No, I’m not talking about Pride and Prejudice and Kittens. Jane Austen’s novels are justifiably well known, but her shorter works are equally amusing. If you’ve seen the film Love and Friendship then you may be aware that it’s based on a short epistolary novel entitled Lady Susan. I highly recommend seeking it out. It’s often bundled together with unfinished works The Watsons and Sanditon.
Some of my favourites, however, are the ridiculously silly short stories composed when she was a teenager. They run the gamut from murder:
I murdered my father at a very early period of my Life, I have since murdered my Mother, and I am now going to murder my Sister.
It was not till the next morning that Charlotte recollected the double engagement she had entered into; but when she did, the reflection of her past folly, operated so strongly on her mind, that she resolved to be guilty of a greater, & to that end threw herself into a deep stream which ran thro’ her Aunt’s pleasure Grounds in Portland Place. She floated to Crankhumdunberry where she was picked up & buried; the following epitaph, composed by Frederic, Elfrida & Rebecca, was placed on her tomb.
Here lies our friend who having promis-ed
That unto two she would be marri-ed
Threw her sweet Body & her lovely face
Into the Stream that runs thro’ Portland Place.
The beautifull Cassandra then proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry Cook & walked away.
“Oh! when there is so much Love on one side there is no occasion for it on the other. However I do not much dislike him tho’ he is very plain to be sure.”
And, of, course, cannibalism:
She began to find herself rather hungry, & had reason to think, by their biting off two of her fingers, that her Children were much in the same situation.
I also highly recommend Austen’s History of England, by “a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian”. Really any Austen will do, just read the lot and tell me what you think.
I read this book at the perfect time: at the end of a particularly trying week, on the first day of a particularly nasty bug.
Reading something comforting in bed with a hot water bottle was the only activity I could bear, and luckily When Dimple Met Rishi delivered in spades. A lot of the books I usually read feature unexpected (or expected) character deaths, or stressful situations, or characters coping with losing a parent (this particular trope keeps popping up unexpectedly since losing a parent myself last year, and I’m not a fan! Publishers, take note). When Dimple Met Rishi is the antidote to all that — cute and sweet, but with enough depth to not be irritating. Perfect cosy winter reading.
Dimple Shah is almost running out the door in her eagerness to get away from her overbearing, traditional-minded mother (who wants her to find the Ideal Indian Husband) and to start studying to become a web developer. To her surprise, her parents agree to pay for the summer program for aspiring web programmers she’s been eyeing up for years.
Rishi Patel is a romantic who wants to find what his parents have achieved — a fairytale but practical marriage. When his parents tell him they’ve arranged for him to meet their friends’ daughter at Insomnia Con, he leaps at the opportunity — maybe a bit too hard, because Dimple is anything but thrilled to meet him. In fact, she didn’t even know he existed.
There are quite a few tropes playing out here, but I like them all so they get a pass. Dimple and Rishi are both engaging characters who make some stupid mistakes, and best of all they realise they do actually like each other quite quickly rather than the author coming up with flimsy misunderstandings in order to string the suspense along. Instead the conflict is through them figuring themselves out, what they want to do with their lives and careers, balancing cultural tradition/family with an American upbringing, and deciding whether being in a relationship is compatible with university study. Some of which I’m still figuring out myself, so maybe I need to a summer conference. The romance is pretty cute, and Dimple is usually quite good at pointing out when Rishi is being too smug.
I would have liked a bit more development of Dimple’s room-mate, Celia, as she is poorly served by both some of her friends and by the narrative. And some more detail on the app-building and the program would have been interesting to me. But given that it’s a book entitled When Dimple Met Rishi, I can’t complain too much if it’s all about them.
If you’re a fan of funny contemporary teen romance with geekery and Bollywood dancing, then get thee to a library and pick this one up. If you’ve already read it, have a look at:
Which prompted me to feel a bit guilty about how few Māori and Pacific New Zealand authors I read… and then I pretty much forgot about it because life is too short to feel guilty about the books you haven’t read. As a librarian I’m exposed to a constant stream of new and interesting looking titles and (spoiler alert) I read hardly any of them.
But, for a couple of reasons the notion that I should expand my reading into more Polynesian fare stuck.
The main one being that I had a one week holiday coming up during which I could get in some solid novel-reading. The second being that the holiday in question was in Rarotonga (of the aforementioned Polynesia). And thirdly, because I had a couple of titles on my For Later Shelf that were available in time to take the trip with me (sometimes the Atua* of the Holds Lists smiles upon thee).
My first holiday read was not a novel at all but a collection of short stories. I always think with short stories that they are less of a commitment than a whole novel. Something that you can move easily on from should it not be to your taste. However Stories on the four winds: Ngā hau e whā was by far the more emotionally gripping and in places gruelling of the two books. In the space of relatively few pages I was drawn into murders, deaths and losses as well as tales of joy, love and connection. I started blubbing before the plane had even landed.
Writers, with their writerly tricks can surprise you, and indeed this was the brief for all the stories in the book (from a variety of well-known and perhaps less well-known Māori and Pasifika writers) – to surprise the reader. So every story has a twist or takes you somewhere you don’t expect. Even though the stories are short, they pack a punch and I found with some of them that I had to take a break between them, to get my bearings again. Standouts for me were the contributions from Albert Wendt, Alice Tawhai, Ann French, Jacqui McRae, K-t Harrison, and Reneé.
My second book was a novel and after the emotional rollercoaster of Stories on the four winds it was a nice change of speed. How to party with an infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings was perfect holiday fare. Hemmings is not a New Zealand writer but she is Hawaiian and I very much enjoyed the film of her first novel, The Descendants. I have so far neglected to read the source novel (more book-related guilt) but thought that this story of a single mother raising a small child in San Francisco would suit me.
It certainly did. The book has a sly sense of humour and uses the mechanism of the protagonist, Mele, listening to and writing the stories her parents’ group friends tell her. There are some really great characters in there, full of anxieties and insecurities – worrying about measuring up to other parents, fitting in, being good enough. As well there’s a bit of light romance of a very grown-up kind because everyone in this book has kids. I liked this book for its knowing jabs at the “Mummy Wars” aspects of parenting whilst celebrating the great, affirming friendships that can grow out of that shared experience.
For other recommendations of “brown reading” do check out Paula Morris’s post Why Aren’t You Reading Brown? for 21 titles by Māori and Pacific writers. Get the Holds Lists Atua on your side and you could be reading one before you know it.
When I was 7, a substitute teacher read the class the first two chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I thought it was a bit rubbish and told my mother so when I got home. “I think I’ve heard about it on the radio,” she said. “It’s meant to be quite good.” Oh. I gave it another try, this time borrowing it from the library. I read it so compulsively that I finished it on a family visit to a friend’s for dinner, surfacing at the end to ask if there was a sequel. I was hooked.
That was in 1997. Over the next few years the world caught up in the same kind of madness, and I slowly caught up to Harry in age. By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the seventh and final volume) was published I was a teenager on a gap year — I still have a photo of myself in a bookshop in France on the day it was released. Like a lot of people, Harry Potter was my first experience of fandom, sharing my fiction affliction with millions of others around the world. There are a thousand stories like mine.
My relationship with the books is a lot more complicated now than it was in the beginning, but they shaped so much of my growing up that I still love them anyway. From making Harry Potter paper dolls with my best friend to writing a fan letter to J. K. Rowling (and getting a reply!), buying my first merch (Hedwig sweatshirt) in Germany in 1998, getting spoiled for who died in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because for once I didn’t read fast enough, dressing up for a launch event at the local bookshop in 2005…
Somehow, as of today, it has been 20 years since Harry Potter was first published. Time for a re-read and a chocolate frog, I think.
On a Wednesday in 1977 a phenomenon began. That phenomenon was Star Wars.
Released in only 32 cinemas in the US on 25 May of that year the sci-fi space opera broke all box-office records and changed the movie making business. Star Wars was one of the first films to generate “round the block queues” for screenings (the literal definition of a “blockbuster”).
George Lucas famously popped out for lunch with his wife on opening day, saw lines of people queuing outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, and only then realised he had a hit on his hands. He’d expected a flop. So much so that he had a bet with friend Steven Spielberg that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would beat Star Wars at the box office. And that’s why Spielberg still receives 2.5% of profits on the film.
At least some of Star Wars’ initial success was as a result of the canny work of marketing director Charles Lippincoat who, ahead of the film’s release, shopped the novelisation (ghost written by sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster) and Marvel tie-in comics at events like San Diego Comic-Con. This generated a buzz amongst sci-fi fans who were already primed by release date. This is now standard practice with genre films and franchises who put a lot of effort into creating hype ahead of release, but back in 1977 it was a “thinking outside the box” strategy.
Star Wars also invented movie merchandising. As you walk the aisles of your local toy store, the proliferation of movie tie-in toys and action figures is down to the phenomenal success of Star Wars in this area.
Merchandising was such a small part of the movie industry prior to Star Wars that, in 1973, before the film was made George Lucas exchanged $350,000 worth of directing salary for the merchandising rights and the rights to the sequels. Conventional wisdom at the time was that this was a good deal for 20th Century Fox. It eventually cost them billions.
And of the movie itself? Well, I’m a fan and have been for as long as I can remember. I cannot recall the first time I saw the film. In the late 70s and early 80s you simply absorbed Star Wars from the atmosphere. You fenced with lightsabers of rolled up Christmas gift wrap, you hummed the theme music, you played with your cousin’s X-wing fighter toy.
I love the film, even despite its many flaws – a not exactly diverse cast, sometimes creaky acting, the occasional alien proboscis that looked like it was made out of cardboard, plot holes that you could fly a Corellian freighter through – but to me it’s still a vastly enjoyable tale.
George Lucas was inspired by the Flash Gordon type serials of his youth, the films of Akira Kurosawa, the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the “heroes journey” mythology of Frazer’s The golden bough. Star Wars is a cinematic melting pot of references and homages that distills them down to a classic “good vs evil” story. The kind that’s timeless in its appeal. Or at least I hope it is… because I’m planning on watching it for another 40 years.
The author of numerous books of a scientific bent is careful with his words and keen not to ruffle any feathers. It’s speculation on my part, but I wonder if his experience is that, on the topic of Time Travel, passions might sometimes become inflamed?
A curious full house gather at the Piano for this WORD Christchurch session featuring Gleick and fellow New Yorker Daniel Bernardi (erskine fellow, film and media studies scholar, science fiction expert and documentary filmmaker). They discuss the ins and outs, twists, turns and paradoxes of Time Travel. Before long there is, as is the new tradition when two educated Americans speak in the presence of non-Americans… a jocular swipe at the current US president.
Fortunately this science-loving audience is not in the least offended by the joke.
Gleick’s book Time Travel: A history is an exploration of the literature, science and zeitgeist of Time Travel. It’s far-ranging, smart and brain-expanding.
But what made him want to write on that topic in the first place?
I discovered this weird fact – that Time Travel is a new idea. That didn’t make any sense to me.
Why did it take until H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine for people to explore that as an idea? It seems a few things came together: photography and cinema were showing people a slice of the past in the present; instantaneous communication was suddenly possible making the lack of temporal alignment in different places more obvious; and time standards became a thing for the first time. As Gleick puts it, “the way people thought about Time was up for grabs”.
Then Einstein came along and things got really interesting.
Though Einstein’s theories allowed for the possibility of a sort of Time Travel, Gleick is quick to point out that it’s not the punching-a-date-on-a-machine or opening-a-portal-to-another-era kind. It’s really just the acknowledgement that there is no universal time. Everyone’s experience of time is personal and given the right set of circumstances (speedlight travel, for instance) your version of time can slow down relative to everyone else’s. This means that the Time Travel stories of the “Rip Van Winkle” (or Futurama) kind become technically possible. But Gleick doesn’t believe the imaginary, sci-fi type Time Travel that continues to excite our imaginations exists, or that it will. Though he seems apologetic about it, as if he’s mindful of deflating the aspirations of wannabe Time Travellers in the audience.
On the enduring appeal of Time Travel in literature and popular culture, Gleick feels that it lets people explore many things about families and relationships – it gives you the ability for “a do-over”. Like the movie Groundhog Day. He points out that a lot of Time Travel stories are about fathers and mothers, families and parents.
Take Back to the Future – isn’t this really just a movie about looking at your parents and realising they were once young like me, and wondering “what was that like?”
This is far from the only reference to Time Travel in popular culture, and many in the audience probably come away from this talk with a reading/watching list that includes:
A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – indicative of pessimism about the future of “our benighted country”.
Doomsday book – H. G. Wells never wrote about going into the past but Connie Willis does.
Looper – Movie that nicely skirts over the paradoxical plot difficulties by having Bruce Willis tell his younger self “If we’re going to talk about Time Travel sh*t we’re gonna be sitting here making diagrams with straws all day”.
Interstellar – Bernardi’s pick as the film that best visualises the science of Time Travel.
Arrival – A film that Gleick feels works very well in performing a “subtle trick” on the audience. All Time Travel stories have to do this but in this film you barely notice it happening.
Twelve Monkeys – Another Bruce Willis film that deals with a Time Travel loop and deals with a death.
“Blink” – Gleick’s favourite episode of Doctor Who, in particular a scene set in a spooky old house, “old houses are great time travel machines”. It’s also the first episode in which the phrase “timey-wimey” is used.
Gleick is at great pains to try and describe these stories in a way that does not reveal any important plot twists. In the case of Planet of the Apes this is… is adorable the right word? The movie came out in 1968. But no spoilers!
Another appealing aspect to Time Travel is that it’s a way of escaping death. After all, (spoiler alert!) Time will kill us all in the end.
When we hear Time’s winged chariot it’s not delivering good news.
But what is Time (other than universally deadly)? Scientists may tell you that Time is the 4th dimension and that it’s similar to the other physical dimensions in that we inhabit one spot and the rest stretches out away from us, both backward and forward. This rather flies in the face of what Gleick says we know “in our guts” about Time i.e. that the past has happened and the future hasn’t.
It seems an oddly obvious statement to have to make, and Gleick says it’s not a scientific one but a religious one.
Some of the audience questions delve into this idea of religious thought versus Time Travel and at this point I get lost, draw a spiral in my notebook and label it “loop of confusion”. Questions like “is God in Time with us?” and “doesn’t an interventionist God imply that the future isn’t set?” do somewhat “screw my noodle”. Given the heady topic, it seems inevitable that I lose the thread of the discussion at some point in proceedings. Perhaps it always has, and always did happen?
Other questions posed include one from my colleague Fee (who wrote her own post about James Gleick) and wonders if the future is set, then what about premonition? Which Gleick says (gently) that he does not believe in, though it’s a powerful idea.
Another question asks how it is that Gleick can explain such scientifically complex stuff in ways that non-scientist folk can understand. He says simply that he’s a journalist so he asks lots of questions and that a big part of it is just getting scientists to talk you as they sometimes “live in their own abstruse world”.
I am lucky enough to get the last mic grab of the night and ask my own question (which if I could have a Time Travel do-over for, I would make slightly less waffley). It’s with reference to the way we think about Time in terms of spatial metaphor. In the Western world we conceive of the past as being behind us and the future in front of us but in Māori culture this is flipped around – the past is known and therefore visible before you and it’s the future that approaches you from behind. In the course of researching had he found any other cultures that view Time this way? Gleick replies that the language we use, the words that we use to describe Time really shape how we think about it and that in some Asian languages Time travels on an “up and down” axis or “right to left”.
And if I thought my noodle was screwed before it definitely is now. As I exit the theatre along with the rest of the audience I concentrate on travelling forward through space and backwards/forwards/vertically through time.
Time: The real history of science fiction – BBC programme that discusses several of the films discussed in this session as well as the Grandfather paradox and other Time Travel tropes. (log in with your library card number and PIN to watch online)
Last week’s release of the trailer for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower movie just about broke the internet, with fevered and passionate discussion about just how right or wrong the director had got things. Widely recognised as the most important of King’s works, The Dark Tower series is a ridiculously huge tale, with nearly 4300 words in eight novels, written over the course of 30 years. Simply put, it’s the story of Roland, the last gunslinger, who is working his way to the Dark Tower to take down the Crimson King. He is pursued by the man in black.
As a longtime Constant Reader, I have spent much of my grown-up life reading and rereading Stephen King novels. My bookshelves are full of scary clowns, weird alien invasions, alcoholic hotel caretakers and needful things. I own all the books, have seen all the movies, and have definite thoughts on best and worst novels. I’ve downloaded the reading maps, sought out the editorials, and even fallen in love with the works of his son Joe.
Every reader who has a favourite author can feel nervous when books are turned into movies. And it must be said that King’s movie adaptations can vary wildly in success, from the heady heights of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, through the disturbing Misery, to the adorable but kind of dorky 1408, and the downright embarrassing Langoliers.
So you will understand when I say that I am not alone right now in feeling VERY nervous about the upcoming release of two of King’s most well-loved works. The trailer for It was released a few weeks ago, and in less than 3 minutes managed to scare the pants off most of the western world. I have yet to watch it without covering my eyes every few seconds. And the Dark Tower trailer is mesmerising for different reasons. How can one movie even begin to show us a world that is described not only in the eight Tower books, but also appears in countless other of his tales, from The Talisman, to Insomnia, to Black House, The Stand and The Shining and more.
There’s totally no time to go back and reread the whole series before the movie is out, and King has already told us that this particular story is not one of the original ones from the novels, but another of Roland’s journeys. So all I have to do now is sit, and wait, and like countless other Constant Readers, hope that this movie is at least good, and hopefully great, that Roland Deschain is a true gunslinger and that the man in black is every bit as dreadful and mesmerising as he is in the books.
And try to figure out if I will EVER be brave enough to watch IT.
It is 70 years since Mabel Howard (1894 – 1972) became New Zealand’s first woman Cabinet Minister. She first entered Parliament in 1943, after winning the Christchurch East by-election on 6 February. In 1946, she won in the newly-formed electorate of Sydenham. In May 1947, Mabel was voted into Cabinet by the Labour caucus, on the death of Dan Sullivan.
A memorable moment in NZ political (and social) history is Mabel holding up bloomers. This was part of a debate in Parliament, to demonstrate variation in clothing sizes.
Jim McAloon’s biography of Mabel in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography details her interesting life and career. She came into politics via the union movement, and working with her MP father Ted Howard.
Mabel was a Christchurch City councillor for a number of terms: 1933-1935, 1938-1941, 1950-1959, 1963-1968.
Mabel was a colourful character. There are fab Mabel photo ops you can see on DigitalNZ. She was bullish, efficient, conscientious, determined, and hard-working. Her life and career demonstrate her ongoing concern with women’s rights, equal pay, consumer protection, and social welfare. She was a fighter. A trail-blazer.
Mabel Howard Women in the Council Chamber Christchurch City Council
This brief political biography originally featured in an Our City O-Tautahi exhibition from 19 – 30 September 2006, featuring Christchurch’s own “Women in the Council Chamber”, initiated and co-ordinated by Cr Anna Crighton.
Many years ago I used to bus up and down the Walworth Road and round the Elephant and Castle, south of the Thames in London, either on the 68 or the 468 (if memory serves me right Janet Frame used to take one of those buses, or one very similar).
While I’d spend quite a lot of that time reading I also used to enjoy looking out of the window at the variety of people and places. I always enjoyed the Mixed Blessings Bakery, Rimworld the hat shop, and the halal noodle bar. On a more serious note, there was also a memorial to victims of the Blitz on the side of the Cuming Museum. As with any city it was a true palimpsest, with many layers of history side by side and intermingled.
Imagine my nostalgia when the pages of a book took me on that same journey, but decades earlier. A book which has a dedication which talks of a taniwha in the Thames. I just loved Stella Duffy’s London Lies Beneath, so rich and evocative of the melting pot of the city in 1912.
This sense of place and history and connections is one of many reasons I am so excited that Stella is coming to the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season on 15th May to talk about her latest books, including London Lies Beneath, and her task of finishing Ngaio Marsh‘s unfinished Money in the Morgue.
Stella writes and campaigns in many areas, such as the arts, breast cancer, women’s and LGBT issues, and has worked in the theatre and written a number of novels and short stories. More recently she has become a co-director of Fun Palaces – a weekend each year where a variety of venues and locations enable arts and science for all, with a belief that community belongs at the core of all culture. They are a brilliant idea and Central Library Peterborough has had the opportunity to host a Fun Palace for the last couple of years.
I have also only just realised that Stella has written fiction about the Empress Theodora – I do love a bit of Byzantium!
I can’t wait for 15th May and hope to see you there.
If you’d told me when I was ten years old that I’d still enjoy a Famous Five tale 30 years later I’d have been thrilled. If you’d told me that at 15 I’d have been mortified. Such is the inextricable (and uncool) bond that Enid Blyton’s youthful sleuths have with childhood, innocence, and jolly good fun.
But things have changed and so have George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy. Get ready for “Enid Blyton for Grown-ups”.
The former Dorset-based cousins now flat together in London, have office jobs, mobile phones, and drinking problems (Julian). It’s now less “lashings of ginger beer” and more “out on the lash at the local”. Author Bruno Vincent’s reworking of Blyton’s much beloved characters incorporates humorous observations on modern life, knowing nods, and is positively soaked in irony.
Take, for example, George’s response to Anne’s suggestion that they all chip in for a Mother’s Day gift for Aunt Fanny, since she was practically a second mother to them all during their summers in Kirrin.
…My memory is that we were nearly killed about two dozen times. I think Mummy should count herself lucky to have escaped a custodial sentence for neglect…
Five Forget Mother’s Day sees the now young professionals grappling with mysteries of the “what do we get Aunt Fanny for Mother’s Day?” variety.
It’s a fun, quick read that somehow manages to be witty and modern whilst still retaining that “don’t worry, old bean, we’ll all muck in together and get through this sticky wicket” attitude that typified the original Famous Five.
An unexpected benefit of this particular title in the series (others on my “to read” list include “Five Go Parenting” and “Five on Brexit Island“), is that if you leave it lying around, your co-parent might take this as a passive-aggressive hint that Mother’s Day is Not To Be Forgotten. In my case this effect was unintentional, but it could perhaps be strategically deployed in families where forgetfulness is rife?
Five Forget Mother’s Day; conspicuously visible on a couch arm near you?