Cool stuff from the selectors: How the other half lives

9780865653313Located near Palm Springs, Sunnylands was the palatial home of philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Created out of barren desert, Sunnylands is now a huge, palatial masterpiece of over the top opulence. No detail was too small – carpets, furniture, and china were all specially made, luscious gardens formed, and a golf course created.

Luckily for us all, aspects of the house and grounds are beautifully represented in this sumptuous book. But along with the fabulousness of the place was also the fabulousness of the people who visited. Guests were carefully chosen for each weekend. Once they arrived and were housed in the various rooms in the guest wing, where they would be provided with a written potted history of the other guests’ achievements and interests. Seating arrangements for the lavish dinners were carefully chosen so that conversation would flow smoothly. Activities for the weekend were outlined and a jolly time was had by all.

A magnificent book if you like to delve into life as you will never know it, beautifully photographed and enough written material and social history to make you feel a little less voyeuristic.

9781848221840Edward Bawden was an English painter, illustrator and graphic artist, known for his prints, book covers, posters, and garden metalwork furniture.

Scrapbooks – by the delightfully named Peyton Skipwith –  is a compendium of ephemera that Bawden has collected for more than 55 years.  There seems little rhyme or reason to most of it, drawings of stage design are interspersed with Christmas cards, newpaper cuttings, invitations and cigarette cards. The colour reproductions are quite beautiful, especially the drawings and graphic works of Bawden, and most pages have interesting notes about where the particular pieces may have originated and some background information to try and make sense of the seeming randomness of it all.  The is a lovely book to dip into and gives you a great insight into the life and times of a prolific and talented artist.

Cool stuff from the Selectors: Thinking about trends

When selecting stock for the library it is always important to think about trends and what might be the next ‘big thing’, and one area that always garners interest is health and wellbeing – that elusive food/exercise/natural remedy/mindset that will provide the magic elixir of anti aging/weight loss/fitness and a long life.
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Is Algae the new Kale?  Turmeric latte anyone? I was unfortunate enough to read that some are suggesting beetroot, charcoal or mushroom becoming your coffee substitute! Forget nose to tail eating, now it’s about root to stem.

If you have been struggling with Mindfulness then you can now rest easy with Mindset – the belief that basic abilities can be developed through hard work, a love and learning, and dare I say it – ‘resilience’. Breathing is also big – not surprising given we all need to do it, but are we doing in the right way? And last but not least, Neuroslimming, giving  you a “mind plan, not a meal plan”.

Tiny houses are still wildly popular, at least the pictures of them in the books are, but I do wonder how many people actually bite the bullet and live in the small but perfectly formed shed in the back yard? Travel stories are still very popular and I have it on good authority that Iceland is the next big thing (and I just happen to be going there in the middle of the year!)

I expect we will see a few more books on Donald Trump this year along with his good mate Putin.  There may be a few books on Fidel Castro and Cuba could become a more popular travel destination?

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The craft area is dominated by a love of anything Nordic and the knitting, quilting and embroidery books are still as popular as ever.  Cooking is still raw, which is ironic considering it’s cooking.

Need some cheering up, then these two titles might help the optimism quotent.

Improbable places and improbable food

9781781315323Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners hides interesting gems of information behind a unprepossessing cover and layout.  I was somewhat disappointed that the photos were in black and white, but as I explored the book I realised that this just adds to the general sense of abandonment and improbability.

Each place is devoted a couple of pages and includes a map and photos. I was fascinated by Slab City located in California.  It is described as “the last free place in America” and occupies 640 acres of concrete and debris-littered land.  People live rent free in makeshift homes that over the years have attracted the dispossessed, the lost, plus plenty of libertarians and eccentrics.  After the 2008 financial crash some people ended up there out of total necessity as their homes were foreclosed.

Another Californian oddity is Colma, with a small population of only 1,400, the dead on the other hand – close to 2 million – occupy seventeen cemeteries.  Gives a whole new meaning to the “dead centre of town”.

An abandoned tourist resort in Cyprus also piqued my interest.  Once a mecca for the wealthy and famous, it was abandoned after Turkish troops occupied the part of the island where it was located, and tourists and residents alike fled.  For forty years Turkish soldiers were the only ones to benefit from the resorts high-end hotels but it has now been left to Mother Nature.  It remains out-of-bounds but word has it that the ghost resort is still full of once fashionable cars and, more excitingly, 1970s clothes!

Aquafaba: Sweet and Savory Vegan Recipes Made Egg-Free With the Magic of Bean Water
Really … have you ever heard of anything more unappetising!? Apparently the name comes from a combination of the Latin root words for water and bean.  Aquafaba mimics the properties of eggs and can even be whipped up into a tasty pavlova, although I have my doubts.

There is a good news story around it however, with the online vegan community getting right behind the idea. A host of people are trying out recipes and ideas to get the ideal Aquafaba experience, and this is replicated in this book.  Certainly the pictures look quite appetising and range from the savoury to sweet, including a rather lovely looking lemon meringue pie.

Someone else give it a go and let me know the verdict!

Something for the coffee table

CoverBitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper and Arsenic in the Victorian House by Lucinda Hawksley

This is the sort of book that you can just meander through, looking at the pretty pictures and picking up a bit of information here and there –  exactly my sort of non-fiction!

Arsenic is of course a poison, prevalent in whodunnits. What I didn’t realise was that it is also a wonderful enhancer of colour, and was used extensively in wallpaper.  Not only were these papers poisonous to those unfortunate enough to work in the factories that produced them, but a gas was produced when they became damp. This was not an unusual situation when many houses had little heating and cold damp conditions.

A lovely – if slightly chilling – book to flick through with fascinating anecdotes, luscious illustrations of the wallpapers and stories that flesh out the history of arsenic and its victims.

CoverGreat Houses Modern Aristocrats by James Reginato

This is another wonderful book to dip into. The author is a writer-at-large for Vanity Fair, and I really enjoyed the way he brings the homes – and the people in them – to life.

We are introduced to Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma who sits in the chair with a steady, suspicious and steely gaze, while her sister (standing) describes her older sister as “the personification of the stiff upper lip”.  Patricia apparently has more titles than any woman in England and Queen Elizabeth reportedly gets a bit flustered in her company:

She was Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for thirty-three years, until she retired in 2004.  “When I turned eighty, I said, ‘for goodness sake, I can’t drive a tank any longer'” she explains.

Many of these homes are impossibly expensive to keep up. Some have been turned into variations of a Disney theme park, but many of the occupants have developed clever and surprisingly interesting ways of making a bob or two.

The Honourable Garech Browne of Luggala in Ireland has been a champion of Irish music, forming Claddagh Records and sponsoring the Chieftains.  The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava specialises in prize cows and artisanal yoghurt. When asked what supermarket she would prefer stocked the yoghurt she replied that she “hadn’t a clue” because she had never been to a supermarket!

Even the cover intrigues me, a young aristocratic couple and their son – mother and son perched on top of an ornate ladder (as you do) and the young father leaning nonchalantly, dressed in what looks like his grandfather’s military jacket, surrounded by old books and paintings.  All very otherwordly.

Cool stuff from the Selectors: Children’s and adult fiction

CoverWild animals of the North by Dieter Braun
A children’s book about the animals who live across the 3 regions of North America, Europe and Asia. This book has been getting a lot of good reviews. The illustrations are stars. They are bright, stunning and show the animals as full of life and personality. This is the first in a series that will cover the animals of the world.

The Guardian has great examples of the illustrations.

CoverAnother animal book, this time from the always superb husband and wife team of Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. (They have produced 16 books together): Flying Frogs and Walking Fish : Leaping Lemurs, Tumbling Toads, Jet-propelled Jellyfish, and More Surprising Ways That Animals Move. 46 creatures in the typical paper collages against crisp white background style, showing  how they might march, stroll, tiptoe or perhaps glide soar or coast.

Fiction

On the fiction front there are promising titles such Days Without End by the Irish writer Sebastian Barry, which is a kind of literary western along the lines of that terrific novel The Sisters Brothers. Barry’s earlier novel  The Secret Scripture has been filmed (with Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave and Eric Bana) and is expected to bring more publicity to this very talented writer.

Other titles coming up from first rate novelists include Michael Chabon Moonglow, Alice Hoffman Faithful,  Alan Moore Jerusalem,  Ron Rash The Risen,  Zadie Smith Swing Time Stephenie Meyer The Chemist.

So … something for everyone

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Cool stuff from the Selectors: Art, Science, and a bit of literarty

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The art of typewriting
Our Selector has always found creating a picture using type to be rather appealing so has enjoyed the 570 illustrations ordered into letters and numbers, punctuation pictures, interlocking words, animals, household objects, maps and texts.

An Astronomers Tale: A Life Under the Stars
Gary Fildes, Bricklayer and average guy,  had a secret.  Eventually he came out – and followed his passion to become an astronomer.

The Fall of the House of Wilde
A new and interesting slant on the many times subject of biography Oscar Wilde which puts him as a member of one of the most dazzling Anglo-Irish families of Victorian times, and also how the family were involved in the broader social, political and religious context of the times.

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Hankie Couture: Handcrafted Fashions From Vintage Hankerchiefs
Designs for that special doll in your life, or perhaps you will just enjoy browsing the pictures, I know I did!

Black Dolls From the Collection of Deborah Neff
Keeping with the doll theme, but from a totally differnt angle this book presents over 100 unique handmade African American dolls made between 1850 and 1930 from the collection of Deborah Neff, a Connecticut-based collector and champion of vernacular art. It is believed that African Americans created these dolls for the children in their lives, including members of their own families and respective communities as well as white children in their charge.  Stunning photography.

Outlander Kitchen
You’ve read the books, watched the TV series, now it’s time to cook Mrs. FitGibbon’s Overnight Parritch; Geilli’s Cullen Skink; Murtagh’s Gift to Ellen; Sarah Woolam’s Scotch Pies and Atholl Brose for the Bonnie Prince.

How to grow a champion

I have recently been asked about information on nutrition for young athletes. It would seem that a good breakfast and lunch is not enough.  Maybe it’s the Olympics?  How do you grow a champion?

Side by side with good nutrition for young athletes is the issue of sports injuries, and many a promising athlete or sports person has ended up sidelined because of overtraining and/or bad coaching plus the aforementioned good nutritional advice. Thankfully there is now more literature available on how to avoid these pitfalls and sustain a child or young adult through training and success.

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Adventures in Publishing – WORD Christchurch

Eat. Sleep. Read. Scott Pack’s t-shirt made a nice statement and I felt an immediate affinity. Eloquently introduced by Tracy Farr author of The Life and loves of Lena Gaunt, this could well turn out to be one of my favourite sessions.  Scott Pack could quite easily give up his day job and become a stand-up comic, a lovely British self deprecating humour always wins me over.

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Scott Pack. Image supplied

Changing the title of the talk to How to accidentally become a publisher: A story in 10 books is a crowd-winning way to lead us through his career in publishing.  It turns out that Scott Pack is a bit of a risk taker who surprisingly listens to Radio New Zealand, (but more about that later). The  books he uses are varied and prove a clever way to describe career highlights.

Blood Sweat and Tea by Tom Reynolds

Scott Pack left Waterstones where he had worked for about 10 years and became involved in The Friday Project.  Ebooks have taken off by this point and bloggers were also starting to make their mark. Tom Reynolds had been writing a very popular blog about his life as an ambulance driver, so The Friday Project were the first publishers to turn digital on its head and publish a digital format ie a blog into a print format book.  It became a best seller, and as we know the rest is history as there are now any number of blogs becoming books.

White Noise by Don De Lillo

9780330291088White Noise was used to highlight the National Radio story. Scott Pack suffers from tinnitus and finds it much harder to get rid of the white noise sound when it is quiet at night. After trial and error he came upon the solution of listening to Radio New Zealand, which gave him something good to listen to but because it wasn’t necessarily British or local he could also go to sleep and not get too caught up in the interviews as he would with a British made programme. This led to his next book The Life and loves a Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr. He heard it read on Radio New Zealand, loved it, contacted Tracy and ended up publishing her along with Fiona Kidman and Damian Wilkins all in the space of about 5 months.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

The Wisdom of Crowds was a nice lead into one of Scott Pack’s latest venture Unbound – kickstarter (or crowdsourcing)  for books.  The curators of the site put up a chapter of a book that has been submitted by a writer that they think shows some merit.  As a reader you get to like a book and give the amount of money that you think it is worth to the kickstarter or crowdsourcing site.  If the book raises enough money it is published and you get your name in the back of the book.  Authors can also offer other means for you to support them – a chef for example who is trying to get his/her book published could  (for a price) to come to your house and cook  you dinner.

Lastly he talked about and area that he is obviously passionate about.  He is on the hunt for lost, forgotten or out of print books.  The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton was apparently the 2nd best Norwegian crime novel of all time. (Why 2nd best no one seems to know) but it is long out of print and  has now been translated. Scandinavian crime is still a ‘thing’ and he hopes it will sell well.

Plenty of food for thought, this was a great session for aspiring writers…and I think there were a few in the audience, but it was also highly entertaining and informative for those of us who just love books and enjoy listening to someone who shares their enthusiasm.

WORD Christchurch

An hour with Nadia Hashimi – WORD Christchurch

The interviewer for this session was Marianne Elliott who had trained as a human rights lawyer.  She worked in the area of advocacy and communications and Afghanistan was one of the many places she has worked.  She recounts her time there in her book Zen under fire, and her experiences and empathy really helped make this session successful.

Nadia Hashimi. Image supplied.
Nadia Hashimi. Photo by Chris Carter. Image supplied.

Nadia Hashimi wants to portray the “heroic women of Afghanistan rising above it all”. The common portrayal is of an oppressed downtrodden group, meek and in the shadow of the men, hidden by the burka. Afghan women are a mystery, we start making our own assumptions aided by portrayals of the western armies going in to save them.

9780062411198Nadia Hashimi was born in the USA but weaves the stories of her family into her stories. Many have been refugees and her book When the Moon is Low portrays a refugee story and was published before the recent refugee crisis.  Ahead of her time on this issue, it had always been one that had affected her family and the people of Afghanistan.

She not only portrays women differently than the common view but her men too are often kind and romantic and opposed to brutal and paternalistic.  She described romance as being a huge part of Afghan culture.  Radio shows abound where people can call in anonymously and talk about their loves and relationships, she called it an obsession with romanticism and Bollywood movies are incredibly popular.

A House without windows describes the experience of Afghan women in prison.  For some it is a complete erosion of their freedoms, for others whose lives are incredibly brutal it is a welcome refuge, there is no one to bother and harass them, they are fed and may even be able to go to literacy classes.  The justice system is flawed and women are often imprisoned after false statements and for such crimes as running away from home.  Both women described the frustration of working in the justice arena, but also acknowledged that there are some amazing people working in this area who are slowly trying to bring about change.

A question was asked about how we can best support Afghan women. Sending money can be risky as corruption is rampant. She suggested supporting the arts, Afghan women’s writing projects and women’s crafts, we can also read their blogs, listen to their stories and realise that these women are strong and resilient.

WORD Christchurch