Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Last week, armed with a librarian buddy, my dubious three hour and twenty minute attention span, and a generous stash of chocolate, I went to see the beautiful documentary ‘Ex Libris: The New York Public Library’ at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

This documentary by celebrated film maker Frederick Wiseman, is admittedly a lengthy look at its subject, but each piece is truly hypnotic, offering a unique and insightful look into this most beloved of landmarks (and yes, I do say this with a conscious bias). ‘Ex Libris’ perfectly captures the day to day life of the library – from a talk with Richard Dawkins to a border patrol representative; an inquiry about unicorns to finding information on a long lost ancestor; robotic sessions to braille lessons; babytimes to recruitment drives, the vibrancy and passion within these walls is very real.

There are over ninety-two library branches in New York, and although only a handful of them are covered in this film, Wiseman manages to reflect the sheer diversity in both the patrons and services across the city. The ‘politics’ of libraries is highlighted in many ways, from conversations about digital inclusion, to inaccurate representations of African American history in a set of children’s books, to the tension between the homeless community in New York and the rest of the library users. There is no narrative in this film, and there is no need for one. Whether we are sitting in on a meeting discussing the best use of private funding, watching a book group discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or observing a student research with the library’s microfiche, the theme of the library as a place of equality for everyone, to learn, think, and create is gently yet powerfully observed.

As a librarian and a library lover generally, I found the parallels between our libraries in Christchurch, and those in New York fascinating – in particular the seemingly universal questions and programmes popular with its customers, and the importance of the library as a safe and enriching haven in every community. I hugely recommend this film, not only for library lovers but for anyone who enjoys a perceptive and beautifully produced documentary. I would of course also recommend the chocolate and a very, very good buddy with an extremely good attention span (cue: dramatic Oscar-acceptance-style speech thanking my own buddy for getting me to this point of now being home).

If you have missed out on getting tickets to this event, never fear, there are many other great picks for the NZIFF. If you are super unlucky and all your picks have sold out, there is again a silver lining as the library has a fantastic range of classic New Zealand films – both movies  (think ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’) and documentaries (think ‘Pecking Order’).

Even better our non-fiction DVDs are now free to borrow. Whatever way you decide to take part in the NZIFF – whether its going to the cinema, borrowing a New Zealand DVD, or reading a related book (see Donna’s fantastic blog of this year’s related titles) there really is something for everyone.

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The odd woman and the city… and me – Vivian Gornick at the Auckland Writers Festival

Vivian Gornick, Image supplied

I can say, with absolute certainty, that every good friend I have would love to sit in a cafe, with a good coffee and a tasty little nibble and Vivian Gornick for company. All that intelligence, that wit, that wisdom, that chutzpah coming at you in an accent straight from the Bronx. I did not want this session to end.

Vivienne is the doyen of the Personal Narrative. This is where you write about your life – everyone knows you are the narrator. But you shift the events around, you change all names other than your own, you play around with years of observation. You create a collage of your life. You do it so well, that even Gornick’s best friend – Leonard, a gay man, phoned her after he had read The Odd Woman and the City and asked: “Can I audition for the part of Leonard?”

How does Gornick pull this off? First she walks the streets of New York – she finds this walking very healing. On her walks she observes and: “I talk to anyone who will talk to me.” She has done this for decades and collected together all these little anecdotes. She pulls the story out of these situations. It goes like this:

Writing begins with a feeling. Intelligence brings art to that feeling. You need to think, and thinking well is the hardest thing in the world to do. It is not the same as obsessing. When the thinking goes well it flowers, without warning, into something beautiful. And that is when the writing is great.

The Odd Woman and the CityGornick loves walking, her friends, Feminism, New York and intelligent conversation. She is 79 and lives alone (like 50% of New York’s population.) She feels qualified to say that the real perils of old age are not the physical problems which have been given so much attention, but the spiritual and intellectual losses of good like-minded company.

She means conversations like this:

“Fifty years ago we would have been our parents. Who are we now?”

“They passed” said Leonard. Fifty years ago you entered a closet called ‘marriage.’ In the closet was a double set of clothes, so stiff they could stand up by themselves. A woman stepped into a dress called ‘wife’ and the man stepped into a suit called ‘husband.’ And that was it. They disappeared inside the clothes. To-day we don’t pass. We’re standing here naked. That’s all.”

“I’m not the right person for this life,” I say.

“Who is?” he says, exhaling in my direction.

I hope Gornick and Leonard will still be having conversations like this when they get really old. Actually, I hope I am still having them too.

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I Plan to Grow Old Disgracefully

There’s a poem called Warning by Jenny Joseph that starts:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

There’s a weird  joy in getting to an age when you realise that you can pretty much do what you like and I was overjoyed to recently find a book that should be every woman’s fashion bible as they age.

Being on the ‘fine wine’ side of 50, I am never quite sure about my ‘style’. Should I just do what I want, wear what I want, or be sensible and fade in to the beige background the way youth focused society seems to want me to? I know I’m certainly not waiting until my dotage to wear purple.

Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen, is a celebration of confidence, style, glamour and fashion amongst a wonderful group of kick arse New York women aged over 60.

It is filled with wonderful glossy photographs of gorgeous, outrageous, fabulous fashionistas who are living life to the full. Sure they must have squillions in the bank and the way they look is their life, but hey, why not. There are also a few men in the book who also have their own style, sometimes they seem to be just trying to keep up with their partner.

Cohen was inspired by his own grandmother’s style. There are wonderful stories about these women, their lives, their inspirations and why they love to push the boundaries.

I identify with their obvious, ‘why wear one string of pearls when you can wear ten?’ ethos and their sense of colour and fabrics is stunning. Some of the pieces they wear are indeed art works. Accessories  are definitely their best friends and they just ooze confidence and a strong sense of self.

What are your thoughts on aging and fashion?  Do you think we should fade into oblivion, or do we stand proud, and raise a fashionable middle finger to convention?

Win tickets for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

movie posterExtremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Rating:PG – Contains Coarse Language) is coming to cinemas on February 23, and Warner Bros. Pictures and Christchurch City Libraries are giving you the chance to WIN 1 of 5 double passes to see this film.

Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, the film tells the story of one young boy’s journey from heartbreaking loss to self-discovery, set against the backdrop of the tragic events of September 11.

Eleven-year-old Oskar Schell is an exceptional child: amateur inventor, Francophile, pacifist.  And after finding a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, he embarks on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York.  As Oskar roams the city, he encounters a variety of individuals, all survivors in their own way.  Ultimately, Oskar’s journey ends where it began, but with the solace of that most human experience: community.

The film stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Other big names appearing include James Gandolfini, Max Von Sydow, John Goodman and Viola Davis (who just scored the Screen Actors Guild best actress for her role as Aibileen in The Help). Thomas Horn is Oscar.

So how can you win? Just email and tell us who is your favourite child film star  –  email us at libwebteam@ccc.govt.nz including your name, phone number, library card number and address. We’ll get in touch with the winners and hook you up with the tickets.

  • The competition is open to Christchurch City Libraries members.
  • Staff of Christchurch City Libraries and their immediate families are not able to enter.
  • Competition closes on 23 February. Winners announced on 24 February.

Spend your holidays with Dash and Lily

Imagine this:

You’re in your favourite bookshop, scanning the shelves.  You get to the section where your favourite author’s books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook.
What do you do?
The choice, I think, is obvious:
You take down the red notebook and open it.
And then you do whatever it tells you to do.

From these opening sentences of Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares I was hooked.  Set in New York in the days leading up to Christmas, and a few days after, the story alternates between the characters of Dash (written by David Levithan) and Lily (written by Rachel Cohn).  Lily is the girl who left the notebook in the bookshop for just the right guy to come along and accept the challenges found inside.  Dash accepts the first challenge and leaves the notebook for Lily to collect.  The notebook continues to be passed back and forth between them, with the help (and sometimes hindrance) of their friends and family members.   They decide to meet each other, but will the boy and the girl in the notebook measure up to the boy and the girl in reality?

I loved everything about Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares.  Dash and Lily are great characters with lots of personality, and  their family and friends that help them complete their dares are hilarious.  The authors have created a real sense of time and place and I really wanted to be there with Dash and Lily, celebrating Christmas in New York.  It’s the perfect book for this time of the year, whether you love Christmas (like Lily) or loath it (like Dash).