Bibliobishi’s Optimistic Reading and Viewing for January and Beyond

Working as I do at Christchurch City Libraries, I hear of (and read) so many great books, and watch so many excellent movies and tv, that my For Later Shelf remains stationary, no that’s not quite true, it continues to grow. Shrinkage would mean less getting distracted by the ideal cover bringing such promise of a great read. Or a certain actor being in something I have not seen, mean’t to see but didn’t get there, fancy it because they’re in it etc.

This is the time of the year when gardening is what should be happening of course. Fruit and Vegetables are my thing so once the first mad rush of getting everything into the ground  is over I hope to be found with my feet up, glass of beer and a good book and here’s a taste of what might happen for Ms Bishi this month.

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My Grandmother sends Her Love not too heavy but hopefully equally as enjoyable as Man Called Ove, also by Fredrik Backman, who comes highly recommended.

A touch of nostalgia here, re-visiting Soap. This could be great and the laughs as good as 30? years ago – or the remembered satirical humour will fail to ignite. Give it a go anyway.

How to Avoid Huge Ships and other implausibly Titled Books. Again not too demanding but I’m hoping for some good laughs and “You won’t believe this title” moments when Mr Bishi will give up trying to read his book and enjoy the humour.

The Reader on the 6.27 is an odd concept. This poor sod, Guylain, works in a book pulping plant, hates it, not fussed about his life either but stays sane by reading aloud on the train, pages he has saved from the pulper. One day he finds himself reading the diary of a lonely woman…. she sounds a lot like him….  This has huge promise and what a neat idea for a book!

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I’ve been with great restraint making my way through the Shardlake series. History is fascinating and Henry VIII’s reign has to be one of the most interesting politically and religiously speaking. Add to that a good old fashioned murder or two and you have Matthew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer, brilliant brain, honest and used by Cromwell (and then Cranmer) to shine a light on murders and other nefarious goings on. C.J. Sansom writes so well its easy to forget which century one is living in.

These Dividing Walls promises a great story to disappear into if the cover is anything to go by.

The Lubetkin Legacy – Berthold Lubetkin considered himself an architect of the people, his belief ” nothing is too good for ordinary people”.  The ordinary people in this novel live in a Lubetkin building in London.  Peopled with a cross section of the UN and full of characters.  Sounds like good holiday reading.

Old Filth comes highly recommended and reading the synopsis is sufficient to warrant its place:”A touch of magic combines with compassion, humour and delicacy to make OLD FILTH a genuine masterpiece”.

CoverA touch of reality here: Whipping Boy, “The 40 year search for my 12 year old Bully” is the subtitle. Billed as part childhood memoir and part literary thriller, Alan Kurzweil obsessively tracks down Cesar Augustus, his bully over 40 years ago. Having written this I think this might be my next read.

How are your For Later shelves going? Or is it a notebook that you carry round with you, filled with suggestions from friends and staff?  Do share how you keep track of future reading.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Laura Chant lives with her Mum and beloved little brother Jacko and she has ‘warnings’. Odd sensations overcome her. She’s had them before, when their Dad left the family home and when she met Sorry (Sorenson) a prefect at her high school. And now she’s had another one.

Cover of The Changeover

Warily she continues through her day at school, picks up Jacko and walks home, everything as normal. Except on the way they pass a shop that was never there before and the strange, rather sinister old bloke inside bothers her enormously…

Jacko’s health starts to deteriorate, his life hanging in the balance, and Laura is convinced it’s because of the man in the shop. Her Mum is struggling to make ends meet, keep her job and be a loving Mum, there for her children. It’s tough going and Laura’s mad ideas are just not going anywhere. Laura feels herself to be alone.

So she turns to Sorry for help, knowing, believing he is a witch.

The Changeover is classed as a teenage story with supernatural elements. I first heard it as an adult, as it was read on a children’s holiday programme. I missed the last few episodes and headed to the library. I had to know what happened. There appears to be more going on with Sorry and Laura than meets the eye and what happened to Jacko? Are Laura’s bizarre theories correct? I was so pleased I tracked the book down.

Whilst I have read sci-fi and Fantasy, The Changeover avoids both genres. It’s a darn good story with witches and a bit of magic thrown in and it works. I was caught up in a great story and characters. Jacko is a small boy I wanted to live, not die and I found myself driven to read on, to urge Laura to put some of her thoughts into action, to save him if she could.

As a young woman New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox met Margaret Mahy and got to know her well. In her introduction to the latest edition she writes of the her hero Margaret Mahy:

“I’m thinking of her laugh, her hats, her dogs and cats, her winter coughs, her knitted coats, her rainbow wig, and very imposing penguin suit. I’m thinking of her long sentences and pithy quips; of the rose window of the top bedroom of her flat in Cranmer Square; of her empty refrigerator, of her very model of a modern Major General and, in the same vein, her virtuoso “Bubble Trouble”, and the loving rapture in her grandson Harry’s eyes when he watched her perform it at the launch of Tessa Duder’s book”.

A recent reread of The Changeover as a middle aged adult and I still loved every minute of it AND there’s a movie coming in September AND its filmed in Christchurch, New Zealand, Margaret Mahy’s home town. Will watching a favoured book turned into a movie be iffy? Possibly (watch the trailer below and judge for yourself). But I will go and pay homage to a wonderful writer.

The Changeover
by Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781869713553

November 17th was World Premature Birth Day and I missed it…

Cover of Just A Moment Too SoonThank goodness though I can scrape into World Prematurity Awareness Week, well, I could if I lived in Australia. My awareness is only due to my thoughtful library colleagues alerting me. You see, they have lived vicariously through the birth of my little grandson at 24 weeks and 5 days gestation. Also through the trials and tribulations he and his loving parents are still experiencing, so you understand why I am writing this blog late rather than never.

The Empire State Building was lit purple for World Prematurity Day. I think that gives you an idea of how big an issue “early birth” is and how the numbers are increasing worldwide. 15 million babies are born early every year. Some very early; some just a few weeks early.

The stress for them and their families is unimaginable. They are so very tiny and apart from the fight for survival they could potentially suffer brain bleeds, necrotising enterocolitis, heart malformations, bowel malformations, visual and hearing impairment, lung disease or learning disabilities. They also grow considerably more slowly outside the uterus and frequently take some years to achieve the growth rate of their peers.

Cover of Coming Home from the NICUMy grandson Ari, classed as “just viable”, was born weighing 700gms which is one and a half pounds of butter to those who struggle with baby weights in metric as I do. He was also born in the U.K. and we live in Christchurch, New Zealand, adding to our stress time and again over the following tense months. Waiting for communications from our daughter’s partner; trying to find out how he was… What happens now apart from the obvious breathing tube down his throat, wires attached to him all over (there wasn’t a lot of all over to attach them to either), incubator, etc?

For the mother there is also the sense of loss of pregnancy. She may grieve for what should have been a time of blooming and pleasure. No more sickness, just a blossoming baby. When the due date of baby arrives it is frequently a day of tears.

Cover of Ready for AirFortunately for all of us Ari is a wee fighter which is as well as he has chronic lung disease. This means he is still on oxygen and still in hospital at 5 months old – his actual age – but if you consider he was due in mid-September and it’s now mid-November, he is 2 months old.

The library was a good source of information, both in terms of what to expect and of the biographical aspects of premature birth.  It was good to be able to read heart warming stories of babies who survive their traumatic starts, grow into stroppy teens and healthy adults.

Were you a premmy?  I have met so many adults who were born early, but you would never have guessed it.  Have you been down this road within your family?

Chook lit

The children are adults and left the coop so we thought we’d fill it with chooks instead. I blame my gardening hero Janet Luke – she who has quail, rabbits, miniature goats, bees and ducks at her place. That’s eggs, meat, milk, honey and more eggs. Not sure if she has started killing the ducks yet, but she knocks off the bunnies regularly and is working on a nice fur blanket. She also has a standard size section as opposed to our large allotment sized property.

Cover of Backyard ChickensAfter the mad measuring of space available for potential chicky coop, I turned to library books on chicken coop design.

Alas, despite much considered research, this aspect has proven to be the downfall of Ma and Pa Bishi’s chicken farm. Neither of us thought it through until it was too late and the girls were proving that the darn thing was too high and the pitch of the roof too sharp and they really weren’t all that fussed about going to bed up there, never mind laying their eggs in the right place. Like good new parents we were concentrating on things like chicken selection, rearing, diseases, food etc. and “can I give up some of my vege garden and can we actually squeeze in a two-chook-coop?”

Unfortunately (or fortunately from his point of view) Pa Bishi was the builder and a very proud builder was he! This was his contribution to family history, an ‘A’ frame chicken coop. In the days before the girls moved in he was frequently to be found at the window staring admiringly at his handiwork. Alterations were obviously the answer and major ones at that, but male pride was on the line here. So how to broach this delicately? I don’t know, I’ve never done delicate approaches. But !#@!&#!! seems to have done the trick.

Cover of The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping ChickensTo date one ramp with grips and a ground level entry have been added and Priscilla the partying chook has shown the cowardly Camilla how to do things when it’s bedtime. Camilla is a bit slow and so far has been physically put on her roost each night. She doesn’t seem to mind and somehow they both get down each morning. I’m a nervous wreck from worrying about the girls and Pa Bishi’s feathers are ruffled, but he’s carried out the necessary alterations to Chez Chic.

Do you manage to successfully keep chickens? Wish you could? Like the concept but afraid to put it into practice? Check out the books above – they are really helpful. The girls are lovely and cluck away in our garden and one day I won’t worry about them at all.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In my case it wasn’t Ms Woolf but her namesakes. After all I’d been raised on European children’s literature and these critters featured a lot. Admittedly never in the Secret Seven or Famous Five, but I had a fertile imagination and the night time was when those boyos promoted themselves to driving cars and generally getting round on two legs. Leading to a terrified wail in the night.

Cover of Phobias or The Way of The WorrierFears, irrational or otherwise – a lot of us have them. Fear of spiders, arachnophobia. Why and when did spiders produce such fear in some of us? Robert the Bruce wasn’t turned off from his close encounter, far from it. And of course there’s “aratnophobia”. I’ve seen someone clear a metre-high-plus bench top in one leap, to escape a rat. Needless to say the rat was legging it in the other direction equally as terrified. In his case quite rightly, as he bought it in the end and she came down off the bench.

Then there’s Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, which reduced parts of a generation to a jellied mess whenever a large flock of starlings or similar gathered nearby.

Cover of Freeing Your Child From AnxietyIt has been suggested that one in six of us suffer depression or a chronic anxiety disorder and there are plenty of books in our libraries on the subject that would suggest this might not be too far off the truth. In Phobias or the Way of the Worrier Tim Weinberg looks at the range of phobias – from common to bizarre. He examines scientific and psychological research to make sense of this strange world. And he shares his own journey in overcoming his fear of heights.

Anxiety, fears and phobias are not all limited to adults either. Freeing Your Child from Anxiety has easy, fun, and effective tools for teaching children to outsmart their worries and take charge of their fears.

Christchurch City Libraries have Conquer Your Fears and Phobias for Teens currently on order.  Holds or reserves can be placed on this book now.

Nerves and butterflies are fine — they’re a physical sign that you’re mentally ready and eager. You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that’s the trick. ~Steve Bull

It’s all in your head

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I want to share my connection and reading on this subject with you. It’s not something we talk about openly very often, but I find that the more I speak to people about mental health, the more I realise there are very few of our families or friends unaffected by some form of poor mental health.

Cover of The Nao Of BrownNao Brown has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but she’s unaware of this. To her the morbid obsessions, and other rituals and compulsions that she is quietly aware of, are different but no more. She is a young woman wanting to become a comic book artist, wanting a career, looking for love – really no different from most of us.

The Nao of Brown is a graphic novel which I chose partly because I enjoy comic books with good graphics, tick, and a good story, tick. That one of my loved ones also has OCD was coincidental, however it did give me another insight into how obsessions rule the mind. A very small insight. I really cared for Nao and wanted her to realise her dreams. An enjoyable story, not at all depressing, quite realistic and great graphics.

Cover of ManicReading Terri Cheney‘s Manic was a deliberate choice. Terri has bi-polar disorder, or, as she would have been labelled some years ago, is a manic depressive. Her mania started at high school; she got through university and made herself a career as an entertainment lawyer. She writes in an alarmingly frank way, which can be disturbing, but she delivers her story with hindsight and humour. She spent five years searching for the right medicine to get her brain stabilised from the illness. Years of highs that got her into some extreme situations and years of hard-to-comprehend debilitating lows –  all of which have made her an amazingly strong woman. To survive what she has been through and write two books about it is a feat of courage.

Journeys with the Black Dog is a wonderfully apt title for a book of inspirational stories of bringing depression to heel. Written with raw honesty and sharp humour, it’s an encouraging reading for anyone coping with the “black dog”.

You have to admire the people who contend daily with some form or other of poor mental health and carry on, live their lives and frequently hold down jobs. Have you read similar books to these and gained some small idea of how it must be for someone with a mental illness? Talked openly about mental illness? Or felt it was perhaps too intrusive?

I’m on the road again

I first got the travel bug on my 10th birthday when my best friends and I went to see Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday.  I was smitten and not just with Cliff. To buy a big bus and you and all of your friends head off to Greece! Or anywhere for that matter. My girlfriend’s playhouse became a bus and then in my late teens I was off to the UK. I met Mr Bishi in London and we started our travelling in a VW Beetle with tent and gear in the back for our grand European tour honeymoon.

A little older, more responsible, widely travelled and back in NZ, getting away is just that bit more expensive, but I hanker after visiting favourite places and seeing new ones. What to do? No brainer really: live vicariously through travel books, the quirkier the better.

Cover of Sleeping AroundBrian Thacker is Australian and it shows in his style of writing (humourous and irreverent) and his continual wearing of shorts. Using Couchsurfing.com, GlobalFreeloaders.com etc., Brian is travelling on the smell of the traditional mechanic’s wiping cloth. He’s bed testing/couch surfing to Reykjavik, Istanbul, Kitchener, Rio, places he’s never been. In fact you might say he’s been Sleeping Around.

His potential hosts he chooses carefully. A lot of profiles mention their desire for guests to use the loo instead of the bathroom floor and generally that they like to party and drink copiously. No-one boring – the more outlandish the better. His liver takes a bashing and he lacks sleep, but he certainly sees places through different eyes. No longer a tourist but a friend of a local. Ideal.

Cover of Narrow Dog to Wigan PierLike a lot of people I have “Take canal boat through canals of UK” on my secondary bucket list. Being secondary, there is little hope of this happening. This makes the stories from Terry Darlington featuring wife Monica, Jim the cowardly thieving whippet who hates boating, and their English canal boat Phyllis May all the more fun.

Together we’ve been across the English Channel (a first for a narrow boat) and down to the Med and along an Indian River in the south of the good ole US in Narrow Dog to Indian River and I joined them in their earlier journeys around the UK in Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier. Darlington’s writing is funny and I’ve been transported to some beautiful places (some with insects that bring to mind small aircraft), have met the “gongoozlers” on the towpaths, and have visited the pubs where Jim scoffs pork scratchings.

But it was Dervla Murphy who got us attempting to cycle from the UK to Australia*. She is modest, fearless, tough, funny, Cover of In Ethiopia with a Muleextremely fond of beer and my hero. At the age of 30-something, she headed off on her bike from Ireland to Nepal. She made it and having a social conscience she stayed and worked in  the refugee camps. Once she got a taste for travel she was soon off again and over the years has cycled, ridden or walked – whatever works for the terrain (but never used motor transport if she can help it). When her daughter was barely old enough, Rachel adventured with her mother to India, Cameroon, Baltistan and beyond.

She is a personable woman and it comes through in her writing.  I admire Dervla hugely; she is a very brave woman and brilliant travel writer.

Not forgetting the library’s own Armchair Travel Newsletter which brings us new  and recently released titles.  I’ll end up anchored to my armchair in the Spring sunshine in Christchurch, but in my head I’ll be enjoying some of these new titles that I have already reserved.

Do you travel dangerously, wittily and vicariously? Admire writers for their get up and go and the ability to string the words together in an interesting fashion? Use their books as a guide for your own travels?

 

*We left the tandem in Iran due to a severe shortage of money and made it to Australia with $3 to our name.