Library memories

9781452145402Having been a librarian for longer than I care to remember, the card catalogue holds a place dear to my heart. I remember as a library assistant filing new cards — one for the author, the title and the subject entries. A tedious job, but vital for the smooth running of the library. You can imagine the dismay when someone broke into a community library I worked in and dumped the whole lot on the floor! It took days to put in order.

These cards represented the hand writing of various cataloguers through the years. The advent of typewriting skills and twink was the next exciting venture, to be followed by a large and cumbersome computer system that saw the end of those beautiful cards and the glorious cataloguing drawers that are so fashionable today.

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures is a chance to revel in the glory days — photographs of huge rooms filled with librarians filing cards at the mammoth Library of Congress, hundreds of images of original cards, and early edition book covers accompanied by engaging text and stories of the stacks! Not just for librarians, this will appeal to anyone who enjoys artifacts and stories from time past.

 

Memories, mind-wandering, and the evolution of language

“It was a dark and chilly winter’s night, but the crowd in the foyer of the Charles Luney Auditorium at St. Margaret’s College didn’t let that deter them. They were bundled up warm, busy chatting to their friends, and keen to get into the auditorium to hear Auckland University’s Michael Corballis present ‘Mental Travels in Space and Time’.”

Did you just get an image in your head of how that scene might have looked? If you’ve ever been into the Charles Luney Auditorium before, your mind will have travelled back there, remembered how it looked, and added in people in winter clothes and cold dark weather to suit the story.

If you haven’t been to this particular location, you might have remembered your old school auditorium instead, or maybe the foyer of the old Christchurch Town Hall or Isaac Theatre Royal, and pictured the scene as if it was happening there. Either way, regardless of how you imagined this scene, you based it upon your memories of a time you were in a particular location, and what you saw and heard, and how it made you feel.

You have just used your brain for mental time travel – using memories as a way to imagine ourselves in places and times that we are not currently in. That was the topic of Professor Corballis’ speech, held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The audience learnt about the hippocampus – the part of the brain which helps form memories of events, and which reinterprets those memories and helps us daydream and imagine ourselves in new places and times.

It’s because of the hippocampus that we can empathise, and put ourselves in another person’s situation, why authors and storytellers can come up with fictional made-up stories, and why readers sometimes get so caught up in the stories they are reading – our brain is letting us experience the story in the same way as it would if we were actually living it.

The audience also learnt what happens if the hippocampus is damaged. If this happens, you can’t form memories of the things you have done, but you remember skills that you have learnt. Could you imagine not having any memories of specific events? Or having others tell you that you have done something or gone somewhere with them, but you don’t remember doing it? Yet at the same time, you don’t have any difficulty remembering how to carry out skills such as walking, talking, or drawing? I can’t imagine that personally, but we heard about some individuals for whom this is normal.

Cover of The truth about language

The speech Professor Corballis gave was entertaining and informative, and these same characteristics come through in his new book The Truth About Language. I really enjoyed how accessible this book is – no matter your background, the conversational writing style is easy to read. With anecdotes, quotes from literature, and references to historical and contemporary linguistic theories, Corballis tells the story of how language came to be, and why it is so different in different countries and communities.

Don’t worry if you aren’t a linguist – you will still be able to understand the points Corballis is making, and enjoy the information found in this book. For those readers who do want a more in-depth understanding of the evolution of language, however, the book includes references to other theories and theorists, generous explanatory notes, and a comprehensive bibliography to guide further reading.

From the big bang to the different languages used world-wide in 2017, there are so many aspects of language – body language, pronunciation and sounds, grammar, and so much more. Michael Corballis’ The Truth About Language is a fun way to learn about this fascinating subject, and Christchurch City Libraries has a range of his other books that delve further into the subject. So, if language, the mind, and psychology are things you’re interested in, then check them out on our catalogue!

The Truth About Language: What it is and where it came from
by Michael Corballis
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN: 9781869408633

Find out more

Remembrance of festivals past

Christchurch Writers Festival 2012 logoIn the city of memories it’s hard to resist looking back. When was the first Christchurch Writers Festival I attended? I used to have a full collection of programmes so I could have checked, but not any more.

It was certainly held in the Arts Centre in the winter, because I remember the fire burning in the Great Hall. There have been so many great writers over the years; who stands out? In a quietly powerful  New Zealand way Noel Virtue and Beryl Fletcher. In a “hairs standing up on the back of your neck I can’t believe what I’m seeing here” sort of way Tusiata Avia. In a “this guy wrote a book that was made into a movie by Steven Spielberg” way Tom Keneally.

Margaret Mahy, mesmerising on the stage and asking the most amazing questions from the floor.  And Don McGlashan with the Seven Sisters in the Town Hall.

Cover: GoldEnough looking back, it’s time for some new memories and not long to wait for The Press Christchurch Writers Festival 2012. On my most likely to be memorable list are Emily Perkins, John Lanchester, Chris Cleave, Michael Smythe, Joanne Drayton.

Who am I kidding? I’m looking forward to all the writers. I’ll be at every session humanly possible. I won’t be in a Great or a Town Hall, but in two years’ time I might be blogging about how the Geo Dome was the most memorable of all.

What memories do you have of past writers festivals? And who are you looking forward to this time?

Remembering the future

CoverMy way of escaping from our shaky city is to dive into a book and live someone else’s life.  Even if you’ve got no power you can curl up on the couch in a blanket and read about how other people cope with difficult situations, watch them fall in love, go on an adventure or solve a mystery.  One particular book I’ve read recently is about something that I’m sure we’d all love to do at the moment – forgetting the past.

Forgotten is an amazing new book by Cat Patrick, about a girl who can remember her future, but not her past.  Every morning at 4:33am, London Lane’s mind resets and her memories of the previous day are wiped.  London explains her condition:

I see the future in flashes, like memories.  I remember what I’ll wear tomorrow, and a car crash that won’t happen til this afternoon.  But yesterday has evaporated from my mind – just like the boy I love.

I’m sure it’s blowing your mind right now, trying to figure out how that would work.  I was slightly confused for the first couple of chapters, but then got drawn into the story and wanted to find out how she dealt with knowing the future.  Every night before she goes to sleep she has to write down what happened during the day so that she can remember it for tomorrow e.g. what clothes she wore, what homework she has to bring to school, and why her best friend isn’t talking to her.  There’s also the problem of remembering her boyfriend, because she can’t remember him from the previous day, but she doesn’t have any memories of him in her future either.

Forgotten is one of those books that keeps you thinking and wondering from start to finish.  Just like London, you’re trying to piece together bits of the past and the future to try and figure out how it’s going to end.  You may think that it sounds like science fiction but it’s not (I’d love to know how Cat came up with the idea though).  Cat Patrick’s writing is really unique and she’s created characters that teens will relate to.  I’m just glad that my mind doesn’t wipe clean every day so that I can remember this amazing book.