Let Love In – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

It’s not really a festival until you have your mettle tested by an event that you chose to blog on only to find that it ticks only some of your boxes, scrapes its nails down the walls of your brain in other ways, and it all happens after a ferocious argument with a car guard because your car has been completely parked in while he stood and watched it happening.

That event this festival is Let Love In with Michele A’Court and Soraya M. Lane. In my hugely flustered state I arrived filled with Assumptions (very non PC, we’re not supposed to make those any more) and Expectations (they are still OK). I assumed there would be no men in the audience – I was almost correct, there were three. My expectation was that this event would be light-hearted and entertaining, and it was – but with more of a feminist slant than I expected or wanted.

Soraya Lane and Michele A'Court. Image supplied.
Soraya Lane and Michele A’Court. Image supplied.

CoverRomance writing is a huge market and Soraya candidly confessed that she makes very good money out of it from novels like Hearts of Resistance (2018). In the United States alone at any one point in time there are 29 million readers of Romance and 35% of all fiction written in the States belongs in that genre. Both authors felt very strongly that when men put down Romance fiction writers they are simultaneously putting down all those readers as well.

Soraya gets a lot of positive feedback from readers – mainly older women who urge her to write faster as they are running out of time to hear more of her stories about women of their generation. I was developing such a head of steam by that stage that I found this vaguely ageist. In her novels Soraya is a fan of flawed characters who show development over the span of the story. Nothing wrong with that. She has a talent for dangling the “happy ever after” carrot after she has “twisted the romance knife in even deeper”.

CoverMichele has just published a book on 42 contemporary New Zealand love stories in How We Met (2018). These stories are not only about how couples met and fell in love, but also about how they have stayed together. Even though all the couples denied still being romantic, it was clear that they still were, only in different ways from when they were in the first flush of new love. Michele found that couples who fell in love sometimes remembered it very differently, but in the act of talking about it, they often managed to recreate that feeling all over again. Her book underscores that there are many different ways of loving.

At last someone said something positive about men – Michele confessed that many of the men that she interviewed were very proud of sustaining relationships, it was every bit as important to them as it was to the women. And both Soraya and Michele said that men also read their books, maybe not many, but it is a start.

By then I had calmed down a bit. And I very nearly asked a question: What did they think of the title of this event “Let Love In”? The “let” implying that we have some kind of control over falling in love. It’s never been like that for me. It’s just come barrelling in uninvited. But I missed the opportunity and my moment passed.

Ah well, my mamma she told me There’ll Be Days Like This!

Photo Hunt October: At the pub, 1970s

At the Pub..
Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt, Kete Christchurch HW08-IMG-CE099. CC-BY-NC-SA-3.0 NZ.

Anne Kelly and John (Mungo) Tamaira socialising in a Christchurch pub (probably the Star & Garter) in the early 1970s.

Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008. The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Creativity and Craziness – Jeanette Winterson and Susie Orbach at the Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Creativity
Jeanette Winterson and Susie Orbach, Image supplied

This pop-up event, especially added to the programme because of the sell-out popularity of the original, had many points of departure from everything else I have thus far experienced at the fest.

In a dark cavernous room with a bean-bag strewn floor, somewhere down several flights of stairs at Aotea Centre, married couple Jeanette Winterson (of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit fame) and Susie Orbach (of Fat Is A Feminist Issue fame) were going to “riff with each other and the audience on the subject of madness and creativity.” There was to be no presenter. May the best interrupter win!

Why be happy when you could be normalJeanette kicked off by asking the audience who thought they were creative. Up went the hands (mine too it must be added). Then, who thought they were crazy, another sea of waving arms (not me – I have no truck with this latest fetish for thinking one is somehow special because of being nuts. Most people are bog standard normal from what I can see). Then who thought they were both.

And we were off.

Here are some of the provocations flung our way (and backed up by reading and research I must add):

  • All children are born creative – Winterson
  • I don’t agree retaliated Orbach – the potential for creativity is always there, but for it to develop it requires the gap between the parents (caregivers) and the child to be filled with opportunity
  • Creative work is a lie-detector – it forces you to face your truths – Winterson
  • There is no one true self, there is an adaptive self with kernels of truth – Orbach
  • Therapy is the most creative act that I ever engage in, creativity is not only about making things, it is about the relationship with yourself – Orbach
  • It is a myth that you have to be crazy to create, creativity is actually on the side of mental health – Winterson
  • The internet has exploded the ease with which knowledge can be achieved – Orbach
  • The internet is the democratisation of shite – Winterson

All this happened conversationally with little relationship revelations: who dyes her hair, who can’t stand bright lights, who would never eat on stage. Even though they often disagreed, interrupted one another and are completely different people – there was a palpable respect, acknowledgement and pride in one another’s achievements. There was attraction, there was love.

Towards the end I found my mind returning to that phrase “riff with each other and the audience” and I pictured my darling husband and I up on that stage. I played around with that notion for a bit. Then I shut it right down. Bottom line truth and spoiler alert here:

I cannot abide being interrupted!

Find out more

Back-to-back greatness at the Auckland Writers Festival

awf16
Herman Koch, Image supplied

Were you to go by the publicity mugshot of Herman Koch, you could be forgiven for thinking that he looks like a cool, severe, Nordic man – sad and distant.

But nothing could be further from the truth. He is in fact warm, self-deprecating, humorous and oh so patient with his presenter (who was having one of those days where she just couldn’t stop talking, or even finish her sentences) and he, bless him, is not an interrupter.

The DinnerI felt an instant bond with him: he can’t memorise lines easily, he never re-reads books and he uses the things he knows very well from his private life in his story-telling and writing. Tick, tick, tick. What he does do very well in his writing is to create characters in his books (such as The Dinner) who play around with issues that are often treated in a black and white way – like Autism, homosexuality, politics and prejudice against foreigners.

Even when I have created characters who are unsympathetic, I still try to love them.

I am going to stick my neck out here and say that his next book, from which he read an excerpt, Dear Mister M (yet to be released), is going to be very popular and may end up on my 2016 Best Reads list.

Jane Smiley, Image supplied
Jane Smiley, Image supplied

Straight after Koch’s event, came Jane Smiley. She is every bit as lovely and open-faced in person as she is in her promotional photo. There are so many reasons why I would feel a bond with this author: I love her books, we share a period of time in history as we are exactly the same age, and she is a slow but competent knitter (She was wearing a top that she had knitted out of soya bean wool). She was gifted an excellent presenter, and the whole event rocketed along in a very pleasing manner. Oh, and Smiley can interrupt.

Here are a couple of Smiley gems:

  • “The first step for a writer is reading”
  • “What drives me is curiosity”
  • “A writer is a gossip at heart”

In contrast with Koch, Smiley is a re-reader and does not draw from her personal life in her writing, nor does she try to love all the characters she creates. The final words however go to Koch – and although he was describing a character here, the quote could just as easily apply to writers:

Everyone can learn the steps, but not everyone can dance.

Here we have two authors who can do both – just not necessarily with one another!

Find out more

Modern modem romance

Cover of Modern romanceModern Romance by US comedian Aziz Ansari (of Parks and Recreation fame) is just another in a growing list of books I have started reading expecting one thing, but which turned out to be something else entirely (looking at you, High-rise).

What I had expected was a comedic look at modern courtship, man-woman relationships in the internet age etc. Having previously watched a bit of Ansari’s stand-up via YouTube, I knew this was a topic that he touches on a lot, so I expected to read a more or less extended stand-up routine. One man’s humorous philosophy on the opposite sex, feminism, relationship blunders and so on. Something similar to what Chris Rock was writing 10 years ago.

Um, yes. But also…no.

In fact, Modern Romance, is solidly non-fiction. Ansari, himself caught up in the changing courtship habits of a dating populace now fixated with mobile devices, became intrigued with what seemed a very flawed and frustrating process –

I got fascinated by the questions of how and why so many people have become so perplexed by the challenge of doing something that people have always done quite efficiently: finding romance. I started asking people I knew if there was a book that would help me understand the many challenges of looking for love in the digital age.

He didn’t find exactly the book he was looking for SO HE WROTE IT.

He wrote the book with help (Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at New York University is co-author), and after undertaking quite a bit of research with the help of online dating websites like OKCupid, as well as interviews, and focus groups. Most comedians don’t quote focus groups in their books, unless by “focus group” you mean “crazy cab drivers I’ve conversed with”. Nor do they have thorough indices and footnotes for the many research papers they cite.

So rather than being a written comedy routine with the occasional fact thrown in, Modern Romance is a book about the effect of technology on modern dating mores, (but with swearing and jokes). What Ben Goldacre did for Bad Science, Aziz Ansari has done for the sociology of modern dating.

But does it work? On the whole, yes. For someone who wasn’t intending to learn anything particularly much from Modern Romance (I am not on “the market”), it does a good job of entertaining and informing. I’ve learned that less choice can actually be a good thing, that the search for perfection in a mate is a fool’s errand, and though I’ve never used the dating app Tinder, I now understand better what it does and why it’s so popular. I’ve also been given a window into differing dating “cultures” via interviews with singles in Tokyo, Paris, and Buenos Aires.

And this isn’t really related to anything but I really wanted to include this quote about a Tokyo barman with an apparently quite active love-life who Ansari describes thusly –

Like most fedora wearers, he had a lot of inexplicable confidence.

This book has a lot of wisdom to offer, on a great many things, it seems.

So what are the takeaways from Modern Romance, other than ramen recommendations from Tokyo (Ansari is something of a “foodie” and the book is liberally littered with references to delicious meals), and the characteristics of hat-wearers?

  • Don’t get so caught up in the multitude of options that you forget to actually pay attention to and invest time in the person you’re with.
  • Make introductions online but don’t date online. Dating is a real world activity.
  • Treat potential partners like real people, not a bubble on a screen.

If you’re a bit sensitive to swear words then Modern Romance probably isn’t the read for you but thankfully Ansari and Klinenberg have included a bibliography of titles they consulted when writing their book, so one of the below may be of interest instead.

Cover of It's complicated: the social lives of networked teens Cover of Love @ First Click The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating Cover of The art of choosing Cover of Everything I ever needed to know about economics I learned from online dating cover of Sex at Dawn cover of Alone together Cover of Data, a love story Cover of Going solo the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone

Any thoughts on how modern technology is affecting our approach to courtship? Is it okay to ask someone out on a date via text message?

The skinny reader

Cover of Dept. of SpeculationNowadays hardly anyone comes into a library and asks for a skinny little book. Which is a pity, as there are some terrific reads that fit the “small but perfectly formed” description.

I’m a skinny reader – of books with fewer than 150 pages that is; they must have been published fairly recently and they must be well written. Actually, these small books are not that easy to track down, so here is a list of skinny reads that I have enjoyed. My favourites from the past few weeks are:

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. There are only a handful of books that I can honestly say have changed my reading life – and this is one of them. Read this Cover of While the women are sleepingbrilliant little book if any of the following apply to you: you were once dumped and it hurt like hell, you’ve never been dumped and wonder what all the fuss is about, you think you are happily married, but…

That covers just about everyone I know.

While the Women Are Sleeping by Javier Marías is a small read of only 126 pages comprising 10 short stories that “inspire the reader to look at the normal things of life aslant.” Highly praised for his trilogy Your Face Tomorrow, Marías writes in Spanish and has been likened to Proust. I started to read this book because I love the cover. Then, as promised, the very first story threw me aslant.

The Guest CatCover of The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide is a tiny read of just 140 pages. Translated from the Japanese (there is a trend here), it is the only book I have ever read that has caused me to have to draw the floorplan of the home of the two main characters. Nothing much happens in this book, but the spatial orientation seemed absolutely critical to me.

I’m going to be travelling soon. I’ve got my iPad loaded with Zinio magazines and a couple of books from Overdrive. But, when I am feeling all international in sundry departure lounges (after I’ve given the nearest pilot a wave), I like to don my dark glasses (OK, prescription dark glasses for the pedants out there), pluck one of these skinny books from my cleavage, and settle in for the long haul.

Ah, the joys of travel!

Ngā Pounamu Māori explored

Whangia ka tupu, ka puawai

That which is nurtured, blossoms and grows

Christchurch City Libraries hold many taonga. Ngā Pounamu Māori Collection is one of them. Filled with history, art, mahi toi,  te Reo Māori, tikanga, kaupapa, whakapapa, politics, moemoea, traditions, kōrero, whānau me pūrākau.

Each library has someone who is the kaitiaki of that librarys’ Ngā Pounamu Collection (Ngā Kaiāwhina) and we recently shared some pukapuka from this collection.

This is what was on show. Quite a variety indeed!  We hope there will be some discovery moments for our blog readers as you venture into this awesome collection.

  • Native Land Court 1862-1887: a historical study, cases and commentary / Richard Boast, 346.043 BOA – fascinating history, history of the Maori Land Court and over 100 principal cases including text and introductory commentary explaining the case and its significance.
  • Ora Nui, Maori Literary Journalcover for Ora Nui – collection of different works from different authors, great starting point. (Available as an free downloadable eBook).
  • Choosing a Māori Name for your baby / Miriama Ohlson – transliterations and  traditional names.
  • Māori Agriculture, Elsdon Best – Interesting reading in context. A good start but does need to come with a proviso, also available online. Library disclaimer: Elsdon Best has come under criticism over some of his work.
  • Apirana Taylor – poet, short story and novel writer. A Canoe in Midstream
  • cover for parihaka - the art of passive resistanceParihaka the art of passive resistance,- edited by Te Miringa Hohaia, Gregory O’Brien and Lara Strongman –  well written and capturing interest
  • Ben Brown< “amazing” performance poet.
  • Hone Tuwhare Tuwhare – poetry made into music. Not by wind ravaged (Parihaka)
  • Te Rongoa Māori / PME Williams
  • Tikao Talks / Teone Taare Tikao – a must read! Traditions and tales as told by Teone Tikao (Rapaki) to Herries Beattie. Related information can be found in Tī Kōuka Whenua.
  • A Booming in the night / Benjamin Brown and Helen Taylor – beautiful!! Childrens. More from these two.
  • cover for Ko Wai Kei te Huna?Ko Wai E Huna Ana? / Satoru Ōnishi – Childrens, Te Reo Māori publication
  • Toddling into Te Reo(series), reprinted 2014 by Huia Print – Childrens – nice to have the translations at the back, good to let parents know about this, colourful and thoughtful
  • He aha tenei? / Sharon Holt – Childrens Reo Singalong Written in Te reo Māori and includes translation and CD.
  • Five Māori Painters / 759.993 – gorgeous!! See the exhibition and interviews.
  • Matters of the Heart / Angela Wanhalla – A history of interracial marriage in New Zealand. Evocative of the time periods, good for seeing family connections
  • Cover of The Last MaopoThe last Maopo / Wiremu Tanai Kaihau Maopo – WW1 commemorations, letters that he sent home to a friend about his experiences as part of the second Maori contingent in WW1, personal story woven into it. 2014 publication
  • e Whai / Briar O’Connor – the art/activity of making string patterns – fun, informative and nostalgic.

 

 

 

More recommendations  from Ngā Pounamu Māori.

 

cover for Mau Mokocover from huia histories of māoricover from Once upon a time in aotearoa

Whaia te iti kahurangi ki te tuohu koe me he maunga teitei

Aim for the highest cloud so that if you miss it, you will hit a lofty mountain.

Morticians in love

Cover of The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior FuneralsMorticians also fall in love.

This must have been happening since the beginning of time, but only now (to the best of my knowledge) has there been a such a rush of material on the love life of those who deal with the dead.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals is a 2012 first novel by Welsh writer Wendy Jones. Set in small town Wales in the 1920s, Wilfred makes the kind of mistake that only the blurters of this world will identify with. He hears the sentence “Will you marry me Grace” come out of his mouth and crash onto the picnic rug when that was not what he was thinking at all. Almost immediately events get completely out of control. There is an unwanted pregnancy, a new love, the mother-in-law from hell and, of course,  the dead. Wilfred is at best naive, at worst a little dimwitted (especially about women), but he is unfailingly courteous to the dead. He is a decent man.

Cover of A Trick I Learned From Dead MenFast forward some eighty years and meet Lee Hart, a young mortician in London. His story is told in A Trick I Learned From Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge. The content of these two books is quite similar, but the styles of writing are very different. For that reason alone they are worth reading. Lee is surrounded by death both at work, and in unfolding episodes, at home as well. Yet he remains resolutely upbeat, positive about life and ready to love and be loved. He is a kind young man whose dead customers end up on the receiving end of some of the best conversations of their lives when they finally end up in his care.

In case this is all becoming too sweet and fluffy for your liking, fear not, for Evelyn Waugh produced an acid drop of a little book in The Loved One (first published in 1948). Set in Hollywood, there are two funeral parlours, one for humans (Whispering Glades) and one for pets (Happier Hunting Grounds). Senior Mortician Mr Joyboy,  a mysterious cosmetician, a murder, several corpses and a seemingly hapless Cover of The Loved Onepoet combine to make this Black Humour at its best.

But if you want soulful and beautiful, head straight to the library DVD section and watch the Japanese film Departures in which a young musician, having lost his position in the orchestra, applies for a job in what he thought was a travel agency. Instead he ends up as a Nokanshi (encoffineer) in a small Japanese town. In this film the taboos that cling to those who deal with the dead almost ruin his marriage.

And taboos there are. Western culture has separated us from dealing with death. I have never met a mortician, never met anyone who wanted to be in that line of work. Certainly it doesn’t crop up in career guidance at school. As a result, I felt quite squeamish reading bits of these books. So it was important for me to be reminded that there is a human side to dealing with death and that it is undeniably true:

Morticians also fall in love.

“Mum, can you help organise a vintage, shabby-chic, casual yet classy, cheap but not obviously so, intimate sophisticated wedding?”

Cover of Style me vintageBy the time you read this Valentine’s day will have passed for another year and those of us who missed this craze as youths will shake our heads and wonder at the nonsense of it all.  As Joan Rivers said “Don’t talk to me about Valentine’s day. At my age an affair of the heart is a bypass!”

However this year I cannot be quite so sanctimonious as we are embarking on wedding planning  for our daughters’ upcoming wedding, which makes Valentine’s day look like a modest affair.

I am now immersed in the world of  “favours” (apparently it is no longer enough for guests to come along and eat and drink copious amounts, they now have to get a gift as well).  My daughter wants  a vintage theme and no doubt this also means ‘Shabby’ and ‘Chic’.  There are flowers  and bows, bunting, tags and cute little signs galore.  Then there is THE DRESS!

Luckily for her I’m a bit of a dab hand with a needle and thread, (excluding aforementioned wedding dress), so the bunting is cut and ready to be sewn, and there is even talk of doilies….crocheted for goodness sake, and candles in pretty cups.  Secretly I’m rather enjoying the whole thing (apart from the expense) but hopefully with my skill at op-shopping we should be able to keep costs down with an eager eye for vintage cups, lace and whatever fills the definition of Vintage Chic.

The library has also come to the rescue with some great titles:

Cover of Scenes from an impending marriageThankfully we are avoiding the big meringue look of the Gypsy wedding and oddly enough my daughter has rejected my offer of the full on crochet extravaganza that this book encourages!

One little book however has proved to be a keeper. Scenes from an impending marriage: a prenuptial memoir is a graphic novel by Adrian Tomine that manages to capture the amusing  and absurd moments leading up to his wedding.  It gave me hope that we can do this, and keep a sense of humour!

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?