New Books – 29 June

Hi readers, some treats this week:

Cover of What happened, Miss Simone

This biography caught my eye – the authorised story of Nina Simone.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is inspired by a documentary. Music journalist Alan Light (The Holy or Unbroken : Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the unlikely ascent of Hallelujah, and Lets Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain) draws on Nina’s diaries, rare interviews and her daughter’s memories to tell the story of the ‘real’ Miss Simone’ – a classically trained pianist, civil rights activist and one of the greatest artists of the last century. Did you know she rang David Bowie often? His cover of Wild is The Wind is one of my favourites.

Cover of The switchNext up, some Sci-fi. The Switch is Justina Robson’s twelfth book. She’s won two Arthur C. Clarke awards and been nominated for many others. GoodReads is calling this one ‘ground breaking.’

Harmony is a ‘perfect’ society. To maintain this illusion, the defective are ‘dealt with’ (eradicated). Nico and Twostar are two tough cookies from the slums. They are survivors. Can they overcome Nico being sentenced to death for murder, or the loss of his mind?

Cover of The river singsThe River Sings is Sandra Leigh Price’s second book. An historical novel, it has been awarded the Women’s Weekly Book Club Great Read seal of approval.

The River Sings follows the fortunes of Eglantine, from mysterious beginnings in London to her father’s transportation to the Australian colonies for pick-pocketing. Eglantine must live by her wits and follow his footsteps if she is to survive.

Cover of Lies the mushroom pickers toldIn Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told, by Tom Phelan, journalist Patrick Bracken returns to the village of his childhood in Gohen, Ireland. He’s come back to investigate two deaths that occurred when he was a child. Patrick knows the deaths weren’t accidental, the legal ruling, because he and his best friend were witnesses…

Resolution and revolutionaries: A. N. Wilson, eminent biographer

There was an understandably big crowd at The Piano last night for A. N. Wilson in conversation with Christopher Moore. Part of the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season, we were treated to insights about the eminent novelist and biographer’s new and upcoming works, as well as his distinguished career.

As you can see, I was quite a long way back!
20170515_193148

Wilson – or Andrew as I think we’re allowed to call him – was inspired to write biography after reading Lytton Strachey‘s Eminent Victorians and wanting to write as well as him. While he is generally commissioned to write biographies, he chose to write about the lives of Leo Tolstoy and Walter Scott. Scott was pretty much the father of historical fiction, with his tales of the Scottish Highlands allowing people to imagine what it was like to live in the past instead of simply regurgitating facts.

One of the things that fascinated Andrew about Tolstoy was the fact that while we know him as a great novelist, in Russia he was more known for his political beliefs – including his idea of passive anarchy which went to to inspire people like Gandhi. However, after digging into Tolstoy’s domestic sphere he concludes that:

he would not like to be Mrs Tolstoy.

Cover of ResolutionAndrew’s latest novel is Resolution, about the German botanist Georg Forster who travelled with Captain Cook on his second voyage and later became a revolutionary in France. Interestingly, in Communist East Germany Forster was seen as a champion of class struggle and became a national hero. It’s great to hear about different and interesting people and I’m looking forward to reading this book.

An obvious favourite of Andrew’s is Queen Victoria who he describes as “taking being an embarrassing mother to new heights”. However, he is now researching Prince Albert, who is quite a different kettle of fish. Indeed, Andrew describes him as being

deeply strange and complicated.

He also believes that although Victoria was madly in love with Albert, he never fell in love with her and controlled her to a great degree. Look out for this biography in 2019, as its going to be fascinating!

Andrew obviously has a passion for the people he writes about and it was fabulous to have the opportunity to listen to his great storytelling here in Christchurch – which, he reminded us, is very much a Victorian city.

A N Wilson, photo by Andrew London

 

Mothers’ Day : From Cradle to Stage by Virginia Hanlon Grohl

When Nirvana catapulted drummer Dave Grohl to fame, his Mum, Virginia, was surprised to be the mother of a Rock Star. Then when Dave reinvented himself as frontman of the Foo Fighters, Virginia quit teaching and began to travel the road. She didn’t often meet other mothers at gigs, but always wanted to talk to them about how music shaped their lives.

From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the mothers who rocked and raised rock stars by Virginia Hanlon Grohl. Image supplied by Hachette New Zealand.
From Cradle to Stage by Virginia Hanlon Grohl. Image supplied by Hachette New Zealand.

Eventually Virginia embarked (in her seventies), on a two-year journey to find the “special sorority of mothers of musicians” with whom she could talk about “the trials and joys of raising creative children.” The result is her new book From Cradle to Stage: My son the rock star and the remarkable stories from the mothers who rocked and raised music’s greatest.

Like herself, many of these moms raised their kids solo, holding down several jobs to keep food on the table. While some mothers were okay with their kids quitting school to commit to music, others weren’t – Verna Griffin, Dr Dre’s Mom, worried that her son would be absorbed into the gang scene. (Dr Dre is 51 now!)

Virginia grew up in the Midwest, but Dave and his sister Lisa grew up in Washington, D.C. – a much more sophisticated environment. As a young mother she shared her music with her children (Dave remembers learning to harmonize along with Carly Simon on the car radio) and as he got older, Dave was sharing hard rock and metal with Virgina.

With a foreword from Dave himself, From Cradle to Stage is a tribute to the mothers who encouraged their kids to be creative and follow that star.

Sprinkled with personal ‘vignettes’ from Viriginia, Dave, Nirvana and the Foos, From the Cradle to the Stage chronicles the lives of eighteen musicians – from the army background of Michael Stipe , the early beginnings of The Beastie Boys, to the tragic end to the lives of  Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain.

I really like her style. A former English teacher, Virginia writes a relaxed, entertaining, and at times moving story. It’s not only about people’s lives and roots,  but contains slices of American history as well. It’s so interesting to read of each artists’ first sparks to creativity. For Dr Dre, it was GrandMaster Flash. Yeah.

This book is for everyone. The musicians cover a range of ages and even your Mum/Mom would enjoy it (Virginia even blanks out the F-words).

The mother of the ‘nicest guy in rock’ knows her stuff – using some pretty sophisticated terms (e.g. Minority Rap, Thug Rap in Dr Dre’s chapter – not Gangster Rap) but the last word goes to Dave:

There is no love like a mother’s love. It is life’s greatest song. We are all indebted to the women who gave us life. For without them, there would be no music.

Listen to Kim Hill interviewing Virginia Hanlon Grohl 22 April  RNZ

From Cradle to Stage: My son the rock star and the remarkable stories from the mothers who rocked and raised music’s greatest
by Virginia Hanlon Grohl
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473639560

All about Ada – Ada Wells, the first female elected to Christchurch City Council

On 2 May 1917, Ada Wells was the first woman elected to the Christchurch City Council.

I stand for better housing, for municipal markets, for proper working conditions for all employees, for rest-rooms and play gardens for mothers and children, I shall work for municipal activities in the direction of the uplifting of the people. We should have municipal educational lectures, music, encouragement of drama. We should have women inspectors. It must not be permitted that young boys shall sell newspapers on our streets until late hours… Municipality means the place which gives us freedom and shelter.

Extracts from the election speeches of Ada Wells, Maoriland Worker, Volume 8, Issue 322, 25 April 1917 Papers Past

Photograph of Ada Wells from Woman Today magazine. Ref: 1/2-C-016534-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22728937
Photograph of Ada Wells from Woman Today magazine. Ref: 1/2-C-016534-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22728937

Reported on in the Maoriland Worker, 25 April 1917, the successful election of Ada Wells to the Christchurch City Council was “looked upon as certain” due to speeches like that above, her experience and her long standing commitment to improving the condition for women and children. She was 54 when she was campaigning to be elected to the Council for the St Albans Ward on a Labour ticket. Labour had only officially formed in 1916 in New Zealand, and they had the polarising campaign of being against compulsory military service during the First World War.

Her outspoken opinions made her a controversial figure to some, and a trailblazer to others. Ada was in favour of economic independence for married women, free kindergartens, universal access to secondary education, and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869. Her involvement with the Peace movement (anti-militarism and anti-conscription) were causes she fought for throughout her life.

The convention called by the Canterbury Women's Institute which resulted in the formation of the National Council of the Women of New Zealand [1896], CCL PhotoCD 8, IMG0086
The convention called by the Canterbury Women’s Institute which resulted in the formation of the National Council of the Women of New Zealand [1896], CCL PhotoCD 8, IMG0086
Ada Wells had been instrumentally involved in the Women’s Rights campaigns with Kate Sheppard in the 1880s, and she knew that winning the vote for women in 1893 was only a step in gaining equality for women.

She became involved with many societies and organisations that aligned with her opinions. She established the Canterbury Women’s Institute with Professor Alexander Bickerton in 1892, and held the position of President for many years and was a founding member of the National Council of Women of New Zealand in 1896, also serving as their first secretary for many years.

By 1900 there were cracks in the ranks of the National Council of Women due to some members —  including Ada — holding pacifist views. The National Council of Women supported New Zealand’s involvement in the South African War (1899-1902). The National Council of Women of New Zealand stopped operating in 1906, but the organisation was revived in 1918 partly due to what was perceived as the moral decline of the country’s youth.

Ada was also heavily involved with the Children’s Aid Society, Peace Society, and was on the Board of Governors of the Christchurch Technical Council as a representative of the Council.

National Council of Women, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22694035
National Council of Women, Christchurch, 1896. Seated on floor: Mrs C M Alley (Malvern), Mrs A Wells (Christchurch), Miss Bain (Christchurch). Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22694035

In 1899 she became the second woman elected to the Ashburton and North Canterbury Charitable Aid Board (a precursor of social welfare). She wasn’t shy about stating her opinion on the causes that she was passionate about. Ada often received antagonism from male members of the board when she stated how she thought the aid should be administered. She believed that children should be looked after in cottage homes, rather than boarded out in large orphanages. While on the Charitable Aid Board, she helped instigate an investigation into the treatment of the children at the Waltham Orphanage that the Board itself had responsibility for, even though “the progressive ideas of the lady members had not always been concurred in by the members of the Board”.

Running for Council was the logical next step in a tireless fight for women’s and children’s rights and actioning change at a higher level. Standing with Labour aligned with her anti-militarism ideals. The final outcome for the 1917 Christchurch City Council election was 9 Citizens’ Association nominees, 5 Labour nominees and 2 Independent nominees. Successfully being elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1917 threw the majority of the council into a tail spin on two points, that there was now a female Councillor, and she was with Labour!

Many heated discussions were had in the Council Chamber meetings and the newspapers of the day reported on  Ada Wells speaking her mind. The discussions were varied and often reflected her anti-militarism ideals. There was talk on where war trophies that were presented to the city should be located. Ada stated it was a pity that the war spirit should be fostered at all, and she often often argued for peace rather than continuing the war. She visited the imprisoned conscientious objectors during her time as a councillor, once with her young granddaughter in tow who later recalled him as a nice man.

When the Council declined to support the Canterbury Society of Arts, she said that they might well consider themselves a huckstering, pettifogging people and pleaded in favour of the arts.

While she did stand again in the next election in 1919 her campaign was unsuccessful.

More about Ada

Born Ada Pike on 29 April 1863 in Oxfordshire, England, her family immigrated to Christchurch in 1873. She attended Avonside School and then Canterbury College in 1881 after being awarded the university junior scholarship. She then worked as an assistant teacher at the Christchurch Girls High School.

Ada was 20 when she married the Cathedral Organist Harry Wells (11 years her senior) on 7 January 1884. In 1885 the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter Christabel, and completed their family in quick succession by 1889 with the addition of 2 more daughters (Alma and Alice) and a son (John Stanley). The marriage was not a happy one and Ada often provided the only source of income for the family through teaching, or working as a healer through massage therapy which she learnt from her mother Maria Pike.

She juggled raising and supporting her family while working for the equality of women and this demonstrated her admirably strong character. When she was campaigning to become a councillor, she was already a grandmother of five.

Ada Wells
Ada Wells

Harry Wells died in 1918. Ada Wells died in Christchurch on 22 March 1933. In her obituary it was said of her that:

A cause might be despised, obscure, rejected, she not only helped it all the same, she helped it all the more, and in the dark and stormy days of unfounded truth she was always to the front.
Press, Volume LXIX, Issue 20812, 23 March 1933, Papers Past

In 1933 the Ada Wells Memorial prize was established for undergraduates, or graduates of up to three years, and awarded for an essay on the exposition of some subject chosen from literature having reference to social ideals. This prize is still awarded annually.

coverFor a lively fictionalised account of Ada Wells, her eccentric unmarried daughter Bim, and Kate Sheppard I can certainly recommend Farewell Speech by Rachel McAlpine, who is a great-granddaughter of Ada Wells. Based on family stories and talking to those who knew the women, three very strong, different personalities come clearly through.

Further information

Women In The Council Chamber: Ada Wells
This brief political biography originally featured in an Our City O-Tautahi exhibition from 19 – 30 September 2006, featuring Christchurch’s own “Women in the Council Chamber”, initiated and co-ordinated by Cr Anna Crighton.

A.N. Wilson at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

When I heard that British historian A.N. Wilson was going to be talking at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season this month I oohed and aaahed, and inwardly danced the conga. Nothing — short of A.N. Wilson himself requesting me to leave this event for being far too bright-eyed, enthusiastic, and downright scary — could make me miss this evening.

A.N. Wilson. Image supplied.
A.N. Wilson. Photo by Andrew London. Image supplied.

A.N. Wilson: Monday 15 May 7.30pm

A.N. Wilson is one of the historians who first sparked my interest in biography and history. His beautiful biography of C.S. Lewis was written with an honesty and empathy that left me with a truer sense of the man. His depiction of a troubled and less than perfect individual was contrary to many previous accounts of Lewis, which portrayed the beloved creator of Narnia as an almost patron saint, living by the perfect standards Christian historians envisaged for him.

Wilson cut to the chase but with a sympathy and affection for his subject. He touchingly described the demands made on Lewis by Mrs Moore, and the loneliness that dogged him through events such as the death of his mother, and his brothers struggles with alcoholism. Wilson’s ‘humanisation’ of Lewis encouraged me to investigate more and read some other sadly under-read works by Lewis (such as the very moving A Grief Observed), a sure mark of a very great biographer.

The astonishingly prolific A.N. Wilson has written many other biographies including a landmark biography on Leo Tolstoy, a fascinating study of Queen Victoria (which has recently been adapted for television), and Hitler: A short Biography. Wilson unfailingly succeeds in making his subjects come to life with a poignancy and finesse that make him a joy to read.

While Wilson has had his struggles with Christianity over the years (rather like C.S. Lewis himself), it hasn’t stopped him from also writing moving and valuable accounts of the lives of Jesus and St Paul. There is a richness and complexity to his writing that informs the reader, but also makes them question things. Theology is one of the most complex subjects for an author to tackle, and being able to follow Wilson’s own complicated spiritual journey through his work makes for fascinating, relatable reading.

Book Cover 

Wilson has also received considerable attention for his non-fiction works such as The Victorians and The Elizabethans.

In addition, he is the author of such popular novels as Dante in Love and Winnie and Wolf. One of Wilson’s most praised novels My Name is Legion relates what happens when a newspaper begins a smear campaign on an Anglican missionary, seeking to overthrow a corrupt African regime. Wilson takes a hilarious but brutal look at the morals of modern day Britain – its people, politics, and press, and does so with an elegance and subtlety that make his work compulsive reading.

It seems that Wilson is able to adapt to any format and genre having also written a children’s story, presented several television series including The Genius of Josiah Wedgwood (one of Wilson’s own heroes), and contributed to publications such as ‘The Times Literary Supplement’ and ‘The New Statesman’.

The ultimate ‘man of letters’, Wilson is a consistently compelling writer with an awe-inspiring literary oeuvre. His session at WORD Christchurch Autumn Festival promises to be a fascinating evening. Wilson will be discussing his impressive career with arts critic Christopher Moore, and his most recent works Resolution: a novel of the boy who sailed with Captain Cook and a biography on Queen Elizabeth II.

I’ll see you there on May 15th (and yes, I am counting down the days…)

Helen

Seeing Red

CoverLife dealt me the recessive gene MC1R (only achievable through both sides of the family) and I arrived with a ‘reddish’ hue to my hair – together with the obligatory pale skin and, a few years later, a mass of freckles.  I managed to avoid the ‘Tudor’ blue eyes so I actually have discernible eyebrows.  Phew…

When I found this book on the shelf recently it screamed ‘Read Me, Read Me’.  So I did.

What a revelation!  Little did I know about my heritage and what different cultures felt about my red/auburn/ginger ancestors and modern-day counterparts.

Stereotypes of redheaded women range from the fun-loving scatterbrain to the fiery-tempered vixen or the penitent prostitute. Red-haired men are often associated with either the savage barbarian or the redheaded clown.

I’ve never been a great fan of ‘stereotyping’ and especially not of this negative variety.  My only negativity was related to the pitfalls endured on summer holidays where I always ended up swimming in more clothes than I normally wore, in addition to ‘slip, slap & slopping’ in a frenzy and still missing bits that needed TLC in the evening by use of cotton wool balls and calamine lotion. All this angst whilst my so-called friends gambolled and frolicked in the surf like slippery little seals and acquired golden overtones by the minute!

CoverAnne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables was one of my childhood heroines (for obvious reasons) and when she finally walloped Gilbert Blythe for pulling her pigtail and teasing her mercilessly – OK so she might have been fiery but he certainly had it coming!!

Maureen O’Hara was famous for her fiery nature and red hair in the films but she always had to endure John Wayne – so who wouldn’t want to vent their spleen!  Can you see where I am going with this – provocation.  Tease a blonde, brunette and any other hair colour under the sun and you would get the same result.

CoverDwelling in the past isn’t good for you so I quickly read on and sure enough, there were also positives such as redheads being considered the darlings of the Renaissance period.  Acclaimed artists such as Degas, Titian and Rossetti couldn’t do without their favourite ‘red-haired’ muses – the first one of note and possibly the first supermodel of her time being Elizabeth Siddal.

I was unaware that many differing cultures to mine (Northern Hemisphere Celt) such as Russian, Italian, Chinese and even some Pacific Islanders also have the recessive gene that sits on Chromosone 16.

But true amazement came in the form of googling – apparently there is Calendar of Redhead Events, Ginger Pride Rallies all over the world and Melbourne has been voted as Host City for the 2017 Ginger Pride Rally which is being held on 29 April – the event raising funds and awareness for, both children’s anti-bullying and skin cancer non-for-profits.

That’s more like it – Go The Reds!!

Saying goodbye to Princess Leia

I have been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember and a large part of that reason was Princess Leia. Growing up in the 70s and 80s she was, along with Charlies’ Angels, the kind of cute but fearless hero that I longed to be like.

Later in life I came to appreciate Carrie Fisher for her other roles in films like When Harry met Sally, and more recently her brilliantly comic turn as the mother-in-law from Hell in sitcom Catastrophe, but most especially for her writing.

Cover of The Princess DiaristHaving been equal parts amused and horrified by her earlier memoir Wishful Drinking*, late last year I placed a hold on her most recent effort, The Princess Diarist. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that by the time the book became available that she would be dead. How could I have? And even worse, that her family would suffer a double tragedy when her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would follow just a couple of days later. I wept unapologetically and over the Christmas period I watched song and dance numbers from Singin’ in the rain on YouTube and moped.

So it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I finally picked up The Princess Diarist and, after steeling myself and making sure a box of tissues was handy, started to read it.

But I barely needed them because, and this is the magic of writing and the author’s voice, Carrie Fisher was alive again on every page. Dripping with acerbic, self-deprecating wit and wordplay, The Princess Diarist was this amazingly comforting fan experience for me.

In case you didn’t know, the book is based on Fisher’s diaries from 1976 during the making of the first Star Wars film. The book is a mix of explanatory set-up of how she came to even been in the movie (or showbiz for that matter) and her observations on that time from a distance of some 40 years, as well as some really fascinating musings on the nature of fame, or at least her very specific version of it. And throughout runs her brutally honest humour and no BS attitude. The main revelation of the book is her on set affair, at the age of nineteen, with her married-with-kids co-star Harrison Ford. She dedicates a whole chapter to it which is, rather delightfully, titled “Carrison”.

You have the eyes of a doe and the balls of a samurai.

(Harrison Ford “breaking character” by saying something heartfelt to Fisher, as they parted company)

The book also includes a section of verbatim entries from the aforementioned diary. In some ways this was my least favourite part, only because it’s written by a rather tortured teenager about her less than satisfying love life and I have unfond memories of writing similarly tortured diary entries when I was the same age. I can immediately understand why it took her 40 years to publish any of it (There is poetry. About Harrison Ford being distant. It’s wonderful/terrible).

Having said that, Fisher’s diaries are much better written than those of the average teenager. She admits to having been rather precocious and the sly humour and clever use of language would read as being written but someone much older… if not for the This Is So Very Important And Deep style of diarying that teenagers of a certain sort are prone to.

So skim through that section, casting grains of salt as  you go, would be my advice. But the rest of it is great – an absolute must-read for Princess Leia fans, or just fans of Fisher’s signature snappy rejoinders.

Having got through pretty much the whole book with nary more than a slight moistening of eye, I admit to some small amount of tearfulness upon reading the acknowledgments, primarily due to this passage –

For my mother – for being too stubborn and thoughtful to die. I love you, but that whole emergency, almost dying thing, wasn’t funny. Don’t even THINK about doing it again in any form.

No, that part at least, was not funny at all.

More Carrie Fisher

*The audiobook version is narrated by Fisher herself, so if you really, really want to hear that sonorous voice in your head you can!

Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses

CoverWith sales of over 100 million records, God knows how many downloads and sold out arena tours from the late 1980s until today, Guns N’ Roses are long overdue their definitive biography.  Mick Wall, a former writer for Kerrang, Sounds and Melody Maker has finally written one – The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses.

Mick Wall became close to the band during their ascent, gaining access to their dark inner world until he angered the band’s singer, Axl Rose. This earned Wall a name check and a vicious put down in the Use Your Illusion II track, Get in the Ring. Despite this, Mick Wall takes a very even-handed and sympathetic look at the band and their enigmatic lead singer. The focus is on the personalities and music, as much as the eye-watering tales of rock and roll excess, violence and insanity – of which there are many.

Wall describes the dizzying rise of the band from the L.A. glam metal scene with the accuracy of someone who was actually there, charting their beginnings in tiny, sleazy clubs while living in poverty and squalor. Their rapid ascent is described by industry insiders who helped them, with former managers telling detailed and brutally honest stories of brilliant live shows and dreadful behaviour.

The band’s many controversies are dealt with – from the death of two fans at an English show, to the heavily criticised lyrics to the song One In a Million. Wall has the clarity and insight gained by 25 years’ worth of hindsight. While there are no new interviews with any of the band members, Wall has drawn from a wealth of interviews from the era and new interviews with many who were there at the time. The splintering of the original line up is detailed in all its depressing, drug-soaked inevitability, and he lists the factors and pressures that broke the band at the peak of their fame.

While all members of Guns N’ Roses have their story told in full, including several chapters on the short-lived but popular supergroup Velvet Revolver, Wall does focus on the temperamental figure that is Axl Rose. We hear his story from his abusive childhood, his unwavering determination to make Guns N’ Roses the biggest band in the world, and his perfectionism and desire for control that ultimately broke the original line up. The subsequent revolving cast of musicians that make up Guns N’ Roses are covered with an in-depth and surprisingly enthusiastic review of the much maligned Chinese Democracy album. In fact his obvious fondness for the album made me give it another go and he is right. It is a better album than I remember it.

Wall makes the case that Guns N’ Roses were the last great band of the “Rock Era” – a time when a rock and roll band could be a truly subversive cultural force while reaching a huge audience.  It’s a hard theory to argue with when you start trying to list all subsequent contenders. Cobain?  Too depressing. Eddie Vedder? Too populist. Jack White? Too niche and he arrived a little too late.  Eminem? Perhaps, but do genre definitions and his arrival as popular music stopped being the dominant cultural force disqualify him?

What is impossible to argue with is the story of Guns N’ Roses as one of rock’s most absorbing and fascinating tales.  Drugs, sex, violence, controversy and great music are all there in abundance and Wall’s insider knowledge and palpable love for the both the band and the era make Last Of The Giants a cracking good read for anyone who misses the glory days of rock and roll.

More Guns N’ Roses

Guns n" roses

The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns n’ Roses
by Mick Wall
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781409167228

Simon H
New Brighton Library

 

Summer reading, had me a blast

So, what usually happens with me over the summer is I drag a big pile of books and DVDs home and then I do an average to poor job of getting through them all over the Christmas and new year break, because even though I might not necessarily be at work, there’s still plenty to do at home (taking the Christmas tree down, letting the 3 year old help, cleaning up after that disaster and so on…)

This year I had the misfortune of getting a cold in the new year that turned into a chest infection and necessitated quite a bit of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Which as everyone knows is the perfect time to get some reading done. Here’s what I managed to rattle through as a result *cough*.

Cover of American GodsAmerican Gods – As recommended by Pickle Bronwyn, this is a great read. It spans a great many topics – Norse mythology, theology, Americana, First Nations beliefs – and it’s also kind of a road-trip novel. Engrossing and enjoyable.

Like a Queen – To say Aussie writer and mum Constance Hall is a phenomenon is not overstating the case. Her posts on parenting and relationships and the importance of building other women up rather than tearing them down are massively popular, largely due to Facebook. In only a couple of years she has recruited a legion of fans (or “Queenies”) from all walks of life who love her brash, no-BS yet tender approach to modern womanhood. Her book is more “hippyish” than I usually go for but it’s brutally honest and raw too which is very affecting. A great, affirming read for harangued and under-appreciated mothers.

Cover of You can't touch my hairYou can’t touch my hair: And other things I still have to explain – Phoebe Robinson made a fan out of me within about three pages. She’s wickedly funny, scathing and more than a little bit goofy while tackling pretty important issues like racism and sexism. I learned a lot about African American hair from this as well as what sexism looks like to a female actor/comedian. I LOVED this book (even though I cannot fathom why she put The Edge at the top of her “which order I would have sex with the members of U2 in” list. The Edge. REALLY?). It’s a humorous mixture of pop culture, social awareness and general badassery. Highly recommended.

Cover of Talking as fast as I canTalking as fast as I can – Actor Lauren Graham’s memoir is a lot like what you imagine her personality to be – considered and cheerful with plenty of quips, non sequiturs and tangential observations. It’s a must-read for Gilmore Girls fans and recommended companion reading if you’ve recently watched the rebooted “A year in the life” series. Don’t read this expecting to get the low down on any Hollywood scandal though. No careers are ruined. No beans are spilled. But it is a light, amusing read that makes me keen to check out her first novel (a second is in the works) as well as her screen adaptation of The Royal We. There’s also a handy “writing process” guide borrowed from another writer included that I may well put into use. Also, how much is that cover photo crying out for some book-facing? So. Much.

Exhibit A.

Cover of The world according to Star WarsThe world according to Star Wars – I am a sucker for any book that indulges my desire to ponder the many facets, nooks and crannies, and minutiae of the Star Wars universe. And Cass Sunstein, one of America’s most highly regarded legal scholars, obviously feels the same since he wrote this book, seemly to fill that exact niche. It’s a mixed bag (the section on the U. S. constitution was a bit tenuous, in my opinion) but there are plenty of opportunities to ponder the meanings, symbolism and politics of this most popular of sci-fi series’ and to view it through a variety lenses. Recommended for fans.

 

On espionage

Recently I listened to a free lecture on The Great Courses app (available for iOS or Android) called “Becoming a Spy”.

I found this intriguing (no pun intended) and really interesting to hear the reasons why an individual decides to betray their country and become an agent of espionage. Several reasons were given, for example ideology, money, a sense of disillusionment with the Government of their own country and a sense of achieving a greater good in the long term.

I decided I wanted to know more about this subject so did some research on the eResource Academic World Book.

I did a search under ‘Espionage’ and found some really interesting articles on the likes of our own Nancy Wake (1912-2011). Nancy was a famous New Zealand-born Australian resistance fighter during WWII. Due to her ability to avoid capture she was nick-named “the White Mouse”.

Nancy Wake  The White Mouse  My Silent War  A Spy Among Friends

The infamous British civil servant Kim Philby who became a spy for the Russians is also an interesting subject and well worth researching or reading about.

Christchurch City Libraries has titles on these subjects in several formats – books, eBooks, graphic novels, large print, audiobooks and DVDs as well as our wonderful eResources.

If you would like to try a spy novel over the holidays here are a few titles by authors whom I enjoy for their ability to write a good spy novel.

Act of Treason  The Amateur Spy  The English Spy  Spies of the Balkans  The Faithful Spy  One Dead Spy

Find more spy fiction and true tales of espionage in the library catalogue.