40 years ago in a galaxy not far away…

On a Wednesday in 1977 a phenomenon began. That phenomenon was Star Wars.

Cover of The making of Star WarsReleased in only 32 cinemas in the US on 25 May of that year the sci-fi space opera broke all box-office records and changed the movie making business. Star Wars was one of the first films to generate “round the block queues” for screenings (the literal definition of a “blockbuster”).

George Lucas famously popped out for lunch with his wife on opening day, saw lines of people queuing outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, and only then realised he had a hit on his hands. He’d expected a flop. So much so that he had a bet with friend Steven Spielberg that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would beat Star Wars at the box office. And that’s why Spielberg still receives 2.5% of profits on the film.

At least some of Star Wars’ initial success was as a result of the canny work of marketing director Charles Lippincoat who, ahead of the film’s release, shopped the novelisation (ghost written by sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster) and Marvel tie-in comics at events like San Diego Comic-Con. This generated a buzz amongst sci-fi fans who were already primed by release date. This is now standard practice with genre films and franchises who put a lot of effort into creating hype ahead of release, but back in 1977 it was a “thinking outside the box” strategy.

Cover of The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures 1977-1985Star Wars also invented movie merchandising. As you walk the aisles of your local toy store, the proliferation of movie tie-in toys and action figures is down to the phenomenal success of Star Wars in this area.

Merchandising was such a small part of the movie industry prior to Star Wars that, in 1973, before the film was made George Lucas exchanged $350,000 worth of directing salary for the merchandising rights and the rights to the sequels. Conventional wisdom at the time was that this was a good deal for 20th Century Fox. It eventually cost them billions.

Star Wars display - X-wing fighter
Just some of the sweet merchandising $$$ that Fox never got. Star Wars display at South Library, 15 May 2017. File reference: 2017-05-15-IMG_5174

And of the movie itself? Well, I’m a fan and have been for as long as I can remember. I cannot recall the first time I saw the film. In the late 70s and early 80s you simply absorbed Star Wars from the atmosphere. You fenced with lightsabers of rolled up Christmas gift wrap, you hummed the theme music, you played with your cousin’s X-wing fighter toy.

I love the film, even despite its many flaws – a not exactly diverse cast, sometimes creaky acting, the occasional alien proboscis that looked like it was made out of cardboard, plot holes that you could fly a Corellian freighter through – but to me it’s still a vastly enjoyable tale.

Cover of Flash GordonGeorge Lucas was inspired by the Flash Gordon type serials of his youth, the films of Akira Kurosawa, the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the “heroes journey” mythology of Frazer’s The golden bough. Star Wars is a cinematic melting pot of references and homages that distills them down to a classic “good vs evil” story. The kind that’s timeless in its appeal. Or at least I hope it is… because I’m planning on watching it for another 40 years.

Further information

James Gleick at WORD Christchurch: No spoilers for Time Travellers

James Gleick does not want to offend anyone.

The author of numerous books of a scientific bent is careful with his words and keen not to ruffle any feathers. It’s speculation on my part, but I wonder if his experience is that, on the topic of Time Travel, passions might sometimes become inflamed?

A curious full house gather at the Piano for this WORD Christchurch session featuring Gleick and fellow New Yorker Daniel Bernardi (erskine fellow, film and media studies scholar, science fiction expert and documentary filmmaker). They discuss the ins and outs, twists, turns and paradoxes of Time Travel. Before long there is, as is the new tradition when two educated Americans speak in the presence of non-Americans… a jocular swipe at the current US president.

James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi
James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi, Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0194

Fortunately this science-loving audience is not in the least offended by the joke.

Cover of Time Travel by James GleickGleick’s book Time Travel: A history is an exploration of the literature, science and zeitgeist of Time Travel. It’s far-ranging, smart and brain-expanding.

But what made him want to write on that topic in the first place?

I discovered this weird fact – that Time Travel is a new idea. That didn’t make any sense to me.

Why did it take until H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine for people to explore that as an idea? It seems a few things came together: photography and cinema were showing people a slice of the past in the present; instantaneous communication was suddenly possible making the lack of temporal alignment in different places more obvious; and time standards became a thing for the first time. As Gleick puts it, “the way people thought about Time was up for grabs”.

Then Einstein came along and things got really interesting.

Though Einstein’s theories allowed for the possibility of a sort of Time Travel, Gleick is quick to point out that it’s not the punching-a-date-on-a-machine or opening-a-portal-to-another-era kind. It’s really just the acknowledgement that there is no universal time. Everyone’s experience of time is personal and given the right set of circumstances (speedlight travel, for instance) your version of time can slow down relative to everyone else’s. This means that the Time Travel stories of the “Rip Van Winkle” (or Futurama) kind become technically possible. But Gleick doesn’t believe the imaginary, sci-fi type Time Travel that continues to excite our imaginations exists, or that it will. Though he seems apologetic about it, as if he’s mindful of deflating the aspirations of wannabe Time Travellers in the audience.

On the enduring appeal of Time Travel in literature and popular culture, Gleick feels that it lets people explore many things about families and relationships – it gives you the ability for “a do-over”. Like the movie Groundhog Day. He points out that a lot of Time Travel stories are about fathers and mothers, families and parents.

Take Back to the Future – isn’t this really just a movie about looking at your parents and realising they were once young like me, and wondering “what was that like?”

This is far from the only reference to Time Travel in popular culture, and many in the audience probably come away from this talk with a reading/watching list that includes:

  • A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – indicative of pessimism about the future of “our benighted country”.
  • Doomsday book – H. G. Wells never wrote about going into the past but Connie Willis does.
  • “All you zombies” by Robert Heinlein – An early short story that became the movie Predestination and is an interesting example of The Grandfather Paradox.
  • Looper – Movie that nicely skirts over the paradoxical plot difficulties by having Bruce Willis tell his younger self “If we’re going to talk about Time Travel sh*t we’re gonna be sitting here making diagrams with straws all day”.
  • Interstellar – Bernardi’s pick as the film that best visualises the science of Time Travel.
  • The Planet of the Apes series – Bernardi’s favourite for its use of Time Travel to address issues of gender and race.
  • Arrival – A film that Gleick feels works very well in performing a “subtle trick” on the audience. All Time Travel stories have to do this but in this film you barely notice it happening.
  • Twelve Monkeys – Another Bruce Willis film that deals with a Time Travel loop and deals with a death.
  • “Blink” – Gleick’s favourite episode of Doctor Who, in particular a scene set in a spooky old house, “old houses are great time travel machines”. It’s also the first episode in which the phrase “timey-wimey” is used.
James Gleick
James Gleick: a man in want of some straws. Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0198

Gleick is at great pains to try and describe these stories in a way that does not reveal any important plot twists. In the case of Planet of the Apes this is… is adorable the right word? The movie came out in 1968. But no spoilers!

Another appealing aspect to Time Travel is that it’s a way of escaping death. After all, (spoiler alert!) Time will kill us all in the end.

When we hear Time’s winged chariot it’s not delivering good news.

But what is Time (other than universally deadly)? Scientists may tell you that Time is the 4th dimension and that it’s similar to the other physical dimensions in that we inhabit one spot and the rest stretches out away from us, both backward and forward. This rather flies in the face of what Gleick says we know “in our guts” about Time i.e. that the past has happened and the future hasn’t.

It seems an oddly obvious statement to have to make, and Gleick says it’s not a scientific one but a religious one.

Some of the audience questions delve into this idea of religious thought versus Time Travel and at this point I get lost, draw a spiral in my notebook and label it “loop of confusion”. Questions like “is God in Time with us?” and “doesn’t an interventionist God imply that the future isn’t set?” do somewhat “screw my noodle”. Given the heady topic, it seems inevitable that I lose the thread of the discussion at some point in proceedings. Perhaps it always has, and always did happen?

Other questions posed include one from my colleague Fee (who wrote her own post about James Gleick) and wonders if the future is set, then what about premonition? Which Gleick says (gently) that he does not believe in, though it’s a powerful idea.

Another question asks how it is that Gleick can explain such scientifically complex stuff in ways that non-scientist folk can understand. He says simply that he’s a journalist so he asks lots of questions and that a big part of it is just getting scientists to talk you as they sometimes “live in their own abstruse world”.

I am lucky enough to get the last mic grab of the night and ask my own question (which if I could have a Time Travel do-over for, I would make slightly less waffley). It’s with reference to the way we think about Time in terms of spatial metaphor. In the Western world we conceive of the past as being behind us and the future in front of us but in Māori culture this is flipped around – the past is known and therefore visible before you and it’s the future that approaches you from behind. In the course of researching had he found any other cultures that view Time this way? Gleick replies that the language we use, the words that we use to describe Time really shape how we think about it and that in some Asian languages Time travels on an “up and down” axis or “right to left”.

And if I thought my noodle was screwed before it definitely is now. As I exit the theatre along with the rest of the audience I concentrate on travelling forward through space and backwards/forwards/vertically through time.

More information

The Dark Tower: A Constant Reader worries

Last week’s release of the trailer for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower movie just about broke the internet, with fevered and passionate discussion about just how right or wrong the director had got things. Widely recognised as the most important of King’s works, The Dark Tower series is a ridiculously huge tale, with nearly 4300 words in eight novels, written over the course of 30 years. Simply put, it’s the story of Roland, the last gunslinger, who is working his way to the Dark Tower to take down the Crimson King. He is pursued by the man in black.

As a longtime Constant Reader, I have spent much of my grown-up life reading and rereading Stephen King novels.  My bookshelves are full of scary clowns, weird alien invasions, alcoholic hotel caretakers and needful things. I own all the books, have seen all the movies, and have definite thoughts on best and worst novels. I’ve downloaded the reading maps, sought out the editorials, and even fallen in love with the works of his son Joe.

Every reader who has a favourite author can feel nervous when books are turned into movies.  And it must be said that King’s movie adaptations can vary wildly in success, from the heady heights of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, through the disturbing Misery, to the adorable but kind of dorky 1408, and the downright embarrassing Langoliers.

So you will understand when I say that I am not alone right now in feeling VERY nervous about the upcoming release of two of King’s most well-loved works. The trailer for It was released a few weeks ago, and in less than 3 minutes managed to scare the pants off most of the western world.  I have yet to watch it without covering my eyes every few seconds. And the Dark Tower trailer is mesmerising for different reasons. How can one movie even begin to show us a world that is described not only in the eight Tower books, but also appears in countless other of his tales, from The Talisman, to Insomnia, to Black House, The Stand and The Shining and more.

Cover of Black house Cover of The Stand Cover of The Talisman Cover of The Shining

There’s totally no time to go back and reread the whole series before the movie is out, and King has already told us that this particular story is not one of the original ones from the novels, but another of Roland’s journeys. So all I have to do now is sit, and wait, and like countless other Constant Readers, hope that this movie is at least good, and hopefully great, that Roland Deschain is a true gunslinger and that the man in black is every bit as dreadful and mesmerising as he is in the books.

And try to figure out if I will EVER be brave enough to watch IT.

Further reading

Warm up your winter with Cinema Italiano Festival NZ

Many dread winter — the cold, the wet, the short days. Me, I love it! To bandy around the latest fashionable word, winter brings us the opportunity for hygge writ large: cosying up indoors enjoying the simple pleasures of a hot drink and a good book or film.

And this year there is an additional reason to welcome June because, together with the icy tendrils of winter, it brings us the warmth and conviviality of the second edition of the Cinema Italiano Festival NZ.

Cinema Italiano logoThe brainchild of Kiwi-Italian actor, director and playwright Paolo Rotondo, the Festival redoubles the successes of its inaugural year with a fantastic selection of 20 features, ranging from traditional to comtemporary masterpieces.

So much so that, when I started selecting my top 3 picks, they somehow multiplied on me. I present you then (in random order because ranking them further is just too hard!) my top 9 suggestions.

Roman Holiday
The Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain! Breathtaking, stunning Rome is as much a star of this classic 1953 romantic comedy as Audrey Hepburn and the iconic Vespa scooter. Not coincidentally, Roman Holiday has been selected as the Opening Night film for the Festival.

Image of Rocco and His Brothers
Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli

Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli / Rocco and His Brothers
The epic tale of five brothers who migrate from the poverty of post-war Southern Italy to the wealthier industrial North, this is the other classic masterpiece of the Festival. Directed by Luchino Visconti and featuring Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale, Rocco and His Brothers promises to be a glorious experience in the new digital restoration by Martin Scorsese.

Non Essere Cattivo / Don’t Be Bad
Italy’s entry in the Foreign Language Oscars for 2015 is the perfect flip-side to Roman Holiday: an R-18 drama featuring two twenty-something “losers” living on the outskirts of Rome in the late 1980s. As the Festival booklet describes it, Don’t Be Bad is a “gritty, visceral, rollercoaster ride, but at its core […] a clever and deep exploration of friendship, hope and life”.

Image of Quo Vado?
Quo Vado?

Quo Vado? / Where Am I Going?
Quo Vado? delivers 90 minutes of laughs while skewering the Italian obsession of pursuing a cushy public service job-for-life. As the highest-grossing film in Italian cinema history, it’s a cultural phenomenon not to be missed.

Perfetti Sconosciuti / Perfect Strangers
Another huge hit in Italy. A group of friends get together one evening and agree for fun to let the others read and hear all the messages and phone calls they receive on their smartphones. What could possibly go wrong?

Image of Belli di Papà
Belli di Papà

Belli di Papà / Daddy’s Girl
As an Italian, I have to admit that there is some truth to the stereotype that many Italians are rather spoiled by their parents, at least by NZ standards. In fact I have known a fair few molly-coddled Italian men (I may even have one or two in my extended family, who I trust won’t be reading this…). So how could I resist watching “three ‘bamboccioni’ (big babies) […having…] to experience something they have never done before, work”?

Veloce come il Vento / Italian Race
This comedy drama won a swag of David di Donatello, the Italian Oscars. It tells the story of 17-year-old Giulia, who is trying to win the GT Championship, while dealing with the death of her father and the reappearance in her life of her drug addict brother Loris.

Image of La Stoffa dei Sogni
La Stoffa dei Sogni

La Stoffa dei Sogni / The Stuff of Dreams
A tale loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest which sees Camorra criminals and a theatrical company end up shipwrecked on a Mediterranean prison island. I was sold as soon as I spotted the setting: Asinara, an island off the north-western tip of Sardinia, which is now a nature reserve and home to albino donkeys.

Fuocoammare / Fire at Sea
The setting is another starkly beautiful Mediterranean island, but the tale this time is true and much grimmer. Fire at Sea documents the tragedies which take place day in and day out in Lampedusa, the southermost Italian island and the first port of arrival for thousands of refugees escaping conflict in North Africa and the Middle East. If that is not enough to convince you that you should watch Fire at Sea, it won Best Film at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Image of Cinema Italiano

The Christchurch leg of the Festival runs from 14 to 25 June at the Academy Gold Cinema at The Colombo. We are very lucky to have a double pass to the opening night of the Festival to give away to our readers. This not only includes the screening of Roman Holiday but also a complimentary aperitif and appetizers.

To enter the competition email your contact details to competition@ccc.govt.nz with the subject line “Cinema Italiano Festival competition” by 5pm on Monday 5 June. (Sorry, staff of Christchurch City Libraries and Christchurch City Council are not eligible to enter). Good luck!

P.S. Want to attend several screenings? Members of the Società Dante Alighieri di Christchurch get discounted tickets.

One thousand ropes

Saturday night just gone I managed to sneak out for a rare date night with hubby, to see One Thousand Ropes. Tusi Tamasese’s much anticipated second film was a stark contrast to our usual “date night” choices of Marvel characters and romcoms. Dark and foreboding, this tale was far closer to home – yet still a tale of love and everyday superheroes. The experience of the movie began in the foyer of the cinema, riding up the escalator I could hear the unmistakeable cackle of Sāmoan laughter and on reaching the top I felt immediately at home seeing multigenerational family groups jostling for their popcorn and choc-tops. In Christchurch, where the Sāmoan population sits at around 4000, we were definitely statistically over-represented in that theatre. Outside of Samoa, the last time I remember a similar scene was when I went to see Sister Act 2 in Manukau City. It was this show of support from our community, which proved that there is a great sense of pride in the work of Tusi Tamasese.

One thousand ropes poster - image supplied
One thousand ropes poster – image supplied

Like Tamasese’s first movie The Orator, the majority of the movie is in Gagana Samoa with English subtitles. This has been no obstacle to success, after rave reviews in the Berlin Film Festival. As always there are moments when things are lost in translation, and moments where there is a nod to very Sāmoan humour. But don’t be like the couple who walked out after ten minutes, I would definitely recommend sitting through it. Wedged between my Māori husband and another non-Sāmoan I could see they were equally enthralled in the story. The fact that our movie snacks remained uneaten throughout the movie is always a good measure of the quality of the film.

One Thousand Ropes follows Maea, played by Uelese Petaia (you might remember him from the screen adaption of Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home), who serves his community as a fa’atosaga (Samoan for midwife) and a baker whipping up the dough for keke pua’a (pork buns), pani popo, and German buns. Living a seemingly quiet existence, Maea is still haunted by his renounced violent past and an actual aitu or ghost – Seipua, who is played by Sima Urale. When his estranged daughter Ilisa (played by Frankie Adams) arrives suddenly on his doorstep she asks why he allows this aitu to stay, and he replies that as he has no wife, she keeps him company. The supernatural world is very much a part of our culture, and seeing Seipua hunched and wheezing in the corner of the living room, brought back very vivid memories of stories my mother would tell me as a child.

For me as a New Zealand born Samoan, Maea represented the beauty and the darkness that our older generation often carry with them. The shadows of domestic violence, our attitudes around childbirth out of wedlock, postnatal depression, abuse, and alcoholism have turned the indigenous knowledge and some of our most celebrated traditional practices into very heavy burdens for Maea. These themes weighed heavy on my mind all weekend as I tried to process this thought-provoking, and powerful piece. But on reflection, I realised that it was through the straddling of both the Western world and the Sāmoan world, and the guidance of her father that both young Ilisa and Maea find their strength.

How much will you identify with this movie? What will you see? Whatever it is you take from this tale, it is definitely one you can’t miss.

Still from One thousand ropes. Image supplied.
Still from One thousand ropes. Image supplied.

Relevant Samoan resources in our collection

Samoan Language Week 2017 runs from Sunday 28 May to Saturday 3 June.

Opening of the Harbour Light Theatre

The queue had started long before the official opening at 8pm and while they waited the crowd was entertained by musical selections from the Lyttelton Marine Band. The Deputy Mayor, J.T. Morton, started the official proceedings, apologising for the absence of the Mayor, Mr Radcliffe, who had been unable to be present due to illness. Mr O.T.J Alpers on behalf of the directors, spoke next, remarking on moving pictures being a great source of education, especially in war-time.

And then the films began rolling…a wild life film, followed by a humorous study entitled “When in Rome” and then the main attraction, a drama, “The Deep Purple”.

Harbour Light Cinema, 1980s
Harbour Light Cinema, circa 1980s. © Jae Renaut.

So began the life of the Harbour Lights Picture Theatre when it was officially opened on 20th March 1917.

Situated at 24 London Street it was built in 1916, reputedly designed by John and Maurice Guthrie. Arthur William Lane had purchased the land in June 1916, transferring the title to Lyttelton Pictures Ltd in September. Mr Lane would be the theatre’s first manager.

Two storeys high, with a mezzanine floor, the theatre could seat 550 people in both stalls and circle. Initially just films were screened but in 1920 the building was extended and a stage erected to accommodate theatre performances, the first one “The N.Z. Diggers” opening on the 4th December. The theatre was now able to be used for performances, concerts, public talks and other social events as well as screening films.

Over the years the Harbour Lights went through a number of changes including building damage when the clay bank at the rear of the theatre collapsed into the stage extension in 1925. The main building escaped unscathed so film screenings continued but the stage was out of action for some time. Talking pictures arrived in April 1930, and attendance at the theatre continued to be a regular social activity for the townspeople. In the 1940s the theatre was advertised for sale or lease but ownership only changed in the 1960s when Lang Masters took over running the cinema and again in 1972 when Leo Quinlivan took over the building and after a major refurbishment reopened it as a theatre. In 1980 it was once again a cinema when Frederick E. Read, a film librarian, took over ownership.

The 1980s saw a squash court added, the auditorium stripped, the building turned into a restaurant, and then a night club. By 1992 it had evolved into a licensed entertainment and function venue and it continued to operate as such until the earthquake in February 2011.

In April 2011 the Harbour Light Theatre was demolished.

Further information

 

Armageddon – No, not the end of the world…

“Woo-hoo,” I said to my friend “Armageddon’s happening 11th and 12th March, yayee!”

Inexplicably she looked worried, “But I’m not ready for the end of the world yet!”

Ooh, we are obviously talking about two different events – the one I want to go to is the Armageddon Entertainment Expo which is happening in Christchurch at the Horncastle Arena, costs $15 to get in (or $6 for children aged 5-12 years), and involves lots of fun, not the one talked about in the Book of Revelations…

The Guest list shows some great people will be there:

Cover of The Scions of Shannara Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring Cover of A song of Ice and fire Cover of Snowglobe 7, Doctor Who

Or try the following –

Enjoy!

New titles on Access Video

Access Video LogoDo you find that appealing offerings on TV are rather meagre these days? If so, why not check out Access Video?

Access Video is one of our many eResources. It gives you access to thousands of streaming world-class documentaries, award-winning educational films, and helpful instructional videos on every known subject. The videos can be watched as a whole or just in  segments. Some titles even have transcripts so you can read along if your hearing is impaired.

The library has recently added over 100 new titles to this collection. Although most are about some aspect of American life, there are many of interest to those of us Down Under.

They include a group about dance theatre, mainly set in New York, e.g.:

  • David Rousseve, Part 1 and Part 2, which include some of his work and interviews
  • Douglas Dunn & Jim Neu #1, which pokes fun at at America’s obsession with health clubs
  • Jeff McMahon & Brian Webb, a multi-disciplinary work that looks at the issue of intimacy in the age of AIDS
  • Sosua: Make a Better World, which tells the story of Jewish and Dominican teenagers in New York City’s Washington Heights, who together with the legendary theatre director, Liz Swados, put on a musical about the Dominican rescue of 800 Jews from Hitler’s Germany.

There are also many on important social issues, such as

  • Loose Change, which challenges the official record of September 11, 2001
  • Trump: What’s the Deal? which investigates the reality behind this most public of figures
  • Chernobyl’s Café: Chernobyl is emerging as a popular tourist destination, with local industry on the rise
  • My Jihad, a film about the growing number of young Muslims from all over Europe who are leaving their home towns to fight for ISIS
  • Football Hell, where it is alleged that 4,000 workers will die in Qatar to put on the 2022 Football World Cup
  • Allow Me to Die, which follows the stories of two Belgians considering assisted suicide, exploring the moral difficulties behind the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world
  • Abortion: Ancient and Modern, which explores the ethical, legal and religious dimensions of the abortion debate
  • Reflections on Media Ethics, which includes in-depth discussions with renowned filmmakers, journalists and academics, and interviews with Noam Chomsky, Albert Maysles, George Stoney, Amy Goodman, Jon Alpert and Mary Warnock

And for the Shakespeare fans or newbies, there is The Tempest (S1), presenting the Bard’s work as an animated masterpiece.

So instead of shaking your head in dismay at what’s on the box, try out Access Video – all you need to access it is your library card number and PIN/password.

Saying goodbye to Princess Leia

I have been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember and a large part of that reason was Princess Leia. Growing up in the 70s and 80s she was, along with Charlies’ Angels, the kind of cute but fearless hero that I longed to be like.

Later in life I came to appreciate Carrie Fisher for her other roles in films like When Harry met Sally, and more recently her brilliantly comic turn as the mother-in-law from Hell in sitcom Catastrophe, but most especially for her writing.

Cover of The Princess DiaristHaving been equal parts amused and horrified by her earlier memoir Wishful Drinking*, late last year I placed a hold on her most recent effort, The Princess Diarist. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that by the time the book became available that she would be dead. How could I have? And even worse, that her family would suffer a double tragedy when her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would follow just a couple of days later. I wept unapologetically and over the Christmas period I watched song and dance numbers from Singin’ in the rain on YouTube and moped.

So it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I finally picked up The Princess Diarist and, after steeling myself and making sure a box of tissues was handy, started to read it.

But I barely needed them because, and this is the magic of writing and the author’s voice, Carrie Fisher was alive again on every page. Dripping with acerbic, self-deprecating wit and wordplay, The Princess Diarist was this amazingly comforting fan experience for me.

In case you didn’t know, the book is based on Fisher’s diaries from 1976 during the making of the first Star Wars film. The book is a mix of explanatory set-up of how she came to even been in the movie (or showbiz for that matter) and her observations on that time from a distance of some 40 years, as well as some really fascinating musings on the nature of fame, or at least her very specific version of it. And throughout runs her brutally honest humour and no BS attitude. The main revelation of the book is her on set affair, at the age of nineteen, with her married-with-kids co-star Harrison Ford. She dedicates a whole chapter to it which is, rather delightfully, titled “Carrison”.

You have the eyes of a doe and the balls of a samurai.

(Harrison Ford “breaking character” by saying something heartfelt to Fisher, as they parted company)

The book also includes a section of verbatim entries from the aforementioned diary. In some ways this was my least favourite part, only because it’s written by a rather tortured teenager about her less than satisfying love life and I have unfond memories of writing similarly tortured diary entries when I was the same age. I can immediately understand why it took her 40 years to publish any of it (There is poetry. About Harrison Ford being distant. It’s wonderful/terrible).

Having said that, Fisher’s diaries are much better written than those of the average teenager. She admits to having been rather precocious and the sly humour and clever use of language would read as being written but someone much older… if not for the This Is So Very Important And Deep style of diarying that teenagers of a certain sort are prone to.

So skim through that section, casting grains of salt as  you go, would be my advice. But the rest of it is great – an absolute must-read for Princess Leia fans, or just fans of Fisher’s signature snappy rejoinders.

Having got through pretty much the whole book with nary more than a slight moistening of eye, I admit to some small amount of tearfulness upon reading the acknowledgments, primarily due to this passage –

For my mother – for being too stubborn and thoughtful to die. I love you, but that whole emergency, almost dying thing, wasn’t funny. Don’t even THINK about doing it again in any form.

No, that part at least, was not funny at all.

More Carrie Fisher

*The audiobook version is narrated by Fisher herself, so if you really, really want to hear that sonorous voice in your head you can!

Summer reading, had me a blast

So, what usually happens with me over the summer is I drag a big pile of books and DVDs home and then I do an average to poor job of getting through them all over the Christmas and new year break, because even though I might not necessarily be at work, there’s still plenty to do at home (taking the Christmas tree down, letting the 3 year old help, cleaning up after that disaster and so on…)

This year I had the misfortune of getting a cold in the new year that turned into a chest infection and necessitated quite a bit of lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Which as everyone knows is the perfect time to get some reading done. Here’s what I managed to rattle through as a result *cough*.

Cover of American GodsAmerican Gods – As recommended by Pickle Bronwyn, this is a great read. It spans a great many topics – Norse mythology, theology, Americana, First Nations beliefs – and it’s also kind of a road-trip novel. Engrossing and enjoyable.

Like a Queen – To say Aussie writer and mum Constance Hall is a phenomenon is not overstating the case. Her posts on parenting and relationships and the importance of building other women up rather than tearing them down are massively popular, largely due to Facebook. In only a couple of years she has recruited a legion of fans (or “Queenies”) from all walks of life who love her brash, no-BS yet tender approach to modern womanhood. Her book is more “hippyish” than I usually go for but it’s brutally honest and raw too which is very affecting. A great, affirming read for harangued and under-appreciated mothers.

Cover of You can't touch my hairYou can’t touch my hair: And other things I still have to explain – Phoebe Robinson made a fan out of me within about three pages. She’s wickedly funny, scathing and more than a little bit goofy while tackling pretty important issues like racism and sexism. I learned a lot about African American hair from this as well as what sexism looks like to a female actor/comedian. I LOVED this book (even though I cannot fathom why she put The Edge at the top of her “which order I would have sex with the members of U2 in” list. The Edge. REALLY?). It’s a humorous mixture of pop culture, social awareness and general badassery. Highly recommended.

Cover of Talking as fast as I canTalking as fast as I can – Actor Lauren Graham’s memoir is a lot like what you imagine her personality to be – considered and cheerful with plenty of quips, non sequiturs and tangential observations. It’s a must-read for Gilmore Girls fans and recommended companion reading if you’ve recently watched the rebooted “A year in the life” series. Don’t read this expecting to get the low down on any Hollywood scandal though. No careers are ruined. No beans are spilled. But it is a light, amusing read that makes me keen to check out her first novel (a second is in the works) as well as her screen adaptation of The Royal We. There’s also a handy “writing process” guide borrowed from another writer included that I may well put into use. Also, how much is that cover photo crying out for some book-facing? So. Much.

Exhibit A.

Cover of The world according to Star WarsThe world according to Star Wars – I am a sucker for any book that indulges my desire to ponder the many facets, nooks and crannies, and minutiae of the Star Wars universe. And Cass Sunstein, one of America’s most highly regarded legal scholars, obviously feels the same since he wrote this book, seemly to fill that exact niche. It’s a mixed bag (the section on the U. S. constitution was a bit tenuous, in my opinion) but there are plenty of opportunities to ponder the meanings, symbolism and politics of this most popular of sci-fi series’ and to view it through a variety lenses. Recommended for fans.