This Labour Weekend I’m off to the West Coast of our South Island again. I get an itch to escape to there fairly often and this time it felt like it had been too long since last visit. There is something wholly relaxing about leaving your busy city life for the wilds of ‘the Coast’.
By the time you read this blog, I hope to be on the receiving end of the gracious services of airline personnel as we wing our way to Italy on a long-awaited trip.
This trip has been four years in the making, starting with my husband learning Italian (thanks Mango Languages!), followed by library colleagues making all sorts of wonderful suggestions on what to do and where to stay (whilst others provided terrifying horror stories of things that could go wrong), and one dear colleague who helped my husband get conversation practice by meeting us for coffees and setting him up with an Italian pal for chats. Thanks one and all.
But now for the really important question on everybody’s lips: “What will you be reading in Italy?”
A friend’s suggestion:The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. “For your trip” she said sliding it across the café table. From the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I thought I’d get home and just read the first couple of pages. Within two days I had read the whole book. It is every bit as good as Harold Fry, with the same complex characterisation, the same zingy dialogue, the same fullness of heart. But with a more complex resolution of plot. All that this book is missing is a soundtrack list. I loved it, but now it can’t come to Italy with me.
A book from my must read list:Dianne Athill is a favourite author of mine – she is one of that breed of really old women (she is now aged 99) who still writes. If you’ve not done so yet, read her book Alive, Alive Oh! which asks the question, should you live to be 100 years old, what will you remember? One of the things Diana hopes to remember is sex! I’ve had her A Florence Diary on one of my must-read lists, and it’s time has almost come. It is a small book on her trip to Florence with her cousin when she was a young woman. I shall read it in that city. Into my case it goes.
A serendipitous find: How could I resist The Lovers’ Guide to Rome by Mark Lamprell. This one crossed my path in the course of a day’s work and it felt as if it were meant to be. What I love about the first few pages is that they include quite an arty little map of Rome. My husband and I both love maps, they form part of the early folklore of our relationship. It turns out that “the Eternal City has secrets only lovers can glimpse.” This one is coming with, and as an eBook on my iPad!
A book which has nothing to do with Italy at all: A possible antidote to all this Latin charm is the in-your-face 2017 novel entitled Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose. Here were my first thoughts: Nobody writes novels about Johannesburg. No-one even calls the city by its full name any more. The library won’t have this book, and even if they did no one in New Zealand would read it. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. Set in Joburg in the twenty-four hours after Mandela’s death, the first few pages convinced me that this is a brilliant book.
And if I do read this book in Italy, I think we can safely say I will be the only person in the whole of that country reading an English novel set in South Africa and with the title Johannesburg. And there is something about that which I find perversely appealing!
It was one of those moments when you hear your crazy calling and decide in a split second to just indulge it. Your favourite singer was performing 3 nights in a row on the same island as you … why not go to all three gigs?
Sure it meant driving more than the entire length of said island in less than 3 days, while going to three concerts, booking motels, concert tickets, taking a half day off work, but life is for living and following your passions, and everyone knows I’m passionate about the glorious Tami Neilson.
Luckily for me my husband is a fan boy of almost equal proportions (competitive moi?), so he was all up for the adventure.
The first night of the adventure was a Thursday night, and Tami was performing at Charles Luney Auditorium here in Christchurch. It was sold out and it was a very refined, well behaved audience… well except for the devotees like us, who of course know the words of her songs and cheer and whoop enthusiastically.
Friday lunchtime, we leave work at 12, rush home, throw some clothes and snacks in the car and head nonstop for Dunedin. Another awesome concert – a different crowd and venue gives a different vibe, more intimate and grateful. You get the sense so many more people here actually know her music.
Next morning, and we’re heading to Queenstown, through parts of the country we haven’t seen in decades, if ever.There’s a little snow around, hardly any traffic, and the rolling hills through the Rock and Pillar range are truly breathtaking. Road trips in New Zealand are just wondrous.
It’s a weird little crowd at this last gig. They’ve got a definite country pub thing going on, a lot of them have been drinking for quite a while, so are behaving rather boorishly and in the end, Tami, after trying her darnedest to engage with them, gives them what they want, music to dance to – she even sings Happy birthday.
We get back home that night wishing we didn’t have work in the morning, but the memories and the music are buzzing in our brains, and does so for days after.
If you have a passion for music, check out the wealth of music and learning to be had within Christchurch City Libraries’ databases, like American Song which offers rich pickings in many genres, Gospel being among them.
So, moral of this long tale? Take a chance, if you say, “no, that’s crazy I shouldn’t” then I strongly recommend that you do. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
When selecting stock for the library it is always important to think about trends and what might be the next ‘big thing’, and one area that always garners interest is health and wellbeing – that elusive food/exercise/natural remedy/mindset that will provide the magic elixir of anti aging/weight loss/fitness and a long life.
Is Algae the new Kale? Turmeric latte anyone? I was unfortunate enough to read that some are suggesting beetroot, charcoal or mushroom becoming your coffee substitute! Forget nose to tail eating, now it’s about root to stem.
If you have been struggling with Mindfulness then you can now rest easy with Mindset – the belief that basic abilities can be developed through hard work, a love and learning, and dare I say it – ‘resilience’. Breathing is also big – not surprising given we all need to do it, but are we doing in the right way? And last but not least, Neuroslimming, giving you a “mind plan, not a meal plan”.
Tiny houses are still wildly popular, at least the pictures of them in the books are, but I do wonder how many people actually bite the bullet and live in the small but perfectly formed shed in the back yard? Travel stories are still very popular and I have it on good authority that Iceland is the next big thing (and I just happen to be going there in the middle of the year!)
I expect we will see a few more books on Donald Trump this year along with his good mate Putin. There may be a few books on Fidel Castro and Cuba could become a more popular travel destination?
The craft area is dominated by a love of anything Nordic and the knitting, quilting and embroidery books are still as popular as ever. Cooking is still raw, which is ironic considering it’s cooking.
Need some cheering up, then these two titles might help the optimism quotent.
Kaye Neely from Miramar Wellington, departing at Christchurch Airport with anNACair hostess. Kaye had come down for a holiday with her older cousins. As she was only four at the time she’d had to tell a “little white lie” saying she was five (the minimum age to travel unaccompanied. She was beautifully dressed in the new dress her mum had made for the occasion and wearing a hat and matching bag. Date: 1974.
Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008. The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.
I’d be willing to bet cold, hard cash that of all the writers who took part in WORD Christchurch this year, Steve Hely is the only one who has “actor: flautist and shirtless bohemian, The Office (US)” on their CV. Assuming that he does, in fact, even have that on his CV… and if not, why?
He’s also one of those annoying people who are intelligent, funny, and interested in lots of things and therefore make the rest of us feel bad with their rampant overachieving.
In addition to having worked on some of the best comedy shows EVER (in addition to The Office and 30 Rock, there’s American Dad and chaotic political comedy Veep – pretty sure those are on the CV), he also does a podcast, The Great Debates, in which he argues passionately about the big questions in life… such as whether dogs should be allowed on the beach.
He’s also written several books. His novel “How I became a famous novelist” is a satire of the literary world (and somewhat awkwardly, given the context of this talk, literary festivals).
His two non-fiction efforts are both travel books, of a kind. The first, The Ridiculous Race, documents the competition he and friend Vali Chandrasekaran undertook to travel around the world, in opposite directions, without air travel. First one back to Los Angeles won. The second follows him on his trip down the west of the South American continent, right down to Tierra del Fuego at the southern end of Chile.
On Comedy writing
Toby Manhire started out asking him quite a few questions about the process of television comedy writing*, and how it differed between shows like Late Night with David Letterman and 30 Rock.
Letterman had much more of a factory approach where people worked independently like “12 monkeys at 12 typewriters”, which answers the question “if infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters will eventually produce Shakespeare, what will a drastically smaller number get you?” A Letterman top ten list, is the answer.
Sitcoms, according to Hely are a more collaborative kind of environment, though being employed as a writer on a show that is already hugely successful is pretty intimidating. Of his arrival at 30 Rock, says Hely “I was a scared little puppy trying to help out”.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. Great television writers have a magpie-ish ability to retain “something weird, some odd sentence that someone said to them” and turn that into a gag or even a whole episode. There is also such a thing as “riffing” for comedy writers though it’s “embarrassing to talk about compared with guitar music because it’s less cool, but it is, in a way, similar to how music is made”.
With regards to his forays into sitcom acting, it was definitely useful, as a writer, to have that experience, to be able to understand what it’s like for the actors.
“The feeling of being an actor is terrifying and strange.
And in a long-running show like The Office, the actors have spent more time with their characters than many of the writers have so “you’re wise to listen to the actors’ ideas about their characters.”
Hely admits to a certain kind of wanderlust and feels that travel breaks a person out of the routine ways of doing things, creating a certain kind of heightened awareness. Where will I get food? Where will I sleep?
“It really makes you feel alive”.
He’s also interested in the whole genre of travel writing – the history of going somewhere and reporting back on it, from Herodotus to Mark Twain (another American writer who has visited Christchurch, by the way).
There are examples of this interest in The Wonder Trail, which in certain chapters feels like a meta-travel book (a travel book about travel books) when Hely documents the history of what what travellers of old have made of the place that he’s visiting in the present, which allows you the perspective of seeing what has changed (or not) in the meantime. It’s an amusing, enlightening, and informative read, whether you’ve any interest in travelling to South America yourself or not, there’s plenty to keep you reading.
On Trump, Clinton and Sir Edmund Hilary
There’s no denying it, things have gotten weird. Or as Hely puts it “that satire is being outpaced by reality is alarming”. Er, yes, it is rather.
Hely is in a good position to say just how alarming as he got press credentials for and attended the Republican National Convention. He found it “upsetting”, though in the wake of Ted Cruz not endorsing Trump it felt “like a pro-wrestling match – I enjoyed the chaos of that”.
A lot of Trump’s political success, he believes, is “because politicians are boring”… as they should be – “I want boring people working on policy,” he says.
Trump is woefully unprepared for the job.
“His plans for being president don’t seem like those of someone who thought about being president for more than an hour…”
Whereas Hillary Rodham Clinton has probably been thinking about being president “since the second grade”. This is not to say that he’s necessarily a fan of HRC. In fact he thinks she’s very cavalier with the truth, going so far as to call her “chronically dishonest”.
An amazing example of this was the time she claimed to have been named after our own Sir Edmund Hilary. Later fact-checking revealed that Clinton was born years before Sir Ed and Sherpa Tensing reached the summit of Mt Everest. So why lie? Did she even really claim that? Was it a joke that got misreported? If not had she just, as Hely put it “wigged out” and made it up, or did someone in her family tell her it was true and she believed it?
We know from audience member (and veteran political cartoonist) Peter Bromhead, who knew Sir Ed and spoke with him about this very topic, that Clinton certainly did relate the story as fact and that the man himself had believed it to be true initially. As to why Clinton lied…well, who knows? Or as Hely suggested, was it true after all? Might her parents have just been really, really keen on beekeepers?
Hely is a fan of Cormac McCarthy but also evocative non-fiction like The Possessed by Elif Batuman. He’s also loves the design of Penguin classics.
When I lived in the UK as long as there was not a Tube delay due to “man under train”, bomb threats, mechanical failure or leaves on the tracks I would normally watch the BBC news. I would just get in the door in time for the familiar Beep, Beep, Beep which always comes just before the start of the news. I loved the BBC news as it was my time to collapse after work and the presenters would soothe me with their proper pronunciation, quality news reporting and interesting television. To me the BBC has succeeded in its royal charter where it must – “inform, educate and entertain”.
There can be no denying that as well as news the BBC has produced some amazing television over the years and we are now in a position to gather together some of its most viewed documentaries in one place with the BBC Video Collection. So far I have set up a personal account so I can create a playlist which includes Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour and Terry Jones’ Barbarians. This quick list I made will guarantee that as the evenings get darker and colder I will not be reduced to watching dating or cooking shows on our own TV networks. If history is not your thing, do not despair as there are titles on engineering, music, health, business and science and a multitude of other interests. All you need to do is search, watch and relax. If Christchurch traffic tests your nerve endings much like the Tube did mine then you too can escape into the world of the BBC.
I boarded the plane at the start of the hols with lists of Books That Must Be Read Now That I have The Time and stepped off QF139 a month later with a suitcase full of Books That Popped Up Quite By Chance. Here’s how it happened:
Even though my hand luggage contained a perfectly good aeroplane read, still the lure of Sydney Airport book store was too great to resist and I emerged with a book that I bought mainly because I love the cover and it has a compelling first sentence: “Arthur Dreyfuss liked big breasts.” It’s Gregoire Delacourt’s latest novel: the first thing you see and it turned out to be a perfect holiday read about looking beneath the surface – for the first thing you see isn’t always what you’d hoped to get.
I met my second holiday read in a bookshop attached to a café in my hometown – Durban. There is a happy sentence if ever there was one. It was a complete impulse buy, written by an author I’d never heard of (turns out it’s her first novel), with tennis (a game I deeply loathe) as a major theme, and about three sisters (I don’t even have one). Yet its siren call sucked me in, all within the space of a single cappuccino. The book is The Carriage House by Louisa Hall. Don’t be put off by the cover of the library copy, it is a great little holiday read.
My third little find was at a local market in a small town on the west coast of South Africa at a second-hand book stall where, to my amazement, I spotted a book that more than one male colleague had recommended to me. (I have no idea why they would do this, as I have never ridden a bicycle in my life!) Gironimo by Tim Moore is the author’s reaction to the Lance Armstrong debacle which motivated Moore to redress the imbalance and do something totally authentic for cycling – ride the notorious 1914 Giro d’Italia (wearing period clothing) on a gearless, wooden-wheeled 1914 road bike:
What unfolds is the tale of one decrepit crock trying to ride another up a thousand lonely hills, then down them with only wine corks for brakes
So, like all good holidays, I started in one place and ended up somewhere completely different. I went with the flow. I was in the zone. And I had a terrific time.
I am an armchair traveller as opposed to an intrepid traveller, so it is always good to get a book that enables me to see the world without having to leave my living room, or my couch…
You may have heard of Couchsurfing.com? It is designed to enable cheap travel and a novel way to meet new people while staying on their couch, or if you are lucky a bed.
Gabriele Galimberti, the author of My Couch is Your Couch, is an Italian photographer who travelled the world for two years staying only with people who belonged to couchsurfing.com. He has created a book with vignettes of the people he meets, the places they live, a little bit about their lives and a touching tribute to people who are willing to open up their homes and their lives to strangers.
Favourites would have to be the surfer in Alaska – yes, there are waves even if it is minus 15 degrees; the family in Malaysia that share their home with a variety of reptiles; and a couple in Kiev who are naturalists and have tree trunks for a bench and rocks for chairs – thankfully there was a normal old bed for the author. Many of the people featured would be deemed eccentric, some are political, and there are hints of tough lives but enormous optimism.
This is a book to dip into, to pore over the photos and perhaps to even consider becoming part of this community. The only negative being there is not an entry for New Zealand!
MiNDFOOD is a popular magazine that never lasts long on the shelves. Marketing promotes it as containing:
intelligent, inspirational ideas and information. A completely integrated concept, MiNDFOOD the magazine brings you in depth features on society, wellness, environment, culture, travel and food. It’s all about Smart Thinking.
So when MiNDFOOD publishes its Trends for the Future, we should surely sit up and listen. Bear in mind however that these trends are very much focused towards the MiNDFOOD reader – urbane, “mindful”, middle-class and with a spare bob or two.
Preserving: Whether it’s eating like a caveman or revisiting Grandmother’s preserving tips, we are still searching for ideas from the past. Of late fermenting has become an added twist to this trend.
Later Learning: This is an area that the Library excels in. Research suggests that career changes, redundancies and retirement mean we have a lifetime of learning ahead of us. The CINCH directory is the ideal place to start looking for that next option.
Child’s Play: You can’t but help but have noticed the proliferation of colouring books on sale this Christmas. Although this is not an area the Library can contribute to, a previous blog post has a suggestion for Zentangles that could well satisfy the need to doodle and colour. There are also many books in the craft section that can help you to glitter and glue to your heart’s content.
Fashion to the people: Apparently runway shows are opening up to the masses with social media making them no longer the realm of the elite. Here are some tips to help you keep one step ahead of the next big thing.
Inside and out: Individuality is becoming the essence of living environments… apparently. I suspect the vast majority of us already know this, not having the time, money or inclination to redecorate in the latest trends each year, however here are two books that encourage your unique style.
Mindfulness goes mainstream: You can be mindful in the kitchen, the bedroom and have mindful children and cats. We are now mindful when we eat, exercise and work. In fact Mindfulness seems to have permeated almost every aspect of the Library collection.