Lumber on an epic scale

cover of BarkskinsI discovered at the weekend with a rapidly beating heart, that one of my all time favourite writers,  Annie Proulx, has released a new novel.

Thirteen years since her last novel, Barkskins is, by all accounts, a rip snorter. According to what I can glean from good old Mr Google, it is 736 pages long, spanning 3 centuries, and tells the story of two French immigrants in the new land of America. They are bound to a feudal lord for three years and are sent to work in the dense and remote forests of the New World in exchange for a promise of land. The book follows them and their descendants from 1693 through to the 21st century and various family members travel all over the world, including to little old New Zealand.

Annie Proulx first caught my eye when I read The Shipping News, another great story of families, set in Newfoundland. I have never forgotten the ways she described snow and ice and barren landscapes and the families and eccentrics who lived amongst it.

Cover of The shipping news

Accordion Crimes was also a favourite, charting the lives of immigrants settling in America through the life of an accordion that is handed down through families; Jewish, Irish, Italian and many others.

Both The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain (a short story originally), were also made into movies, both well worth watching.

Ms Proulx, now in her eighties, was a bit of a late bloomer, with her first short stories published in her 50s and her first novel in 1992. She has gone onto to publish 13 works and win over twenty literary prizes, including a Pulitzer prize for The Shipping News.

Her novels and short storys are filled with hard bitten complex characters and landscapes that are wonderful described, I find I get immersed in her stories and I think this is because she herself has led a full and intense life, always on her own terms. She has been married and divorced three times and has raised three sons alone. She worked as postal worker and a waitress, and early on a writer of magazine articles on everything from chilli growers to canoeing.

She has two history degrees, drifted the countryside in her pickup truck, can fly fish, fiddle, and hunt game birds. But for all her life experience, she has said that she likes to write about what she doesn’t know, rather than draw on what she has already experienced. If you haven’t read her books, I strongly recommend them.

So, I’m on the library waiting list, hoping the book arrives quickly so I can again revel in her wondrous prose!

Book Eating as a Pastime

cover of The Incredible Book Eating BoyWorking in libraries allows you to have some pretty interesting work stories. My top one for this week was a small boy with a problem that involved library books and bedtime snacks.

A mother came to me holding the hand of a very worried looking two year old. She whispered to me : “We need a stern face please”. So, I tried to look stern. I can do perplexed, amused and just plain crazy, but stern is one look I’m not good at. She talked him through an apology to me and then explained.

Little Timmy had decided that eating books was a good thing and his parents just could not figure out why. It suddenly dawned on them that Timmy had spent the week before reading The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. He certainly took to heart the initial joy of eating books, but as his mother and I decided, his two year old mind had failed to digest the moral at the end, which suggest reading is the best way to absorb the contents of a book.

damage to bookWhich begs the question, could and do children get led astray by other books and their dark conspiratorial messages?

Think of the havoc if your young one took Lets Make Mud to heart on the shag pile, or Big Brothers Don’t Take Naps when particularly cranky, or even We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? Then there is Hop on Pop  – Pop may not be pleased. Or perhaps Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus  would be a problem for a child such as my youngest once was. You know the kind, the ones who insist on doing the direct opposite of anything you may suggest.

But you just know for sure, they would not take to heart Shhh! by Sally Grindley.

Got some dangerous books you can think of?

One out of the box

Cover: Her MajestyReally out of the box. Kind colleagues who know that I hold Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in very high esteem alerted me to the arrival of Her Majesty.

It’s a book to gladden the hearts of book lovers who believe that reading a book on a device is all very well, but that nothing can match turning the paper pages of a behemoth.

Her Majesty tells the story of QEII’s  reign, mostly in very large and very beautiful photographs, but with some text. And it came in a  dull gold box with its very own plastic handle. Classy.

The box and the book have parted ways, but  really the box is a minor detail, even if it did have Her Majesty printed on the side. Packaging is all very well, but the book is the main thing here. It’s definitely for more than staunch (and strong) Royalists.

The sheer size and quality of the photographs make it an object of beauty worthy of a good long look. Getting it home may be another matter!

A big dry all right, and not just in the fields

I work in a library, I love to read. I’m surrounded all day by books. I see new ones come in and go out, and have a lot of conversations with colleagues and with customers about their favourites and their latest reads.

But I’m suffering a book drought as parched as a Hawkes Bay wheat field. Let me explain: I read the blog, check out the New Titles, take recommendations from many more learned than I, and every book  but one I’ve read or attempted to read this year I’ve given up on.

I’ll tell you about the book I have actually finished, recommended by our blogging guru, robertafsmith. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It was just as she described, a lovely gentle read, which I don’t come across very often, being a fan of bleak in all its forms and I did fall in love with Harold, just a little bit.

But then I moved onto Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I kept hearing his name mentioned and had never read his books, so I gave this a go and at my usual decision point, on page 33 where the library has a label placed. If a story hasn’t grabbed me by page 33, life is too short, so I stop reading. And this fell into that category… maybe fans out there can persuade me to give it another go?

Then there was Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This I could see was a wonderfully written book, but it was spoiled for me by the movie curse. The movie, I thought, was wondrous. And when I started to read the book, they were so close in language and the pictures I saw in my mind, I felt a weird mix of deja vu and sadness and I gave up on that too.

The latest, was given up on for pure laziness reasons. I can read big books, I’ve done it before, but I found Capital by John Lanchester at over 600 pages, was just too heavy to read in bed at night. I feel deep shame at being so shallow and pathetic, both in mind and body, but what’s a girl to do?

So, here’s the challenge. Tell me what to read, please! It can’t be too heavy, just had a movie released based on it or have characters I just don’t care about…

Or, tell me to snap out of it and tell me why I should give the above books a go.

Musings on Mau Moko

Mau Moko is an absolute treasure.  In my opinion this is the best book we have in our collection on the subject of Moko (often described by others as Māori tattoo). The book is the result of Dr Ngahuia Te Awekotuku’s doctoral thesis and as such provides a fascinating and comprehensive introduction and exploration into the world of Māori moko – both the facial and body moko worn by men and the more delicate and beautiful moko kauae worn by women. If you have an interest in Moko, this book is an easy and engaging read.

Some of the ideas explored in the book include the history and traditions associated with moko from pre-colonisation to the present day, an exploration of the links between moko and other aspects of Māori culture, the cultural values (whakapapa, tapu, the wairuatanga) associated with moko, discussion on gender and how this relates to moko as well as delving into the current revival and resurgence of the traditional art form by providing case studies of those who have chosen to mau moko in the present day. To make it even better, the book is full of strikingly beautiful images and photography.

If you do read this book, and are keen to learn more, we have over 40 titles at Christchurch City Libraries that relate to moko you may be interested in. You may also like to check out the latest edition of the Ngāi Tahu Magazine Te Karaka, which has a moving feature article sharing the stories of Kai Tahu takata who all wear moko.

This book also features on our latest Staff Picks from the Ngā Pounamu Māori Collection List, which has a real variety of titles – if you’re after some inspiration for your summer reading list you might like to have a look here as well.

Dildrams and whiff-whaff and the joy of new books

Every week in the library, we get a delivery of new books.  They come in plain brown boxes, and look as boring as it’s possible for boxes to look.  But opening those boxes is like waking up to Christmas every day: the kind of Christmas where you didn’t think to TELL people what you really wanted, and so you know that what you might find could range from a pair of white acrylic tube socks, to some quite nice coffee mugs, to a fully automated robot butler made entirely of clockwork that brings you hot chocolate in the mornings.

Let me illustrate this by pointing out a few of the new books I unpacked yesterday:

I’ll leave you to figure out which titles on this list are the ‘tube socks’, and which are my robot butler – I’m off to browse the new books display at my library.  If you can’t wait for us to unpack boxes each week, might I suggest you sign up to the New Titles newsletters and RSS feeds and get ready to place some holds, otherwise I’ll see you at the New Books shelf …

Mars is not the only other world we can travel to

Cover: Lord of the FliesThey may have just landed a rover on Mars, but I’ve been travelling to other worlds since I was 13. I love travelling in particular to dystopian worlds, if only using books and movies.

Dystopian societies are repressive and controlled, often under the guise of being utopian. They feature different kinds of repressive social control and coercion. They can be found in the past, the future on our planet or another.

They have all the classic compelling aspects of all good fiction that I enjoy; good vs. evil, strong lead characters you can root for, together with a bit of technology and people rising up to save themselves, their families and their society. They can steer closely into Science Fiction territory at times, but I have always been more interested in the stories that depict human struggle and triumph rather than technology and space travel.

Of course the most recent craze in this genre would be The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I’ve read using my e reader, and while I’m enjoying it and I’m eagerly awaiting the last of the trilogy, Mockingjay, it isn’t the best I’ve read in the genre.Cover: Monsters of Men

I loved The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness and I also enjoyed Salt by Maurice Gee and Wither by Lauren DeStefano.

I have also gone back to read some classics that originally had me interested in this genre in my teens. First was The Crysalids by John Wyndham, then Nineteen Eighty Four, the grandfather of the dystopians by George Orwell. Then Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Lord of the Flies by William Golding and what was for me a pivotal book, The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’d also recommend her book Oryx and Crake.

There are so many dystopian books out there to read, take the plunge and get amongst them without the aid of a rover, or maybe you have a favourite you can share?

Doing Time

I’ve just read a fascinating and sobering new book that includes a one hour documentary about men on Death Row in Texas. In This Timeless Time by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian is a record in black and white pictures, words and also a one hour DVD that chronicles the lives and deaths of men convicted of often heinous crimes, but also men who seemed to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time and be of the wrong colour.

The documentary included was made in the late seventies. I watched this first, then looked at the pictures in the book, then read the words. I found it quite startling to do it this way round, as I watched the men talk about their lives inside, how they spent their time, their thoughts on mortality and the death penalty and then read that many were still alive, waiting for their death, but many were also sent on that final walk to the chair. I felt a connection with many of them.

The men don’t really talk about their families, and in particular their crimes. Many seem to find a passion or skill while inside, writing, drawing, or even making crafts using cigarette packets. Many find religion a comfort and others spend a great deal of time persuing appeals, often despite being largely illiterate.

Some seem to be resigned to whatever happens, but some clearly have not coped mentally with the limitations and severity of their existence.

Now many think that you need to put any person that has broken laws or offended against society away where we can’t see them or have to think about them again. But if you feel this way, I urge you to at least give this DVD a watch. It will take one hour, then you can go about your hopefully long life.

Have wool, will transform the city

I love Yarn bombing or Yarn Storming as it’s also known. It has so many great aspects to it. It is artistic, relaxing and creative. But it can also be confronting, anarchic and has a hint of the non-permanent grafitti artist about it and I think Christchurch could do with more!

What is it? It’s the art of creating knitted or crochet art works for public spaces. It often involves stealth and surprise, with creators putting their works in public spaces under the cover of darkness anonymously to surprise the public. They cover natural forms such as trees and rocks or man made items such a statues, bike stands or lamp posts.

I had a go at mushrooms myself,  but I loved them so much they have ended up in my garden. I have seen creations pop up around Christchurch, pre and post quake. Abandoned buildings have been adorned, as have metal security fencing, statues and empty sections.

There’s plenty of inspiration in books available in the library collection, but if you can make a square of knitting or crochet, or even make the old style finger chains we did as children, you can Yarn bomb.

Knit the City is a British book whose creators adorn statues, bridges, telephone boxes and buildings with knitted animals, pirates and even a whole book’s worth of characters, such as Alice in Wonderland. Yarn Bombing is also an inspirational book, with patterns that even tell you how to knit disguises so you can go about your work without being recognised.

So, why not make this a winter project, get creative and adorn our bare city with colour, humour and a touch of pizazz! If you’re not brave enough to decorate the city, how about a knitted mushroom or three by your letterbox to bring a smile to your neighbours? Perhaps tell us where you have seen some yarn bombing around Christchurch.

Bubble bubble, toil and reward

I’ve got a hankering this year I’ve not had for a while. I want to make preserves, bottle some fruit and I especially want to try my hand at Onion Jam. Apparently, according to a greengrocer I was chatting with, the stonefruits are late this year, so I am awaiting bounteous apricots, peaches and plums anytime now, fragrant and gorgeous.

I’ll get out my preserving pan – I can’t believe I actually have one, and I’ll get slicing, weighing and stirring. The warm sweet smells will fill the house and imagine I will be briefly transported back in time.

I have wonderful childhood memories of helping both my grandmothers and my mother in the kitchen at this time of year. Nothing beats a slice of really soft bread with butter and still warm raspberry jam slathered on top! Seeing all the jars of various hues all lined up in the cupboard afterwards is also both satisfying and a joy to behold.

There’s a great selection of jam and preserve books  throughout the libraries, if you lurk about in the 641.852 area of the non-fiction section of any of our libraries, you will find recipes and advice for the classics, such as raspberry jam or orange marmalade, through to the more exotic, such as pink pickled ginger or peach and passionfruit preserve.

Do you have a favourite recipe for jam, preserves, a pickle or sauce, care to share. Maybe a book you find invaluable?