Together We Read – The Love That I Have

Christchurch City Libraries joins libraries across Australia and New Zealand in offering the latest Together We Read digital book club selection, The Love That I Have by award-winning Australian author James Moloney. From 23 August–6 September, Christchurch City Libraries users will be able to borrow the eBook for free – with no wait lists or holds – and participate in an online discussion. Readers can access the title by visiting OverDrive or by downloading the Libby app.

Together We Read is facilitated by OverDrive, the leading platform for ebooks, audiobooks and magazines. This international digital book club connects readers in Australia and New Zealand with the same ebook at the same time through public libraries.

The Love That I Have tells the story of Margot Baumann who has left school to take up her sister’s job in the mailroom of a large prison. But this is Germany in 1944, and the prison is Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. Margot is shielded from the camp’s brutality as she has no contact with prisoners. But she does handle their mail and, when given a cigarette lighter and told to burn the letters, is horrified by the callous act she must carry out. Margot steals a few letters, intending to send them in secret, only to find herself drawn to their heart-rending words of hope, of despair, and of love.

Together We Read is a free program that runs for two weeks and only requires a library card to get started. The Love That I Have can be read on all major computers and devices, including iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phones and tablets and Chromebook™ without wait lists or holds. The title will automatically expire at the end of the lending period, and there are no late fees. Visit http://christchurch.overdrive.com or download Libby to get started.

More information can be found at TogetherWeRead.com.

OverDrive Big Library Read – Cowboy Pride

OverDrive’s Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club, is back for July. This story has something for everyone – whether romance is your thing, or perhaps you like the Wild West, or even if you’re a Jane Austen fan. That’s right; we have a version of Jane Austen’s much loved Pride and Prejudice, set in Wild West Wyoming – Cowboy Pride by Lacy Williams.

From 9 to 23 July, Christchurch City Libraries users can borrow the eBook with no wait lists or holds. Join the Big Library Read by visiting Christchurch City Libraries OverDrive or by downloading the Libby app. Big Library Read is facilitated by OverDrive, our leading platform for eBooks and eAudiobooks.

“Everyone knows a rancher in possession of a large spread needs a wife.”

First impressions count. Liza Bennett has two missions in life: keep the family’s shop afloat, and ensure her shy sister finds love. Sparks fly when she meets rancher Rob Darcy at a town dance, but when she overhears him insult her, she vows to put the man out of her mind. Rob Darcy is instantly attracted to the vivacious Liza but a lack of social graces and the promise he’s keeping ruin his chances of winning her.

Once jilted, Janie Bennett is appropriately gun-shy of falling in love again. But she doesn’t seem to be able to help herself when she meets charming Nathan Bingley. Bingley desperately wants a wife and family of his own. Can he trust that Janie returns his feelings?

When Janie is injured in a spring storm, she and Liza are sequestered on Nathan’s ranch. Hearts and emotions get tangled, but will first impressions prove true, or false?

Goldilocks and the three book club books

The very best thing about belonging to a book group is the variety of new reads to which one is exposed. And if, like moi, you belong to not one but five book groups (two in Christchurch, one online, and with connections to two in South Africa as well), there will come a month when you encounter the bookish version of the Goldilocks Syndrome:

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book ClubAs in This book was too soft: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club. Books about book groups run the risk of being quite formulaic. Take a group of women, vary their life stories, get them to meet up about once a month and toss some favourite reads into the mix. This has been done before. So what does Sophie Green do to lift her book club book out of the ordinary? She sets it in the 1970s in the Northern Territory of Australia. All that this really means is that the reads are dated and the women have vast distances to travel to get to Fairvale for a  natter and a plate of buttery scones. Look, it’s sweet and it will have a bit of a following. But it was too soft for me.

The Ministry of Utmost HappinessThis book was too hard: It’s Arundhati Roy’s long-awaited The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. It’s been a long wait for a novel from Roy whose The God of Small Things was published in 1997 and is one of my favourite books of all time. Of course this latest offering is beautifully written. Of course I can hear, see and smell India. Of course there are fascinating characters. But it is so sad, so cruel, so political, so jumbled, so devoid of storyline. I put it down intending to return and never did. I am aware that this says more about me than it does about the book, but I was a receptive reader and I got lost. Moving on.

The Keeper of Lost ThingsThis book was just right: The Keeper of Lost Things is a first novel by Ruth Hogan. Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects. These lost objects and their possible return to their owners give this novel the structure that holds it together. And what beautifully descriptive writing it is too, with phrases like: “an unfolded paper-clip woman”; “an old-woman-shaped vessel of vitriol” and “the tinnitus of technology”. You will have worked out that the people are more lost than the things, but this is a hopeful book, one in which we are reminded how important it is just to be kind to one another.

The best thing about any book group is that you don’t have to love every book you read, but you do develop a vocabulary for talking about even those books that have not worked for you. I know in my bones that there will be readers who will react completely different to my Goldilocks choices. And to be honest, that’s what book groups are really all about. Over to you!

Around the Book Groups: October

The All Girl Filling Stations Last ReunionIf September was a Goldilocks and the Three Bears reading month, October veered more towards Little Red Riding Hood. The Innocent Reader and the lurking Big Bad Wolf both played their part this month.

It all started innocently enough with Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. Set in Alabama, Southern Belle Sookie (and her equally weirdly named daughters), seems set for a peaceful retirement. Then, out of the blue, she is hit by a life crisis of epic proportions. It’s not scary, more Sookie skipping through the forest with a basket of sweet nothings while WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) planes pirouette overhead. If you are after a happy-ending holiday read, this may be the tickety-boo (as Sookie might say).

Black Rabbit HallBlack Rabbit Hall, on the other hand, is all about the setting. Not a forest in this case, but a building. The story starts ominously and just ratchets the tension up from there on in. Could a building possess a more dysfunctional presence is the big question? And why would anyone want to get married there? But Lorna does. And she wasn’t the only one to be lured in by this brooding ruin. Tragedy, ghosts, hidden secrets and an ominous atmosphere ticked all the boxes for one of my book groups this month.

Colorless Tsukuru TazakiBut my best book group read of the month – in fact now one of my best books of the year – is Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. If you have so far run screaming through the woods away from  Murakami, this book (along with his novel Norwegian Wood) makes for a very accessible starting point. Imagine this – your four best friends suddenly dump you with no explanation when you are in your early twenties. Eventually, in order to save your sanity,  you decide to track them down to find out why this happened. It is a subtly tense read – absolutely gripping.

It was a month in which false identities “What big eyes you have grandma”, dark foreboding surroundings and lurking unease made up a terrific trio of book group reads. Whatever will November bring?

Around the Book Groups: September

Had Goldilocks been a bit less piggy and slothful, she might have raised her eyes to the bookshelves of the three bears, grabbed a read, and initiated a discussion with them when they returned – thereby founding the first book group in history.

But she did not, leaving us instead with the Holy Trinity of comparisons: too hard; too soft; just right. Here’s how my five book groups responded to some of our reads in September:

Cover of PlainsongThe Orchardist by Amanda Coplin tells the story of a lone bachelor on an isolated farm, whose peace is disturbed by the arrival of two feral, pregnant teenage girls. It was described by one Book Group member as “like reading a silent movie”. It is tonal, descriptive and almost dialogue free. I can’t help but compare it with the (in my opinion) superior Plainsong by Kent Haruf. A book that also explores the theme of lone bachelors and (in this case) a single pregnant teenage girl. Don’t read them one after the other.

Cover of Rich Man RoadRich Man Road by Ann Glamuzina is a New Zealand novel set in Auckland. The title is a play on the words Richmond Road, which the two main characters – both new immigrants – have difficulty in pronouncing. This book is proving to be very popular in one of my book groups. I however, stopped reading it after 50 pages. I blame the fact that it is a book that starts at the end of the story – thereby subjecting the reader to a further 250 pages of explanation. I will mention here that both main characters are nuns. It has been a bit of a nunnish month, as you will see.

Two further nun books have crossed my path in the past couple of months – and not any old nuns I will have you know – Anchoresses. I enjoyed The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader. A novel about a spiritual young woman who chose incarceration in a cell attached to a church to avoid marriage  may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it is a well done piece of fiction.

Cover of IlluminationsBut nuns were not finished with me yet, as a completely separate book group had as their read of the month – Illuminations by Mary Sharratt which tells the fictionalised, but authentic tale of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), who was tithed to the church as an Anchoress when she was 8 years old. We blew very hot and icy cold on this book. Comments ranged from “It has changed my life” to “An atrocious read“. Hildegard is a fascinating character, but I did not complete this book either. In my bones I feel that this is a case of a book about a great person, but this, unfortunately, does not make it a great book.

Cover of Up Against the nightFinally, a distinctly mannish change of direction with Justin Cartwright‘s latest novel: Up Against the Night. I am a huge Cartwright fan and have read every book he has written. He is an intelligent author who can tackle serious themes (in this case the complexity that is South Africa today) in an accessible and entertaining way.

This is not his best book. Reading, in parts,  like a travelogue of the beauties of the Cape, it details a looming act of violence told from the viewpoint of a character who just has to be based on Cartwright himself. All the interesting stuff comes from the least well-adjusted character (who speaks in broken South African English – not sure how that is going to fly). I was bored witless by Nellie the partner of the main character. So perfect, so beautiful, so nice, so accomplished. Give Me A Break. Despite the foreboding violence, parts of this book are laugh out loud funny. But do you have to be South African to get it? That is the question.

I can’t remember when last we all agreed on a book in any book group I have ever belonged to, but A Man Called Ove must come pretty close. We all loved it.

Or as Goldilocks would say: Just Right!

I like big books and I cannot lie

Cover of Into the Wilderness“I’ve chosen the book for August” the email said, “It’s Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

With tablet in hand, and the bing-bong of the email hitting my inbox still ringing in the air, I searched the catalogue to place a hold. I started reading the comments…

Fans of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon will enjoy this series…

and

As a huge fan of the Outlander series I was so happy to find this book…

were top of the list. *Sigh* I hated the Outlander series!

A few days later, the book turns up–all 876 pages of it. …Mutter, mutter…fat books…never reads anyone else’s choice…gets us to read a blimmin’ 900 page book…*groan*…

Cover of The Memoirs of CleopatraNeedless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to reading this big, fat, Outlander-esque  book for my book-club. I used to like fat books. A good, long read that would keep you going for weeks — so long you’d have to take it out three times maybe, like I did when I read Memoirs of Cleopatra. Books with plenty of pithy plot and scope for real character development. Books so heavy that reading in bed is a real workout.

But then I had kids,  and got a job* too, and life just got too busy for fat books.

I turned the book over in my hands. Just because the cover is emblazoned with Diana Gabladon’s words of praise, that doesn’t mean I’ll hate it, right? Just because Outlander fans love it, that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy it.  Better not put off starting too long, or I’ll never get it finished in time. I cracked it open.

Cover of The Gilded HourAnd I started to enjoy it. Right from the first chapter. Elizabeth was just a great character, so feisty! I couldn’t help but like her. And that was the general feeling from my book group too.  We (almost) all managed to (almost) finish it, despite the 876 pages. And we all quite liked it, though most of us aren’t going to rush out and read the rest of the series.

This morning, a bright, shiny new copy of The Gilded Hour arrived here at Spreydon Library for a hold, and I think I’ll add myself to the hold list.

I might even read the rest of the Wilderness series. Maybe. After all, once upon a time, I liked big books, and I cannot lie.

I put together a list of some of my favourite big books, perhaps you’ll like them too, they’re definitely worth the effort!

If you (unlike me) like Diana Gabaldon, you might like this If you like… list

Do you like fat books, or do you prefer a slim read?  do you have a fat book to recommend?

*At the library. I know, ironic right? No time to read fat books now that I work at the library

Morning tea for forty three: WORD Christchurch

IMG_1922
Diane Setterfield, Eleanor Catton and Roberta Smith

I had tea with Eleanor Catton and Diane Setterfield on Saturday morning at WORD. Well, myself and about forty other Book Discussion Scheme members, that is.

Morrin Rout hosted the event, armed with a long list of questions submitted by BDS convenors. I loved that the event kicked off with a chat about hairstyles – just like every book club I have ever belonged to! Diane’s was described as “artfully tousled” and Morrin’s as “strangely thatched.” Eleanor, her beautiful sleek long locks flowing down each side of her face, just smiled enigmatically.

Here’s how it went:

How has your background and upbringing influenced your writing?

Diane said she was the first person in her family to go to university. She had been a voracious reader as a child, but her family was unschooled. She always keeps her mother in mind as her sole reader. This gives her books a wide readership range.

Eleanor comes from a family of readers – there was no TV in her home. She credits her brother’s reaction to a short story she wrote when she was 7 or 8 years old with her writing rule: always to see your work as your detractors might see it.

How do you get into the minds of people who are not your age, gender or nationality?

Bellman and blackDiane (The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman and Black): It helps if you are a shy, quiet observer. Observation and listening make up seventy-five percent of the work. Always stretch a bit beyond what you believe you are capable of. The rest is a kind of magic.

The Luminaries is such a complex novel, how on earth did it come about?

Eleanor: I knew I wanted to write a historic novel about the West Coast gold rush (1864-1867). Overall it took me five years, and there were long periods of incubation in that time. I found a wonderful website called Solarium where you can see the exact position of the planets and the sun, moon and stars for any date in the past. For two weeks I studied the skies over Hokitika for the three year period in which I was was interested. In particular, I noticed Mercury (which represents trickery and deceit). So in a way, the story had been constellated for me. But it was a real headache to write and I have many, many folders in my computer under the heading Luminaries!

Where did you get your ideas for these two books?  What were your influences?

Diane: The Bellman and Black book began from listening to the radio (BBC Desert Island Discs, to be precise!) The radio is where all good books should start, in my opinion! Then I wanted to write a ghost story where a really robust character is haunted, but set it somewhere unscary. So the question becomes – is he mad or is he haunted? I was also fascinated by the vast London emporiums of mourning paraphernalia. Oh, and I always knew, from way back, that I would write about a character called William Bellman.

The LuminariesEleanor: Jung got me thinking about Astrology.

At what point in the writing of your book did you know what the title would be?

Eleanor: Right at the very start of the book I knew it would be called The Luminaries.

Diane: I only worked out the title right at the end!

What books are you reading now?

Eleanor: The Golden Bough – A Study in Magic and Religion

At this point I had a balancing meltdown with my muffin, my coffee, my notepad and pen and I missed Diane’s answer. If any reader who was at this event can remember Diane’s answer, or indeed can add any more information to this blog, just  comment below!

Because of the small number of invited guests (thanks Book Discussion Scheme), I felt more connected to these two authors than I would have done in a large packed venue. And, as a result,  I feel inspired  to read both The Luminaries and Bellman and Black. You can’t say better than that now can you?

Going clubbing

Cover: The LuminariesWhen one of my Book Clubs decided to read the Man Booker 2013 shortlist I was a bit sceptical. Yes, we could then decide if  The Luminaries deserved to win, but we would also have to read it. And – this just in – it is very long. Anyway, it all turned out swimmingly and I read and loved books I would never have looked at if they hadn’t been on the list.

Reading from a list was so successful we’re  casting around for another one. My suggestion was to consult the handy Literary prizes and book awards  page on our very own Christchurch City Libraries web site.  The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 looks promising,  mostly because of the judges:

  • Mary Beard, author, hugely entertaining television presenter,  blogger and admirable human being who has risen above some very nasty verbal abuse without being insufferable about it
  • Denise Mina, “the Queen of Tartan Noir” and owner of one of the best quiffs ever
  • Caitlin Moran, very funny, very rude and a woman who is is unafraid of the word feminist
  • Sophie Raworth, one of the BBC presenters at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Truly impressive
  • Helen Fraser, the chair of the judging panel and former Managing Director of Penguin U.K. She may not have written a book, but has surely read a few good ones

Cover: A girl is a half-formed thingA list chosen by this crew must be preferable to the system my other Book Club uses, where the members tick titles on a catalogue at the start of the year.  They then shiftily deny any knowledge of the books that arrive each month and steadfastly refuse to read them. Or perhaps that’s just me.

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 was Eimar McBride, who must be good, because if she could be a literary character she would be Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch and because she chose Anne of Green Gables as the defining book of her childhood. Although the book she always recommends is Ulysses –  “why don’t more people listen?” Because it’s impossible to read, that’s why.

Using the Baileys list also offers the opportunity to swig down the sponsor’s product (or rather sip it in a genteel fashion) while discussing the finer points of literary fiction. A winning combination.

Book Rage

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?

Love and prime numbers

Mathematics and fiction have long been uncomfortable bed partners. In fact, you may be hard-pressed to think of any novels that successfully combine the two. But they do exist, and here’s the proof.

Cover of The Housekeeper and the ProfessorMy lovely new Book Discussion Scheme book club has just had its third meeting. The first book that we were allocated was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This is a great starter read for any group and we wallowed in it. But the gods looked down and thought: “well, they’re getting mighty pleased with themselves, let’s send them some maths”.

As a result our second read was The Housekeeper and the Professor and this is so not the Mills and Boon bodice ripper that you might have expected from the title.

Instead this is a restrained piece of writing translated from Japanese about love and family and mathematics and memory loss. I can honestly say that had I picked this book up in a library, I would never have taken it home. Why not? I hear you ask. It has actual algebraic formulae in it, is why. This is not a book about maths in the abstract, these characters actually do maths.

But this time we all knuckled under and read it, because we’d taken a vow at the start of our new book club to read outside our comfort zones. OK, so some of us skipped over the maths bits and some of us read the baseball sections with glazed pre-frontal lobes and a few of us did both those things. And given that it is only 180 pages long, you would be forgiven for thinking that didn’t leave much to get through. But we did it. And if you fancy being in a group that reads and talks and grows and has fun, maybe you’d be interested in joining one of the library reading groups.

And in case you actually are a maths/arts person, here are a couple of other reads to try:

  • Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco (not for the faint-hearted, a hellishly difficult read)
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano (I’m betting it’s not going to be a barrel of laughs)
  • Addition – Toni Jordan (maths and the obsessive compulsive, in addition – sorry, couldn’t resist – it is funny!)

Seems like numbers are very much on my mind: this is my centennial blog, in the Year of the Snake on my Beatles Birthday. Or 26. Go do the maths!