Resolution and revolutionaries: A. N. Wilson, eminent biographer

There was an understandably big crowd at The Piano last night for A. N. Wilson in conversation with Christopher Moore. Part of the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season, we were treated to insights about the eminent novelist and biographer’s new and upcoming works, as well as his distinguished career.

As you can see, I was quite a long way back!
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Wilson – or Andrew as I think we’re allowed to call him – was inspired to write biography after reading Lytton Strachey‘s Eminent Victorians and wanting to write as well as him. While he is generally commissioned to write biographies, he chose to write about the lives of Leo Tolstoy and Walter Scott. Scott was pretty much the father of historical fiction, with his tales of the Scottish Highlands allowing people to imagine what it was like to live in the past instead of simply regurgitating facts.

One of the things that fascinated Andrew about Tolstoy was the fact that while we know him as a great novelist, in Russia he was more known for his political beliefs – including his idea of passive anarchy which went to to inspire people like Gandhi. However, after digging into Tolstoy’s domestic sphere he concludes that:

he would not like to be Mrs Tolstoy.

Cover of ResolutionAndrew’s latest novel is Resolution, about the German botanist Georg Forster who travelled with Captain Cook on his second voyage and later became a revolutionary in France. Interestingly, in Communist East Germany Forster was seen as a champion of class struggle and became a national hero. It’s great to hear about different and interesting people and I’m looking forward to reading this book.

An obvious favourite of Andrew’s is Queen Victoria who he describes as “taking being an embarrassing mother to new heights”. However, he is now researching Prince Albert, who is quite a different kettle of fish. Indeed, Andrew describes him as being

deeply strange and complicated.

He also believes that although Victoria was madly in love with Albert, he never fell in love with her and controlled her to a great degree. Look out for this biography in 2019, as its going to be fascinating!

Andrew obviously has a passion for the people he writes about and it was fabulous to have the opportunity to listen to his great storytelling here in Christchurch – which, he reminded us, is very much a Victorian city.

A N Wilson, photo by Andrew London

 

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

CoverForgiveness is in short supply in this world. It’s a nice idea but it’s hard to be forgiving. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity is a gentle memoir about forgiveness and perseverance, set in arguably one of the most unforgiving and hostile environments in the world – Israel. Or Palestine. Depending on your views.

The author, Palestinian Muslim and medical doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, knows loss and hardship. He lost his three teenage daughters when a tank shell hit their home during a Israeli military offensive targeting their neighbourhood in the Occupied Territories.

Somehow, he’s managed to reject any bitter and wrathful feelings toward the Israeli military and the state of Israel in general, and maintain a hopeful vision for the future. Izzeldin is a medical professional who’s worked in Israeli hospitals, alongside loyal Israeli colleagues, who share common concern for reproductive health and children’s well-being.

Written chronologically, Dr Abuelaish recounts his early years beginning with his birth in a Gaza refugee camp. Then the story moves us along the road to studying medicine in Egypt, London and Harvard. A path which was paved with ongoing hardship, hard work, and sometimes, sheer luck. Almost every aspect of daily life was hampered – and this made his attempts at educational and economic mobility almost impossible.

Palestinians are used to negotiating labyrinthine checkpoints, bizarre and ever-changing regulations, and regular bureaucratic barrages. And it was no different for Mr Abuelaish during his academic pursuits. Somehow he managed to maintain his composure and sanity, and come out the other end as a highly regarded medical professional and the first Palestinian to work in an Israeli hospital treating Christian, Jewish and Muslim children. Really quite miraculous.

The military assault on his family home comes in a sort of looming climax that you anticipate as you begin reading from the start (after reading the synopsis on the back of the book!).

Despite the seemingly insurmountable hardships, its not a bitter or angry recollection and commentary, but a book which seeks a realistic and progressive (not aggressive) future in Palestinian/Israeli relations. Naturally the narrative is infused with personal impressions, experiences and details of family and community life which is written in such a way that makes you feel like you connect somehow. This animates his story and the stories of other Palestinians and Israelis.

Some might say he’s a dreamer, but so far it seems to be working for him as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and highly regarded medical professional. You decide.

Quite the tear jerker. Check it out.

Find more in our catalogue about:

Amy Poehler? Yes Please!

Amy Poehler author photo
Possibly my favourite author dustjacket portrait of all time.

Amy Poehler is one of those actresses I was vaguely aware of but to whom I’d never really paid much attention. She occasionally cropped up in movies like ‘Blades of Glory’ and Mean Girls, usually playing someone blonde and kooky.

Later I associated her with Tina Fey, as her friend, and as one half of the legendary Saturday Night Live Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton “I can see Russia from my house” sketch.

It wasn’t until I started watching sitcom Parks and Recreation, that I truly came to appreciate the comedy genius that is Amy Poehler. And by the time she and Fey formed The Ultimate Funny Lady Tag Team to host the Golden Globes I was a solid fan.

It’s from this perspective that I came to read her book Yes please.

Cover of BossypantsI’d already tried Fey’s autobiography Bossypants, and despite a love of the 30 Rock creator’s humour, I found the book something of a letdown. Yes, there were reminisces about SNL. Yes, I learned some things about her childhood (like how she got that scar on her chin – random knife attack by a stranger), and yes there were jokes, and feminism, and a chapter devoted to Poehler, but it was all a bit, er, cold? I felt, as a reader, that I was being kept at a respectful distance. Stand-up as an arena show, with Fey present but rather far away.

In Yes please Poehler covers similar territory but, hey reader, wanna bring it in for a hug first? Come on, tough guy. Get on over here.

If Fey’s book is a gig at Horncastle Arena, Poehler’s is a small, intimate, comedy club where the tables are so close to the stage performer and audience can see each other sweating.

Cover of Yes pleaseAnd “Yes please” is not at all a straight out autobiography. It’s that but it’s also part self-help manual in which her experiences (which include waitressing, improv, performing a rap number live on TV a few hours before going into labour, motherhood, divorce, visiting an orphanage in Haiti) all feed into reflections and wisdom, all with a sharp, self-deprecating, “I know what my crap is and I own it” attitude.

You feel as if you just made a new best friend and she’s dishing all her dirt to you and you love her because of it. Poehler admits her mistakes, celebrates her triumphs, and tries not to be too hard on herself. And she encourages you to do the same for yourself.

But don’t just take it from me. Listen to Amy. Continue reading

People who need people: Explore our biographical resources

Biography Reference CenterWe like to watch other people. We like to hear about other people. There are entire industries based around writing and photographing people who we will never need to meet. It is all probably based on an evolutionary need to distinguish friend from foe but it continues to this day in our everyday habits and the media we watch.

If your needs are for research – or pure evolutionary based interest – then we have the online resources for you in the form of:

Biography Reference Center: (new) What do Angelina Jolie, Confucius, Alexander Fleming and Roger Federer all have in common? They are all here in the Biography Reference Center along with 450,000 others.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: includes the ‘great and the good’ and the ‘bad and unusual’ people who are now dead having left their mark on the British empire.

Biography in Context: information about more than one million people ranging from George Clooney to Boudicca. There are stories of courage, malice and romance! Sort of an academic Mills and Boons.

All you need to quench your curiosity about people of note  you will find in these electronic resources accessible 24/7 from home or in libraries. All you need is your library card number and password/PIN. People watch and search away…

Happy gawking.

People-watching online

Cover of Oxford Dictionary of National BiographyI was six when my Grandmother handed me a cut out picture of Lady Diana Spencer from the Southland Times that announced her engagement to Prince Charles. She told me to keep a hold of this as the lady in the picture was going to be a Queen. I can remember the picture was in color which was rare for newspapers at that point. Lady Diana was wearing a red dress and I remember thinking how sophisticated she was. I have no idea of what happened to that photo but I do know that there was to be no happy ending for the lady in red.

We consciously and unconsciously “people watch” all the time. It was probably based on an evolutionary need to establish friend from foe but it continues to this day in our everyday habits and the media we watch. As a library we are here to cater for even your evolutionary requirements! If your needs are for research or pure evolutionary based interest then we have the online resources for you in the form of:

There are stories of courage, malice and romance capturing the diversity of human conduct. All you need to examine the lives of people from nuclear physicists to royal mistresses is a library card number and password/PIN.

Happy gawking.

Confessions of an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography addict

I’m a huge fan of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). It is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to know about the lives of well-known and not so well-known historic British and British-related figures and can be accessed via the Source either in our libraries or from home with your library card number and pin.

I first encountered the DNB when working at the National Army Museum in 2004 when the newly revised printed edition was published and I catalogued all 60 volumes. (The original Victorian edition was edited by Virginia Woolf‘s father, Sir Leslie Stephen.) The print volumes were beautifully produced, wonderful to flick through, took up a lot of shelf space – and came with a free one year subscription to the online version, which was fantastic to explore.

The DNB truly comes alive online (which is slightly ironic as you have to dead to be considered for inclusion) – there are updates every few months, links to related people of interest, theme pages and lists, and a Lives of the Week feature which highlights a different life every day – these can even be sent direct to your inbox. This last week we’ve had the chance to discover botanist and geologist Sir Albert Seward, shorthand specialist Marie Beauclerc and Polish Battle of Britain pilot Josef František amongst others. I wonder who’s going to be there when you’re reading this?

This is the place to find out about the mysterious Spring-Heeled Jackclaimants to the English and Scottish thronesJohn Lennon (and John Lennon), Presidents of the Royal SocietyMary SeacoleHDangry young men and merry men, and many, many more. Indeed, this blog is taking a while to write as I keep getting sidetracked.

Looking at this resource from a New Zealand angle, many governors, governors-general, premiers and prime ministers are included and can be found on this list, the Canterbury Association has its own theme page, and a simple full text search on ‘New Zealand’ brings up plenty of hits.

New Zealand’s own Dictionary of Biography is part of the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Who have you discovered? Do you have an online resource you keep returning to?

More Dead People For Your Pleasure

Christchurch City Council Cemeteries
Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database

One of our special little treats is the Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database. This records people who have been buried in the Cemeteries managed by the Council. You know – Addington Cemetery, Avonhead Park Cemetery, Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Belfast Cemetery, Bromley Cemetery, Linwood Cemetery, Memorial Park Cemetery, Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Sydenham Cemetery, Waimairi Cemetery, Woolston Cemetery, Yaldhurst Cemetery.

Oh but not that many from Barbadoes Street.

When Banks Peninsula District amalgamated with the Christchurch City Council in 2006 their interments continued to be managed in a separate system until recently when they were brought together. That data is now available to the public in the Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database.

So now we bring you burials from the cemeteries of  Akaroa Anglican, Akaroa Catholic, Akaroa Dissenters, Diamond Harbour, Duvauchelle, Kaituna, Le Bons Bay, Little River, Lyttelton Anglican, Lyttelton Catholic, Lyttelton Public, Lyttelton RSA, Pigeon Bay, Port Levy and  Wainui.

Happy digging.

Music – When it Hits You, You Feel No Pain – Bob Marley

There are few people who don’t have some kind of relationship with music. I have always been quite passionate cover of The Man Called Cashabout all types of music. I’ll listen to pretty much anything, except for thrash metal, most hip hop (but some I like), trance and, as I am a heathen, most classical music. I’ll also sing like no-one’s listening. Sadly for some, they actually are.

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – Berhold Auerbach

My particular passions at present would have to be Appalachian music (part of the Bluegrass genre), Johnny Cash, those with interesting voices such as Iris Dement, Gillian Welch and Tom Waits and many New Zealand artists. I’m a sucker for a sad song or a good love song, and it has to take me on a journey, just like a good book.

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent – Victor Hugo

Luckily for me, Christchurch City Libraries caters to just about musical taste and not just in the traditional CD format.

Cover of Clawing at the Limits of Cool

Online resources available to library members range from downloadable songs from the latest artists through to obscure academic tomes for the study of even more obscure genres and artists in Classical or Jazz.  Below is just a taste of what you can find online through our web site.

  • Freegal: lets you legally download and keep  MP3s from the Sony Music Catalogue. You can download up to three each week.
  • Naxos: The largest online streaming of classical music. Anything from libretti and synopses of over 700 operas to 164 full length videos.
  • Smithsonian Global Sound: A virtual encyclopedia of the world’s musical and aural tradition, including spoken word, natural and human made sounds. Here you’ll find anything from Calypso to the sound of a frog being eaten by a snake.
  • Fine Arts and Music Collection: Magazines, academic journal, audio, images and news for music as well as drama, art, history and film making.
  • Music Online: Contemporary World Music from every continent, you can find everything from Bollywood to Arab Swing and Gospel.
  • Oxford Music Online:  A gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple musical references.
  • American Song: A history database that allows people to hear an feel the music from America’s past

Add to these online resources our catalogue of CDs from Opera, through to Jazz and World music,  Pop, Blues, Musicals and Country. We have concerts, operas and classical music on DVD to watch as well.

There are musical scores, biographies about well known artists, and books on the history of music.

So come searching through our catalogues, or pop into your local library and find some treasures.

Who do you love to listen to? Which artists from which genres and time periods? How do you choose to listen to music?

New Biographies – Our selectors share cool stuff

Biographies are always a good winter read, absorbing enough to let you forget about the weather outside, with the chance to delve into another life for a brief time.  Here are a few new titles that have just arrived in our libraries.

Search catalogueComing up Roses
Cath Kidston
is synonymous with the craze for all things retro and vintage.  She has experienced great business success, so perhaps this will be useful for all of you who are interested in creating a business out of your craftroom.

An added bonus are illustrations of Cath’s designs and motifs.

David Bowie is the subjectSearch catalogueNot really a biography, but having just released a new album titled  Next Day Bowie is back in the news. Tracks from the new album are also available on our free music download service Freegal.

This is the first book produced with access to the David Bowie archive of performance costume, ephemera and original artwork by the artist. It is brought together to present a completely new perspective on his creative work and collaborations.

Search catalogueFanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England

Although Bowie presented as an androgynous figure, for two young men in Victorian England, dressing up as women had far-reaching repercussions, causing scandal and much titillation for fascinated onlookers as their trial at Westminster proceeded.

Reviews have declared that it is tragic and comic, meticulously researched and dazzlingly written.

Search catalogueSuperman : the unauthorized biography
Described as the boy scout in tights – Superman, the ultimate activist  has had 75 years of non stop action.  Not just a book about the man, but plenty of information about people behind the scenes as well as the host of characters who have tried unsuccessfully to bring about his demise.