Mr George Bernard Shaw. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/2-195145-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23159238

Mr George Bernard Shaw. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/2-195145-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23159238

80 years ago, one of the greats was visiting New Zealand, with crowds hanging on his every Shavian word.

George Bernard Shaw visited New Zealand in 1934 for a month, from 15 March to 14 April. He spoke at a civic reception in Christchurch on 10 April 1934.  His speeches and activities were closely tracked by the media, and a book of press reports published called What I said in New Zealand: The Newspaper Utterances of Mr. George Bernard Shaw in New Zealand, March 15th to April 15th, 1934.

Here are some quotes from “What I said in New Zealand” with a Christchurch perspective:

G.B. Shaw and Dr Thacker

Dr. H. T. J. Thacker, of Christchurch, sent him a reply-paid telegram asking for 12 words about his diet. Mr. Shaw’s reply was: “Dr. Thacker, Christchurch. Vegetarian 50 years. Tee­total always. Milk, butter, eggs. Shaw.” (p. 12 )

A Moa Bone Problem

There was a pause here and an impressive voice from the audience asked what its owner, D. H. T. J. Thacker, evidently con­sidered a question of great importance. “Do you know, sir, that we have in the museum here the largest moa skeleton in the world?” Mr. Shaw (looking momentarily a little surprised): Well, no, I didn’t. I’m afraid. I don’t even know what a moa is. Dr. Thacker: It is the largest wingless bird in New Zealand, sir. (p.18)

Intellectual Christchurch

Amazing in his vitality and health Mr. George Bernard Shaw entertained half a dozen reporters and twice as many listeners and spectators at an impromptu levee in the lounge of the United Service Hotel for more an hour after his arrival on Saturday afternoon. “Well, what do you want me to talk about?” he asked as he approached the group of reporters. “What’s it to be today?”  He began with a remark typically Shavian. “Someone has sent in some questions to me —was it ‘The Press?’—yes, ‘The Press’— which are about the most intelligent I’ve had since I came to New Zealand.” He turned to the reporter of “The Press.” “But, my dear fellow, it would take me 150 years to answer them all. I don’t expect to have another 150 years, you know.” The important question of why Mr. Shaw came to Christchurch was simply settled, lie threw back his head and laughed. Christchurch claims to be the most intel­lectual city in New Zealand, and I was most disappointed when the itinerary planned for me did not include it,” he said.

New Zealand Brunelleschi and the Catholic Cathedral

When Mr. Shaw saw that Catholic Cathedral he suddenly thought of Brunelle­schi, and he went in and looked at it. He saw that they had already produced a New Zealand Brunelleschi. They had the classical style with all its merits and nevertheless, the arrangement was very original. It was not a mere copy as he regretted to say the Church of England Cathedral was. There was nothing in that. It was absolutely academic. The other cathedral was originally and beautifully treated.

“But why have I dragged in this?” Mr.Shaw asked. “Not because I was bribed by the architect, because I do not know his name, but because I suddenly saw it without anybody telling me to go in and look at it—it is not in the guide books—and it pro­duced that impression on me. Then I began to think: They have here in New Zealand a man who is capable of doing that work, but what an awful time he must be having! Just imagine! Suppose yourself born here in New Zealand, a Brunelleschi, and that your business is to produce cathedrals of that kind. New Zealand might make a great effort and give you one commission and one cathedral to build. That is pretty hard lines. That man wants to be building cathedrals all his life. There should be cathedrals like that in every town in New Zealand. It should be an attraction just as the church or cathedral is a great attrac­tion in almost all the towns of Europe, the first things you go to see … (p.23)

Communistic New Zealand

Thanks to your communistic institutions you are to some extent leading world civilisation to-day. You are second only to Russia. (p.27)

Holiday reading: Mein Kampf and 22 other books

In the library of the Rangitane, which is now at Wellington, and in which Mr. George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Shaw travelled to New Zealand, there are 23 books given to the ship by Mr. Shaw after he had read them during the voyage. (p. 27)

The titles included My Struggle by Adolf Hitler.

More about George Bernard Shaw

Bye the bye, some of you may have noticed Shaw’s Major Barbara features in season 3 of tv show Girls (Adam is playing a role in a Broadway production of it).

George Bernard Shaw and Sir Joseph James Kinsey at Kinsey's home `Warrimoo' on Papanui Road, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-020830. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22899021

George Bernard Shaw and Sir Joseph James Kinsey at Kinsey’s home `Warrimoo’ on Papanui Road, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-020830. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22899021

Everyone knows about Road Rage – where all other drivers are idiots, your blood pressure soars, you discover swear words you weren’t aware you knew and, when you glance in the rear view mirror to glare at another driver, you don’t recognise the face looking back at you.

But you may be less familiar with Book Rage. Some of the symptoms are similar, but it usually happens at a book club, surrounded by friends, eating delicious nibbly things, sipping wine and doing what you love best – talking about books. And then WHAM, out of the blue, Book Rage flares up.

I’ve belonged to reading groups most of my adult life and here are four of the books that nearly tore those groups asunder:

  • Cover of The SlapThe Slap (Christos Tsiolkas). You don’t know who you are as a parent until someone else slaps your child. At a barbie. The discussion might start out civilised, but child rearing practices can divide even loving couples, never mind a group of ladies only loosely linked by their love of books. Be warned, it could turn ugly.
  • Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen). No one saw this coming, but in retrospect, books about animals do run the risk of degenerating into  emotionally charged “cruelty to animals” accusations. These are always taken personally. You may not get offered a second glass of wine.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James). This was a particularly tricky one for me as I had already taken a vow not to even touch the book. So this book was already causing me significant stress in the workplace. When it showed up at my book group, I launched into a vitriolic attack on it – even though I had not read it, and never ever would. This stance neatly divides people  into those who believe you can’t have an opinion on something you haven’t tried, and the rest of the thinking world.
  • Cover of The Grass Is SingingThe Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing). Most Book Rage starts like this. One person (in this case me) puts a book she loves into the club. Someone in the group responds with comments like: “I never knew any Rhodesians like that” or: “This book is rubbish“.  Next thing I hear myself saying: “Well, you’re wrong” and recklessly amping it up to – “You’re all wrong“. Then I stomped out of the room to the toilet where I tearfully felt I would have to leave any book group that did not appreciate a Nobel Prize winning author. When I looked in the mirror, I saw staring back at me a person I barely recognised. A horrible book snob. I returned to the group. They gave me a cupcake and a coffee. I took Doris Lessing out of the club. We never spoke of it again.

How about you? Do you have any books that have have caused harsh words to be said, that have cut deep beneath the veneer of  civilised behaviour, that have lost you friends?

A book that maybe made you learn something about yourself?

Join The Story Collective for a weekend of storytelling. Enjoy a wide variety of performances, participatory events, and creative workshops. The Story Festival start on the evening of Friday 14 March and runs until Sunday 16 March at the Gap Filler Pallet Pavilion, corner of Kilmore and Durham Streets.

The busy programme includes:

  • Opening night Friday 14 March at 7pm “a rich show of all types of stories, spoken word and live music galore”
  • Saturday 15 March: Creative workshops including a Kakapo tale and making felt kakapo, and lassooing a star.
  • Writers’ Panel with Rachael King, Gavin Bishop, Deborah Rogers, and Anneleise Hall
  • Storytelling dance, and Open Mic;
  • Family chill-out day on Sunday 16 March including the Christchurch City Libraries’ outreach team doing bicultural story telling at 11am, and tales from Christchurch’s Word Witch.

Stories at Pallet Pavilion

There are some tasty literary events coming soon to Christchurch – two next week!

Marcus Chown – Astrophysicist (Wednesday 12 March)

Photo of Marcus ChownMarcus Chown is talking in Christchurch next week at the Aurora Centre. Marcus is a celebrated astrophysicist and writer who communicates pretty mind-blowing science in a witty and informative way. He is brought to Christchurch by the Royal Society of New Zealand, in association with New Zealand Festival.

Marcus is sort of our homeboy too – Moata did a great interview with him back in 2009, and in 2010 he visited our blog and you can read his guest post.

Cover of What a wonderful worldCover of Solar SystemCover of Tweeting the universe

An evening with Jung Chang  (Tuesday 11 March)

The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival brings you An Evening with Jung Chang.The best-selling author will deliver a stunning multi-media talk about her new biography Empress Dowager Cixi, the Concubine Who Launched Modern China. With a healthy 61 holds on this book, we know a lot of you are keen to read this.

Her book Wild Swans is an all-time classic (64th in the latest Whitcoulls Top 100) in which Jung Change chronicles the struggles of her grandmother, her mother, and herself to survive in a China torn apart by wars, and more. Her biography of Chairman Mao was an utterly compelling read too.

Cover of Empress Dowager CixiCover of Chairman Mao

Find out more about Janet Frame.

Janet Frame ranks as one of New Zealand’s finest ever novelists, with an international reputation. (Helen Clark on the announcement of Janet Frame’s Prime Minister’s Award for Literary achievement 2003)

One of the senses in which Frame is decidedly not ordinary is that she is a writer who, in the past, has gone to considerable lengths to avoid publicity for herself or for her books. She is the only author I know of who writes under her own name but lives under a pseudonym: Janet Clutha. Biography and Compassionate Truth: Writing a Life of Janet Frame by Michael King in the Australian Humanities Review.

She had no consistent “message”; but she had suffered and seen suffering, and she did not want it to be overlooked. (C.K Stead The gift of language in NZ Listener)

In private, with family or a few trusted friends, she could be quick, witty, articulate, entertained and entertaining, capable of everything, not excluding malice. She had her bad days; but at her best she sparkled and shone like her own writing.(C.K Stead The gift of language in NZ Listener)

I think what is essential and durable in her work is a tragi-comic vision, bleak in its implications but full of life, courage and humour in its expression. New Zealand has lost an icon, but we have not lost the books she wrote nor the letters and records of an exemplary life. The life and the work together are reminders of how unpredictable, uncontainable, unmanageable – how rare and mysterious – real talent can be. (C.K. Stead)The gift of language

It is ten years ago today that we heard of the death of Janet Frame.

Find out more about Janet Frame.

Cover of The Silent WifeGoing so well on my 2014 New Year’s Resolution to read seven books off The Guardian’s Best Books of 2013 list, I’ve finished my second book. It’s called The Silent Wife, by A. S. A. Harrison, who sadly died before the book’s world-wide release and great success.  John Lanchester called it funny and sharp, someone else said it was better than Gone Girl.

It is sharp, however I did not find it in the least funny and I did not find it better than Gone Girl. I did read it in three days so it must have had something going for it.  As I was reading it I kept thinking “this isn’t very good”, but then I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

One thing it does share with Gone Girl is the unlikeable nature of the two main characters, but I did want to know what happened to them. And the dog. Although the dog slipped from view somewhat towards the end.

It’s a hard book to talk about without giving all-important plot points away, but I think I’d recommend it. The style is pleasingly spare although depth of character is not a strong point. I did become intrigued with Adlerian psychoanalytic theory – to be added to the For Later list.

One of my great pleasures of the 2013/2014 holidays has been re-reading the first four volumes of Elizabeth Jane Howard‘s  Cazalet Chronicles preparatory to reading the fifth, All Change, published in November 2013.Cover of All Change

So it was very sad to read that Howard died on the second of January 2014. Her work was sometimes dismissed as ‘women’s fiction’, and some of the headlines announcing her death were enough to make the blood boil. “Novelist who inspired stepson Martin Amis  dies” and “Kingsley Amis’ ex-wife dies”. Unbelievable. Why did they not just say “Woman lives for 90 years completely defined by men”?

Sybille Bedford is quoted on the covers of the Cazalet Chronicles as saying that Howard will be like Anthony Trollope, someone we read to understand how life was lived, and that seems to be a fair assessment. The Cazalets certainly live and breathe for me, perhaps because they were so closely based on Howard’s family, if Slipstream, her fine autobiography, is to be believed.

If you haven’t read them, give them a go. Her other books are good, but I think she’ll be remembered for the story of the Cazalets at war. Not for who she was married to, or slept with, or step-parented.

To add to the lists being written from everyone’s reading for the year, I’m going to put forward my top five.

This may not be my absolute top five if I had a decent memory and I had kept my completed bookshelf on the library catalogue up to date… New Year’s resolution – I will do this in 2014! But they are ones that have stuck in my mind and have lingered long. They are in no order, I can never just have one favourite book.

cover of Every Day

1. Every Day by David Levithan: Imagine waking up every day in a new body, in a new life. For one teen this is all he/she knows but when faced with true love and a desperate desire to stay put, how will they get the life they long for? Great Young Adult fiction that speaks to adults as well.

2. Levels of Life by Julian Barnes: This little stunner of a book combines the raw pain of Julian Barnes’ grief after the death of his wife, with little known facts and stories about hot air ballooning. Odd combination, but it works. Highly recommended.

3.  The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson: An eighties dystopian novel about a post apocalyptic California dealing with a threat from foreign shores.

4. Perfect by Rachel Joyce: Could Ms. Joyce top the charm and cleverness of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? Why yes she can, this book is very different to her first, but an excellent premise and wonderful characters.

cover of Perfect

5. The Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy: No year of mine can go by without a Cormac or two, and this is probably my favourite book of the year if I really had to pick one. Stunning prose, bleakness and such wonderful characters, he never disappoints. Check out my earlier blog about this great book and author.

And as this is my last day at the libraries for two whole weeks, count them…16 days, I’m arming myself with a couple of recommendations from colleagues and a few movies.

Harvest by Jim Crace and The Novel Cure are at the top of the pile.

I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday period, even if you are working.  May the awesome book fairy shine upon you and the Santa of perfect prose leaves something so excellent, it lingers in your mind for a long time.

Meri Kirihemete!

An A-Z of Literary Remedies

Sometimes when you wake up, your first thought is: I just can’t do today.

Maybe you’ve been dumped by your lover, maybe you’re feeling old before your time, or the muzak in your local mall is a reminder that you have only twenty-something days left to slap Christmas into shape. Whatever your problem, it’s a Duvet Day and The Novel Cure has the book for you.

The authors, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, call their discipline Bibliotherapy (the prescribing of fiction for life’s ailments.) If that sounds exactly like library work to you, let me  remind you that not only have they written this book, they also run sell-out Bibliotherapy sessions and retreats in the UK. So it does beg the question: Why didn’t we think of this first? And if this just lowers your feelings of self esteem, they have a cure for that too – The Shipping News (Annie Proulx). It should cheer you right up!

Presented in alphabetical order and engagingly written, the authors suggest reads for everything from abandonment to zestlessness and all manner of malaise in-between. There are fascinating book lists as well, my favourite being The Ten Best Audio Books for Road Rage. I do have one small quibble and that is the unhealthy pallor of the cover that has been selected. Surely something with rosier cheeks would have been better?

In fact this is far from the only Book about Books out there. The library has 221 items on this topic and you can find a really good list of them right here: like Book Lust to Go (novels for the traveller) and 12 Books that Changed the World by Melvyn Bragg. After a while though, reading these compendiums starts to make me feel quite queasy – don’t read them like a course of  antibiotics (once started must complete entire course). Instead you need to dip into these books, with long palate cleansing activity bouts in-between.

And if, after all this, you still feel you could have put together a superior compilation (The Novel Cure has suggestions to control feelings of both jealousy and competitiveness by the way), you can do that too – right here on our Best Reads of 2013 page. And if even a list is beyond you right now, just tell us your favourite Cheer Me Up read right here on this blog!

I have just finished the last book in the Margaret Atwood MaddAddam trilogy consisting of Oryx and Crake, The Year of the flood and MaddAddam.

Cover of Oryx and CrakeCover of The year of the floodCover of MaddAddam

I’m feeling a bit bereft, as I am inclined to be when I have finished reading something that transports me to another place and time. Not that it is altogether a great place to be taken to – Atwood’s future world is grim, but it is also compelling and scarily realistic, as she states in her acknowledgements.

Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or biobeings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory

Gulp … so pills called BlyssPlus – promising sexual ecstasy but delivering death instead, Nitee-Nite lived streamed suicides, misguided scientists capable of destroying humans and creating a new group of humans called Crakers, engineered to be free of violence and lust, destructive organisations such a CorpSeCorps that make Edward Snowden’s leaks about PRISM look like child’s play, combined with giant Pigoons and MoHairs complete with humanlike transplantable hair could all come about?  This adds another level to the idea of “Faction”!

Although Atwood is great on the science and obviously knows her stuff, thankfully her characterisation is just as good and I became easily embroiled in the lives of Zeb, Toby, Amanda and Ren – all of whom are fierce loyal survivors, alongside the quirky and oddly charming new humans the Crakers.  Although Atwood is obviously of a Green leaning, and I imagine doesn’t have a lot of time for genetically modified food for example, at the end of MaddAddam there is an amalgamation of the human and the genetically modified that gets us wondering – can the two work together?

Atwood is a great social networker.  You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and her website which contains a link to a  video game that you read about in MaddAddam called Intestinal Parasites, with promises of more to come!

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