As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Birds and books by Alex Preston
Having kept notebooks over many, many years, Preston has collected the words of dozens of writers. Each chapter is arranged around a bird, each bird illustrated by Neil Gower. The Guardian gives this book a rave review:
Memoir, or rather memory, gilds the narrative. The most moving chapter describes Preston’s father, bedbound with lymphoma, as he watches a family of collared doves on the rooftop opposite his window. He is woken by a fledgling dove on the windowsill inside the bedroom and tries to rescue the bird. Describing himself in the third person, Preston’s father writes: “Placid and accepting, she allows his right hand to embrace her body… while he emanates all he can in telepathic sedation. It, or something like it, must be working, for her wings remain static and spread, her breast neither heaving nor fluttering … How warm to the touch. He wants to stretch the moment to eternity.” This, perhaps, is the essence of the book, this longing for communion, for connection with things other than ourselves.
Basic Mathematics: An Introduction by Alan Graham
I reserved this book on a whim…I am not known for my mathematical ability and thought that it was about time I tackled what could almost be called a phobia. I must confess to scanning this book and promptly returned it, obviously I will need some more indepth counselling before I can tackle my “issues”. However, in the brief time that this book held my attention I did think it was very user-friendly, tackled basic concepts, and would be especially useful if you were struggling with keeping up with your school age children’s maths.
Honar: The Arkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art A very disappointing cover hides a luscious book documenting the Afkhami collection of Iranian art. The art in the collection is incredibly varied and at times surprising. Each artist has their own essay, plus there are well written and interesting chapters devoted to the collection itself and to Iranian art history.
What’s Your Bias? The Surprising science of why we vote the way we do by Lee De-Wit
We may think that we make rational decisions when it comes to voting but apparently we are just as much affected by our personality traits and unconscious biases as we are by what the news media and political debates are telling us. Perhaps you want to know more about why you think Jacinda is just the ticket or what it is about Bill that makes him irresistible? Apparently you will get to know more about yourself and the bigger political picture!
As is often the case when I attend a literary event, I have not read the book of the person speaking (I have good intentions leading up to the event but life generally gets in the way). So I know Clementine Ford only by her reputation as an outspoken feminist and the target of online trolls (it seems, in the modern world, that the first of these things almost always leads to the second). Possibly that’s all you know about her too.
I warm to her immediately. She’s just so cheerful in the face of the abuse that gets flung at her, so “can you believe someone said that?!” about language that is filled with hate, ignorance (and yes, bad grammar). I admire her ability to take rancid, toxic lemons and make mocking, humorous lemonade from them.
Clementine Ford comes across like your best friend who is much smarter and more perceptive than you, and who is prone to dropping hilarious truth-bombs into the conversation while you’re chatting over wine. Except in the auditorium at Christchurch Art Gallery. With 150 other people there. And no wine.
This was obviously a flawed analogy but you get the drift.
She’s also very respectful (not of the trolls) of her audience, warning everyone that there will be some very strong, very unpleasant language shared in the presentation, most of it via screenshots of the “missives” she’s received from various men who feel the need to tell her that she’s wrong, stupid, evil, sexist, fat, sexually unattractive, a professional sex worker, as well as various terrible things that should happen or be done to her. The warning is needed. It’s cumulatively rather overwhelming and makes you feel sick for humanity, even as each one is dissected, commented on and ruthlessly pilloried.
On the upside I’m surprised and delighted to hear Ford, an Australian, acknowledge not only Ngāi Tahu but also Ngāi Tūāhuriri (Christchurch sits in the traditional rohe/territory of this Ngāi Tahu hapu) and to use “Aotearoa” in preference to “New Zealand” because a friend of hers has challenged her to use indigenous names as a statement against colonialism. Also, her pronunciation was better than average.
But back to the trolls. Reading the messages Ford has received from various men makes you wish that they really were misshapen goblins living under bridges and not actual humans walking around with a cellphone in their pocket and the notion that they can say whatever they want to another person, if that person is a woman, with a complete lack of consequences. This is a situation that Ford has tried to turn around as she frequently adopts a “name and shame” approach. This may seem harsh but when you read the things that men have said to her it seems more like a public service than anything. The irony is, though Facebook is happy enough to be the medium of choice for threats of sexual violence and abuse by these trolls, the sharing of such by Ford often violates their “community standards” and has sometimes resulted in her account being blocked. But not those of the people doing the abusing.
Well, that seems a bit screwed up, Facebook. But Ford acknowledges that Facebook has its claws in us and a boycott simply wouldn’t work. Possibly advocating for a change to the laws around online abuse might help.
Ford has other helpful suggestions for dealing with sexism and sexist behaviour such as forcing someone to explain their sexist joke, with “I don’t get it. Why is that funny?” or pretending not to hear the sexist/offensive thing and forcing them to repeat it once or even twice. This subtly shifts the power dynamic in the interaction.
In the online world she is in favour of out and out mockery (with reference to Harry Potter and the boggart – your greatest fear that can only be vanquished by laughing at it). Ford advised deploying a series of gifs, the following of which is my favourite.
This was a really illuminating, funny, and challenging session but one which only a handful of men attended and relatively few young women, two groups I really feel would have benefitted a lot from the realness of Ford’s feminist experiences (and rude jokes about her genitalia).
As it was it ran overtime and nobody wanted to stop, least of all Ford herself. But the talk was being recorded so I’d recommend giving it a listen when it becomes available or –
As the movie proves, it isn’t just books that inhabit Sheila’s world. It’s also wonder and passion for the natural world — plants, animals and rocks. This translates into writing and beautiful illustrations. The documentary shows so much — her love for the sea and sailing, honeymoon spent in the hut under Mt. Aoraki, the fun of learning Icelandic and swimming with seals, her close and dear friendship with Janet Frame in their formative days as young writers. Got the feeling? Who needs a TV and a car if you can enjoy a night camping under the stars and a bicycle tour from Picton to Bluff?
Sheila Natusch greatly contributed to the understanding of nature by writing and illustrating Animals of New Zealand, the first comprehensive reference guide on this subject. She carried on writing all her life, on nature and history. Sheila has her artistic talent (inherited from her mother and grandmother) to accompany her words with convincing yet soft illustrations. In 2007 she was awarded New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to writing and illustration.
Watching the movie, it is not hard to see what compelled producer Christine Dann and filmmaker Hugh MacDonald (Sheila’s cousin) to capture Sheila on film. With premieres rolling out in cinemas from Auckland all the way to Gore, they are both fully occupied these days, but Christine still found some time to reveal the backstory of this inspiring project.
When did the idea to make a documentary about Sheila become obvious and where did it come from?
Director Hugh Macdonald has known Sheila all his life and always wanted to make a film about her, as she is such a fascinating character, as well as a woman of great achievements. I knew about her achievements before Hugh introduced me to Sheila, and as soon as I met her knew she’d be a great film subject.
Sheila is such a cinematic character, her enthusiasm and love for life in all its forms is beaming from the screen. Her story and persona are perfect for a form of a film storytelling. What was your intention in making this documentary, besides portraying Sheila and telling her story (because it also is a film about nature, New Zealand, wonder, curiosity and passion)?
Hugh and I share Sheila’s love of nature and the wild places of New Zealand. We agree with her that they are a source of much joy and inspiration. In making a film about her we wanted to share some of that joy and inspiration via someone who embodies it.
You produced the documentary but also contributed as a researcher and writer. How long did your research take, what were the main resources you used?
The research for the film took about nine months, but that was spread over 18 months in time as it involved going to Dunedin twice, down the West Coast, and to Southland and Stewart Island. My written sources included Sheila’s letters to her parents in the 1940s, and to Professor Ramsey in the 1950s and 60s, plus all her published work, both books and articles. Of course I talked to Sheila a lot to check things out as needed.
Is there a funny story from behind the scenes, something that happened during filming that you could share with our readers?
There always seemed to be lots of surprises happening, mostly good ones – such as the completely unexpected delivery of a box of chilled mutton birds to Sheila’s place when we just happened to be there with the camera for other reasons – and that enabled us to shoot the scene in the Bach Cafe where Sheila takes them to her friend Maraea to cook up for them all.
The visit of the Ecuadorian navy sailing ship the Guayas to Wellington in January 2016 was another such good surprise, even though we had to scramble hard to get the filming organised
Sheila made nature and science accessible to New Zealanders in a user-friendly and encouraging way, especially with the Animals of New Zealand. However, she was to an extent criticized by scientists due to a lack of scientific language in her works. Why do you think that happened?
She was writing at a time when the scientific community (especially the Royal Society) was trying to raise the status of science as a profession of experts who communicated largely with each other, rather than the general public. Sheila has always believed that knowledge about nature needs to be shared as widely as possible, and that means writing in non-technical, jargon-free and also lyrical ways.
Sheila is extraordinarily talented in so many different ways: she is an amazing self-taught illustrator as well as a writer, she has a great passion, understanding and an eye for the natural world, she is a researcher and an “outdoor pioneer-ess”. And she managed – it seems like all throughout her life – to nurture and develop all those talents, which must have been quite hard in those days.
Sheila is not only very intelligent, she’s also very determined, so although she was certainly knocked back and excluded from some things she wanted to do, or ways she wanted to do them, she just kept on pushing until she found a way around the obstacle.
Which is your favourite motto or a thought from Sheila’s wise yet witty repertoire of thoughts?
Too hard to choose! But in the film you’ll hear her say several times that you have to ‘keep on keeping on’ when challenges arise, and that’s a good advice.
I was very delighted, when I realised that Sheila quotes Walt Whitman in her introduction to Animals of New Zealand (his poem The beasts, which talks about the animals). I wonder if she ever in your conversations revealed her fondness for any other authors and who were they?
She has a big library of books on ships and sailing, and likes novels and poems about the sea and life on it. She can remember a lot of songs and poems from her early years with a sea theme, such as John Masefield’s Cargoes. She’s pretty good on Shakespeare as well.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Sheila and your movie?
It has been very rewarding for Hugh and me to share our enjoyment of Sheila, and her enjoyment of life, through this film, and find that is (as we hoped) resonating deeply with other people.
Sheila’s story told through the camera lens is full of curiosity and wonder for nature and great outdoors that surround us. It proves that those who observe and see, will be rewarded greatly – with life-long beauty and content. Make sure you see it!
“It was a dark and chilly winter’s night, but the crowd in the foyer of the Charles Luney Auditorium at St. Margaret’s College didn’t let that deter them. They were bundled up warm, busy chatting to their friends, and keen to get into the auditorium to hear Auckland University’s Michael Corballis present ‘Mental Travels in Space and Time’.”
Did you just get an image in your head of how that scene might have looked? If you’ve ever been into the Charles Luney Auditorium before, your mind will have travelled back there, remembered how it looked, and added in people in winter clothes and cold dark weather to suit the story.
If you haven’t been to this particular location, you might have remembered your old school auditorium instead, or maybe the foyer of the old Christchurch Town Hall or Isaac Theatre Royal, and pictured the scene as if it was happening there. Either way, regardless of how you imagined this scene, you based it upon your memories of a time you were in a particular location, and what you saw and heard, and how it made you feel.
You have just used your brain for mental time travel – using memories as a way to imagine ourselves in places and times that we are not currently in. That was the topic of Professor Corballis’ speech, held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The audience learnt about the hippocampus – the part of the brain which helps form memories of events, and which reinterprets those memories and helps us daydream and imagine ourselves in new places and times.
It’s because of the hippocampus that we can empathise, and put ourselves in another person’s situation, why authors and storytellers can come up with fictional made-up stories, and why readers sometimes get so caught up in the stories they are reading – our brain is letting us experience the story in the same way as it would if we were actually living it.
The audience also learnt what happens if the hippocampus is damaged. If this happens, you can’t form memories of the things you have done, but you remember skills that you have learnt. Could you imagine not having any memories of specific events? Or having others tell you that you have done something or gone somewhere with them, but you don’t remember doing it? Yet at the same time, you don’t have any difficulty remembering how to carry out skills such as walking, talking, or drawing? I can’t imagine that personally, but we heard about some individuals for whom this is normal.
The speech Professor Corballis gave was entertaining and informative, and these same characteristics come through in his new book The Truth About Language. I really enjoyed how accessible this book is – no matter your background, the conversational writing style is easy to read. With anecdotes, quotes from literature, and references to historical and contemporary linguistic theories, Corballis tells the story of how language came to be, and why it is so different in different countries and communities.
Don’t worry if you aren’t a linguist – you will still be able to understand the points Corballis is making, and enjoy the information found in this book. For those readers who do want a more in-depth understanding of the evolution of language, however, the book includes references to other theories and theorists, generous explanatory notes, and a comprehensive bibliography to guide further reading.
From the big bang to the different languages used world-wide in 2017, there are so many aspects of language – body language, pronunciation and sounds, grammar, and so much more. Michael Corballis’ The Truth About Language is a fun way to learn about this fascinating subject, and Christchurch City Libraries has a range of his other books that delve further into the subject. So, if language, the mind, and psychology are things you’re interested in, then check them out on our catalogue!
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.
Fortunately this science-loving audience is not in the least offended by the joke.
Gleick’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.
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.
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.
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.
Time: The real history of science fiction – BBC programme that discusses several of the films discussed in this session as well as the Grandfather paradox and other Time Travel tropes. (log in with your library card number and PIN to watch online)
With my husband out of town with work, I found myself home alone on Valentine’s Day, I decided instead of watching some soppy romance film, I thought I would spend an evening getting to know Lynda.
With 5,800 courses and 260,000 tutorials, first glances were impressive. Lynda.com is an online video tutorial website that is available from our collection of eResources.
I logged in and my date with Lynda began. She is amazing. There are many courses to peruse from IT and programming, to graphic design and business skills. Basics like Microsoft Office are here as well. I was mesmerised. The website is easy to use and all the courses indicate whether they are beginner or advanced so you can immediately tell if it is the right course for you.
I chose two courses – Photography and Web Design. I know a little about both and can say that tutors on the videos were engaging and obviously experts in their field. Each course is broken up into small tutorials so you can learn at your own pace.
I’m looking forward to spending more time with Lynda, and I am going to suggest that my husband goes on a date with Lynda too, (when he is back in town). He was asking me for some tips on Excel.
Marker Space Workshop afterschool programme delved into the World of Wearable Arts (WOW). But it was more than just costume making – it involved a trip to Creative Junk and sewing lessons with a sewing machine – but also circuit making with LEDs and Arduino chips.
Students were asked to create an Kiwiana outfit which included an electronic circuit with flashing LEDs.
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?).
It’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.
We 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.
Rising Tide is a timely new book for kids published in New Zealand aimed at increasing resilience and emotional intelligence.
We all worry and feel anxiety at times in our lives. Anxiety can impact on children and their families in many ways. The Worry Bug Project seeks to support parents and teachers to recognise and address mild to moderate anxiety.
After the success of their previous books Maia and the Worry Bug and Wishes and Worries published after the major earthquakes in Christchurch, families and schools asked the authors for something for older children. Thus Rising Tide was written and developed for Year 5-8 children as a short chapter book. The story is set in New Zealand…
To most people, Ari McInnis is just an ordinary kid. And that’s just the way Ari likes it, because he’s got a secret that he doesn’t want to share – not with anybody. But then something happens to Ari that threatens to expose his secret to everyone. After he helps his Koro in trouble, everyone thinks he’s a hero. If only they knew the truth that is eating away at him. Ari has good skills ‘reading’ water and when he needs some time alone, he retreats to an old dinghy only he knows about. But when the river starts rising in the rain, he – and his Dad who has gone looking for him – are in danger.
Rising Tide is available in both English and Te Reo Māori. Online versions and an audio component are soon to come. In the back of the book parents and educators will find teaching plans and family exercises accompanying the story aimed at increasing resilience and emotional intelligence, based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Narrative Therapy. It looks at topics such as avoidance and catastrophising.
This book is great for parents, whānau, teachers and home school families wanting to delve more into the themes explored here of anxiety, family, self-belief and identity. This would also be a good book to support children struggling with reading and writing.
About the authors
Sarina Dickson is a parent, author and teacher (including tutoring in creative writing for children at the Christchurch School for Young Writers). She is passionate about the re-generation of Christchurch and its people.