Even in my former life I was working class

51IM6lHhFLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When I was younger I had the privilege of living in London for a couple of years. Like most people on their OE, I visited all the historic sites I could get my hands on including Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle is a medieval castle that has undergone massive restoration to give the visitor a real feel for a thousand years of English history. Entering into the medieval kitchen I can remember being hit with a very strong sense of déjà vu. This medieval kitchen felt very familiar to me with the strong smells of the herbs, rushes on the floor and seething cauldrons, open fires and hanging livestock. I didn’t have the same sensation when I went upstairs into the Lord and Lady’s living area! It would appear I have been scrambling for a living for longer than what I can even remember which is rather depressing. It may though explain my interest in history.

One of the best books that I have read in a long time has been Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. It reads like a Lonely Planet Travel Guide except the place you are visiting isn’t on any current map instead it is a time. It will tell you about who you will meet in Medieval England, what they will wear and where you can stay and expect to eat. For a start, green vegetables are considered poisonous and potatoes have yet to be discovered. If you are staying overnight anywhere it is also considered good manners to hand over your sword until you leave. I already have a hold on Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England.

Eating books – The Edible Book Competition at CPIT

Yesterday I got to judge my first literary prize. And eat the winner.  My fellow judges were a wise and witty crew –  Emily Spink – reporter at The Press, Sheila McBreen-Kerr of CPIT, and Joe Bennett – writer and columnist.

See our photos of the edible books.

We were mightily impressed with the entries.  Ingenious, humourous, adorable, creepy – they had it all. We browsed, and cogitated.  And here’s what we decided:

Best interpretation of a book: 50 shades of Grey, made by Sarah Chin
CPIT Edible Book Competition

This was my category to choose a winner for. 50 shades of grey cupcakes was a thing of beauty, each cupcake a different shade of grey, with a hint of manacles to subtly allude to the book’s naughtiness. It was also quite cool to be able to bestow a literary prize on E.L. James who I account a woman of taste.

Other winners:

Most delectable: The hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse – Julie Humby
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Most Imaginative: Frankenstein – Kiri Te Wake
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Check out his sewn up mouth!
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Funniest: The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Kiri Te Wake
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Best in Show: Sconehenge – Hugh Wall
CPIT Edible Book Competition

Everyone who came along got to vote too, and the People’s Choice was the seasonally appropriate and stunning Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (yes, there is such a book – it is by Robert Rankin who I had the good fortune to meet at an Armageddon a few years ago).

Armageddon 2010

See our photos.

Thanks to:

  • The super clever entrants,
  • CPIT Library and the Food & Hospitality Department
  • Sponsors: Academy Books, Southern Hospitality.

Read CPIT’s blog post on the event.

Easter 2015

3 April 2015 is Good Friday (note: not Easter Friday). In New Zealand both the Friday (Good Friday) and the Monday of Easter are statutory public holidays, so libraries will be closed. But Saturday and Sunday aren’t public hols – so libraries will be open – except Linwood Library at Eastgate which will be closed on Easter Sunday.

Ballantynes Easter
Ballantynes Easter, Friday 1 March 2013. Flickr CCL-2013 -03-13-IMG_4517-1

One of my favourite Easter things is to crank up the old Victrola and listen to Jesus Christ Superstar. I was raised on the original version with Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene, Murray Head as Judas, and the part of Jesus sung by Ian Gillan, the lead singer of Deep Purple. It is very shouty and sing-a-longa-tastic.

Our other family Easter watch was the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, it had an astonishing cast including Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Anne Bancroft. Robert Powell was Jesus, and Ian McShane was Judas. The most beautiful woman ever to light up the screen – Olivia Hussey – was Jesus’s mother Mary. She was Juliet in Zefferelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet. John Duttine from the awesome tv series The Day of the Triffids was the apostle John.

Easter Parade

Easter Parade heading down Oxford Terrace toward the Catholic Cathedral in Barbadoes Street.  Forester’s Hotel is on the left. c. 1950 Flickr HW08-img-fe111

The Read Harder Challenge

Book cover of the paying guestsI always begin the year with great intentions of completing a million reading challenges, and inevitably my enthusiasm tapers off after the first few months. (I love how Robyn manages to make one book count for many categories. I might have to steal that trick later in the year.) This time I’ve decided to attempt the Read Harder Challenge 2015 because it looks fun and might make me read a bit wider, which is one of my more attainable New Year resolutions (she says optimistically).

So far I seem to be doing pretty well just from reading books I wanted to read anyway, but looking ahead I can see some difficulties. Can anyone recommend an entertaining self-help book? Or a published author under the age of 25?

Book cover of the strange libraryHere’s what I’ve managed to tick off:

Is anyone else doing a reading challenge?

International Children’s Book Day

Book cover of ThumbelinaInternational Children’s Book Day is celebrated every year on 2 April, which is also Hans Christian Andersen‘s birthday.  It is a special day where we celebrate children’s books and encourage children to read.  We have lots of fantastic books from all over the world in our libraries, in lots of different forms.

Here are some ideas of ways that you could celebrate International Children’s Book Day:

Scratch and grab

Cover of Chicken Whisperer's Guide to To Keeping ChickensWhen I told various people we were thinking of getting a couple of hens they assured me we would love having them. My thoughts were more along the lines of: chooks = garden turned over and manured = eggs. Not ‘chooks – I’ll love having them in our life’.

The first few nights of the fat bottomed girls being in residence in the coop involved our flatmate climbing into the coop, showing the girls where the roosting bar was and physically lifting them into place. A new ramp was made, the f-b girls learnt to motor up it in no time and the flatmate went back to having a life.

Cover of Dirty ChickWe are quite besotted with the big footed raiders already, but due to space restraints we’ve stopped there. Otherwise there would be a couple of pigs grubbing around somewhere as per Antonia Murphy, author of Dirty Chick. She moved to New Zealand from the US, her pipe dream being to have a bit of land, some chickens etc. Things get a bit out of hand and ever so slightly stressful as her stock wander the neighbourhood amongst other things. Let’s say she takes to country life with gusto… I wouldn’t say she calmly bestrides the chaos, but she copes with great humour and I am quite envious of her menagerie.

Cover of The Chicken ChroniclesAlice Walker on the other hand had been raised with chickens for eggs and meat and finding herself living in Mexico realised they were missing from her life. Enter Gertrude Stein, Babe, Glorious, Rufus and Agnes of God, turning her thinking to the interdependence of humans and the chickens. The Chicken Chronicles is more a memoir of a journey.

Meanwhile at Chez Bishi, and I can’t say we weren’t warned, Camilla and Priscilla have been escaping their carefully established playground away from my vegetable gardens and been caught scratching and grabbing with the odd guilty glance over the shoulder and then running away when in danger of being put back in the playground. The kids would never have got away with what these two chicks manage.

Are you thinking of taking on some egg laying devices? Still sitting on the roost perhaps? Afraid you might find yourself clucking round the garden with small feathered friends in tow? Take the plunge: you’ll be in good company.

Our Book Sale is on NOW!

Kia ora. Our Big Bargain Book Sale is on today (Friday 20 March) until 7pm, and tomorrow (Saturday 21 March) from 9pm to 4pm. It is in the stadium at the Pioneer Recreation and Sport Centre. Books for kids, for fiction-lovers, for gardeners, for cooks, for fashionistas DVDs, CDs, and jigsaw puzzles too.

In a new addition this year, a coffee cart inside so you can browse with caffeination. Highly recommended, A++, would attend again.

Photos from last night’s preview.
Something for everyone at the Book Sale
Bags of books
Book sale books
Book sale

Short and sweet

Cover of Stone MattressShort stories are delicious. Like chocolates in a box, you pick one that looks good and indulge in a bite-sized treat. I was recently stuck at Auckland Airport and lifted the lid on a copy of Stone Mattress, nine tales from the ingenious mind of Margaret Atwood. I must admit I found these stories rather moreish. Three tales and seventy five minutes later, I heard my name over the loud speaker and had to make a frenzied dash for the departure lounge.

Cover of Dear LifeOne of my favourite short story authors is Alice Munro who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 for her work. Her latest title Dear Life contains ten bitter sweet tales that resonate at the deepest level of the human psyche.

Cover of Between my father and the kingAt the moment I’m savouring the most recent collection of stories by Janet Frame. The critics say Between My Father and the King contains some of her best writing and includes previously unpublished work.

For exceptional collections that will give you a taste of other cultures and times, try those by Haruki Murakami, Yiyun Li, Edna O’Brien, Colette and the ever-perceptive Rose Tremain.

Apparently, the short story is one of the hardest genres to get right so I’m forever grateful that these authors have mastered the art. Short stories must be one of the most honest and immediate forms of communication around. They encapsulate moments of insight by some pretty amazing human beings and are a perfect treat at the end of a busy day. Happy sampling!

Murakami unleashed: Auckland Writers Festival programme is out

Last night the programme for the 2015 Auckland Writers Festival was released and people gave a collective squee. Haruki Murakami is the headliner. This is doubly exciting – he is one of the best writers of our time and he doesn’t appear much on the literary festival circuit. We are not worthy, but we are excited.

Cover of Colorless Cover of Camp David Cover of Not my father's son Cover of Being Mortal Cover of Hi is for hawk Cover of Nalini Singh Cover of The bone clocks Cover of Captain Underpants

And there are more names, names, names:

Explore the full Auckland Writers Festival programme.

Here’s how Twitter is responding – with the hashtag #AWF15 as your gateway to the good stuff.

Squeaky clean reading?

Cover of Holy Sh*t
Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing

Today I stumbled upon an app that I can quite safely say I will never use. Clean Reader can instantly sanitize any of the books in its store to make them squeaky clean and free of profanity.

Occasionally we get a customer who does feel that a book contains too much bad language.

I have read this book from cover to cover and it is disgusting!”

Libraries have, and always will be about choice. I choose not to read nasty psychokiller thrillers but I don’t mind a bit of cussing. I don’t have a problem with someone else wanting to read these books – actually that isn’t quite true as I really do think they are mysoginistic and nasty, but I will always defend the right for the library to purchase these books and for our customers to read them.

So don’t expect to see a clean reader attached to our eBooks, but it is out there if you need it. I wonder if there is an app that can remove nasty sadistic psychos, probably not. Maybe I could make one?