Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird at the WORD Christchurch and Christchurch Art Gallery

BIRD + YOUNG sounds like a firm purveying fancy jewellery.  But for Hera Lindsay Bird (poet) and Ashleigh Young (poet, writer, editor), it is words and ideas that are the things they are making and selling. This WORD Christchurch event at the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was introduced by WORD’s programme director Rachael King and chaired by Amy Marr, the Visitor Programmes Coordinator of the Art Gallery.

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Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet whose works have pretty much gone viral – you might have read the one about Monica from Friends, and that Keats one – everywhere, BAM! Ashleigh Young  is a poet and writer who recently became the first New Zealander to win Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize, worth US$165,000 (NZ$230,000), for her collection of raw, real, beautifully honest essays, Can you tolerate this? Their books are both on the shortlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

It was a soggy evening, but that didn’t deter the crowd. It was full to the gunnels.

Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9004

Hera and Ashleigh kicked off with some readings:

How do they get time to write when they work full time (Hera at Unity Books, Ashleigh at Victoria University Press)? It ain’t easy, but great employers help. Hera gets a paid day off each week. Ashleigh’s boss has offered time off for writing, while keeping her job open.

What followed was a discussion that ranged widely – from influences, to the IIML, sexy stuff, humour, and processes – with a good amount of Q&A time (surprise fact: lots of questions asked by men). Here’s some of the things we learned:

  • Ashleigh edited Hera Lindsay Bird’s book which she said required barely a single change. She read the manuscript on the floor, weeping and cackling.
  • Hera enjoys reading crime fiction, humour, and heaps of poetry. She’s currently reading the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.
  • Ashleigh has lots of self help books concealed on her Kindle.
  • Ashleigh said she can’t remember not wanting to write (but always knew she’s need a day job to pay the bills)
  • Hera’s parents had star charts – not for good behaviour but for writing, and she would get paid to write poems. She wondered if her Coromandel hippy parents fancied her as the next Laura Ranger (remember Laura’s Poems?)
  • Hera feels the support of her family and knows that even if she writes something explicit, her Dad will be chill with it.

Photos

See our pics from the event.

Quotable Quotes

I don’t think either of us leave the house very much. (Hera)

I really love New Zealand actually. (Ashleigh)

This whole thing is terrible for my process. (Ashleigh, on this talk and writer events when you are an introvert writer)

I love her blurriness. (Ashleigh, on Lydia Davis)

People know both Renoir and Taylor Swift. (Hera, on art and pop culture)

George Saunders is my favourite living writer. (Hera)

All the sex in it is kind of a joke. (Hera, on her book)

Even Bill Manhire can be really funny. (Ashleigh)

I don’t find anything moving that I didn’t find funny first. (Hera)

Book signing - Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Book signing – Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9027

An Ashleigh and Hera playlist

Here are some of the many writers, poets, and musicians namechecked by Ashleigh and Hera:

  • Lydia Davis – Ashleigh loves her writing: “Something about her voice makes me want to write myself”.
  • Both name checked Frank O’Hara.
  • NZ poet James Brown
  • Hera is inspired by Mark Leidner, Chelsey Minnis, PG Wodehouse
  • Anne Carson – intense beauty, no humour. (Hera)
  • Ashleigh: Mark Greif – Against Everything
    “The opinions he expresses have a finality to them whereas Lydia Davis’ work seems like everything is still forming in front of her”
  • Hera recommended Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders. He is coming to the Auckland Writers Festival this year.
  • Ashleigh currently listening to Grandaddy the band – for a nostalgic ‘so bad it’s good’ hit.
  • Hera was asked about her use of a text generator in writing a poem in the book. She said she liked to play and experiment with language and referenced This Paper Boat  by Gregory Kan.

Amy – who was a great and enthusiastic facilitator for this session –  heartily recommended The TOAST website.

What’s next

Hera is heading off to a couple of overseas festivals.

Ashleigh is writing poems, and is off to New Haven, Connecticut to collect the Windham-Campbell Prize (and go to New York with the other recipients).

Both are working on new books. Slowly, surely.

Donna R and Kim M

Emily Writes talks

Emily Writes is a Wellington-based writer whose blog posts have a habit of going viral. She is mother to two year-old Ronnie and four year-old Eddie and over the last couple of years I have chatted with her online quite a bit.

With a three year-old myself our online conversations have covered the full range of parental indignities from pregnancy and childbirth to toddler tantrums and terrible things that have happened to our soft furnishings. But also moments of delight… and Alexander Skarsgård gifs.

Emily’s new book, Rants in the dark, is proving a hit with parents across the country. Ahead of the Christchurch launch event at Scorpio Books next week, Emily chatted to me about her book, how she writes, and shared some favourite reads of her own.

Emily Writes
Emily Writes. Image credit: Christopher Tse.

So you started out blogging about parenting stuff, segued into somewhat tipsy movie reviews, have become the parenting editor at The Spinoff and now you have a book out. The next inevitable step is the biopic of your life, so the real question is… who will play you?

Oh my gosh, that is so hilarious. Alexander Skarsgård would need to be my husband in a movie and we would need to have many off-camera dress rehearsals and practice runs.

Cover of I Am Sasha Fierce
Emily’s twin and future bestie, Beyoncé.

I would really like it if Beyoncé could be me… I love her… My inspiration is Beyoncé so I would like to meet her. Because if she played me in a movie I could meet her and then maybe we would become best friends.

I’m now thinking about this a lot. Because it would probably be like a Shortland Street actor, right? Or someone who could do a believeable Kiwi accent, so maybe it could be… Nicole Kidman in a fat suit or something? Or… Cate Blanchett’s very good at accents.

What were you aiming for in writing “Rants in the dark”?

I hope that it is kind of a friend in the night to mums and new mums. If they’re awake at 3am or something like that – I wrote it at 3am. So I hope that it feels like somewhere they can turn in the night when they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Or during the day, or any time. I hope that it’s a different kind of parenting book.

It’s not a place for advice, or judgment or “I know what I’m doing” because I definitely don’t know what I’m doing. I hope that it just makes mums feel good about themselves but not in a “yoga” way.

Do you feel like there is a niche that parenting books weren’t quite hitting and that that’s where “Rants in the dark” sits?

I guess, yeah. I got What to expect when you’re expecting when I was pregnant and it kind of terrified me, and it’s also a bit like reading a dictionary. It’s quite a full-on book and I looked but I couldn’t find anything that properly prepared me – and I know that you can’t properly be prepared [for parenthood] – but I guess I wanted something like “hey, this might not be every single second of incredible delight. It will be amazing and the best thing ever but there will also be some really hard times”. That’s a really hard message to get across and maybe that’s why there aren’t books like that.

I just really felt like because we had tried so hard [to have a baby] that I would be ecstatic every second. And it’s that whole thing where, any parent talking about the hard times, you feel like you have to justify straight away – I am really happy…  And that’s why it’s such a difficult thing to talk about but I think we really do need to talk about… the realness of parenting, I guess.

I felt, with Eddie’s illness… how did this ever happen? And that’s a really hard thing when you start motherhood with something that you never expected that turns your whole life upside down. So I wanted to write something that maybe resonated with those mums that didn’t have this super smooth run into motherhood.

Sometimes I felt, when Eddie was really sick, that all these mums around me just had these perfect lives, and I know that that’s not true… but I felt very weird, alone and kind of “othered”… And I know that a lot of mums who have babies that have health conditions or are prem or that type of thing, they feel that too. So I hope that in that way it serves the community.

Emily Writes is not your real name, is it? Why did you feel the need to work under a pseudonym?

I guess the pseudonym is about the fact that I want to protect the privacy of my children. Every step of the way I’ve had boundaries and wanted to respect their privacy, and not only privacy but for me it’s about respecting them as people. …We talk a lot about what I’m writing, in terms of respecting the boys, but there’s a lot of trust there that I’m never going to do something that hurts them.

But I guess I don’t want them to spend their lives with people saying things like “oh, is your mum blah, blah, blah”. And I don’t want them to be Google-able, if that’s a word. I don’t want them to feel like they are characters or anything like that and I want to respect my husband’s privacy. He’s a really shy person.

… It also allows me a little bit of separation… I want to be able to come home and I walk through the door and I’m with my kids. …I find this is sort of a way to remind myself that I am a mum first to my kids and a wife and that is really important to me that I prioritise that and this allows me to not get too far up my own a*** or something.

With two small kids, it must be a struggle to write sometimes.

It’s hard to get it good. I write heaps. My drafts folder is like a phonebook… but it’s all s***. It’s easy to write lots but trying to find something good enough to publish is hard.

What I did was all at 3am, 4am because my kid is just intense. Every time he woke up, if I had an idea, I would note it down during the night and the book is like lots of little blog posts in a book. So I didn’t have to change my way of writing or anything [from blogging]. So I feel like I was pretty lucky. I think writers who write actual books are amazing.

Cover of Rants in the dark[I remind Emily that she has written an actual book]

Oh yeah, I have written an actual book. I forgot.

You just feel so lucky to have a book that you just feel very weird, and lucky and how did this happen? And it just doesn’t feel like it was hard because it’s so exciting. And also I didn’t do the grind like other writers did. I feel like I’ve been shot up the a*** with a rainbow, basically. I’ve just been very lucky.

What authors or writers do you yourself enjoy reading?

That’s a great question. I love Bunmi Laditan. I discovered her after I had started writing because someone said “you remind me of Bunmi” and then I went on her Facebook page and she’s just amazing in the way she talks about anxiety and mental health –  just so powerful. I love Bunmi.

I love Clementine Ford. I just read Fight like a girl. I think that was really brave. It’s kind of like Feminism 101, a really nice sort of entry into intersectional feminism…

I really love Emma Neale whose book Billy Bird – I just cried the whole way through it – it was such a powerful metaphor for parenting.

Cover of Mansfield and MeI love Sarah Laing’s Katherine Mansfield book, Mansfield and Me. I love that book. It’s amazing. I wanted to read it because I really like her as a person. She seems super nice and lovely. I don’t know her but that’s how she seems. So I thought “I’ll just buy it because she seems really nice and I want to support New Zealand authors” and then I loved it. You know when you just don’t know if you’re going to like a book or not, and then it’s everything? And I never thought I’d be into a Katherine Mansfield book but I loved it.

You’re coming down to Christchurch and doing a book launch event at Scorpio Books soon.

Yes, I’m so excited to come to Christchurch and that Scorpio Books wants to host me. And I think someone is running around trying to organise a day event so that we don’t exclude mums who can’t go out during the “witching hour” because their children are tyrants. Which is my children. I don’t mean that to insult anybody’s children.

I’m quite nervous about the Unity launch in Wellington because my kids will be there but I feel like if they absolutely crack it, I’ll just be like “See? I told you. Everything in the book is true”.

Hear Emily Writes talk at Scorpio Books BNZ Centre, 120 Hereford Street, Thursday, 6-7.30pm, 16 March.

The New Zealand Book Council are giving away one copy of Rants in the dark. To enter the draw, email reception@bookcouncil.org.nz with “Rants” in the subject line by Thurs 16 March. (Remember to include your postal address!)

All About (Nasty) Women — WORD Christchurch

This blog talks about two live-streamed talks from the Sydney All About Women event, but after looking at their website I’ve realised how many interesting talks are happening that aren’t live-streamed. For instance Life on Mars, about Carmel Johnston’s year living in the HI-SEAS Mars simulation on Hawai’i. (I just re-watched The Martian so it caught my eye.) Luckily All About Women is filmed and put on Youtube so those of us who missed out can still watch when they’re uploaded.

Geena Davis on Gender in Media

If you’re skeptical that media representation and the lack thereof can influence the way we view ourselves and others, Geena Davis and her institute on gender in media can provide a few facts that might change your mind. In 2012, the year of Cover of Brave: The essential guideBrave‘s Merida and The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, the participation of girls in archery competitions more than doubled. Which is great! What’s not so great is how rare that positive representation actually is. The gender disparity in film is just as bad now as it was 1946, and that’s not an exaggeration. I recently read Jessica Chastain’s essay on how amazing and rare it was to work on a set that has 20% women (The Zookeeper’s Wife, directed by Niki Caro). 20%! Sometimes she was the only woman on set at all. I sometimes forget, working in a field that is so woman-friendly, how isolated we can be in the workplace.

As depressing as those facts are I highly recommend having a look at Geena Davis’ website and the footage of her All About Women speech when it goes up. In person she is very, very funny and has inspired me to look even more closely at the media I consume. I recommend you do likewise, particularly animated children’s movies, which from the stats seem to have the worst record of gender disparity and negative stereotyping.

Backstage interview with Jessa Crispin

Crispin rejects the label of feminist because today’s feminism isn’t feminist enough. Too many people are calling themselves feminists, she says, by just co-opting the ideology others have created rather than inventing their own. To make real change we need just a few really hardcore radical women willing to tear down the system, we don’t need to convert everybody to the cause.

If feminism is universal, if it is something that all women and men can “get on board” with, then it is not for me. If feminism is nothing more than personal gain disguised as political progress, then it is not for me. If by declaring myself a feminist I must reassure you that I am not angry, that I pose no threat, then feminism is definitely not for me. I am angry. And I do pose a threat. — Jessa Crispin, Why I Am Not a Feminist

Cover of Why I am not a feministI found listening to Crispin frustrating because while I agreed with some of what she said (feminism needs to be more inclusive racially and economically) I disagree with how she thinks we should solve it. Slacktivism is a problem for many causes, not just feminism, so rather than sneering at the lip-service feminists as not being feminist enough, why not work to inspire more of them to take more active roles in achieving gender parity?

If you were there (or have read Crispin’s book, Why I Am Not a Feminist), I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Nasty Women

So many smart, articulate ladies on this panel. Some of the best quotes:

No one is looking after us, it’s only us. And if you don’t get active in democracy, you get Trump. — Van Badham

 

The moment we shut up we let them win. — Yassmin Abdel-Gamied

 

Cover of Shrill: Notes from a loud womanSimply presenting my body to the world and insisting that it has value is a political act. It freaks people out. — Lindy West

 

You have the strength of all the women with you, who came before you, and who will come after you. — Van Badham

 

We have to mobilise everyone. Tell our kids that activism and standing for office are part of our civic duties. —Lindy West

 

It’s when people mobilise around the issues that are actually more important than the vacuum of hate, that opinions can change and we’ve got to have hope in that message and our capacity to organise, to speak to people about what’s really important to them. It’s only a tiny percentage of people who are really defined by hatred and will vote hatred more than anything else. — Van Badham

 

The idea of changing the entire world is overwhelming, but the idea of having an impact on the few people who are around us is very very achievable. — Yassmin Abdel-Gamied

One (very small) way that I try to make a difference is to support marginalised authors by buying, reading and reviewing their books. It takes very little effort on my part and I get to read great books! Win-win. If you’re looking for new authors to read I recommend We Need Diverse Books as a great place to start.

Lucy Dillon – All I Ever Wanted

Cover of All I ever wantedCaitlin and Eva have something and nothing in common. They’ve both lost their husbands. While Eva is the poised, business-like widow of a celebrity actor, Caitlin is a free spirit who dropped out of university to have a child, and is seperated from Eva’s brother, Patrick.

When Patrick volunteers Eva’s pristine, designer house for fortnightly visits between Patrick and his children Joel and Nancy, Eva is forced out of her comfort zone of grief and into facing her future without Mick, her famous husband.

Nancy, only four, is carrying a secret. Unable to speak since the separation, Nancy thinks it was her wish that made her father go away…

All I Ever Wanted tells the story of how this family is broken apart, then brought together by a common goal: to get Nancy to speak again,

Lucy Dillon writes with an eye for physical detail and emotional nuance, she skillfully relates the feeling of a parent unable to help their child, the frustration of a couple unable to communicate and the pain of Eva’s childllessness. She notes the personality traits that make us unique, and the ways in which we understand and misunderstand one another.

I was swept up in the often moving journey of her characters. A little gushy towards the end (I’m not normally a romance reader) this is a powerfully written book.

All I ever wanted
by Lucy Dillon
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781444796049

Dragon Springs Road – Janie Chang

Cover of Dragon Springs RoadDragon Springs Road by Janie Chang has as many layers as a Chinese puzzle. This beautifully painted tale is a saga containing a mystery, with elements of romance, fantasy, fairy tale and Chinese spiritualism. The story is set against the dramatic backdrop of the 1911 Chinese Revolution; the last reign of the Xing Dynasty.

Jialing is a young hun xue (mixed breed) girl abandoned by her mother. The other word used to describe her isn’t very nice. Jialing’s mother was Chinese, her father British. Her plight highlights the status of women and those of mixed race in a changing society. Women at this time were regarded as property, with little options for independence.

Grandmother Yang, the Matriarch of a well respected family, takes Jialing in as a Bond Servant. She is property of the family until she can buy her freedom. Unfortunately for Jialing, her options as an adult are limited. Although educated, discrimination against her Eurasian appearance makes her almost unemployable.

When a family finds itself in financial difficulty, even wives can be sold; or as servants, or worse, into brothels. Jialing can only hope to be a mistress or a prostitute, unless she is lucky. Aided and protected by a Fox Spirit, Jialing attempts to find a home, friendship, her mother, independence and love.

Janie Chang is also the author of Three Souls.

This is the perfect book to read during Lunar New Year!

Dragon Springs Road
by Janie Chang
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062388957

Lunar New Year events

All about China

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.

 

Tell you what #AotearoaReads

I confess I didn’t read all of the books in my eyewateringly large pile of holiday reads. But I accidentally went all #AotearoaReads and it was ACE.

CoverFirst up, I finished Can you tolerate this? Personal essays by Ashleigh Young. She tells stories about her family and relationships, but also little histories that have captured her imagination – a boy with a rare skeletal disease, a French postman and his project with stones. This combination of the personal and something more expansive (in both space and time) is a winner. I gave this book to my little sister at Christmas time, and she has whisked it away to London (where today it is snowing). She’s going to love it.

CoverTell you What Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2017 is the third in a series of top writing from magazines, websites, and blogs – pieces so good that it feels good and proper to have them in print. They are anything but ephemeral.

Editors Jolisa Gracewood and Susanna Andrew have again created a brilliant buffet of thoughts and words. You can dip in anywhere and read something that’ll grip you to the last full stop. It’s joyously diverse in topic – kererū, Rugby World Cups, tikanga, Hudson and Halls. It is also geographically varied. The stories are not just set in Aotearoa but range from London to Iceland as well as Kiwi locales like Poplar Avenue and Ashdown Place.

Tell you what reminds me of listening to Radio New Zealand. You’ll find yourself deeply immersed in something you never knew about, and didn’t know you were interested in. That’s magic.

Cover#AotearoaReads is the gift that keeps on giving well past the New Year. I’ve started reading Write to the Centre: Navigating Life With Gluestick and Words by Helen Lehndorf.

Other recent #AotearoaReads I loved:

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Find out more about the New Zealand Book Council’s Aotearoa Summer Reads.

Tell you what: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2017
edited by Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408602

Back in time and half a world away

Armchair travel is always a big hit over the Summer holidays, so we’ve put together a travel list with a bit of a twist… Come, throw yourself backwards in time and half a world away.

Our new booklist, International Historical Fiction, has heaps of recommendations from all over the world, and from many different time periods.

My personal favourite is Eowyn Ivey’s new one To the Bright Edge of the World – Alaskan wilderness, science and exploration bordering on the world of magic and myth. Sophie, young and newlywed in the 1880s, is fascinated with the science of photography and a bit of a weird outcast among the other women, while her husband Allan is leading an expedition across the unexplored (by white people, at least) wilderness of Alaska. I could use lots of words like ‘frontier’ and ‘isolation’ and ‘fascinating detail’ and ‘gosh white explorers are awful when it comes to the native people.’

Cover of 'to the bright edge of the world'  Cover of 'Homegoing' cover of 'Barkskins'

If you like stories with huge scope that traverse through multiple countries and confront harsh historical realities, have a look at Homegoing, a story of half-sisters with two remarkably different destinies. One young woman, Effia, is given in marriage to a high ranking British official, while her half-sister, Esi, is held in the dungeons below as a slave. The ramifications of the distance between them and the unhealed scars of slavery run through this novel for seven generations.

Similar in scope is Annie Proulx’s new novel, Barkskins. Both Homegoing and Barkskins begin in the 18th century, but Barkskins opens in New France. At over 700 pages it should keep you going all holidays, and take you through the two intertwining families through the generations.

Or if you want to load up on an entire epic series, let Conn Iggulden’s five book Conqueror series take you back to the time of Ghengis Khan on the Mongolian Plains, or head east, to David Kirk’s Sword of Honour if you want to meet some samurai out for revenge.

Cover of 'Conqueror' Cover of 'Sword of honour' Cover of 'Snow flower and the secret fan' Cover of 'Under the Udala Trees' 

For something perhaps a little gentler, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a beautiful story of a deep and powerful friendship between two women in 19th century China. Something a little bit more modern? Under the Udala Trees is set in the 1960s and 1970s in Nigera, a dangerous place to be if you’re a woman in love with another woman. A debut novel of gender equality and the right to love in a country recovering from civil war.

Recommended booklists from Christchurch City Libraries:

Staff pickles logo Or check out our Staff Pickles personalised lists, some choice lists with a historical or international flavour are:

  • Historical Fiction of the Masses – no drawing-room gossip or swooning in these novels! A list by Dan.
  • Translated Reads – a glimpse of a life and a world originally told in another language. A list by Roberta.
  • The World Wars: fiction and fantasy – stories of the brightest and darkest of humanities nature during two horrific time periods. A list by Alison.
  • Behaving Badly in the 1800s – mostly young adult fiction, these are books about people busting out and breaking rules. Another list by Alison.
  • Dead Dames – books written by dead women. A list by Alina.
  • Microhistories – discover the unusual and often surprising history of things like sugar, human waste, bananas, milk, coal, plants and that most mysterious of the cutlery family, the fork. Another list by Alina.

The Atomic Weight of Love

Book cover of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J ChurchThe Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.

Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.

It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.

Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.

The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.

Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.

That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.

Read the novel to find out if she does.

It is an enjoyable debut novel with a poetical style and reminds me of The Guernsey Potato Peel Literary Society, The Light between Oceans and The Shipping news. If you like nature and have a slightly scientific bent you will enjoy it and even learn a little physics on the way.

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008209292

Photo Hunt October: Clarendon Hotel at the time of the Royal Visit, 1953

Outside the Clarendon Hotel at the time of the Royal Visit, 1953
Entry in the 2015 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt by Yvonne Dixon. Kete Christchurch PH15-044.jpg, CC-BY-NC-SA NZ 3.0

Photo taken John Abernethy with colour-slide film and printed from a Kodak transparency. The former Avon Cinema is on the left and the Clarendon Hotel, where the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh stayed, on the right on the corner of Worcester Street and Oxford Terrace.

Date: 1953.

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.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.