I’ll have what she’s having…

Cover of The Most of Nora EphronWhen Meg Ryan mimed an orgasm in a diner in When Harry Met Sally and a nearby customer said: I’ll have what she’s having, that was Nora Ephron making her mark as one of the soon-to-be most quoted contemporary authors.

Nora Ephron (May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012) was a screenplay writer and director of such formidable movie successes as Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally,  and Julie and Julia, as well as the author of several books, columns, reviews and blogs.

Ephron made me  feel OK about growing up (Wallflower at the Orgy), breaking up (Heartburn) and growing older (I feel bad about my neck). She didn’t write to change our lives; instead her writing retells our lives to us in a way that sparks recognition, affirms who we are and makes us laugh while we are at it.

From this you can tell that I am a huge Ephron fan and the arrival of her biography  The Most of Nora Ephron is therefore a great joy to me. In fact, my life story can just about be summarised in Ephron quotes:

  • On education:If you love architecture, you need to do more than marry an architect.
  • On betrayal: If I had to do it again, I would have made a different kind of pie. The pie I threw at Mark made a terrific mess, but a blueberry pie would have been even better, since it would have permanently ruined his new blazer, the one he bought with Thelma.
  • On growing older: Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck.

I love her writing. I want to write like this.

How about you, do you have an author of whom you can honestly say:

I’ll have what she’s having?

Looking for love – must enjoy reading (It’s not easy finding the perfect relationship).

Cover of Millions of women are waiting to meet youIt is hard to find the perfect man or woman.  If you love to read, to live with someone who never picked up a book (or a kobo or Kindle) could be a make or break it situation!

Literary review website Omnivore has come to the rescue with a dating service that seeks to match couples by their book tastes.

Perhaps Richard is just your type?

Poet, educator, inspiration, sex god, Richard, 30 from London, tells us how he’s preparing for his solo tour to Canada and why he’d like a woman like Angela Carter but usually ends up with the Sylvia Plaths.

Then there is Natasha….

Kelly Brook lookalike, Natasha, is a (nearly) 25 year-old librarian from Whitechapel with a penchant for older Hungarian men.

Or. how about Digby?

A 24-year-old writer from unfashionable West London who enjoys walking, tinned food and pseudo-intellectual pop music.

Admittedly it’s a bit tricky to meet up with either Richard, Digby or Natasha being stuck away down here in the Antipodes, so the relationship section of the Library may well have to suffice for ideas and tips about how to find “the one”.

Every day a new life

Cover of Every DayWe all have a strong belief  that every day we live begins pretty much the same as the last one. Well, at least you will be yourself, in your own body, in your own bed, with your own family.

How would it feel if you woke everyday in a new body, in someone else’s with its own dramas, limitations and routines? Meet ‘A’. In David Levithan‘s book Every Day, ‘A’ has woken up on each day of his 17-something years in someone else’s body. ‘A’ can be male, female, transgendered, White, Hispanic, Asian or any other ethnicity and from any type of family. The only constant is that ‘A’ always inhabits a body of someone the same age for 24 hours.

Not all of these lives he lives each day is a happy one; he can go from a loving family unit to waking up in a slum as an addict or fighting a body’s strong desire to kill itself.

Along the way ‘A’ has developed some survival tactics and rules to live by. These have been serving him well until he meets Rhiannon, when he inhabits her boyfriend’s body for a day. Being with her has a profound impact on ‘A’. He sets about finding her and building a relationship with her each day when he wakes up as another new person, often several hours’ travel away. Can he find a way to be with her forever and how can she form a relationship with him when he changes his outside shell every day?

I found this intriguing premise fascinating to watch unfold as A’s life unravels when love comes calling. As a Young Adult novel, it’s a great study in the sense of self, of the way people are judged by how they look, and of the power of friendship and a good heart. As an adult, I loved the complexity of the character and the way the teenage experience was captured in all its variations.

Levithan has also written a book, Six Earlier Days, that gives an insight to the days ‘A’ has spent before the story above unfolded.

Every day was definitely a “lingerer” – the type of book that stays with you, as Knit1purl1 describes in her post Books that need space – and I will definitely search out David Levithan’s other works, such as Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. His book The Lover’s Dictionary was also a delight.

A Zombie You Can Take Home to Your Parents

I learnt of a new genre this week and fell in love with a zombie for the second time. Zom-Rom-Com is a romantic comedy featuring a zombie as a leading romantic lead.

He’s cute, endearing and with a droll and funny sense of humour. He’s ‘R’ and he’s the zombie hero of Warm Bodies, a great Young Adult book by Isaac Marion that I really enjoyed last year, and is now a great new movie out in the theaters at present.

We have all got used to the lovable if troubled vampire, via the  True Blood television series, the books it was based on by Charlene Harris, and of course the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer that spurned a generation of movie vampire heart throbs.

But Zombies? They eat people, and they’re dead, so where’s the appeal? R doesn’t remember his past, just a shuffling existence around a deserted airport terminal in a post apocalyptic world. The remaining humans who have been spared the virus that has turned most of the world to zombies are holed up in a fortress and when R meets Julie, the daughter of leader of the human resistance, something sparks his humanity and he spares her, and becomes determined to save her and in the process saves himself.

The humour is great. In the movie there is a scene where ‘R’ tries to remember what life was like before, his voice over talks of a romanticised view of people connecting, loving, enjoying each other’s company, and we find ourselves looking at a busy airport terminal where everyone is connected alright, but to phones, computers, i-pods, all together but disconnected.

In both the book and the movie, the horror that is usually at the core of Zombie-hood is not at the core of the story, but love, acceptance and taking risks for others are.

Warm Bodies is a great story and has been made into a great movie, a faithful film recreation of a unique written story that is often hard to find.

A Brain of a different hue

Search catalogue for The Rosie ProjectMy last blog lamented a book drought…it has ended with a small joy of a book. In The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, we meet Don Tillman. a geneticist living in Melbourne. Don tells us of his life, which is navigated using very strict, logical rules and boundaries which are obvious to all around him and the gentle reader, but strangely not by Don himself, as classic Autistic traits.

Schedules and routine make up his life, but he increasingly becomes aware that he should have a life partner, to enable him to fit in. He devises a 16 page questionnaire that he plans to use to narrow down his search and to enable him to find the perfect match.

Of course, as with life itself and all good romances, his course will not run smooth, and perhaps he will find his match where he least expects to.

Full of quirkiness and gentle humour, I found I really warmed to Don, and was hoping he’d find someone who ‘got him’ as he was, without him having to compromise too much of what made him interesting.

At a speed dating event, Don tries to apply his criteria to the women he meets:

Rather than ask about IQ, I decided to make an estimate based on Olivia’s responses to questions about historical impact of variations of susceptebility to syphilis across South American populations. We had a fascinating conversation, and I felt that the topic might even allow me to slip in the sexually transmitted diseases question.

I often sense the square pegs in our community feel pressured to fit in, when their unique take on life and their way of view of the world adds to society as a whole and to the lives of those around them.Search catalogue for The Curious incident

If you are a fan of The Big Bang Theory, as I am, you’ll see a little of Sheldon in Don. It seems I’ve come across a few autistic spectrum heroes in my reading and viewing lately. The Bridge, a Scandinavian television crime drama, has a wonderful female lead, Saga Noren, whose detective brilliance is not bound by emotion or ties to others.

Of course there is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. A wonderful murder mystery, narrated by Christopher Boone who has Aspergers.

The Rosie Project was a fun read, it had a light touch, driven by a search for love and acceptance and with an ending that made me go awww.

Have you read great books or watched movies about people who think outside the square, or refuse to fit the dreaded square hole? Do share!

Happier at home

Cover: Happier At HomeThere really is no place like it, and with Gretchen Rubin’s help we are all about to become even Happier at Home.

You might remember Ms Rubin as the author of the hugely successful The Happiness Project. In that book she tackled her overall life happiness. Her book took the self-help world by storm, even though her approach is not like falling off the nearest log, and in no way subscribes to the “To-day is the first day of the rest of your life” school of thought. Ms Rubin’s makes you work for your breakthroughs and we seem to love her for it.

In this, her next offering, Ms Rubin focuses her attention on being happier at home. There are over 600 titles at Christchurch City Libraries that purport to help us become happier, wherever we are. Yet Gretchen Rubin’s books rank amongst the most popular of that genre. I’m only really going to start worrying about her if her next book is entitled Happiest at Work, and even then I’ll probably read it.

So, why have we taken to her in such a  big way?

It’s that “happier” that is the key. Because Rubin is already happy at home. She has a supportive husband, two lovely daughters, a very good job, no money problems, is more than passably good looking and appears to be in robust good health. Some of you nay-sayers out there will already be thinking: “V for Vomit – she is altogether too perfect for my poor tattered little life.” (In which case you may prefer How to be Happy, Dammit  or the palate cleansing The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking).

But think about it: if we are totally honest with ourselves,we really aren’t all that badly off. But, like Rubin, we just yearn for more. And who better to turn to than someone who has already got most of what we want?

Eventually – after you’ve read both books – Rubin boils it all down to eight “Splendid Truths” (I know, sometimes you do just want to give her a bit of a slap!). But I’m not going to spill my gut here by telling you what they are, because, since reading her books, one of my personal happiness projects is to become better friends with silence (this is fancy-pantsy-speak for shutting-up), in the hope that I will no longer have that desperate need to fill all conversational pauses.

I don’t know if it’s going to make me any happier at home, but so far no one else is complaining!

Hone Tuwhare – A Poet to Arouse the Senses

When I heard in 2008 that Hone Tuwhare  had died, I felt saddened. I thought about how the country had lost one of its special artists and wordsmiths and from now on, there would be no new poems conjured from his wonderful mind. Fortunately the library collection has many of his books, along with a biography by Janet Hunt and a CD of this poems, Tuwhare,  put to music and performed by leading New Zealand artists.

I first came across one of his poems in Essential New Zealand Poems, a book, by the way, that is a excellent collection of some our finest poets’ works.

I went on to explore more of his works, he published over 20 collections in book form and was a fascinating person to hear being interviewed or reading his work. Insightful, irreverent and accessible, his poems are a celebration of life, and he particularly loved writing about food, sex, music and nature. His political poems are pithy and relevant yet from the common man’s point of view.

From his collection “Oooooo……!!!”

On life’s eternal river we float on… and on, forever – like a stream of light enhancing our understanding of human love and life! Kia Ora!

Who is your favourite New Zealand poet?

Why does love do this to me?

There’s something about a Kiwi love song that just makes them unique. They are not all hearts and flowers and ‘I’ll love you until the stars fall out of the sky’ nonsense… they can be sweet and sentimental at times, but also gritty, cynical and giving you love as it can be, complicated, hard or just plain messy… and I love them for that.

Some of my favourite Kiwi love songs and lyrics?

Love not given Lightly by Chris Knox

This is a love song to John and Leisha’s mother
This isn’t easy
I might not write another

But it’s you that I love
and it’s true that I love
and it’s more than what it might be
But I knew this was love
And it’s you that I love
And it’s love not given lightly

Why Does Love Do This to Me?  by The Exponents

I miss you
You know that
But when I see you sometimes
I’m cut up and I’m broken
There am I asking you how you are

I See Red by Split Enz

Squeezed me out of your life
Down the drain like molten toothpaste
I feel used and spat out

Don’t Fight it Marsha it’s Bigger Than Both of Us by The Mutton Birds

And I want you to be happy,
But I’d rather that you were still with me
Don’t Dream it’s Over by Crowded House
Now I’m walking again to the beat of a drum
And I’m counting the steps to the door of your heart
These are just a few of my favs, What are yours amongst the New Zealand Music collection?

Jeffrey Eugenides: the interview

On the day that I was down to chat to Jeffrey Eugenides, he had already been interviewed by Kim Hill early that morning, been a participant in the session The Future of the Novel, signed about a gazillion copies of his book and somehow lost his assistant.

Even though I bet all he wanted by that stage was a beer and a burger, he was easy to chat to – forthcoming and attentive, the perfect gentleman. But it does go some way toward explaining why (in the photograph that was taken when we’d finally worked out where he was next expected to be), the poor man looks quite curdled by it all!

In fact, he looked a lot like the Talking Heads quote in the front of his book The Marriage Plot:

And you may ask yourself, Well how did I get here?
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful house.
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful wife

On with the interview:

Christchurch Library users love your books! One of the questions I have been asked recently is: “If I loved Middlesex, will I like The Marriage Plot?” Do you think this new book will appeal to your existing fans or will it attract a whole new readership?

Well, my books tend to be not very like each other. So each time I write a book, sometimes I change my style – the way I write the book – so if someone is looking for Middlesex 2 they might be disappointed. But if they like my writing and my sensibility, the reading experience my books have provided them, I would think that they will also like this book. In some ways I think it is my best book, so I hope that they would like it, but sometimes people have a huge affection for Middlesex and it might be more difficult for them to love this book.

One of the differences between the two books is that Middlesex has a huge cast of characters and The Marriage Plot has a focus on only three main characters. Did that change your writing a lot?

This book is very much about character and it is the first time I have gone deeply, deeply into the psychology of people. The canvas in Middlesex is broader – it’s more populated but the characterisation is not as searching. Whereas in The Marriage Plot, I’ve dug quite deeply into what these characters think and feel, the verisimilitude of those characters in other words.

Perhaps that’s why I ended up being able to identify with all the main female characters in the book in one way or another. Madeleine when I was younger, her mother now and even her sister, Allie, who appears about three quarters of the way through the book.

Well, I hope that means that it will be a relatively easy book for people to find some points of connection with – certainly that was one of my intentions.

Are you a re-reader of books?

If I have a book that I love, I read it many times so I can find out more about how it is put together. When I first read a book I’m just figuring out what the story is, taking in the book but when I read it the third and fourth time I start to see the architecture of it. This is very helpful for me as a writer.

CoverI’m not normally a re-reader of books, there is just so much other stuff out there that I want to get stuck into. But I did re-read parts of The Marriage Plot because I struggled to synthesize the literary aspects of the book (Madeleine’s research and readings) and the plot line at the same time. Have other people had a similar difficulty?

Well, I think there are two ways of reading the book. A certain kind of reader likes to read just for the story and another one can read it for the dual levels, the literary metatextual structure of the book, that the book is commenting in some ways on the traditional marriage plot. There is no right or wrong way to read a book, in my opinion.

Would my reading of The Marriage Plot been enhanced had I more knowledge of the writers that Madeleine was studying in her Semiotics course?

I don’t think so. I know that some readers become somewhat intimidated in so-called Books About Books. In the case of The Marriage Plot, the reference to the books Madeleine is studying is really there to help the reader enter into that world. They are like the props in that world. You don’t have to know how the props are made or where they come from, you just need to use the props to help position yourself, as the reader, in a certain time and place. So I would say, do not worry about any of that. The books are just the furniture of the novel.

It took nine years to write this book. Madeleine must feel like a part of your family. Do you ever wonder what would happen to her next?

No, she does not live outside of the book for me and when I finish a story about any character, it is because their story is finished. I am not a writer of sequels.

Madeleine is a very reactive character. Almost all her decisions are made for her by the men in her life. I worry about her, I really do.

Yes this is a woman who thinks she can save a troubled man by loving him, she is in a way ensnared by her feelings to be good and helpful. But I do think she gets some degree of clarity about herself by the end of the novel.

The Marriage Plot is a great read and, I think, it has the best ending ever. Tell us a little bit more about how you got to this perfect ending.

I certainly didn’t build up to it, it really came to me right at the end. And I must say I am very pleased with it as well.

What’s the main difference, in your opinion between The Pulitzer Prize and The Man Booker Prize?

That’s easy, the Booker Prize we care about in America but the Pulitzer Prize is not particularly cared about in Britain.

If you could go back to university now, and study anything that you liked, what would it be?

Can I be young?

Yes I’ll let you be young!

Science and history – I would broaden my education.

How important have libraries been in your life?

We had a bookish home in my childhood. We had lots of books on our shelves and this had a fairly profound effect on me. But we did use the public libraries as well.

What’s Princeton Public Library like?

My daughter’s there all the time. It’s a beautiful place but libraries are not as quiet as they used to be. I miss that, I remember when they were church quiet, there was a sense of sanctity about them. That said, in Princeton, the library is the anchor of the community – people of all ages are going there all the time. I believe you can borrow e-books from libraries now, I am worried about that, how e-book use in the future will affect writers’ incomes and hence their ability to write.

Then out of the blue Jeffrey Eugenides asked me a question. He said:

Have you ever fasted?

A girl can only take this one of two ways: you look as if you need to (fast that is) or: I’m getting really hungry now. Time to end the interview methinks!

Three Weeks in a Comfy Chair

Having recently spent 3 weeks off work after surgery, I have a new respect for the Christchurch City Libraries DVD collection.

Knowing before I left work that I would be unable to do much except sit in my chair, boosted by cushions to enable me to get up gingerly, making me feel several decades older than I am, I had maxed out my card with DVDs from the collection.

I’d stagger around to get my bowl of cereal in the morning, get phones, drinks, remotes all in easy reach and settle in for the day’s viewing. My daily exertion was to get up and change the dvds every couple of hours – yes, sad I know. From the complete first seasons of  classic TV series’ Upstairs Downstairs and I Claudius, I moved to dramas including Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, and Rom Coms such as Then She Found Me and Under the Tuscan Sun. Onwards I went to Grand Designs to remind me why I never want to build my own house, and stopped to dip into some classics, such as  The Good the Bad and the Ugly and The Long Hot Summer. This last one has sizzling performances from Paul Newman, Joanna Woodward and Orson Wells, and was one of the highlights of my enforced downtime viewing.

Many have their roots in books, which depending on your preference could be read before or after the movie is viewed.

I also revisited others I’d seen in the theatre and enjoyed, such as Appaloosa and Across the Universe.  The stars of the big and small screen certainly kept me from going completely mad from boredom, and the broad array of DVDs available in the library collection is certainly worth dipping into.

What are some of your favourite movies you’ve got from our collection?