Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird at the WORD Christchurch and Christchurch Art Gallery

BIRD + YOUNG sounds like a firm purveying fancy jewellery.  But for Hera Lindsay Bird (poet) and Ashleigh Young (poet, writer, editor), it is words and ideas that are the things they are making and selling. This WORD Christchurch event at the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was introduced by WORD’s programme director Rachael King and chaired by Amy Marr, the Visitor Programmes Coordinator of the Art Gallery.

CoverCover

Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet whose works have pretty much gone viral – you might have read the one about Monica from Friends, and that Keats one – everywhere, BAM! Ashleigh Young  is a poet and writer who recently became the first New Zealander to win Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize, worth US$165,000 (NZ$230,000), for her collection of raw, real, beautifully honest essays, Can you tolerate this? Their books are both on the shortlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

It was a soggy evening, but that didn’t deter the crowd. It was full to the gunnels.

Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9004

Hera and Ashleigh kicked off with some readings:

How do they get time to write when they work full time (Hera at Unity Books, Ashleigh at Victoria University Press)? It ain’t easy, but great employers help. Hera gets a paid day off each week. Ashleigh’s boss has offered time off for writing, while keeping her job open.

What followed was a discussion that ranged widely – from influences, to the IIML, sexy stuff, humour, and processes – with a good amount of Q&A time (surprise fact: lots of questions asked by men). Here’s some of the things we learned:

  • Ashleigh edited Hera Lindsay Bird’s book which she said required barely a single change. She read the manuscript on the floor, weeping and cackling.
  • Hera enjoys reading crime fiction, humour, and heaps of poetry. She’s currently reading the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.
  • Ashleigh has lots of self help books concealed on her Kindle.
  • Ashleigh said she can’t remember not wanting to write (but always knew she’s need a day job to pay the bills)
  • Hera’s parents had star charts – not for good behaviour but for writing, and she would get paid to write poems. She wondered if her Coromandel hippy parents fancied her as the next Laura Ranger (remember Laura’s Poems?)
  • Hera feels the support of her family and knows that even if she writes something explicit, her Dad will be chill with it.

Photos

See our pics from the event.

Quotable Quotes

I don’t think either of us leave the house very much. (Hera)

I really love New Zealand actually. (Ashleigh)

This whole thing is terrible for my process. (Ashleigh, on this talk and writer events when you are an introvert writer)

I love her blurriness. (Ashleigh, on Lydia Davis)

People know both Renoir and Taylor Swift. (Hera, on art and pop culture)

George Saunders is my favourite living writer. (Hera)

All the sex in it is kind of a joke. (Hera, on her book)

Even Bill Manhire can be really funny. (Ashleigh)

I don’t find anything moving that I didn’t find funny first. (Hera)

Book signing - Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Book signing – Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9027

An Ashleigh and Hera playlist

Here are some of the many writers, poets, and musicians namechecked by Ashleigh and Hera:

  • Lydia Davis – Ashleigh loves her writing: “Something about her voice makes me want to write myself”.
  • Both name checked Frank O’Hara.
  • NZ poet James Brown
  • Hera is inspired by Mark Leidner, Chelsey Minnis, PG Wodehouse
  • Anne Carson – intense beauty, no humour. (Hera)
  • Ashleigh: Mark Greif – Against Everything
    “The opinions he expresses have a finality to them whereas Lydia Davis’ work seems like everything is still forming in front of her”
  • Hera recommended Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders. He is coming to the Auckland Writers Festival this year.
  • Ashleigh currently listening to Grandaddy the band – for a nostalgic ‘so bad it’s good’ hit.
  • Hera was asked about her use of a text generator in writing a poem in the book. She said she liked to play and experiment with language and referenced This Paper Boat  by Gregory Kan.

Amy – who was a great and enthusiastic facilitator for this session –  heartily recommended The TOAST website.

What’s next

Hera is heading off to a couple of overseas festivals.

Ashleigh is writing poems, and is off to New Haven, Connecticut to collect the Windham-Campbell Prize (and go to New York with the other recipients).

Both are working on new books. Slowly, surely.

Donna R and Kim M

Do you judge a book by its cover?

9780356505381Everyone knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, right? But we do, of course. I mean, when you’re browsing the library shelves, it’s the cover that attracts you to a book, isn’t it? I’ve heard that you’re supposed to read to page 90 (!) of a book before you decide if you should read it, but I sure don’t have time for that!

So anyway, when I saw Resistance is Futile the other day, I was sure this was just the book for me. Anyone who’s read my blog posts before will know that I’m a bit of a Star Trek nerd (just a wee bit!) so I was really excited to read this geeky love story with a Trek reference in the title. It looked like it was going to be the perfect read.

But I was wrong. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t any good–I enjoyed it well enough–it just wasn’t what the cover had lead me to believe. I was expecting a kind of Rosie Project-ish story, but with a geek-girl protagonist and a few Star Trek references thrown in. But what I got, was an X-Files-ish murder-mystery-come-alien-romance story. There was not so much as a single “Beam me up, Scotty” or “Live long and prosper” to be had. I think there might have been a vague reference to the Prime Directive on page 265. Maybe. Or maybe I’m just clutching at straws.

Of course, sometimes it’s the other way around.

Cover of The Round House by Louise ErdrichWhen I read the blurb of The Round House by Louise Erdrich (“A mother is brutally raped by a man on the North Dakota reservation where she lives… Traumatized and afraid, she takes to her bed and refuses to talk to anyone – including the police…”) I groaned inwardly. “Who chooses these books anyway?” I grumbled. But it was for book club, so I had to at least attempt to read it. Grudgingly I began…

…and instead of the abhorrent, disturbing tale I was expecting, I discovered an arresting, thought provoking story of a young man’s search for justice for his mother. Although the story was often upsetting, it was not gratuitous. I learnt fascinating and shocking things about life on a Native American reservation. I was amazed that Erdrich, a (then) 57 year old woman, could create a teenage-boy-character so utterly believable and real as Joe. I laughed at the oddball characters of his extended family. And I cried as the conclusion approached, knowing, without knowing, what was about to happen.

And… I reveled in Joe’s love of Star Trek! Both for its own sake, and because it was so unexpected! Joe and his friends idolised the super-strong, fully-functional android Data; they wanted to be Worf, the Klingon warrior* (they were also Star Wars fans, of course–but I forgave them). A few chapters in, I suddenly realised that each chapter shared its title with an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation (yes, I am that much of a Trekkie that I know the titles of the episodes, and I only had to check the synopsis of a couple of them to be sure what they were about). I then had a sudden desire to watch all those episodes, and analyse the connections with each chapter. In fact, I found myself wanting to write whole essays on this book. Back in the dim reaches of history, I actually did a degree in English. I was even invited to do Honours (though I didn’t, for reasons which I’ve now forgotten). I loved studying, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book since that I so wanted to write academic essays about. The more I think about it, the more I think this book deserves the “Missbeecrafty Best Book” award. I’m sure that’s almost as prestigious as the American National Book Award for Fiction which it actually won in 2012.

Literary prize winning books aren’t for everyone, I know, but don’t judge this book on its prize-winning-ness. And don’t judge it on it’s Trekkie-ness! If you’re not a Star Trek fan, don’t worry, I’ve read a bunch of reviews, and hardly anyone else seems to have even noticed it, and they still loved it. And don’t judge it by its cover, either!

Just read it.

*I always had a soft spot for Data myself. And Worf too, once the make-up department gave him a decent hair do.

 

Librarians recommend: Books about Parihaka

There are a number of excellent resources available if you’d like to learn more about the 1881 invasion of the Parihaka settlement by Government forces, the aftermath and ongoing legacy of this event. Whether you want something that’s suitable for children, a fictional account or well-researched history on the topic, our library collection has got you covered.

For Kids

Cover of Remember that NovemberMaumahara ki tērā Nōema and Remember that November

This pair of children’s books written by Jennifer Beck and illustrated Lindy Fisher, with the Teo Reo translation done by Kawata Teepa. They look at what happened at Parihaka through the frame of a school speech contest.

I really like that they are companion volumes, with the same beautiful illustrations, and that the Gunpowder Plot and the climactic day at Parihaka both 5th November are compared and contrasted. The murderous intent of those who wanted, in their anger and frustration, to blow up the Houses of Parliament is juxtaposed with the calm and dignified passive resistance of the people of Parihaka. Simple but hugely powerful, these two books are a great introduction to a hugely important New Zealand historical event and hanging it off an event in British history creates another level of interest.

Fiction

Parihaka Woman Cover of The Parihaka womanby Witi Ihimaera

Written in 2011, this novel weaves fact and fiction together to tell the story of Erenora, a young woman living in Parihaka at the times of the invasion and land confiscation. It is also told from the perspective of a retired teacher, who is researching his whanau and comes across Erenora’s story.

Because of the two stories, and points of view changing, it can be a little tricky to get your head around at times, but I think it’s worth persevering. Erenora’s journey to the South Island in search of her husband, who has been taken prisoner after the massacre is a touching and descriptive and I learnt a lot about how life was for both Māori and Pakehā in those early years of our nation.

It certainly paints a brutal picture of the events of Parihaka and allowed me to get a sense of the injustice and upheaval during this not so proud part of our past.

This book can be found in both the Nga Pounamu Māori collection and in Young Adult, so recommended to YA readers looking for books for NCEA reading as well.

Parihaka in Art

Parihaka, the art of passive resistanceCover of Parihaka: The art of passive resistance

Parihaka is paradoxically one of the most shameful episodes and one of the most remarkable and enduring stories in New Zealand’s colonial history.

This ground-breaking publication brings together art, poetry and waiata from the past 100 years. It features over 100 artworks that explores the legacy of Parihaka and its leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi. It draws on teachings and sayings of Te Whiti and Tohu, in Māori and English, many of which have been previously unpublished and are here now reproduced in full. Artists include Shane Cotton, Tama Iti, Tim Finn (with that classic song), Tony Fomison, Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere to name a few.

This is a collaboration between City Gallery, Wellington from their 2000-01 exhibition, The Trustees of Parihaka Pā and Victoria University Press.

This was a winner of the 2001 winner of Montana New Zealand Book Awards

Parihaka in History

Ask that mountainCover of Ask that mountain

Originally published in 1975, journalist and historian Dick Scott broke new ground with Ask that Mountain. This book draws on official papers, settler manuscripts and oral histories to give the first complete account of what took place at Parihaka. This illustrated seminal work was named by the Sunday Star Times in 1995 as one of the 10 most important books published in New Zealand.

This will not be an easy read as events are recounted. There is violence and oppression but ultimately it is a compelling story of an important event in New Zealand’s past.

Parihaka album : lest we forget Cover of The Parihaka album

I have let quotes from the author do all the talking with this title.

“It is about the forgotten stories, blind spots and hidden corners that I encountered in the history-making about the Crown’s 1881 invasion of Parihaka Pā, a non-violent settlement in Taranaki. This invasion is one of the most troubling, significant and well-known events in the short shared history of Māori and Pākehā, yet is easily overlooked.” -Rachel Buchanan.

“The story of Parihaka did not end with the 1881 invasion or the 1907 deaths of its two leaders – Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. It is difficult, impossible even, to find the place to put the final full stop to the story of this place, or the stories of many of Aotearoa New Zealand’s other trouble spots. Our world is saturated with the unfinished past, and yet it is so easy to be blind to it all, to pretend that the past is not really there at all and none of these disturbing things really happened. Open your eyes! Come with me on a road trip into the present past.” -Rachel Buchanan.

“After growing up in Taranaki, doing a Phd on Parihaka and now writing a book, I know a lot about the place but I’ve still got a lot to learn. Parihaka is a story that got under my skin I guess when I was a school-kid, but my biggest inspiration was the big art show at City Gallery in 2000-2001. It was awe-inspiring and I wanted to know more about a place that could inspire so much passion. Now, nine years later, I think I understand!” –Rachel Buchanan

Cover of Contested ground: Te whenua i toheaContested ground. Te Whenua i Tohea : the Taranaki Wars, 1881

Kelvin Day brings together eleven distinguished academics and historians who provide fresh and engaging insights into this turbulent period, much sourced from previously overlooked material, and a remarkable collection of photographs and illustrations. It includes the chapter A new kind of resistance: Parihaka and the struggle for peace by Historian Hazel Riseborough.

Cover of Te Whiti o Rongomai

Te Whiti o Rongomai by Danny Keenan

“People need to know what happened at Parihaka”, according to Kaumatua Rangikotuku Rukuwai.

This was the main motivation behind Dr Danny Keenan’s decision to write a book about the life of its prophet Te Whiti o Rongomai.

Inspired by his chats with Rangikotuku (Te Whiti’s great grandson) and his wife Ngaraiti over cups of tea at their New Plymouth home, Keenan revived the idea he had for the book back in the early 2000s. The book documents the roles both Te Whiti and fellow prophet Tohu Kākahi played in the creating the reputation of Parihaka as a place of peace.

The book details the events leading up to the invasion of 1881 and the arrest and imprisonment of the two men and is peppered with drawings from the time period, photographs, both old and new and accounts from people there at the time, and memories of whanau. It also traces the life of Te Whiti from Ngā Motu, where he was born, to his settling at Parihaka and his evolving sense of the injustices and disempowerment Māori experienced and his response to these.

This is a fascinating perspective of Parihaka. Author Danny Keenan has ancestral connections to Parihaka and the interviews he did with descendants whose oral histories of the injustices, shed a unique light on a history.

The book received a well deserved win in the  2016 Massey University, Ngā Kupu Ora Aotearoa Māori Book Awards.

More on Parihaka

Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Today Bob Dylan won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature with the board honouring Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

The news has been met with some criticism from some traditional writers who are angry with the decision to pick a songwriter over novelists and traditional poets. But the majority agree this is a well-earned honour.

Bob Dylan made his first studio recording in 1963 and has since released 37 studio albums alongside countless compilations of live and unreleased material. Dylan has been a keen student of American song styles with his work taking in folk, rock and roll, rockabilly, gospel, country and jazz.

Bob Dylan display
Bob Dylan display at Central Library Manchester. Flickr 2016-10-14-IMG_6418

He initially created Woody Guthrie styled topical protest songs instantly winning widespread acclaim and adoration. This earned him the title “voice of a generation” a description he balked at. By 1964 he had abandoned politics for more complex and surreal imagery. When he started integrating these with hard rock and roll he created a sound and style that could be the most influential in 20th century music.

A complex and enigmatic character, Dylan has always been prolific, amassing a huge backlog of unreleased live and studio recordings, with many surpassing the quality of his officially released catalogue. As they are slowly made available to the public it has become clear that Bob Dylan has created one of the most important bodies of work within popular music.

Bob Dylan display
Bob Dylan display at Central Library Manchester. Flickr 2016-10-14-IMG_6416

The Nobel Prize for Literature has often been a magnet for controversy, facing criticism for who it has chosen, who it has left out and where the prize recipients have come from. Through all this it has remained one of the most prestigious literary awards and the list of past recipients is a who’s who of the world’s greatest writers.

The astounding quality and impact of Bob Dylan’s work surely earns him the right to win this award.

Simon Hall
Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

A short blog about a long list

Every year at around this time, the Man Booker Prize Long List is published. Thirteen new fiction books, each and every one selected to push you to your limits as a reader. All with engaging titles and eye-catching covers that scream out Pick Me! Read Me!

Covers of Man Booker 2016 long list

The long list is for the real die-hards, here’s what I fancy this year:

  • The Many – Wyl Menmuir’s novel is my top choice because it is by a first time author who had just completed a creative writing course when he wrote the book, and it was written from a campervan on the Cornish coast. It is seriously the underdog entry.
  • Hot Milk – Deborah Levy. I cannot wait to read this. It explores the cross over between a daughter’s over-developed sense of responsibility towards her mother, and her need to take risks and live her own life. And I love the cover.
  • Serious Sweet  – A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet sounds like just my kind of book: two characters (with all the first world  flaws we know and love) find one another in London. He’s a ‘bankrupt accountant’, she’s ‘shakily sober’. Together they do their best in a world intent on doing its worst.
  • The Schooldays of Jesus – J.M. Coetzee. A South African-born writer who has already won the Booker prize twice. He’s the heavyweight of the list. This novel (a sequel to The Childhood of Jesus) is about growing up, parenting and life choices. It’s allegorical writing, so don’t read too much into the cover – chances are that’s not Jesus learning to pirouette at a dance school.

As I bash out this blog on the keyboard, I swear I can feel the sinking of the collective heart of all my book club ladies over the years. Long have they loathed my Man Booker choices. When pushed they will give me the ‘too’ list: Too weird, too literary, too boring, too obscure, too depressing. “Nonsense” I retaliate, “Man Up”!

The long list has a short life span. Soon it will be culled from this baker’s dozen, to the six of the short list and finally down to the eventual winner. And at least a couple of these lovelies are sure to make it into a book group near you!

It’s more exciting than rugby. No really, I’m not kidding, it is!

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!

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!

Shortest fiction on the shortest day: National Flash Fiction Day – Wednesday 22 June

Flash fiction is an experimental literary form that links together many traditional forms of narrative while also pushing on boundaries of poetry and dialogue. Here’s a chance to enjoy and celebrate it! The National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) Christchurch event, Flash in the Pan, will be held at Space Academy, 371 St Asaph Street on Wednesday 22 June 2016 from 6 to 8pm. All welcome. NFFD events are occuring simultaneously in Auckland and Wellington.

James Norcliffe is one of the judges and he’ll announce the 2016 winners. The 2015 NFFD first and third place winner, Frankie McMillan will also be present, along with other writers. The compere is literary reviewer and PlainsFM Bookenz co-host Morrin Rout.

Canterbury is well-represented. 7 of the 10 writers on the 2016 short list for the NFFD writing competition are Christchurch-based!

Flash Fiction

More Flash Fiction

Jeanette Winterson: The gap of time – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Two thousand people are waiting for the start of Jeanette Winterson‘s The Gap of Time event on Sunday morning at Auckland Writers Festival.

awf16
Jeanette Winterson, Image supplied

Suddenly the theatre is plunged into darkness and Cyndi Lauper’s voice rings out with Time after Time. Then the lights come up, and all alone in the centre of the stage is the tiny figure of Winterson. She’s wearing a plain shirt, jeans, boots and no other adornments. With her tousled hair (undyed) – that for sure sometime in this performance she will rake her hands through – she commands our attention. Behind her now Leontes’ voice rages from a scene in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Let the show begin.

The gap of time2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Winterson’s cover version of one his last plays – The Winter’s Tale – is both her tribute to Shakespeare, and the fulfilling of a life-long ambition to retell the story of Perdita, the abandoned child in the play. Winterson herself was an adopted child, and in re-telling the story in this her latest novel, she reaffirms what we already suspect – human emotions have not changed with time. The setting may be different but jealousy, rage, revenge and the redemptive power of love just keep trucking along.

Now, if you are anything like me, the link to a Shakespeare play will not be that much of a turn on. Sure we’ve all read them, and sure they are great literature – but won’t this just be like chewing old gum? You can go through the motions, but the flavour has long gone … And maybe you get that itchy feeling of looming potential inferiority. Are we going to be made to feel just the teeniest bit stupid?

But no. Winterson read the first chapter of her book to us and so captivated was the audience, that people left before question time in order to queue to buy the few remaining copies on sale. With only one short break from the mic – when darkness descended again and Stay with Me by Ed Sheeran filled the space – Winterson lead us into her story:

A black man finds a white baby abandoned in the night. He gathers her up – light as a star – and decides to take her home.

I’m not embarrassed to say that I was near the head of the queue to buy one of the last copies, nor that it seemed so vital to me that I bought it there at the festival, nor that I cried when the music filled the vastness of the auditorium, nor that this book will be inflicted on all my various reading groups.

I’ve told you next to nothing about the story. And I’m not really embarrassed about that either.

Just read it.

Find out more

The babes in the wood

The Death of BeesThe book group theme for February just has to have been The Babes in the Wood (the traditional tale first told in Norwich England in 1595), with all our reads having innocence/naivety central to their stories. Quite extraordinary how this kind of pattern can emerge in reading. Take note though, not all the babes are children – you may even find you are married to one!

From Book Group Number 1 came The Death of Bees, a story about the loss of innocence in children – right at the beginning of the book we are told that Marnie and her little sister Nelly have just finished burying their parents in the back garden. This alarming scenario is coupled with the persistent naivety of adults – like their darling next door neighbour Lennie. Lots of bad language, tough-to-stomach episodes and great character development made this a winning book group read.

The Trivia manBook Group Number 2 delivered Kevin Dwyer as  The Trivia Man (think Don Tillman in The Rosie Project, but much less appealing, and you’ll just about have the size of it). Kevin loves trivia pub quizzes, and his comprehensive collection of local weather data. He has absolutely no idea how to interact with women and to be frank isn’t all that interested. But the story spun out over 306 pages, lurching perilously close at times to necessitating a change of title to “The Trivial Man”. Moving on.

A gOd in RuinsBook Group 3 is an online reading forum to which I subscribe. A recent recommendation from them was A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Teddy, one of the main characters, exhibits a more complex naivety. A young pilot in WWII, he survives all that awfulness to return to civilian life with an innocence that is endearing, but wide open to potential abuse. Atkinson skilfully weaves the intricate tapestry of Teddy’s war experiences, his love-life, his fatherhood and finally his old age. All the time the dark undertow of his war memories is balanced by his simple belief in goodness.

Arthur and GeorgeFinally, back to Book Group Number 1 and Julian Barnes’ Arthur and George. If Julian Barnes ever gets to read this blog … no sniggering please … he would be astonished to learn that one book club member read this book backwards, chapter by chapter, and swears that made for a far superior reading experience. And at least one member of the group was hugely irritated by the blind naivety of George who would not countenance that the victimisation that he endured had anything to do with race.

These recent reads show that innocence and naivety remain compelling themes in literature. The loss of the first and the cultivation of the second threads its way through novel after novel. My book groups have probably only scraped the surface of potential reads here. What other good stuff have we missed? All recommendations will be naively received with innocent enthusiasm!