Science fiction (double feature)

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for several months, but it’s starting to pick up again. Mostly I seem to be into Adventures in space! books at the moment (to be fair when am I not into Adventures in space! books?), possibly a result of the Star Wars renaissance. It’s a good time to be a science fiction fan.

Recent recommended reads:

cover of Ancillary JusticeThe Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie, beginning with Ancillary Justice – an approximation of the British Empire in space! AI ships with human bodies who love singing! Lots of tea! It can take a few chapters to get into but rewards persistence. Leckie is definitely one of my favourite new sci fi authors.

Cover of Behind the ThroneBehind the Throne by K. G. Wagers – Often described as: What if Princess Leia and Han Solo were the same person? Foul-mouthed gunrunner Hailimi Bristol is forced to return to her home planet to take up the crown after most of the royal family are assassinated. Chaos ensues. I doubt I’d be able to cope with Hailimi in person (so much shouting, calm down) but I enjoyed the first book. Possibly not enough to check out the second, After the Crown, but I know others enjoyed it.

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – Similar to Firefly in that it’s an ensemble cast in space who all love each other even when they hate each other, episodic plot, and occasional encounters with nasty aliens (lots of nice ones too). There’s a sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, which explores what happens when the ship’s AI gets a body and learns to be an engineer. I think I liked that one even more and it’s a standalone so feel free to pick it up without having read the first. Readers who prefer a fast paced plot should steer clear but if you’re into character-driven feel-good science fiction, this is the author for you.

Other science fiction I’m looking forward to reading:

  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. First of a trilogy. To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris is given the “help” of a dead, insane but tactically brilliant traitor general.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Aliens prepare to invade. Humans are divided in their response to the threat. What happens next will surprise you!
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty. Murder mystery in spaaaaaace!

Cover of Ninefox GambitCover of The Three-Body ProblemCover of Six Wakes

We need to talk about America…

Not that we haven’t been doing just that for the last few months, but there’s so much to say. America fascinates and repulses me. I couldn’t live there – not just because I would eat all the food – but it is a fascinating place to observe, and we are fortunate to generally be able to enjoy its cultural output, both high and lowbrow. So naturally I was intrigued when I spied Claudia Roth Pierpont’s American Rhapsody in a bookshop in Auckland. I immediately went to the nearest library, hopped on the wifi and requested a copy (btw – aren’t libraries great?).

Cover of American rhapsodyIt’s a funny book, endeavouring to “present the the kaleidoscopic story of the creation of a culture.” Lofty intentions indeed! However, it is more of a collection of biographical and critical essays about a range of major players in American culture. The first two-thirds of the essays – which include Wharton, Fitzgerald, Hepburn and Gershwin are perfectly okay, but it’s the final third where, for me, the book truly comes alive. Orson Welles‘ and Laurence Olivier‘s (not from the US but that’s not the point) approaches to acting and Shakespeare are compared and contrasted. What is naturalism, how – and should – America tackle Shakespeare? These themes of naturalism and an American theatrical tradition are continued in an essay on Marlon Brando.

Cover of James Baldwin: Early novels and storiesWe are reminded that Brando was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and the last two essays cover novelist James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone who – to my shame – I didn’t know much about at all. Reading about these two African-Americans and learning more about the the nuances and iterations of the wider Civil Rights movement is inspiring me – to read their words and listen to their music and make an effort to further understand America’s painful history.

So, I’ve come away from this book thinking about acting and how we express our country through our cultural creations, and also with some new inspirational figures to look to. We need them.

On your bike! – Go by bike day 2017

A.E. Preece Cyclists' Exchange [ca. 1885]
Cyclist waits patiently for his muffin.
A.E. Preece Cyclists’ Exchange
[ca. 1885] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0039
Go by bike day is tomorrow. Surely a person doesn’t need more inducement to hit the road, powered by their own legs, enjoying a form of transport that’s good for their fitness and their wallet… but a free coffee and a muffin at the traditional Go By Bike Day Breakfast doesn’t hurt, does it?

This year the location of the breakfast is 597 Colombo St, on a Life in Vacant Spaces lot at the St Asaph St corner and all cyclists can enjoy the aforementioned free breakfast thanks to a range of cycle-friendly sponsors.

I’ve been to several of these events in the past and it’s always a good opportunity for a bit of sly perving of bikes (and associated accessories) as the concentration of other cyclists gives you a really good view of all the different kinds of cycles and cyclists that ride around in Christchurch.

In fact, the whole month of February is a good time to be out on a bike, and not just because the weather is generally pretty good. The Aotearoa Bike Challenge encourages you to get on a bike, even if it’s only for 10 minutes and to try and rack up some mileage. It’s super easy to register, then you log all your rides, can set yourself goals to achieve – “burn off a glass of wine” for instance – and compete against your co-workers.

I am registered and it is strangely addictive. Even relatively short trips of a kilometre or two really do add up if you’re riding every day. Also, there are prizes up for grabs. And if you’re new to the whole cycling thing, they’ve got really helpful tips about riding to work, bike maintenance and other relevant topics.

Learn more about cycling

In our catalogue

Cover of Urban cycling Cover of The official New Zealand road code for cyclists Cover of Everyday cycling in Aotearoa New Zealand Cover of Bicycling an introduction

On the web

  • Bikewise Information about bikes for kids and adults. Bike safety, choosing a bike, maintenance, and more.
  • Cycling in Christchurch News, information and events for Christchurch cyclists
  • Cycling (Christchurch City Council) Information on cycleways, bike parks and cycle safety.
  • Spark Bikes Bike Share A two year pilot to promote bike share as a part of the city’s transport mix.  Borrowable bikes availabe at 5 central city stations.
  • Bikes on buses Information on using Metro’s bus-mounted bike racks
  • RAD bikes (Recycle a Dunger) Bike need some work before it can hit the road? Help is at hand with parts, tools, and instruction on bicycle maintenance and repair.

Off the shelf: January 2017

As followers of our blog will know, voracious reader Robyn has been sharing with us on a regular basis the titles that she has been adding to her For Later shelf. Here are some more titles that have recently graduated to her Completed shelf.

Frieze A –  Z of Contemporary ArtCover for Frieze A - Z of Contemporary Art

Not so much a flick through as a pick through – each letter of the alphabet has an article from Frieze magazine. So you can pick and choose what you are interested in; the Factory accent as heard in Andy Warhol’s inner circle, the frosty gaze of fashion, Sophie Calle and the stuffed giraffe that reminds her of her mother.

Appetites by Anthony Bourdain

He calls this a recipe book for home cooks who are willing to put time into it. And he’s not kidding. Three days of preparing for Thanksgiving, featuring a stunt turkey and a business turkey. But those of us who have three days to spare just before Christmas and enough money to have two turkeys might like to give it a go. Despite it all being a bit of an impossible dream I like this book. It’s beautifully produced and it has great photos. Unless you’re a vegan, or even a vegetarian.

Cover for HoldingHolding by Graham Norton

I don’t normally approve of novels by celebrities, but it’s entirely possible that Graham wrote this himself and he didn’t make a bad job. It’s gentle, funny, the story is quite engrossing (at least I wanted to know what happened) and it’s got a lovely sense of Ireland.

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!

Reading Poetry Around the World

All the seats were taken and the truly dedicated stood for an hour to listen to people talk about poetry at Scorpio Books on Thursday the 26th of January.

The chance to hear poet and world renowned poetry scholar Stephen Burt in a conversation with Victoria University Press editor Fergus Barrowman, chaired by University of Canterbury Professor of English Paul Millar, explained the impressive turnout and they did not disappoint.

Cover for New Selected Poems by James K BaxterIf you couldn’t make it these are the poets Burt read and rated before arriving in New Zealand: James K. Baxter – “one of the great poets of the 20th century”, Michelle Leggott, Bill Manhire, Andrew Johnston, Ian Wedde.

Those discovered after arriving: Bernadette Hall, Joanna Margaret Paul, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.

Millar’s relaxed chairing – “I’m going to ask you a question and you can say whatever you like” –  let the conversation range freely and some interesting stuff emerged. The visits of American poet Robert Creeley influenced New Zealand poetry markedly; ” an accident of history that had unforeseen consequences”. I am ashamed to say I had never heard of him.

Cover for Hera Lindsay BirdSo how much does the Internet change poetry and reading? A lot. Burt and Barrowman agreed that current sensation Hera Lindsay Bird would not exist without the Internet and its international no cost distribution. But Unity Books in Wellington has also sold large numbers of print copies of her book.

Where will the ‘not hip’ poets be read? No-one knows. Burt is sure that the Internet makes it easier for everyone in the room last night to access poetry from other countries.

Burt was off to the The Bats (New Zealand poetry, with its “agreement groups not large enough to live in”,  was compared to the Flying Nun bands earlier in proceedings) so there was time for just a couple of questions. In the event there was only one and I can report that Bob Dylan was not shaped by Minnesota literary culture.

Thanks to the University of Canterbury College of Arts and WORD Christchurch for a very stimulating event. I’ll be keeping an eye out for others.

For Later: Stephen Burt, visiting poet

Cover for BelmontPermissible and not mad to add two poetry books by Stephen Burt, The Poem is You and Belmont, to the For Later Shelf this week because I’m giddying up to see them at a WORD event at Scorpio Books on Thursday 26th January at 6pm.

Good poet (at least I think so after attending a reading last year – perhaps I’ll know how to tell for sure after this event), Harvard Professor of Poetry and an engaging speaker, Burt will be in conversation with Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press.

I love poetry events – people are passionate about it so the questions tend to be on the intense side, and even better can spin out into wildly inappropriate statements of opinion. Somehow opinions on poetry are so much more interesting than opinions on non-fiction, which mostly centre on how much more the ‘questioner’ knows than the author.

“A lively discussion” is promised, but I’m hoping for a bit more than that.

On Love and Art and Maps

On our very first date my husband and I discovered that we share a love of maps.  In retrospect I can see now that we were coming from completely different planets, so to speak. His the planet in which the words “Cadastral” and “Great Circles” featured majorly. Mine the planet of the isolated farmhouse at the end of the road and my desire to visit it. But we both still find maps beautiful and own several sets of topographic maps. We have kept quiet about this bond, until now that is. Because Art and Maps are IN.

A Map of the World According to Illustrators and StorytellersTelling your life story through maps is the new therapy de jour. A great place to start is with a beautiful book entitled A Map of the World According to Illustrators and Storytellers. This book plays down accuracy in favour of getting the message across. Eighty-nine creatives map out their lives and their places. The variety of approaches is gobsmacking. One of my favourites is the Happy Planet Map on page 212. It may inspire you to look at your surroundings, and your life, and create your own map of how you feel about them.

Mapping ManhattanAnother take on maps and art and life  is Mapping Manhattan A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers. Here random New Yorkers were given simple, identical outline maps of New York and asked to tell their story of this city in any way that they liked. Seventy-five posted back their offerings to Becky Cooper who put them together into this fascinating little book. She says of this initiative:

Maps and Memories are bound together, a little like songs and love affairs are.

Making Art from MapsIn Making Art from Maps, the author Jill Berry starts from the belief that we all love maps. She loves them and she also loves art. These two loves started gelling somewhere along the way and resulted in this book where Jill and forty-one artists take maps and do astonishingly transformative things with them. This 2016 book would be a useful addition to the library of anyone who likes playing around with paper.

And closer to home, Even Smith’s Journal recognises that the day of the map is upon us in their online magazine of January 04 2017 with an article entitled Retro Maps of Modern Cities. The idea behind this approach is to treat maps as art and not just as guides to places.

So, if you’ve tried journalling and failed; succumbed to colouring-in and now sit with several partly completed books; and possibly even resorted to adult join-the-dots books (and please let this be just a very few of you) – but still you feel hollow, still your life mission has not been revealed to you, then let it be known that Mapping Your Life is the trending new thing.

More about maps

 

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.

 

For Later: January 2017

For Later shelf is now more of a For Later library but somehow the Just Ordered list comes out and every week the shelves just grow.

These titles sneaked on recently:

Cover of Thug KitchenThug Kitchen (subtitle could cause offence). Gwyneth Paltrow loved it. Not sure if that’s a recommendation but I’m all for a bit of cursing with my cooking.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina. If Mina’s other books are anything to go by this stand-alone based on a real case in 1950s Glasgow should be good. Mina won the best-dressed and best hair competition held in my head at the Wellington Writers and Readers Week way back in 2012. I’ve followed her ever since and she’s never let me down.

England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage. Will one of the ultimate books on Punk be as good as it was in 1991? Or will it just be really sad? It’s fully updated and expanded so probably sad.

And there’s always room for a few “Friday night flickers”, good for a mindless page-through on a Friday night:

Cover of Fashion, art and rock and rollFashion, Art and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Jean-Charles De Castelbajac. Worth it for his name alone.

Domino Your Guide to a Stylish Home: Discovering your personal style and creating a space you love by Jessica Romm Perez. Sigh.

City House, Country House Contemporary New Zealand Homes by John Walsh.