Shelf Life: C.K Stead – WORD Christchurch

The last time I heard CK Stead was a few years ago at the Auckland Writers Festival. He was interviewed with his daughter Charlotte Grimshaw and they played off each other nicely. I didn’t really enjoy this latest session where C.K Stead was interviewed by Paul Millar, and in hindsight I was probably not the best person to be writing this blog, because a) I haven’t read the book Shelf Life b) I am not the most literary person c) I was not reading New Zealand literature in the 50s and 60s and  d) I haven’t studied New Zealand Literature.  If you fulfilled all or at least some of the above criteria then it was probably entertaining. I didn’t get the jokes and I didn’t always know who they were talking about.

Perhaps because Paul Millar has an academic background there was quite a lot of talk about the early days in the English Department at the Auckland University.  All of our luminaries feature, all referred to by their last names – Gee, Shadbolt, Duggan. Fairburn, Baxter and Curnow.(As an aside I always find this last name things a bit odd – do we do it with women?)  The North Shore seemed a hotbed of literary genius, and references were made to the odd feud and disagreement.  It must have been intense.  Curnow and Stead lived in the same street and over the years critiqued each others work via their respective letterboxes.


Things jumped around a bit, from University days to travel, opinions on food, (yes, likes it) euthanasia, (would be good to have a pill especially if dementia hit)  how and when he writes, (keeps office hours)  and favourite places, (Auckland then London).  A question was asked about women writers as they didn’t exactly feature.  Janet Frame was a good friend and he preferred Marilyn Duckworth to her sister Fleur Adcock, I’m unsure as to why.

It would be interesting to hear other opinions on this session.  I found it bitsy and not particularly illuminating.  I suspect others will have enjoyed it much more than me as they would have had more appreciation of the authors and characters of this important time of our literary history.

Find books by C. K. Stead in our collection.

WORD Christchurch

A literary Matariki

Matariki, Aotearoa New Zealand New Year has arrived with the return of the star grouping of the same name, what is widely known as The Pleiades, a star cluster within the constellation of Taurus.

In some Māori traditions Matariki forms a pou or post along with Tautoru (Orion’s belt) and Takurua (Sirius). This is the post of Hine-nui-te-pō, the goddess of death, and symbolically marks the death of the old year.

The Matariki cluster, for whatever reason, has fired the imagination for millennia, appearing in poetry and stories since time immemorial. All around the world there are many traditions, legends, and stories based on this cluster of stars.

Matariki in Māori songs and poetry

The stars of Matariki make an appearance in a number of Māori songs and mōteatea (a traditional form of chant or sung poetry), in the latter it is often in a lament or remembrance of a loved one.

Such as this lament by Mere Reweti Taingunguru of Te Whanau-a-Apanui for her husband Te Whatu-a-Rangahau which opens with the lines –

Cover of Ngā MōteateaTērā Matariki huihui ana mai. / Ka ngaro rā, ē, te whetū kukume ata.

(Behold the Pleiades are clustered above. / Lost, alas, is the star that hauls forth the dawn.)

Or this one by Mihi-ki-te-kapua –

Tirohia atu nei ngā whetū, / Me ko Matariki e ārau ana; / He hōmai tau i ngā mahara / E kohi nei, whakarerea atu / Nā te roimata ka hua riringi / Tāheke ware kai aku kamo.

(I gaze up at the stars, / And the Pleiades are gathered together / Which gives rise to many thoughts / That well up within, and freely / Do the tears pour forth / And flow shamelessly from mine eyes.)

Wow. That’s almost got me a bit teary myself.

Then there’s this lament for Ngati Mutunga chiefs Te Whao and Tu-poki

Cover of Ngā mōteatea the songsKa ripa ki waho rā, e Atutahi koa, / Te whetū tārake o te rangi, / Ka kopi te kukume, / Ka hahae Matariki ē, / Puanga, Tautoru, /Nāna i kukume koutou ki te mate, ē.

(Away out yonder is Atutahi, / The star that shines apart in the heavens. / The noose was pulled taut / At the rising of Matariki, / In the company of Puanga and Tautoru. / It was thus you were all hauled down in death, alas.)

The presence or rise of Matariki is also used to indicate the time of year as in this action song of Ngati Rangiwewehi –

Mō te Matariki, e totope nei te hukarere, / Ngā taritari o Matariki.

(In the winter time, heralded now by snowstorms,  / And this cold weather of Matariki.)

Or this lament for Te Umukohukohu –

Ka puta Matariki ka rere Whānui. / Ko te tohu tēnā o te tau e!

(Matariki re-appears, Whānui starts its flight. / Being the sign of the [new] year!)

More recent examples include the song “Te Aroha” by Tuini Ngawai, written in 1960 which has the lines –

Horohia e Matariki / ki te Whenua / Te māra-matanga mo te motu e / Kia tipu he puawai honore / Mo te pani, mō te rawakore e / Mo te rawakore e

(Spread your light oh Matariki / On to Mother Earth / As a guiding light for this land / May the seed become an honoured bloom / for the poor, for the needy. / For the needy.)

The Pleiades in poetry around the world

These same stars, though called by other names have been referenced multiple times in poetry in other cultures too. In the 20th century a Japanese literary magazine mainly focused on poetry, was called “Subaru”, the Japanese name for the Pleaides/Matariki cluster.

In 16th century France there was a group of poets who called themselves “La Pleiade”, naming themselves after an even earlier group of poets from 3rd century BC Alexandria, the Alexandrian Pleiad. Another french group of poets based in Toulouse in the 14th century and made up of seven men and seven women also used the name to describe themselves.

Sappho, the greek poetess, thought to have been born around 630 BC, made at least one reference to The Pleaides in her “Midnight poem” –

Tonight I’ve watched / the moon and then / the Pleiades / go down / The night is now / half gone; youth / goes; I am / in bed alone

Industrious astronomers have used this description of the relative positions of the moon and the stars – making a guess at the rough year and place to determine which time of year the poem was written in.

The Pleiades also turn up in the poem “On the Beach at Night” by Walt Whitman

And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades.

Cover of John Milton's Paradise lostThere’s also an appearance in Book 7 of John Milton’s Paradise Lost

His longitude through Heaven’s high road; the gray
Dawn, and the Pleiades, before him danced,

And in “Locksley Hall” by Lord Tennyson

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

There are also multiple references in the star cluster in the epic poetry of Homer, in The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Pleiades references in other literature

Cover of Ethan FromeOther literary associations include novels like Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. Here Ethan describes the night sky to his cousin Mattie.

That’s Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones-like bees swarming-they’re the Pleiades…

In more recent times popular novelist Lucinda Riley has undertaken a series called The Seven Sisters with each book focusing on a different one of the seven sisters.

What’s your favourite mention of Matariki or the Pleiades in literature?

For more poetry about Matariki and the stars try –

Learn more about Matariki –

Hunting with our Artemis – literary resources

ArtemisArtemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt and the wilderness which makes her a fitting namesake for our latest electronic arrival: Gale Artemis: Literary Sources! Artemis lets you cross search all of Gale Cengage’s literary resources in one search. Through Artemis you can search all of these at once:

  • LitFinder: full text poems, short stories, essays, speeches, plays and novels. LitFinder offers the written works of more than 80,000 authors;
  • Literature Resource Center: full text articles, critical essays and reviews and overviews of frequently studied works;
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library: access to a subset of electronic reference books that cover literature.

It is sort of like doing a  Google search on literature but you get more relevant and authoritative results all with proper punctuation. It doesn’t matter if you are searching because you have an assignment, or if you are trying to remember the rest of that poem you can only recall snatches of – there is something for everyone.

I will leave you with a beauty of a quote about literature by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald…

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

Sigh! You can access this resource from any library or from home through the Source using your library card number and password/PIN.

Print is dead? You wouldn’t read about it!

Literary Reference Centre PlusRegardless if it is in electronic or paper format, the written word is everything. We communicate our thoughts, feelings and discoveries by writing them down and showing them to others. The format may have changed but content is everything. If what you have written is important then it will outlive you by a millennium.

A perfect combination of thought and format are literary databases. They are electronic but their goal is to gather the written word together within a searchable container. They may be online but they exist due to our enduring fascination with the written word. Perfect examples of this would be:

  • Literary Reference Center Plus: (New) From Austen to Zola and back again. Thousands of  plot summaries and author biographies and interviews. It also includes classic and contemporary poems, short stories and classic novels.
  • LitFinder: Full text poems, short stories, essays, speeches, plays, novels and more. Look for the poem  Still I Rise by Maya Angelou if you need your spirits lifted!
  • Poetry and Short Story Reference Center: Full text poems and short stories. Includes audio readings of poems.
  • Novelist Plus: The place to go if you are hunting down ideas for books to read. Includes thematic book lists, recommended reads  and read-a-likes.

This is but a sample of our literary electronic resources in the Source. All you need to a gateway of thought and  feelings is your library card number and password/PIN.

140 characters of New Zealand Book Month

CoverWe’d love to join us in a New Zealand Book Month activity – share your teeny tiny review or pithy observation, maybe even a favourite NZ lit quote. You might like to point us in the direction of an awesome Aotearoa resource. It can be whatever you like – New Zealand books, authors, places, themes, poems, images.

Just use the hashtag #nznutshell on Twitter, or share it here in the comments. Or if you’d like to pop one in the email, send it to us at We will gather them together to make a compendium of short and nifty stuff – a big ole celebration of New Zealand books and booky people.

Ngaio MarshHere are a few examples:

“The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut”. Killer opening lines: R H Morrieson’s The Scarecrow. #nznutshell

Ngaio Marsh as Hamlet & other wonders – a @digitalnz set. #nznutshell

If you are into booky stuff, sign up for the @iiml newsletter & follow them. Literary love-in. #nznutshell

And here is the Storify of all the tweets here!

The marriage plot

Jeffrey Eugenides’s  new book, The marriage plot, was a great holiday read.   Engrossing, with  fabulous writing (I actually copied  passages down, something I very rarely do), and with a plot and characters  that leave you guessing

Book coverIt is ostensibly a book about manic depression, and I was interested that the blurb did not mention this.  I guess as a subject area it is not a big seller for publishers, but in the hands of Eugenides  it is superb. He  either has, or knows someone with,  manic depression – that, or he has done some very good reading on the subject, as his writing rings true.

The main character, Laurence, comes from a classically  dysfunctional family. He has a brilliant mind, is sharp, witty, caustic, popular  – and has manic depression.  He is not always nice, but he is always interesting, and this is what attracts Madeleine, a young literature graduate who is filled with the confidence of coming from a well-off family and an uncomplicated happy childhood.  In all of this mix is Mitchell, grappling with his burgeoning spiritual awakening and his other type of awakening that involves the lovely Madeleine!

Life, as you can imagine, gets very complicated, and Eugenides manages to hold all three characters confidently in the palm of his hand, gently juggling their tale of love, lust, distrust, illness and ultimately self-awareness without being at all melodramatic.

What was your favourite holiday read?

Falling off the literary horse

Book CoverI’m the sort of person who studies literary form like a seasoned horse-racing enthusiast – who’s won what, who’s been rated by whom, who’s appeared on the shortlist, who’s got the best looking cover (okay, I’m shallow). I select what I hope will be winners and, even if they’re not, I take comfort from the belief I’m up with the in-crowd.

Last year however I totally lost track of what was hot and what was not. My concentration went away with my ability to sleep and I found myself reading crime. Elizabeth George, Benjamin Black, P.D. James and Ian Rankin were favourites and following the antics of their intrepid sleuths kept me diverted from the bumps in the night.

Now things are settling down a bit (hopefully, fingers crossed), I’ve decided to get back into something a little more challenging. I’ve perused the Literature guides at Christchurch City Libraries. I have caught up on the Literary prize winners, scanned the 100 most meaningful books of all time and found the Best reads 2011 list to be a cornucopia of literary delights.

I’ve started my re-education with Major Pettigrew’s last stand after a recommendation by robertafsmith. It’s an insightful story, light but beautifully written. I’m enjoying every word. It’s great to be back in the literary saddle again.

Now that I’m back, what do you recommend to keep me there?

Be your own librarian: a help-yourself guide

CoverLibrarians have a term for helping people find something good to read – “reader’s advisory”. We also have a bunch of fantastic resources we use to find things. Now we’re going to share these not-so-secret tools of the trade with you. So if you’re the kind of person who likes to be left to your own devices when you use the library, then check out this treasure trove of great places to go for book suggestions:

It’s only words …

We read because we love words.  We write because we’ve got something to say.

BookI love words.  Am obsessed by them in all forms.  Big words, small words, local and foreign ones, multi-syllabic obfuscatory exemplars and wee short ones.

I love reading them in a book (screen/newspaper/instruction sheet/shampoo-bottle/bus ticket …), and I love writing them too.

When writing (as you may have noticed) I tend towards the verbose, the chatty, the loquacious even.  My children tell me I torture them by frequently using words they’ve never heard before.  My long-suffering blog editor would, on some days, cheerfully toss me out the window, I’m sure.

Which brings me, finally, to my point.  (See what I mean?).  The other day while co-editing a somewhat chatty blog post, a heated discussion of Continue reading

Make mine extra fluffy

Cover image for "Book Smart"You would probably have to tie me to a tree at the edge of a steep cliff and tickle my feet with a feather to get me to admit that I read literary “fluff”. Why is this so hard for me to disclose? I think I am afraid of being judged – “proper” librarians only read high brow literature, right?

Well, that’s a myth, and today I bravely stand up in this circle of book addicts to say:

Hello, my name is Oneder and I may, on occasion, indulge in trashy reads.

I need to make it clear, however, that I am not an addict. Most of my book choices would  meet the approval of the Literary Snob Society. But every now and again, I find myself craving a predictable plot with simple characters, your usual kind of humour and a dash of mushy romance. In other words, when things get a bit too dark and heavy in the world of contemporary fiction, I need my fix of light and fluffy.

At the moment I am reading Katie MacAlister. Her writing is very formulaic, full of clichés, and some of the love scenes  are so cheesy they are almost vomit-inducing; I know the book is silly but I love it anyway. It’s fun and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

This doesn’t mean I want to be seen with it in public, though. I might get teased. So I go to great lengths to hide my guilty pleasure. I bury my trashy reads under a stack of prize-winning literature on my bedside table. I use the self-check machine so my library colleagues won’t know what I’m reading, looking around me to make sure nobody is watching before hastily stuffing it into my handbag. And if I can’t fit it into my handbag, I carry it in a way so people can’t see the cover or easily read the blurb on the back (why is it that these books always have covers that scream trash, so they can’t be mistaken for anything else?!)

Maybe I shouldn’t be so embarrassed about some of my reading choices. Maybe people won’t point and laugh at me like I fear they might if I opened one of my trashy reads on the bus or in the staff room; they may not even notice, or care. I’m not ready to take that risk yet, though…


Confession time:  Are there books you don’t want people to know you read? What are they?