so we could then decide if The Luminaries deserved to win.

Cover of We Need New NamesSo far we’ve read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and Harvest by Jim Crace. Both books I never would have picked up left to my own narrow devices so perhaps challenges are good for something other than driving me crazy. Both very good books in different ways – how do the Man Booker judges ever decide which is best? Next up is The Testament of Mary – this was the shortest book on the list so of course it had to be the only one I’d already read.

If I was a Man Booker judge what would I think? Actually I’d think “what was I thinking when I took this on?”. I’d have to put aside my opinion that Colm Tóibín is a stone-cold genius because Jim Crace probably is too if Harvest is anything to go by. I’d have to fight my impulse to give the prize to NoViolet Bulawayo for having the best pen-name in the world. Crace has said that Harvest will be his last book. We Need New Names was Bulawayo’s first. The Luminaries is 832 pages long, The Testament of Mary 81. How to compare?

Actually I’ve just realised We Need New Names crosses off  a sixth square for Reading Bingo – “A book set on a different continent”. Things are looking up.

 

 

 

 

Book Rage

Everyone knows about Road Rage – where all other drivers are idiots, your blood pressure soars, you discover swear words you weren’t aware you knew and, when you glance in the rear view mirror to glare at another driver, you don’t recognise the face looking back at you.

But you may be less familiar with Book Rage. Some of the symptoms are similar, but it usually happens at a book club, surrounded by friends, eating delicious nibbly things, sipping wine and doing what you love best – talking about books. And then WHAM, out of the blue, Book Rage flares up.

I’ve belonged to reading groups most of my adult life and here are four of the books that nearly tore those groups asunder:

  • Cover of The SlapThe Slap (Christos Tsiolkas). You don’t know who you are as a parent until someone else slaps your child. At a barbie. The discussion might start out civilised, but child rearing practices can divide even loving couples, never mind a group of ladies only loosely linked by their love of books. Be warned, it could turn ugly.
  • Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen). No one saw this coming, but in retrospect, books about animals do run the risk of degenerating into  emotionally charged “cruelty to animals” accusations. These are always taken personally. You may not get offered a second glass of wine.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James). This was a particularly tricky one for me as I had already taken a vow not to even touch the book. So this book was already causing me significant stress in the workplace. When it showed up at my book group, I launched into a vitriolic attack on it – even though I had not read it, and never ever would. This stance neatly divides people  into those who believe you can’t have an opinion on something you haven’t tried, and the rest of the thinking world.
  • Cover of The Grass Is SingingThe Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing). Most Book Rage starts like this. One person (in this case me) puts a book she loves into the club. Someone in the group responds with comments like: “I never knew any Rhodesians like that” or: “This book is rubbish“.  Next thing I hear myself saying: “Well, you’re wrong” and recklessly amping it up to – “You’re all wrong“. Then I stomped out of the room to the toilet where I tearfully felt I would have to leave any book group that did not appreciate a Nobel Prize winning author. When I looked in the mirror, I saw staring back at me a person I barely recognised. A horrible book snob. I returned to the group. They gave me a cupcake and a coffee. I took Doris Lessing out of the club. We never spoke of it again.

How about you? Do you have any books that have have caused harsh words to be said, that have cut deep beneath the veneer of  civilised behaviour, that have lost you friends?

A book that maybe made you learn something about yourself?