We do things differently

Cover of We do things differently Every now and then a book comes along that packs a big enough punch that I feel as if I’m flying through the air. We do things differently: The outsiders rebooting our world has me landing feet first with the feeling I can walk into the future.

Travelling across four continents author Mark Stevenson sets out to meet people who have created, and are using, extraordinary new ways to help our world.

“I had one over riding criterion for inclusion in my itinerary. The innovators had to be succeeding right now in the real world. Whatever their idea, I wanted to be able to touch it, meet the people making and benefiting from it… It had to be working and I had to be able to see it working.”

From growing rice to running machines on air We Do Things Differently is a remarkable look at here and now.

Want to learn more?

*both of the websites above recommended by Mark Stevenson.

More from Mark Stevenson

Gardening in the best possible taste

Cover of Grow for flavourNothing makes my day like a “hold available” notification from CCL for a crisp new garden book, and this week I got my hands on a real gem. Grow for Flavour by James Wong (of Grow Your Own Drugs fame – not nearly as dodgy as it sounds) is a fresh ray of light in a forest of glossy gardening books that look pretty, but can sometimes be a bit guilty of repeating much the same information.

Don’t get me wrong, Grow for Flavour is very a attractive volume indeed (who can resist an author who photographs his Star Wars figurines in his garden shots?), but it’s not just a pretty publication. It’s full of interesting facts and innovative ideas for getting the best flavours out of your home produce.

Wong argues that much of our gardening ‘wisdom’ is based on (British) Victorian gardening practice – essentially the time when yield was beginning to be prized over flavour, a sad trend that’s come to its lacklustre fruition in our supermarkets today. This book is a strike back in defense of taste. It’s full of simple ways to boost flavour in all sort of fruit and vege crops – and the thing I love best is that all of its tips are firmly rooted in science. (You see what I did there?)

Yep, Wong is a scientist as well as a herbalist and a gardener, which means that his observations, remedies and treatments all have solid scientific research behind them – a nice change in this subject area, where solutions are so often presented without a lick of evidence stronger than “Well my great Aunt Hilda swears by it!”

It’s one of those books I think my partner secretly hates. Inevitably, when I get hold of a volume like this, his quiet evening will be peppered with interruptions along the lines of “Hey, did you know I hate coriander because I have the OR6A2 gene that makes it taste like soap and bleach?” or “Can I turn the laundry bin into a fungus farm?” It’s not uncommon for these exclamations to turn completely nonsensical, like “Aspirin and molasses on tomatoes? Genius!” (Well, it made sense to me…)

We’re well into planting season now, so grab a copy today. You too can be making inscrutable garden related exclamations in no time…

Tell you what – Read this book

Tell you what book launch, Scorpio BooksLast night there was an event at Scorpio Books in Christchurch to launch Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction, 2015.

It was a bit of a homecoming – the origin of this book was co-editor Jolisa Gracewood in Connecticut observing Christchurch after the September 2010 earthquake. Her eagle eye took note of some great writing that our earthquakes “shook loose”.

Contributors Megan Clayton, Lara Strongman, Nic Low, and David Haywood read a sampling of their essays. We heard about birth, about messages from the past to the future, about Ōtautahi loosing itself, and ratty haircuts.

Each tale and teller different, unique. But in all of the stories, you felt the personal and the universal.

Tell you what is an omnium gatherum of great recent New Zealand writing, mostly from out on the Web. If you wanted to compare it to food – you could say a degustation or tasting plates – but actually the essays are more substantial than that. Each piece is a complete meal and you can dip in and read, or devour it cover to cover (I did the latter). It features Eleanor Catton, Elizabeth Knox, Tina Makereti, Steve Braunias, Naomi Arnold, snails, cycling, gardens, Kim Dotcom, and Rihanna’s tattoo.

It is a great book. Read it.

Tell you what book launch, Scorpio Books
Tell you what book launch, Scorpio Books

More

Hidden Absurdities

Your local Christchurch City Library is filled with popular titles everyone loves. The Jodi Picoults, Nora Roberts and Jamie Oliver cookbooks fill the library shelves. But how about the more obscure and, dare I say it, slightly odd books that live in our library?

A while ago I started collecting photocopied front covers of books with odd titles, or about unusual subjects, or books I just couldn’t imagine would have an audience, even a niche one. Many of my library colleagues started collecting for me too as the more obscure books passed through their hands. I now have an ever expanding pile of great covers.

How to Bombproof your Horse  is my favourite so far. It’s actually about teaching confidence and obedience to your horse in tricky situations such as crowds. I also took a double take at 1080 Recipes. Is it just me or would most Kiwis see that as cooking with possum poison? There are so many quirky titles hiding on the Non-Fiction shelves in your local library, it’s well worth a browse. Have you got a favourite quirky title?

cover for Bombproof your horsecover for When pancakes go bad

cover for Domestic slutterycover for Knit your own moustache

cover for The art of making fermented sausagescover for 1080 recipescover for How to make love to a plastic cup

Blue Smoke and all that jazz

Blue Smoke

I went to hear Chris Bourke speak about his new book  Blue Smoke: The lost dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964 at the Auckland Art Gallery.

Blue Smoke is a comprehensive look at the Auckland music scene between 1918 when WW1 finished and 1964 when the Beatles arrived in New Zealand and changed the popular music scene forever.  The book, richly illustrated with photographs and memorabilia, captures a time when jazz was a happening thing, crooners and charmers filled the music halls, and the Maori Community Centre was the ‘jazziest, jumpingest place in the city’.

I know very little about music and this session was filled with people in leather jackets, tight t-shirts and vigorous hair who greeted the author enthusiastically and nodded knowingly when he spoke of this jazz trombonist and that jive pianist. I felt totally out of my depth.

However, I was in for a real education. Chris Bourke is former music editor of Rip It Up and Real Groove, and author of the Crowded House biography Something so strong.  He has a quiet, unassuming manner and his breadth of knowledge is astounding. What this man doesn’t know about music in New Zealand, isn’t worth knowing.

He narrowed the field to speak about Auckland in the 1950s and 60s when jazz permeated local culture through films and jukeboxes. Local artists played at venues such as the Crystal Palace, the Orange Ballroom and the Hi Diddle Griddle to bohemians, cool cats and the smart set. People filled the halls and danced the night away in spite of the pubs being closed at 6pm and Prime Minister Walter Nash wanting ‘everyone to be in bed by eight’.

Chris Bourke at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012Artists such as Mavis Rivers, Johnny Cooper, Walter Smith and Rush Munro were legends. Ray Paparoa, the ‘Maori Elvis’, emerged on the scene in his teens. The drummer in his band was just 12 years old.

The Maori Community Centre was set up in 1949 as a meeting place for Maori coming to the city for work. It was the place where “the lights were dim, the music was real cool, and there were no restrictions.” Howard Morrison, Johnny Devlin and Ray Colombus cut their musical teeth in the talent quests there. In 1950, Ruru Karaitiana’s ‘Blue Smoke’, became the first pop song to be written and produced in New Zealand. It was a hit. The album Kiwi Nostalgia gives you the flavour of some of these artists.

I thoroughly enjoyed this session. Chris Bourke played excerpts from old music recordings that set my toe tapping. My father-in-law is a mad keen jazz fan. He and his brothers are always swapping recordings they find through friends or online. I now understand what the fascination is. I’m going to buy him this book for his birthday.

Books and Authors: What and who do I read next ?

Is there a better place to be in this world than sitting on your couch with a bag of potato chips to your left, a steaming cup of tea to your right and a really good book open in your lap? If there is a better place than this, I am sure it involves money or sin!

To help you find that really good book, we have  Books & Authors, a fun online tool which seeks to answer thLearn more about Books and Authorse question of “what do I read next?” You can search in many ways:

  • Author
  • Title and Series
  • “If you like…”
  • Genre
  • Awards
  • Who, What, When, Where
  • Expert picks from librarians and subject experts.

Access this and many other fantastic electronic resources  from home with your library card number and PIN, or at our community libraries through the Source. Enjoy the search!

Empathy + knowledge = Fiction

CoverI have always been a reader of fiction.  I get non-fiction books out of the library with great intentions.  The last one was The filter bubble : what the Internet is hiding from you by Eli Pariser, who asserts that there is a hidden rise in the way that the Internet is personalised, and that this limits the information that we get.  Google can now detect the type of information that we are most likely to click on, rather than giving us the broadest of results.   Fascinating stuff, highly recommended in fact.  I did read bits of it, but I confess I did not devour the whole thing.

Now if this had been a novel things might have been different.  Up and coming  man/woman, struggling with his/her guilt at being involved in an industry that manipulates the public for monetary gain.  Possibly lives in Manhattan/London, struggling with marriage/divorce/lovers,  trying to juggle work/family/elderly mother. Plenty of interesting side characters and work colleagues mixed in with a bit of intrigue and nasty goings on.

At the endCover of this book, I have a good idea of what is happening in this industry. It will of course  have been researched and well written. But as well as factual information, I will have also delved into other people’s lives, experienced emotion, stopped to think about parallels in my own life, and hopefully been thoroughly entertained!

I can now also feel totally vindicated as a fiction reader by this study: Reading fiction ‘improves empathy’.   The author of the study  has this to say.

I think the reason fiction but not non-fiction has the effect of improving empathy is because fiction is primarily about selves interacting with other selves in the social world,” said Oatley. “The subject matter of fiction is constantly about why she did this, or if that’s the case what should he do now, and so on. With fiction we enter into a world in which this way of thinking predominates. We can think about it in terms of the psychological concept of expertise. If I read fiction, this kind of social thinking is what I get better at. If I read genetics or astronomy, I get more expert at genetics or astronomy.

Probably it’s a bit like everything else in life;  a bit of variety is a good thing, but this is something I can now drag out when confronted with the Non-Fiction reading elite who think that fiction is just a bit of fluff.

Clint: “I’m just a guy who makes movies.”

It made my day to see ClintSearch BiblioCommons for Clint arrive on the shelves. And I think people of all ages will find much to enjoy. Clint’s movie career spans six decades so even the youngest moviegoer is likely to have seen one of his movies.

The book is written by his friend Richard Schickel, a writer and documentary filmmaker, so you won’t find a particularly objective view of Clint the person, in fact much of the commentary is downright obsequious.  But for die hard fans it is a long enjoyable walk down memory lane, as each movie is discussed in turn with lots of fascinating details about the origin of each screenplay, the varied reactions of the critics, the audience vote and the dirt on the money won and lost each time.

There’s something particularly satisfying in reading about an underdog who rises from being sneered at for his spaghetti westerns to become a movie show pony and geriatric success story at the Oscars. And at 81 years of age it isn’t likely we will see that many more creations from the man who brought us Dirty Harry Callaghan, so make the most of this reading trip. Or put a hold on one of his films – we have twenty to choose from.

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:

Concept books

It’s interesting how many books are based on a concept, usually connected with human behaviour. We’ve had things like the tipping point and the long tail and recently we’ve had kluge, nudge and sway (sounds like a dance move: the lovely Candy Lane performing a kluge, nudge and sway).

So what’s Kluge: It’s a book by a New York psychiatrist Gary Marcus and it takes its name from an engineering term for something that’s a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem. Marcus uses it to refer to the evolved human brain and says that we should recognise our brain as a clumsy contraption and his book tells us how we should set goals with achievable plans and always have a plan B to fall back on.

Nudge
Nudge

And Nudge? Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioural science and economics at Chicago University, is the author of the book of this title. It’s about how to reconcile our desire for freedom with the liberal impulse to regulate and nudges are ways that movers and shakers can redirect collective choices into radical improvements for society. Significant in a big election year when nudge comes before election and shove after.

And then there’s Sway. Ori and Rom Brofman, the former an author of a book on business and social organisation and the latter a clinical psychologist, have authored this book. It’s about “blockers”, the people who save us from biases that sway our judgement and decisions that have little rational basis. We tend to have preconceptions and like people similar to ourselves so it’s useful to move into more objective ways of selecting people and making decisions. Interestingly Amazon, at the end of the usual gushing tributes from all and sundry, tells us that if we have been led into buying the book after the endorsements, we have been swayed!