The End of the Lineman

I was so saddened to hear of Glen Campbell‘s passing today at the age of 81. He is right up there in my list of favourite musicians whose voice and songs could hit me like an emotional kick in the guts – but in the best of ways. He was one of those artists who some see a coiffed country cliche, in fact the “Rhinestone Cowboy”, but if you listen to his music and understand the influence and contribution of his life’s work to many other artists and hits, you begin to understand his importance in popular and country music.

HCover of Burning bridgese was one of 12 children born to a sharecropping Arkansas family. As a boy he was obsessed with the guitar playing of Jazz great Django Reinhardt and he became a stunning guitarist in his own right. He lent his talent to many hits as part of the Los Angeles based Wrecking Crew, the unsung heroes of hits for big stars such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Monkees, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and many of Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ productions. In 1963 alone, he appeared on 586 cuts and countless more throughout the decade, including The Byrd’s Mr Tambourine Man, Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas, and the Righteous Brother’s You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.

He was a touring member of the Beach Boys when Brian Wilson stopped touring in 1964, and in the late sixties, began winning Grammys and hosted his own TV show. His big hits, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, Where’s the Playground Susie and By the Time I get to Phoenix were all taking off around this late sixties period.

I can never decide whether Wichita Lineman or By the Time I Get to Phoenix is my favourite, I can never get through either without a tear in my eye. It’s writer Jimmy Webb’s words sure, but it’s Glenn’s soaring plaintive voice and his wondrous guitar solos that also add so much to the sadness and longing in both songs.

Burning Bridges by Debbie Campbell is a biography by his daughter, who toured with him for years, and is an account of not only the good times, but also the drugs and drinking and family struggles that seem to so often come with a musician’s fame and life on the road.

The documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me”, released in 2014, is well worth hunting out, following him on what was to be his last tour, as his his battle with Alzheimer’s began to affect his ability to play and perform.  (late edit: Prime TV have announced they will screen this at 8:30pm on Thursday, 10 August).

His last song, “I’m not Going to Miss You”, won a Grammy this year for best country song.

Glen Campbell is survived by eight children and was married four times.

Find out more

Lumber on an epic scale

cover of BarkskinsI discovered at the weekend with a rapidly beating heart, that one of my all time favourite writers,  Annie Proulx, has released a new novel.

Thirteen years since her last novel, Barkskins is, by all accounts, a rip snorter. According to what I can glean from good old Mr Google, it is 736 pages long, spanning 3 centuries, and tells the story of two French immigrants in the new land of America. They are bound to a feudal lord for three years and are sent to work in the dense and remote forests of the New World in exchange for a promise of land. The book follows them and their descendants from 1693 through to the 21st century and various family members travel all over the world, including to little old New Zealand.

Annie Proulx first caught my eye when I read The Shipping News, another great story of families, set in Newfoundland. I have never forgotten the ways she described snow and ice and barren landscapes and the families and eccentrics who lived amongst it.

Cover of The shipping news

Accordion Crimes was also a favourite, charting the lives of immigrants settling in America through the life of an accordion that is handed down through families; Jewish, Irish, Italian and many others.

Both The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain (a short story originally), were also made into movies, both well worth watching.

Ms Proulx, now in her eighties, was a bit of a late bloomer, with her first short stories published in her 50s and her first novel in 1992. She has gone onto to publish 13 works and win over twenty literary prizes, including a Pulitzer prize for The Shipping News.

Her novels and short storys are filled with hard bitten complex characters and landscapes that are wonderful described, I find I get immersed in her stories and I think this is because she herself has led a full and intense life, always on her own terms. She has been married and divorced three times and has raised three sons alone. She worked as postal worker and a waitress, and early on a writer of magazine articles on everything from chilli growers to canoeing.

She has two history degrees, drifted the countryside in her pickup truck, can fly fish, fiddle, and hunt game birds. But for all her life experience, she has said that she likes to write about what she doesn’t know, rather than draw on what she has already experienced. If you haven’t read her books, I strongly recommend them.

So, I’m on the library waiting list, hoping the book arrives quickly so I can again revel in her wondrous prose!

Five minutes on a Thursday afternoon

Libraries have changed; everyone knows this. There are no shushing fingers, aisles of silence and stern librarians imparting knowledge (not sure there have ever been these, especially wearing spectacles down their noses and tweed skirts). The library is used by people from all areas of the community for so many different reasons.

Fendalton Library
Femdalton Library, Flickr CCL-2012-09-24IMG_7917

Libraries are true community spaces, and I decided to test this out by wandering around Fendalton Library on a Thursday afternoon at 2pm. Here is a list of what I found in 5 minutes… It reads a little like the twelve days of Christmas:

  • 9 people playing board games
  • 10 knitters knitting
  • 4 browsing the recent returns
  • 7 using the wifi on their laptops
  • 5 people reading
  • 6 in the non-fiction section
  • someone skyping in Italian
  • a mother reading to her child in our oversized chair
  • 5 students studying
  • a tutor teaching a young child maths
  • a group practicing conversational English
  • 4 people issuing books
  • kids returning a mountain of picture books
  • 2 people using the wifi on their phones
  • 8 people on the public computers
  • 1 on the photocopier
  • a boy making origami
  • 1 shelver shelving
  • two trolleys being emptied
  • two help desks being used
  • and someone asking where the toilet is

Whew! All over this fair city, libraries are full, librarians are working hard and people are finding what they need, interacting with others, enjoying themselves and gaining and imparting knowledge. Not a bad place to work I guess.

Avian Flu and the ‘Quiet Days of Power’

It started with the destruction of the world via avian flu and ended with mind control and memory loss via music. My last few weeks have been filled with two books from my go-to genre, dystopian science fiction, and both were rip-snorters.

Cover of Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a classic post-apocalyptic tale. A deadly flu that kills within hours sweeps through the entire world population, laying waste to all but a few hardy souls. We follow a group of survivors, whose lives intersect at various stages throughout the book. The interesting decision by the author to switch between the time when the flu hit and then twenty years later to see how society survived, coped and altered gives the story movement and contrasts, and I loved seeing where and when the characters met and re-connected.

The main story centres around a band of actors and musicians who travel through mid-west USA performing Shakespeare and classical music to the few survivors in scattered outposts: people eking out an existence without any infrastructure, centralised government and dwindling resources. Holding onto history, art and culture in such a bleak landscape seems both foolhardy and wonderful in equal measures.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill is a very different animal. Yes, people are struggling, living in a London very different to the one we know, but things are very different from Station Eleven. There is a power in charge, a cloistered order that have developed a powerful weapon they use on their own people to keep control. The weapon? Music.

Cover of The ChimesThe Chimes are sent through the air and there is no escaping them; they wipe people’s memories and keep them subdued: you almost feel music has become an opiate that makes the populace feel safe. With no written word, people use music and song to remember things, such as how to travel from one place to another. They also keep objects that help them remember family, places and their history.

I love the use of musical terms in their language, many of which I had to look up, such as Lento, which means slow and Tacit, which means a sudden stop in a piece of music. I was fascinated by the way music was both their prison and their saviour, the way the protagonists in the story used music to keep themselves alive and to try to bring down those in power.

The run was tacit. Clare and I followed the first of the two strange, twisting melodies. Ours moved straight into the fourth chord and pushed on presto, skipping and meandering and returning almost completely on itself  before branching straight out in a modulation to the dominant.

Simon, our main character, is an orphaned young man who soon discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

Both books fit my ideal of dystopia. People struggling in an alien world, even if it is our own in a different time or altered state. Heroes, villains and fascinating ideas to transport you and challenge you. Both books get the Purplerulz  purple seal of approval… read them now!

To learn more about the writing process and ideas behind The Chimes, read Masha’s great post about her interview with Anna Smaill.

Honey, Hives and Hierarchy

I don’t believe I have ever read a fantasy book before, science fiction sure, but not fantasy.  After a long reading hiatus, I was perusing a list of books nominated for various recent awards to kick-start me into reading again.

Cover of The BeesI must confess it was the cover of The Bees by Laline Paull that hooked me in – embossed and golden. Only when I started reading did I notice ‘fantasy’ on the spine. I always think about witches, dragons and ‘far away lands’ when I think fantasy, so a book about a plucky and rather magical bee and the hive she lives in didn’t fit the narrow idea I had of the genre.

The book is a debut novel for Laline Paull, a playwright and screenwriter, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, with judges calling it “an Animal Farm for the 21st century”.

We meet Flora 717 at her birth, fighting her way out of her hive cell.  She is of the worker class, destined to clean and tidy after others for her short life. But this wee worker is different. She speaks, unlike others of her class, and she has an intelligence that soon sees her crossing antennae with those in the hive of higher classes. As the seasons progress, changes in the hive bring on new challenges to both Flora and the hive.

As Flora’s tongue unrolled toward the head of nectar, tiny particles of orange pollen tingled against her fur. The taste of the nectar was so bright and the energy release so sudden that she almost fell off the flower head.

I didn’t think I’d find myself rooting for a humble bee, but I was willing her on to achieve, find joy, survive the horrors of wasp attack, disease and resentment from those who believed she was getting above her station.

Well written, tense in places and tender in others, it’s a great read. I recommend you add it to your list. Oh and it gave my husband and me an excuse to have silly pun duels. “Honey, I’m hiving trouble bee-lieving you.” “I shall wax lyrical.”


Songbirds Coming to a Library Near You

Ngā Manu Tioriori (The Songbirds), the Christchurch City Council Waiata group, are embarking on a couple of ambitious tours, aiming to spread the joy of song and Te Reo to as many libraries as possible during May Music Month.

The first tour is this Wednesday, 7th May.

They will be heading out to the North/ East side of town and will be visiting the following libraries:

  • Linwood Library 9.30am
  • New Brighton Library 10.00am
  • Aranui Library 10.20 am
  • Parklands Library 11.00am
  • Redwood 12.00pm
  • Shirley 12.40pm

On May 21st, they will head out to libraries on the other side of town, times and library locations are still being confirmed, but these libraries will be resounding to the sweet sounds of this talented bunch.

For times, keep an eye on the Christchurch City Library events page, or contact the library on 03-941 7923




Prequel, Sequel, Hopes Dashed

So much anticipation, so much excitement. You’ve read a new book and loved it, and then you discover  there’s a sequel or even a prequel or five other books in the series, and you almost salivate over the keyboard as you search the catalogue and place your hold. You receive the long awaited email or letter telling you the wondrous tome is waiting on the holds shelf at your favourite library. You take it home, you crack open the spine and start reading, but a few pages or even one or two chapters in and your heart is broken, it’s just not that good, in fact it may even stink.Cover of Shift

This kind of literary trauma has just happened to me. I had read Wool by Hugh Howey, I even blogged about it. I loved the concept of a community living in a silo underground, the characters and the suspense and slow revealing of the deceptions and lies behind it. But so much was not revealed about how the silos came to be, and when I learned of a prequel, I got a tad excited. But alas Shift was not what I’d hoped. So about 50 pages in, I decided life was too short, I cared not for the characters populating this book, it was wordy and boggy and I decided to perform the ultimate betrayal…I Googled a synopsis and found out the basic reasons behind the silos and deposited the book into the returns slot.

So I gave up, I wimped out, maybe it was the coward’s way out. Should I have stuck with it, read all 569 pages?

The latest and final instalment, Dust is due out in October, but sadly it will not be waiting for me on a holds shelf.

How do you decide when enough is enough? Do you always read to the end once you’ve committed to a book, or do you, like me, give it a certain amount of time then say ‘Hasta La Vista Baby’ and move on?

Are there series, prequels or sequels you have been disappointed by?

Every day a new life

Cover of Every DayWe all have a strong belief  that every day we live begins pretty much the same as the last one. Well, at least you will be yourself, in your own body, in your own bed, with your own family.

How would it feel if you woke everyday in a new body, in someone else’s with its own dramas, limitations and routines? Meet ‘A’. In David Levithan‘s book Every Day, ‘A’ has woken up on each day of his 17-something years in someone else’s body. ‘A’ can be male, female, transgendered, White, Hispanic, Asian or any other ethnicity and from any type of family. The only constant is that ‘A’ always inhabits a body of someone the same age for 24 hours.

Not all of these lives he lives each day is a happy one; he can go from a loving family unit to waking up in a slum as an addict or fighting a body’s strong desire to kill itself.

Along the way ‘A’ has developed some survival tactics and rules to live by. These have been serving him well until he meets Rhiannon, when he inhabits her boyfriend’s body for a day. Being with her has a profound impact on ‘A’. He sets about finding her and building a relationship with her each day when he wakes up as another new person, often several hours’ travel away. Can he find a way to be with her forever and how can she form a relationship with him when he changes his outside shell every day?

I found this intriguing premise fascinating to watch unfold as A’s life unravels when love comes calling. As a Young Adult novel, it’s a great study in the sense of self, of the way people are judged by how they look, and of the power of friendship and a good heart. As an adult, I loved the complexity of the character and the way the teenage experience was captured in all its variations.

Levithan has also written a book, Six Earlier Days, that gives an insight to the days ‘A’ has spent before the story above unfolded.

Every day was definitely a “lingerer” – the type of book that stays with you, as Knit1purl1 describes in her post Books that need space – and I will definitely search out David Levithan’s other works, such as Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. His book The Lover’s Dictionary was also a delight.

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

Messy can be Fun

The nights are getting shorter now we are past the longest day, but there are many more days ahead of driving home from work in the dark, closing the curtains in the late afternoon, and having your children stuck inside on wet and cold days.

The school holidays are also fast approaching, so maybe now is a good time to plan ways get the kids creating, learning new skills and having fun with crafts and activities.

My boys always seemed to have some kind of obsession on the go, be it paper airplanes, origami, painting or making vast cities made of Lego. We lived overseas in a sixth floor apartment and one of their enduring joys was to make parachutes for their action men, launch them over the stair well and then run down the circular stairs to retrieve them. I always tried to let them just go for it, and not to see the mess. It’s hard, as a parent to quantify what they learn from these activities, but problem solving, improved fine motor skills and just plain fun must be in there somewhere.

I remember when my kids were little, we always seem to have play dough in a plastic container, and I actually enjoyed making a big potful on the stove with them. Here’s a good basic recipe for play dough .

I have fond memories of time spent with my grandparents learning skills such as knitting, crochet and baking as well as getting into my cabinet maker granddad’s shed making endless egg cups on the lathe (with his close supervision), or playing scrabble with my other granddad, whose love of words I credit hugely for my own.

Activities such as these also create lasting memories for your children, and I find now, when we get together for coffee, my 20 something boys fondly talk about the parachutes or paper airplanes and the fun involved.

Winter is a great time to get stuck in, get messy, learn and experiment and there’s a multitude of resources at Christchurch City Libraries.

Are there fun activities you enjoy with your children, or had fun with when they or you were little?