Tell me a story : audiobook bliss

Cover of The adventures of Augie MarchScrolling through shelves of audiobooks on Overdrive recently I came across The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, I’ve always skirted round this heavy weight literary man (multiple award winner including the Nobel prize for Literature in 1976). This time on impulse I decided to “give him a go” and I’m chuffed that I did! I was immediately hooked by the opening paragraph and the narrator’s gravelly, fast paced “Bronxy” voice.

I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city — and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles

For me an audiobook is completely at the mercy of the narrator; if the voice, inflection, pace etc doesn’t grab me, that’s it, no matter how enjoyable the writing. In this case both work so well together. From the word go I became absorbed in the life story of Augie, a poor Jewish boy born to a simple minded mother and a long ago absented father in the Chicago of the early decades of the 20th century (Al Capone, Prohibition era.)

I was impacted by Bellow’s sentences let alone the epic tale full of vivid, larger than life characters trying to get ahead and live the American dream. It did require very focused listening so as not to miss out on the richness of the language or get mixed up with the many characters. Also it’s a long book and there’s a limit to the amount of sitting around listening an able bodied person can do. So I’ve been doing a kind of relay – listen, read the book, listen and knit, read the book.

So many knockout sentences but I’ll leave those discoveries to you if you so choose! Except for another little taste, a description of Grandma Lausch, Russian pogrom refugee, not really Augie’s grandmother, but ruler of his childhood household nevertheless.

She was as wrinkled as an old paper bag, an autocrat, hard-shelled and jesuitical, a pouncy old hawk of a Bolshevik, her small ribboned feet immobile on the shoekit and stool Simon had made in the manual-training class, dingy old wool Winnie(her dog), whose bad smell filled the flat, on the cushion beside her.

Augie takes us on a series of often bizarre adventures, as he tries  on different lives inspired by people he comes across, on into post WW2 America; ultimately most are a wrong fit. He never does settle but in the end he celebrates the ride. Martin Amis, among many others, called this “The Great American Novel”. Worth checking out.

Cover of The LacunaBarbara Kingsolver is another great American writer and, apart from her wondrous ways with words, she has the gift of being able to narrate her own work with a warm, clear and expressively easy to listen to voice. She takes on different characters and different accents with aplomb. Hearing her read The Lacuna, probably the finest of her novels, is a real treat. I love this book and find her narration adds to its magic.

I listened to it as a pre-loaded digital audio book from CCL’s Playaway Collection that let me listen while moving about and “getting on with things”.

This story, coincidentally, covers the same time span as Saul Bellow’s novel. Very briefly, for readers who haven’t caught up with The Lacuna, the story’s protagonist is Harrison W Shepherd born, like Augie March, in the 1920s in the USA to a less than ideal family situation.

It takes us for a time to Mexico and into the lives of Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera and of Lev and Natalia Trotsky who are hiding from Stalin and his Secret Police. Harrison in his early 20s becomes part of these two remarkable households as cook, secretarial assistant and friend. He is “uncurious about politics”. He cares about people and writing. He becomes inextricably involved. Consequently he is devastated by the eventual murder of Trotsky at the hand of a guest he himself invites into the guarded house, and by the confiscation of his own writings along with Trotsky’s.

Oh… I just had to delete a big paragraph outlining more of the plot! Hard to keep quiet when you fall in love with a character(s) and feel honoured by knowing them, their aspirations, trials, hopes and sorrows, the burden of events beyond their control. There’s a lot of good stuff in here about friendship, art, history, the Cold War –  its propaganda and witch hunts, the damage of Press inaccuracies and lies and the fragility of a man’s heart and of his reputation. It looks to be a tragedy and in many ways it certainly is but the ending is a not. It’s a very rich listen!   According to Muriel Rukeyser a US poet of the same era as our two stories said,

The universe is made up of stories not of atoms.

I reckon we’re never too old, too busy or too anything, to bend our ears to a gifted story teller.

Te Wiki o te Reo Māori in soundbites – Rāhina

Nau mai , haere mai ki te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, ia rā ia rā!

We are posting every day for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori to help encourage kōrero Māori everyday. Te Reo Māori, ia rā ia rā!

Pronunciation comes from listening and practise so here are some links to some soundbites to encourage you to Kōrero Māori.

Kōrerorero mai – share some sound bites you have used.

Chatting to authors

Roberta interviews Kathy Lette. Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre.  Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-11
With Kathy Lette. Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre. Friday 11 May 2012, Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-11

I bet this has happened to you: you’re reading a great book and you think – gee, I’d really like to interview this author. I did that for years before the day came when I sat opposite my first real  live author – absolutely scared witless and thinking – be careful what you wish for!

Here’s the authors I’ve interviewed (click on their names to read the full interviews):

Lionel Shriver: A 15 year old girl who changes her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel – just to pique her father – is not someone to be toyed with. This was my first interview ever at my first ever Literary Festival. I walked with heavy boots to her hotel, but I floated back on a little cloud nine. That was when I realised that there was nothing to be scared of, because authors love librarians!

William Dalrymple: He didn’t sit still for one minute in this interview held on the top floor of an Auckland Hotel. I had to chase him around trying to keep up with him. I was already nervous (he is a famous travel writer of books like Nine Lives – in Search of the Sacred in Modern India), and my uncertainties around the technology involved in getting the whole thing recorded were greatly exacerbated by Dalrymple’s restlessness. I start hyperventilating just thinking about it.

Kathy Lette: This interview really was like chatting to a good friend over a coffee. What a blast! Irreverent, sexy, fun, OK maybe a bit flippant. But at least she sat still!

Andrew Miller: Forever endeared himself to me by being the only author I have ever interviewed who asked: “How are things in Christchurch?” We were just post earthquake and the gap between life in Christchurch and life in Auckland made me feel so sad. His best known work is Snowdrops, a debut novel that made the Booker Long List in 2011. He was a pleasure to interview.

Roberta and Jeffrey Eugenides, Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-12
With Jeffrey Eugenides, Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012, Aotea Centre. Saturday 12 May 2012. Flickr, CCL-AWRF-2012-05-12

Jeffrey Eugenides: that is correct – the Pulitzer prizewinning author for his novel Middlesex. Terrifying to interview. Read right to the end and you will know why. The photo says it all really. 

John Lanchester: One of those interviews that never really had a lift-off point. I was chatting to him about his book Capital – which I had loved. His Publishing Agent sat with us throughout the interview. What did she think I would do to him?

Laurence Fearnley: I am a big fan of this Kiwi writer. We bonded over a coffee at one of the WORD festivals. She really thinks about her interview answers. She gives you her full attention. I am so fond of her.

Roberta with NoViolet  Bulawayo, Christchurch WORD Festival 2014,
With NoViolet Bulawayo, Christchurch WORD Festival 2014, 30 August 2014. Photo by Roberta Smith.

NoViolet Bulawayo: A young Zimbabwean author who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013 for her novel We Need New Names. We chatted for ages. I had to ruthlessly edit what had been recorded to get this interview down to a reasonable length. So young, yet so wise (her not me!)

There’s no doubt that interviewing is nerve-wracking – I felt my stress levels rise just writing this blog!  But I would not have missed these opportunities for anything. How about you? Do you have an author you would like to interview?

Kia ora Christchurch City Libraries’ customers!

If you think our libraries are pretty busy when you visit, you’re right.
Here’s some hot-off-the-press statistics from the 2014/15 business year:

  • 4.46 million items were issued
  • 3.7 million people visited
  • Just under 870,000 enquiries were answered
  • Over 105,000 programme attendances
  • 6.45 million website visits
  • 1.65 million digital content transactions

Kid-and-staff

What makes us really smile is this quote from a happy customer who completed the recent Libraries Customer Satisfaction Survey :

My library card is one of my most valuable possessions. Having access to a library means I always have a source of information, entertainment and sanctuary. I am rich indeed.

Kia ora to all our customers, and if you haven’t gone to the LibrarySide yet – come along, we’d love to you to join us.

2014-Library-card-orange

Ka pai rawe Finnian. Kia kaha ki te Kōrero Māori.

Tēnā koutou kātoa. Ngā mihi ki a koutou.

Even after 40 years of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (1975 – 2015) celebrations, pronunciation of this taonga continues to challenge us.

Finnian Galbraith, a year 11 student at Kāpiti College shares his thoughts on this. The clip has gone viral and let’s hope it generates a lot of kōrero. Ka pai rawe Finnian.  Kia kaha ki te Kōrero Māori.

Keep locked in to Te Wiki o te Reo Māori with Ngā Kete Wānanga o Ōtautahi for daily posts and links to help you and your pronunciation.

Every Story Tells a Picture competition

Every Story Tells A PictureIf you’re a high school student in Christchurch who wouldn’t mind winning some Westfield vouchers, check out the Every Story Tells a Picture competition.

Hold up, didn’t the library do that last year? That was Every Picture Tells a Story – this is the same idea with a twist! What you need to do this time is create a piece of visual art inspired by something within the library’s collection. You can enter your art under three categories – 2D, 3D or Photograph. There are separate age groups so we will have a Junior (years 9 – 10) and a Senior (years 11 – 13) winner in each category. That’s a lot of chances to win!

So, what to do? My artistic skills don’t really extend too far past stick figures and zen doodles but that doesn’t mean I can’t still create something cool. Plus I could get out my shiny new colouring pencils – colouring in is a highly underrated stress relieving activity.

Cover of Nail Art SourcebookI’ve been really impressed by book-inspired nail art (seriously, Google it!) and this could fit into the competition perfectly. I wouldn’t recommend chopping off your entire hand and entering it into the 3D category, but ten perfectly painted acrylic nails could look pretty cool against a book cover.

I wonder if I could bear letting my Lego Harry Potter minifigure out of my possession long enough to be in the competition. Probably not.

Rachael Chamberlain
Upper Riccarton Library

2015’s Community Read with local author Rachael King

Community Read 2015 Magpie Hall

2015: One book, one community

Magpie Hall by Rachael King

This August, Christchurch City Libraries invites you to read, share and discuss Magpie Hall by Rachael King.

Unlimited copies of the Magpie Hall eBook will be available to borrow for the whole of August from our Wheelers eBook platform! Thanks Wheelers and publishers Penguin Random House.
Reserve now.

Take a walk with us on the dark side, as we explore family secrets, taxidermy, Victorian tattooing, and Gothic novels.

I absolutely loved this book. It had a wonderfully familiar setting in the Canterbury foothills somewhere, mixing family history mysteries with the pressures of modern life. I was spellbound.

Magpie Hall by Rachael KingFind out more

Community Read 2015 author talk

Book Chat, Tea and Tales with award-winning author Rachael King
Friday 7 August At South Library
11am to 12pm

Community Read 2015 Performance

Join the Court Jesters as they improvise themes from Magpie Hall
Friday 7 August at South Library
7.30pm to 9pm

For more information phone (03) 941 5140

Remembering a wonderfully wacky Word Witch

Margaret Mahy 1936-2012

Three years ago today Margaret Mahy our favourite award winning author, writer, librarian, mother and grandmother died.

Take time to remember.

Read MM picture books – here’s a few to get started with …

Down the back of the chairBoom, Baby Boom BoomDashing DogBubble TroubleA Lion in the MeadowLeaf Magic

Young Adult reads

The changeoverKaitangata Twitch24 HoursThe Tricksters

Get to know MM

Margaret MahyMarvellous CodeNotes of a Bag LadyMy Mysterious World

Do what Margaret enjoyed – read, walk around the garden and have a sleep (apparently she could do this quite easily). Don’t walk down Cambridge Terrace though, or at least make sure your trousers stay up when you do.

Have a MM lunch – a salad sandwich made with wholemeal bread and cheese and tomato and lettuce and spring onions, and avocado and hard-boiled egg and anything else handy.

I’m going to remember Margaret by driving over the winding hill to Governors Bay and then wandering along the wiggly track at the bottom of the road. I won’t be alone. I’m taking a dashing dog, a bubble trouble baby, a gaggle of geese, a couple of mixed-up pirates, a librarian, a three legged cat, a boy with two shadows, a tin can band, a dragon, a lion and of course a witch.

Our procession will be one of nonstop nonsense, full of mischief and mayhem. A magical way to remember Margaret Mahy.

 

Stop talking about pies and make me one

It is lunchtime and I am a little hungry and this situation has in no way been helped by all the chat this morning about the results of the annual Bakels New Zealand Pie Awards which have just been announced.

Certain “factions” in my workplace are very pleased to see a potato top pie take out the Supreme Award. Is this a sign that potato top is in the ascendancy once more? Is the time of gourmet fruit pies in the top spot done?

Either way it’s making me hungry so I hope the pie fairy visits our house at dinnertime. But just in case the pie fairy is something my brain made up in a fit of pastry-starvation, the following titles might be of help.

Cover of Me, myself and pieCover of PieCover of Australian women's weekly pie favouritesCover of The hairy bikers' perfect pies

Cover of vegan pie in the skyCover of pies and tartscover of Paul Hollywood's pies & puds

We have The Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies book at home and the recipes have so far been delicious so you can take that as a personal recommendation, or try your luck with a search for pie cookbooks in our catalogue.

What’s your favourite pie? I like a steak and cheese but also have a fondness for ones with curry in them.

Because you’ll never meet me by Leah Thomas

There is nothing quite like finding a new author whose book you fall in love with instantly.  When the book you read is that author’s debut novel you are both disappointed and excited. Disappointed because you can’t gobble up everything else the author has written (because this is their first novel) and excited because you’ll (hopefully) have more of their stories to look forward to. I was overcome with these emotions when I finished Leah Thomas’ debut YA novel, Because you’ll never meet me.

Cover of Because you'll never meet meOllie and Moritz are two teenagers who will never meet. Each of them lives with a life-affecting illness. Contact with electricity sends Ollie into debilitating seizures. Moritz has a heart defect and is kept alive by an electronic pacemaker. If they did meet, Ollie would seize. But turning off the pacemaker would kill Moritz.

Through an exchange of letters, the two boys develop a strong bond of friendship which becomes a lifeline during dark times – until Moritz reveals that he holds the key to their shared, sinister past, and has been keeping it from Ollie all along.

Because you’ll never meet me is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in a long time! This book is unlike any book I’ve read and I struggle to express how truly wonderful it is. The story is original and intriguing and the characters are two of the most interesting teenage guys you’ll ever meet.

The story is told in alternating chapters, by Ollie and Moritz, two very different guys who could never meet but find solace in the letters that they write to each other.

Ollie lives in America, in a cabin in the woods with his mother, far away from civilisation and everyone else his age. He has known nothing but this isolation for as long as he can remember.  Ollie must live this life because he is allergic to electricity. Whenever he gets close to anything electrical he starts to see loops, swirls and plumes of colour, which trigger crippling seizures.

Moritz lives in Germany, was born without eyes and sees using a form or echolocation, like a bat.  He also has a heart condition and is kept alive by a pacemaker. He is ignored by his peers and tormented by the school bully.

Through their letters to each other they share their experiences and their unique lives, giving each other strength when they need it the most. Leah Thomas hints that there is some connection, other than through their letters, between the two boys, and when this is revealed the story goes in a different direction. I won’t talk about this as it is a great twist in the story.

I got completely caught up in Ollie and Moritz’s stories and put myself in their shoes. You know it’s a great book when you want to know what’s happening with the characters when you’re not reading their story. My heart was in my throat so many times while I was reading and I just kept on hoping that Ollie and Moritz would make it through their tough times.

One of the things I love the most about Leah Thomas’ book is that she tells this incredible story in just one book. Everything comes together perfectly at the end and there is a real sense of hope. You don’t need any more books to carry on the story of these two characters. They stay with you and you can imagine where their story might go next.

Because you’ll never meet me is a truly memorable story that will stay with me for a very long time.  I highly recommend it, especially if you love Annabel Pitcher or R.J. Palacio’s book, Wonder.