Reading many lives

With regards to the quote above, if one were of a sardonic frame of mind one might point out that at the rate at which Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin kills off his characters a thousand lives might be an understatement. Nevertheless the basic premise stands. Reading allows anyone the chance to “inhabit” a great many people and characters.

This is never more true than when you’re reading a book of short stories. Though you may become attached to a character, the next protagonist is probably only a few page turns away. Sometimes this is a relief. Sometimes it leaves you wanting more.

Recently I’ve found myself reading books that work with the theme of many lives but in very different ways.

Cover of deleted scenes for lovers by Tracey SlaughterDeleted scenes for lovers by Tracey Slaughter. I think her surname is appropriate because she killed parts of my soul with this book (in a good way). Her short stories are set in New Zealand, but a rather grimy, rundown one. The stories, with exception of the last one which is a novella, are short and sometimes brutal vignettes from the lives of damaged and lost people. You’ll want to set aside time between each one. This is not a book to rush through. The writing is incisive and brilliant and made me feel a lot of things, some of them against my will.

Cover of Meet cuteMeet cute is rather anodyne by comparison. It’s a collection of young adult short stories, all by different writers and all featuring the “how they met” story of two characters. As with any collection like this some authors and characters resonate more than others, and while the bulk of the stories have a contemporary romance kind of vibe there are a couple of sci-fi/fantasy genre tales too. Most, though not all, of the stories are about straight couples – one of the unexpected joys of the book is that you don’t know when you’re introduced to the main character whether their story will be a boy-meets-girl or a girl-meets-girl one – I found it was fun to try and guess in the first page or so.

He rau mahara: To remember the journey of our Ngāi Tahu soldiers: From the pā to the battlefields of the Great War is completely different again – a nonfiction title produced by Ngāi Tahu’s whakapapa unit about the iwi’s First World War soldiers. It’s a beautifully put together book, filled with photographs of soldiers with names you might recognise – Nortons, Pōhios and Skerretts. Nearly two thirds of the book is dedicated to a profile of every Ngāi Tahu soldier who took part in the Great War, with the first part of the book featuring a sample of stories of soldiers, war, and their families. A gorgeous and poignant memorial to South Island soldiers and their whānau, and the lives they lived.

“Lymond is back!”

Cover of The Game of KingsI come bearing glad tidings, for the Lymond Chronicles have finally been republished and the library now has a complete set available to borrow.

This means I can finally recommend them with a clear conscience, starting with The Game of Kings — first in a series featuring the sneaky and erudite 15th century Scottish Francis Crawford of Lymond and lots of humour, sheep-stealing, and a bunch of historical references I’m too uneducated to understand.

During the course of the series the reader is taken to England, France, Malta, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire, Dunnett’s writing and incredible depth of research transporting you with ease to each location. Her characters, too, are well-drawn and sympathetic, particularly my favourites Kate Somerville and her pragmatic daughter Philippa: 

“There are twenty thousand men, women and children in the bagnios of Algiers alone. I am not going to make it twenty thousand and one because your mother didn’t allow you to keep rabbits, or whatever is at the root of your unshakable fixation.”

“I had weasels instead,” said Philippa shortly.

“Good God,” said Lymond, looking at her. “That explains a lot.”

Lymond himself has been compared to other clever/ridiculous heroes such as Peter Wimsey and Athos, and I’d add Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle to that list. He has influenced writers from Marie Brennan, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ellen Kushner and Max Gladstone to Kim Stanley Robinson — all, now that I think about it, either fantasy or science fiction writers. Perhaps it’s the detailed sense of history and place that Dunnett evokes that makes it resonate with creators of other worlds.

Much as I love this series, its writing takes no prisoners and often leaves first-time readers baffled and confused within the first hundred pages. They’re not light reads by any means, although they are often fun, and going in you just have to accept that there is a lot going on that you won’t understand — unless you speak five languages and are deeply familiar with the literature and politics of the time period, in which case I salute you. (Or if you can’t but still want to understand, grab a copy of The Dorothy Dunnett Companion which attempts to explain the myriad references that the author drops carelessly every second paragraph.)

But if you do persevere (which I recommend you do), you’ll have six  ridiculous, funny, clever, heartbreaking books to read ahead of you. I mean, it has lines like this:

“And the English army, wheeling, started south at a gallop over the hill pass into Ettrick, followed by twenty men and eight hundred sheep in steel helmets.”

Who wouldn’t want to read that?

Cover of Queens' PlayCover of Disorderly KnightsCover of Pawn in FrankincenseCover of The Ringed CastleCover of Checkmate

Brighten up your life

Tomorrow, 21 June, is the winter solstice. The shortest day. The point at which the southern hemisphere of our little blue planet, with its jaunty, tilted axis, reaches “peak gloom”. The weather will continue to grow colder from this point*, hardening into winter, but the days themselves and potential daylight hours will increase. And not a moment too soon.

Cover of the album Sunshine by The Emotions.
The connection between sunshine and emotions is not limited to this Motown album from 1974.

If you’ve been feeling down recently, the lack of sunshine may have something to do with it. According the MetService, sunshine hours in Christchurch this June are well below average. I don’t mind a bit of cold myself but the lack of blue sky and sunlight is rather dampening to the spirit.

Short of leaving town, or literally heading for the hills what can we all do to feel better? Our friends at All Right? have a lot of great suggestions but here are some of my own:

Make the most of what we’ve got – I just ran outside and stood in the sunshine for about 20 seconds before the sun went away again. Make hay (and Vitamin D) while the sun shines, and all. If you’re in the position to be able to go for a walk or be outside for a bit during the all too brief appearances the sun is making then do. But take a brolly because it will probably start raining again…

Get out and socialise – It can be tempting to stay indoors and hibernate but sometimes forcing yourself to be social is worth the effort. At the library there are options for crafting with company or book groups, or our Matariki Whānau Fun Day on Saturday at Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre might be the ticket. Or make the most of the darkness by lighting it up on the winter solstice night light bike ride through Hagley Park. Alternatively, you could organise your own Matariki shared dinner with friends and whānau – whip up a batch of soup and hang out together moaning about how rubbish the weather is!

Now that I mention it… SOUP – I firmly believe a hearty soup can have healing and mood-altering properties. When combined with a comfy pair of slippers and a good book, soup is a veritable panacea for whatever ails you. Also, leeks and potatoes are inexpensive at the moment and if you make them into a soup you can say you’ve made vichyssoise which sounds really fancy.

Watch (or read) something funny – My go tos for funny reading are David Sedaris and Caitlin Moran (both of whom have new books coming out), and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. On telly I’ve been watching comedy show Taskmaster and that regularly gives me a full on belly laugh, same for The Good Place. Or maybe a movie comedy? Our recent comedy DVDs are worth a look. My favourite funny movies from the last year have included Thor: Ragnarok, Jumanji, and The Trip to Spain.

Wear bright clothing or something that makes you feel happy – It’s tempting to match the sombre grey of the sky with your outfits but don’t! Go the other way instead with vibrant warm colours or really anything that makes you feel great: jewellery, a flower in your hair, an eye-catching pair of socks, anything that brings a smile.

Be nice to people – Acts of kindness or generosity are actually mood-lifters for both the recipient and the giver. I’m trying to dish out more compliments (rather than just think them in my head). The All Right crew have some cute compliment gifs that might come in handy for this.

*If you’ve ever wondered why the weather doesn’t start to warm up after winter solstice it’s because of the time it takes to change the temperature of the large bodies of water that make up most of the surface of our planet. Seas and oceans warm throughout summer and are slow to cool – like giant hot water bottles keeping us warm through the night/autumn. It’s only when they’ve lost their heat that we’ll start to really feel winter’s bite.

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Parents, romance, and friendship drama: New contemporary teen fiction

Here are three romance-driven YA novels from different (American) perspectives, all recently published:

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Cover of American PandaGermaphobe Mei is a liar — lying about dropping dance, lying about being in contact with her disowned brother, and lying about dating someone who is Japanese. But most of all she’s lying about intending to become a doctor. As her secrets pile up, Mei has to find a way to confront her parents with her own needs instead of conforming to all of their strict Taiwanese traditions.

Overbearing Asian parents can be a bit of a trope in YA novels but Chao portrays Taiwanese families of varying levels of attachment to tradition, helping Mei to see that some rules might need to be broken. While Mei really struggles with her family there is also a lot of humour (especially in the phone messages left by relatives) and her developing relationship with Darren is very sweet. I’d recommend it to fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before as it has a similar cosy hot chocolate vibe even when it’s dealing with serious issues.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Cover of Let's Talk About LoveAfter being dumped by her girlfriend for being asexual, Alice throws all her energy into her part-time job at the library and ignoring parental pressure to study law — but when Takumi starts working there too she finds herself somewhat distracted by his good looks. With friendship drama, therapy, and a million missed phone calls from her family, will Alice ever get her act together enough to articulate her own feelings?

I have to confess that I found this a frustrating read — no one behaves well, but especially not Alice, who totally ignores anything that isn’t movies and crappy food and things that score highly on her Cute Chart. Half the time she complains about her wealthy family paying for her rent and education, and the other half she’s surprised and upset when they don’t. Having said that, asexual main characters are still rare enough for this book to be valuable, and others may enjoy Alice’s burgeoning romance with Takumi more than I did.

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

Cover of Emergency ContactPenny and Sam are both looking for escape — Penny fleeing her mother to go to university, and Sam fleeing pretty much everything. When Penny discovers Sam having what he thinks is a heart attack she rescues him and they exchange contact details, leading to a friendship via text as Penny pursues her dream of becoming a writer and Sam attempts to become a film-maker, with personal complications along the way.

Not a very compelling summary but this is probably my favourite of the three, similar in feel and content to Eleanor and Park. Penny and Sam are both awkward, creative individuals dealing with difficult backgrounds — Penny with her anger towards her flaky mother, Sam with his checked-out parents and newly pregnant ex-girlfriend — but despite this there is a lot of humour in their exchanges, with many funny moments. If you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell then I’d add this one to your to-read pile.

Film and television – a mid-year review

Seen anything good on the tele lately…?!?!

Me neither. That’s why I borrow films and tele series’ from the library! It’s a much better way of being in control of what you’re actually watching during screen time, and you can tailor your viewing to perfectly suit your taste and your timetable, WIN-WIN and, no more infomercials!!

And it’s really just about good old-fashioned storytelling isn’t it!? For me, film and television is a coming-together of multiple artforms that, when it’s done well, has the ability to move you at a level many other artforms might not individually.

So here’s a list of the best films and series’ that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing this year, so far – many more to come!

2018 – The Best of Film and Television

List created by DevilStateDan

These are the best films and television series’ that I have explored throughout the year so far, all available to you through Christchurch City Libraries membership.

The fencer – Post WWII Estonia. The Germans are gone and the Russians are taking control. They’re especially interested in those Estonians that fought for the Germans and are systematically hunting them out. This story is about one such man, a world-class fencer who is concealing himself as a sports teacher for a country college. This is a stunning and heartfelt film about humanity, strength, and love.

Get Out – A gripping story of a young black man heading away for a weekend with his as-yet un-met in-laws… what comes after is a web of dark intrigue and something is definitely not right!

The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch – Ever wanted to know more about the mysterious Hieronymus Bosch?!? Then get a load of this – it’s a part of the ‘Exhibition on Screen’ series that takes viewers on a tour of the works and life of some of history’s great artists. This one is all about Hieronymus Bosch and is surprising in its revelations about who he was and where his inspirations were drawn, plus you get up close with some of his most amazing works!

Chasing Trane – The latest telling of the life, love, and music of the great jazz saxophonist, John Coltrane. Rare footage and loads of interviews with music legends that were close to him. He was truly a musical visionary and died at such a young age from liver cancer, it begs the questions of how much more impact could he have had on contemporary music!? A must-watch for all music fans!

Saint Amour – An old man and his adult son go on a wine-tasting road trip around France in order to reconnect. Sounds normal, but this is French comedy and things get strange! Good story.

The Limehouse Golem – I really liked this film – a Victorian Whodunnit! I loved the Victorian era look of it, the clever direction, the story was weaving and uncertain – as it should be for a classic whodunnit! And the acting was solid and dramatic without being over the top. It’s a small shame that I picked the killer in the first 20mins but I still liked the story and enjoyed it to the end!

The Dinner – A family of privileged white Americans meet for a very posh dinner to discuss an incident that involved their children. The details slowly emerge as the film unfolds and explores the issues of parenting, mental health, social navigations etc. Great performances from the four lead actors.

Detectorists – A short series about the engrossing world of metal detecting in rural Britain. Written and directed by Mackenzie Crook (from the Office, and Pirates of the Caribbean), it’s full of pathos and at once hilarious, cringey-embarrassing, and full of heart. It’s about how even small lives are big and important and that everyone deserves to be happy. Highly recommended if you like British comedy.

Rellik – A dark and twisted crime series with an uniusual device; the story is told in reverse. We begin with the outcome of a police investiagtion into a series of acid-burn murders, from there we go back in increments of hours/days as the foundations are explored and new light begins to show on reasons for behaviours evident earlier/later… it’s a little confusing to explain so just watch it, it’s quality crime drama!

Swinging Safari – A gloriously retro look at family life in 1970’s Australia. Try to think of every brand name, in-safe parenting practice, cliché, and add a bit of over-styling and you’ve got it. Loosely wrapped as a coming-of-age story, it centres around 3 Aussie families living, loving, and loafing. Very funny film, especially if you’ve lived through some of these circumstances.

For more view the full list

Library sounds – a mid-year review

I’ve been exploring the CD collection available through Christchurch City Libraries this year and I’ve found some absolute gems!

There’s a mix of styles and eras in this list and quite a representation of New Zealand music – and it just so happens to be New Zealand Music Month.

So sit back and get some sonic stimulation from some quality musicians from around the world of music…

2018 – The Best of Music

List created by DevilStateDan

Music highlights for the year. Some are brand new, some are decades old but new to me, all are great!

Versatile – Van Morrison doing jazz interpretations backed by a very slick big band. It’s really well produced and if you’re new to the American jazz standards then this is a great way in!

Utterance – I love this album! It’s a collaborative effort between three on NZ’s finest musicians; David Long (banjo w/effects), Natalia Mann (harp), and Richard Nunns (taonga puoro). These flavours blend beautifully to create haunting soundscapes that are textural and dynamic – truly beautiful sounds from Aotearoa!

The Jazz Messengers – The first album from the group that went on to be the band that every jazz player wanted to be in. They’ve had some huge names in jazz through their ranks over the years and this is a great way to start their 40+ album recording career!

The Kitchen Table Sessions – Beaut, home-cooked alt-country from NZ’s favourite adopted daughter, Tami Neilson. Great country grooves and a lady with a voice of gold – what’s not to love!?

Preservation – Some more beautiful, lyrical, melodic songwriting from NZ’s Nadia Reid.

Second Nature – This is just how I like the Blues; stripped back, acoustic, you can just imagine it on the porch on a hot summer day… This father and son team recorded this album in single takes with no overdubs whilst they were touring Finland in 1991, and it’s a timeless and solid an blues album as you’ll find.

Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band – Charlie Watts (drummer for the Rolling Stones) gives it his jazz side on this album, featuring the big band of Danish radio. Some great jazz music here particularly the ‘Elvin Suite’ numbers. After that you get the obligatory big band arrangements of some Stones songs, beautifully arranged and executed but nothing terribly exciting musically.

Dog – Stripped back acoustic blues doesn’t get much better than this album of what I like to call “porch music” from Charlie Parr. Solid songwriting and a very real connection with the blues makes this a great addition to the genre.

Don’t Let Them Lock You up – New Zealand music is in good shape these days and I really like the creativity and superb musicianship that is on display on this album. They usually perform as a duo but the recording process has allowed them to expand on their ideas and grooves, implement new harmonies and percussion lines, and get really solid and funky! Great album!

Black Notes From the Deep – A great jazz album from the British multi-instrumentalist jazz legend Courtney Pine. Brilliant small ensemble playing and solid musicianship on display. I really liked the instrumentals – not so much the vocal numbers – but that’s just my preference. It’s good compositions played really nicely without arrogance or naff-ness. Jazz fans should have a listen.

View full list

Mild, spicy, or burn it all down?: Secrets in novels

Early on in our relationship, my husband and I vowed to start as we meant to continue – honestly and openly. Certainly, on our very first date I made it clear that I had no interest in electricity (he’s an electronics engineer) and that I preferred to eat breakfast on my own (unless transported to some amazing 5 star location, but I digress). It took him several more dates to fess up that he was a Ham Radio enthusiast. I think he knew it would add little to his allure. To be honest, it would have been a challenging hobby to keep secret.

So the revelation of riveting secrets is unlikely to play a big part in any fictionalised account of my life. But that is not true of most novels which hide at least one secret, and sometimes many more. But like any good curry – not all secrets are the same. There are secrets and then there are SECRETS.  So much so that I have devised a Spicy Secrets rating scale based on my three most recent reads:

The Korma: In the korma the level of secret combustion is low. The fallout is almost non-existent and the blandness quotient is about the most dangerous ingredient. Korma secrets usually originated in the past and don’t really influence the present. In the case of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, Arthur’s wife kept her fascinating life prior to meeting Arthur quite separate from her very happy marriage to him. Just one charm bracelet (discovered after her death) causes a flicker of unease. But no real harm ensues, and it is a sweet, if slightly formulaic, tale.

Things We Nearly KnewThe Balti: the balti secret is going to make someone uncomfortable, possibly very uncomfortable. Balti secret keepers like to live close to, but not right on, the precipice. Things We Nearly Knew is an excellent example of the mid-range secrecy novel. I love novels set in middle America with its low horizons, blue sky, trailer parks and run down motels. This novel has all that, and so much more: secretive Arlene, her search for a mystery man, and the resulting unravelling of more than one middle-aged lothario – all this achieved through the author’s use of pitch perfect dialogue.

The Pilot's Wife
Anita Shreve (1946-2018)

The Vindaloo: The vindaloo secret is going to take a lot of people down. It hits hard, below the belt, causes maximum discomfort and long-lasting after-effects. Recently deceased Anita Shreve (1946-2018) hit the vindaloo jackpot with her 1998 novel The Pilot’s Wife which brought in to sharp focus the bloodbath potential of a deep secret kept from a wife. In 1998, book group after book group reeled under the notion of a husband with another life complete with all the necessary accessories (think another home, another wife and other children) and how we were sure we would have known.

In writing (as in life) there is a constant push-pull between privacy and secrecy; between cruelty and protectiveness; between honesty and lying. You plot your own course, and hope you never become famous enough to attract the deadly curiosity of a nosy novelist.

I believe I will be safe. How about you?

Tasty, bite-sized economics: Fifty things that made the modern economy

A History of the World in 100 Objects was my first foray into books that use something small to describe something big, and I’ve been reading them ever since.

Luckily this has proved to be a popular concept, with topics ranging from Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History, Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee, to Banana: A Global History. Each book is like a museum exhibition with each chapter a different exhibit, perfect for dipping into and reading aloud interesting facts to your long-suffering friends.

My most recent read was a little out of my comfort zone — Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy, by Tim Harford.

Cover of Fifty things that made the modern economy by Tim Harford

Hearing the words “modern” and economy” generally gives me an expression similar to my cat after he’s eaten a moth, but luckily the content delivers. Harford writes in an incredibly engaging, conversational style. Often I slog through non-fiction books as the information density can be overwhelming even if fascinating, but Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy is as readable as a novel. Each section is so short that I found it difficult to stop at the end of one chapter and not just continue on to the next.

Even more mundane-seeming inventions like the plough had far reaching effects on almost every aspect of society, a symptom of a changing life from nomadic to settled, and influencing gender relations as well as our diet (not necessarily for the better). In fact a lot of our steps forward as a species have unintentionally brought us a step back in other ways. We spend a lot less time preparing food due to ready-meals and supermarkets, but our nutrition has suffered as a result. I suppose one good thing is that by constantly creating new problems for ourselves, we’ll never run out of things to do.

Due to the nature of a long list each entry is by necessity relatively brief, but each builds on the previous chapters — Harford points out all the ways in which an invention is reliant on those that came before, or the perfect timing for an invention to take off. Some were invented several times before they caught on, and others it was only a matter of time before it was invented by someone. History is a mess of happy accidents, lucky timing and reinventing the wheel.
If you’re interested in economics, history or want to know why anyone could get excited about double-entry bookkeeping, I’d recommend dipping into Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy.

Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy
by Tim Harford
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781408709115

Easter Parade 2018

Firstly, some important Easter essentials:

Libraries

  • Library Easter hours: All libraries are closed on Good Friday 30 March and Easter Monday 2 April, but open as normal on Saturday 31 March and Sunday 1 April. The only exception is Linwood Library, which isn’t open on Easter Sunday. Also note there is a scheduled outage on Easter Monday 2 April from 5am to approximately 12pm that will affect your access to the catalogue and eResources.

Daylight Saving

Fall back! Daylight saving ends when clocks go back by 1 hour at 3am on Sunday 1 April.

Rubbish

  • Rubbish collection: If your regular collection day is Good Friday 30 March, your collection day will now be Saturday 31 March. Kerbside collection continues as normal on Easter Monday.

Buses

  • Metroinfo Bus services: On Public Holidays bus and ferry services run to weekend timetables:
    • Thursday 29 March runs to the Friday timetable
    • Good Friday 30 March runs to the Sunday timetable
    • Easter Sunday 1 April runs to the Sunday timetable
    • Easter Monday 2 April runs to the Saturday timetable

Librarian Picks

And here is what our librarians are reading/watching/doing/listening to this Easter – it’s a veritable Easter Parade!

Simone

I have always wanted to slip Gregorian Chants into a blog. Naxos has 2 playlists for Easter:

Some Easter eMagazines on RBDigital Magazines:

Andrew

Theme song for your Easter Parade:

Ray

Philip Reeves – Mortal Engines Series
A few days off is an ideal opportunity to revisit a series – I picked this one because I just discovered the teaser trailer for the film adaptation they’re making! A futuristic dystopia of mechanical cities chasing each other across the wastelands…I loved it when I was 13 and I hope I’ll still love it now.

CoverSnuggle and Play Crochet Carolina Guzman Benitez
Maybe a long weekend will mean I finally get around to finishing the adorable monkey I’ve been crocheting from this book…

Simon

My pick is, Milk of the Tree, An Anthology of Female Vocal Folk and Singer-songwriters 1966-73
Easter seems the perfect time to dig into this mammoth 60 song set. An interesting mix of American and British artists with a whole heap of interesting rarities and a few classics. The detailed notes are also well worth a read.

Theresa

I’m doing the following over Easter:

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Karen G

Ferrymead Park is having a Great Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday 1 April.

The Canterbury Folk Festival is on for those wanting to head out of town – 30 March to 2 April

Moata

CoverCake wrecks 
Short, fun and full of sugar, Cake wrecks is hilarious and easily digestible. Marvel at the wonky spelling and bad frosting choices of so-called baking professionals.

Kate M

I’m looking forward to a rainy few days where I can get through a few new YA books.

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  • Projekt 1065 – With so many great YA books out there dealing with WWII (check out Max for a hard-hitting book about Hitler’s quest to create a master Aryan race), I’m looking forward to reading this one about a 13-year-old British spy in Berlin in 1943.
  • I am not your perfect Mexican daughter – I learnt a lot reading Sherman Alexei’s The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian, I’m interested to find out more about the Mexican culture with this book.
  • Piecing me together – Born from the #blacklivesmatter movement, books like The Hate You Give and Dear Martin deal with the issue of race in current-day United States. To counter ‘white privilege’, schools offer programmes to their ‘at risk’ students, and this book is about what happens when those ‘at risk’ students just want to be one of the crowd. I’m looking forward to it.

Masha

CoverAli Smith: Winter
Long awaited second novel in the Seasonal quartet – about the season that teaches us survival, inspired by Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Donna

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I have the super popular bestseller The woman in the window by A.J. Finn at home, and want to spend some time losing myself in a psycho thriller (qu’est-ce que c’est).

My Easter eMagazines from RBDigital Magazines:

Kim

We’re off to the Peter Rabbit movie but also the A Wrinkle in Time advance screening is on Palms Sun 1st April.
See also my booklist of recently published children’s books about Easter, eggs and bunnies

Dip your pen in your own psyche: An interview with Francis Spufford (WORD Christchurch event, Weds 7 March 7pm)

WORD Christchurch is bringing Francis Spufford to Christchurch, next Wednesday 7 March, 7pm at the salubrious venue of The Piano. Francis is in New Zealand as a guest of New Zealand Festival Writers and Readers. He has written seven books, on topics as diverse as science, history, theology, and politics. The Child That Books Built was a love letter to literature, and his first novel Golden Hill won the Costa Award for Best First Novel – it’s “a rollicking, suspenseful tale set in mid-18th century Manhattan, the novel pays loving tribute to the literature of that era”. Francis Spufford appears in conversation with Chris Moore.

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INTERVIEW

Joyce is heading along to the session, and asked Francis some choice questions:

I read in a previous interview that you wished you’d had the gumption to write fiction earlier in your career. What held you back? And did you ever feel pigeon-holed by your publishers and readers?

The short answer is cowardice. I was and am a great believer in the scope for non-fiction to do adventurous things, revealing things. I never felt pigeon-holed or limited by non-fiction. But still, it seems to me that fiction draws much more directly on the writer’s understanding of human character and human behaviour. When you write a novel, you dip your pen in your own psyche, inevitably. You have to. And for a long time I was afraid that I didn’t know enough to write imaginary people without making a fool of myself.

The sex scene in Golden Hill was particularly squelchy, torrid and memorable! Traumatising as a reader, how on earth did you manage to conceive the scene and write it?!

Good! I wanted it to be clear that both parties were doing something completely disastrous, carried away by different kinds of fear: but which was very pleasurable to them both in the moment, in a greedy kind of way. I wanted the reader to be peeking through their fingers going ‘No! No!’ yet also feeling the gross turn-on of what they were doing. And to this I could bring the pre-Victorian novel’s ability to be a lot lewder than you were expecting, complicated by the grossness being channeled through a very book-dependent narrator who, though mischievous, is really not enjoying themselves at this point. That’s about six literary ambitions for one episode of torrid squelching.

I loved the contrariness, passion and conviction of your youthful characters, especially juxtaposed with the complacency and corruption of New York’s elder figures. Do you see that generational gulf in action in modern society too?

Isn’t it permanent that youth is contrary and passionate and idealistic, and age is complacent and corrupt? (Or at least corrupt-seeming to young people.) Having said that, I do think this is a moment in history when, in the U.K. and the US at least, the fears and the weaknesses of the middle-aged and the old really have led us into stupidities at which young people are rightly gazing with horror – because they’re stupidities at their expense, at the expense of the future. As a fifty-something writer I enjoyed getting to be, temporarily, twenty four-year-old Mr Smith and nineteen-year-old Tabitha.

Golden Hill portrays a young New York and embryonic America, with considerably more time passed do you see the USA as a successful society?

I think America grew up into a reservoir of idealism and principle which the world needs, and has benefited by incalculably. But I think that contemporary America, like the embryonic America Mr Smith visits, is also a culture which is not very self-knowing: a place which, to a dangerous degree, contrives to forget the darkness which has always been the flip side of its virtues.

Quickfire Questions!

Last time you cried?

While watching *Coco* at the cinema.

Book you wish you’d written?

Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD.

Favourite biscuit?

I’m a slut for the chocolatey ones.

Describe the role of public libraries in 5 words

Portals to past, present [and] future.

Thanks, Francis!