“Iti noa, he pito mata”

The proverb above refers to how with care, a small kumara will produce a harvest. I love how it captures the idea of the end result being much greater than the actual investment.

If you have got tamariki in your life you will thoroughly enjoy this compilation of lullabies. Sung by a passionate Te Reo Māori advocate, Ms Pānia Papa, accompanied by a fantastic blend of female and male voices, taonga pūoro and contemporary instruments. It is all about the potential children hold within themselves. 

Molly is happy listening to Pito Mata

What a gem. Listening to this audio CD will make you want to cuddle, dance, nurture and sing away with your little one like nothing else. It is filled with aroha.

For those of us that don’t feel so confident singing in Te Reo, it comes with a singalong DVD with words rolling along the bottom of the screen.

And if you are keen want to give waiata a go, why not try the Nga Pihi series? Trust me, they are tino pai.

The Festival Bug

CoverThere is a bug doing the rounds and I have got it again. No worries though, because this is The Festival Bug and it is a good bug –  strikes once, lasts forever and engenders feelings of terrific euphoria. What is more, you can get it too!

This time it is The Press Christchurch Writers Festival that has me all a-twitter. I learnt that I was to be part of the library team covering this event whilst sitting in a hot, dark, funky little internet cafe in Durban with a backdrop of blaring township rap.

In the mood to celebrate my good news, I bounced out of the cafe and straight up to Musgrave Centre where I sat myself down with a cappuccino and my best holiday read – the latest Barbara Trapido novel – Sex and Stravinsky. Famous for her first book Brother of the More Famous Jack, I cannot wait to meet this author at the Christchurch Festival.  We grew up in the same city, lived in the same suburb, attended the same University and studied in the same faculty. Then she went on to become rich and famous. Say No More.

It was then that I was struck by how often I have read books in the places where they are set. And we are not talking Lonely Planet travel guides here either, but books like The Bone People by Keri Hulme which I read while on holiday at Okarito and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett,  read in the atmosphere of Norwich Cathedral.  A large part of Sex and Stravinsky is set in Durban and I had a clear view  from the coffee shop of the very escalator that  is mentioned on page 148 in the book. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I am curious to know if any of you have experienced this with books and how it affected you?

The festival has a great line-up and Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean by Simon Winchester is also high on my list. In the spirit of reading books on-site  I asked Greg how he felt about a little Atlantic cruise, with me on deck sipping G&T’s whilst paging through Winchester’s book. His look said it all. I am lucky apparently, but not that lucky!

Quirky short love stories

I randomly picked up Anthropology and a hundred other stories and read it all in a lunch hour.  Each of the 101 short stories are 101 words long and cover the same subject – relationships.

The stories  range from the darkly cynical to the bizarre yet moving. Meet Amber who liked to go to supermarkets naked, or Opal and her imaginary horse. Then there is Lola who carved a wooden statue of the speaker only to decide she liked the statue better. Angelique drives the speaker to stick pins in his face, Paris is literally catatonic after her bike is stolen, while one nameless girlfriend can only think of smoking as a past time for her job application.

These stories made me laugh out loud and filled in a bleak lunch hour during a mid week blah fest. I recommend this book by Dan Rhodes to all those with short attention spans who are looking for the quirky.

Austen fans spoilt for choice

Jane Austen has experienced great popularity in recent years. Since the 1990s there have been numerous takes on favourites such as Emma, Sense & Sensibility and of course Pride and Prejudice. But perhaps we should dub 2007 (the 190th anniversary of her death) the Year of Jane Austen’s Triumph:

The TV series Lost in Austen (2008) deftly captures the fascination the modern world has with Austen’s work; our genteel and romantic sensibilities are alive and well!

And what better way to spend an evening than in the delightfully diverting company of Austen’s heroines? We can cringe appreciatively when Lizzie encounters Mr Collins, tut over Catherine’s wild fancies at Northanger Abbey, and feel suitably embarrassed as Emma’s matchmaking goes awry!

As to version, there’s plenty of choice. Emma can be blond or dark-haired, if we watch the 1995 or 1996 versions respectively. And if we really want to, we can watch Jane & Lizzy in black and white (wearing large hoop skirts) in the 1940s classic. Enter Laurence Olivier as Darcy (woah!).

But there is soon to be a new twist coming to the screen. 

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Wandering the maze

I do love the way one fascinating biography invariably leads to another and another and another. This serendipitous process of stumbling upon a title and then being lead on the literary equivalent of a progressive dance (The Gay Gordons with books, eek!) can be both comforting and daunting.

At the moment I am simultaneously submerged in a biography of mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell and because of her prominence in Bertie’s story, a biography of Lady Ottoline Morrell.

Bertrand Russell’s two volume life has been a serious challenge to my patience, intelligence and sanity. Author Ray Monk has thoroughly researched every aspect of Russell’s long life  and gives equal weight to both Russell’s personal and professional achievements. I’m toiling a bit with the philosophy, and as for Bertie’s personal life, he was such a louse I feel like hurling the book at the wall. If only he hadn’t died in 1970, I could have given him a piece of my mind and a slap on the chops. Ottoline, on the other hand, is a gem: literary patron, loyal friend, bohemian fashionista. Her only flaw, loving Bertie!

The Bloomsbury set, of which both Bertie and Ottie were loosely members have been top-notch reading fodder for many a long year. While their intellectual, literary  and artistic achievements are of course impressive, in keeping with my generally shallow approach, it is the soap opera qualities of their lives than I most relish. Those fearless Bloomsberries shied away from nothing: atheism, extra-marital affairs, unrequited love, illegitimacy, feminism,  suicide, divorce and volatile friendships. Delicious high-brow smut and scandal.

So I am out of the starting gates and off on another literary adventure. After I’ve finished Lady O, I’m thinking about taking a peek at Augustus John‘s tumultuous and frighteningly fertile life, or maybe Gladys Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, or Henry Lamb…..

“Think Bill Bryson, But Only On Books”

CoverIn Outside of a Dog: a Bibliomemoir,  Rick Gekoski connects 25 books that have been special to him at different stages in his life. These books range from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr Seuss to Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein and twenty-three others in-between.

Gekoski writes with remarkable candour and by the end of the book I felt as if he was a close friend. Which is why, when I encountered him in the lift at the hotel, I greeted him as if we were old acquaintances who were delighted to meet up again. Of course he doesn’t know me from a bar of soap – he must get a lot of that in his travels.

He is billed as being “The Bill Bryson of the book world” – I can only imagine how annoying that must be for him, but the truth is that this is a very entertaining book which is also certain to inspire you to make a list of the twenty-five books that exemplify your life. If you do decide to do this and then turn it into a book, Gekoski has this advice for you: “Find the right language to capture the form of life you are observing and participating in. Take some risks and above all, make it fun!”

In his festival event Gekoski spoke to John Carey and it was like being a voyeur in a gentleman’s club. It was as if they had quite forgotten that we were there. Carey spoke us through some of the stages in Gekoski’s life and the books that were connected to those stages. In his talk he revealed not only some of the authors whom he revered , but also a few who hadn’t impressed. He is no fan of Harold Pinter or Joan Didion and felt that Paul Theroux was one of the most difficult authors he had ever met.

When it came to book signing time, I asked him the question I had not asked in the session which is: why he is so uncomfortable in libraries. He replied “Because they give me an anxiety attack. I am overwhelmed by too much choice” and then he wrote in my copy of his book : “To Roberta who is better at libraries than I am!”

Fiction: The Most Dangerous Thing in the World.

By her own admission, Yiyun Li has an interesting relationship with her mother country – China. She writes (and dreams) in English, has never been published in China, is barely recognised as a writer in her homeland and yet sets all her writing in that country.

This means that she is particularly well placed to compare the two countries that mean so much to her. She summed it up by saying that in America there is always hope for the individual – there is the audacity of hope. Whereas in China this does not exist. People accept that life in China is bleak therefore they are less likely to be devastated by disappointment.

She started writing because her parents were dead set against it and “whatever your parents do not want you to do, you must do.” In fact her parents saw fiction as “the most dangerous thing in the world”. Her first pieces of writing were the fabricated sick notes that she would create for herself in order to get out of school. For such a dimpled, sweet-faced lady, she was an extraordinarily rebellious child.

Her book The Vagrants starts with an execution and ends with one as well. Although this does not sound like a laugh a minute, the novel is really a collection of the love stories of characters who were around at that time. There is sadness, pathos and cruelty, but there is also tenderness and humour and love.

The entire audience was reminded time and again how different life in China was in the 1970’s. It is hard for us to comprehend the cruelty, for example, behind making the family of the executed girl pay for the bullet that was used to kill their only daughter. And that according to Yiyun Li is what really did happen.

I left the room thinking “I will never complain about anything ever again”. Yiyun Lee would have said that was very American of me.