With the holidays coming up and good weather on the way, it’s time to get the chilly bin out and head off into the wide open spaces with picnic blankets and plenty of yummy food.

I’ve always loved picnics. Listening to The Teddy Bears’ Picnic on National Radio as a child, reading about Ratty and Mole and all those Famous Five feasts with lashings of lemonade, gave picnics an aura of sumptuousness and magic. Sand in the sandwiches and sand flies never really managed to dent their romantic appeal.

Our forebears loved them too. Take a look at these two:

Messrs. Dexter & Crozier's, Ltd. Clients and staff, Cadillac and Belsize Motor Car Picnic
The picnic party on the Waimakariri Gorge bridge. Yes, the whole train.

Our adult cultural icons don’t seem to be quite as enamoured of them though.

Omar Khayyam loves them …

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-and Thou

But what about  Picnic at Hanging Rock and A Passage to India? They’re hardly likely to tempt one into the countryside.

In Emma you get a great feel for being stranded miles from anywhere with a group of people you desperately want to escape and there’s a fairly uninspiring one in To the LighthouseD.H. Lawrence likes them, but then it’s hardly the food and the scenery that matter in his case. I can’t really think of any that work out well in literature. Can you?

Present heaven

Cover‘Tis the season to buy presents. How you feel about it may depend on who you are buying for. I love buying presents for children, but young men stump me every time. No matter how much I love them they’re enigmas to me and it doesn’t seem to help to ask their parents – they’re just as much in the dark.

Recently I bought dresses as birthday presents for two of my great-nieces and they were a roaring success. I delivered them on Saturday, and on Wednesday their grandmother rang to say they were still wearing them because they refused to take them off. Forced to give hers up to be washed, one of them would only wear her knickers until it was ready to wear again. The Force is obviously with me, so it’s Christmas shopping here I come.

One bibliophile writing in the New Zealand Herald recently  said she got her passion for books from a great-aunt who unfailingly bought them as birthday presents for each of a large brood of great nephews and nieces. She sounds like the perfect great-aunt to me and I intend to emulate her. For me it’s Christmas that means books though, and it’s a tradition I mean to maintain.

CoverSo how am I going to reproduce my recent success? Well I’m probably not, but my best chance lies with consulting some lists on the library website. For the children the Award winners list is a good bet, although I may need advice on as to what is age appropriate. A good holiday read always goes down well, but perhaps best of all is to get if from the horse’s mouth – on the kids blog. For young adults, try the Pulse holiday reading

For adults our website has put together Best Reads with staff recommendations and ‘best books lists for 2011. If your adult has specialised interests try our booklists on the catalogue, they cover all sorts of  areas from cyberpunk, to the 2011 Man Booker longlist and New Zealand’s top cooks.

None of which helps with a 22 year old male who doesn’t read at all, sigh …

Best science reads of 2011

Is your family interested in science? Then one of these wonderful New Zealand books, shortlisted for the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Science Book Prize, might make a good holiday read or Christmas present.

CoverIn North Pole South Pole: The  Epic Quest to Solve the Great Mystery of Earth’s Magnetism, I discovered that we’re magnetically challenged. No other species needs a compass. Humans on the other hand have spent millennia trying to figure out how to use magnetism. This pursuit began with the Chinese, who did in fact invented our compass. This is a beautifully written and illustrated book which the The Royal Society called a “compelling narrative”.

If you’re a fan of the down-to-earth common sense of Gareth Morgan and you can’t make up your mind about global warming, try another finalist – Poles Apart: Beyond the Shouting, Who’s Right about Climate Change? Here Gareth employed some good fundamental scientific method. He hired an top scientist to review the evidence and

wade through and unpack the complicated science of climate change, offering an educated layperson’s perspective on the public arguments that surround it.

Not an easy task given the emotive and contradictory opinions held by various factions of the scientific community. The result is a an “unusual insight into the challenges faced by the scientific process and the interpretation of results” which the Royal Society found both readable and admirable.

The last book and the winner of this year’s award, is about that wonderful bird the kakapo – a subject bound to have wide appeal. Kakapo: Rescued from the Brink of Extinction by Alison Balance, was  judged to be a book which

captures the passion of the relatively small number of brave, altruistic scientists and wildlife advocates, who set about trying to understand, and save from extinction, possibly the world’s most endearing bird.

This one’s bound to be a hit on Christmas Day.

The British Royal Society winners are also excellent lists to consult.

Reverting to childhood

Gone are the days when my home was inhabited by small excited children; instead I am daily surrounded by great hulking almost-adults.  These days it’s about voting and sideburns, rather than playdoh and who kicked who under the table.  Mostly this feels like a huge change, but sometimes, like at Christmas, it’s just like the old days again.  We go back to the old patterns, family traditions, and Christmas activities.  We have kids’ toys and kids’ Advent calendars, kids’ food, and yes, even kids’ books.

CoverWorking in my new baby library this year, I have had the unanticipated pleasure of sorting out all sorts of kids’ Christmas treasures for our window display, and finding both some old favourites and some new treasures.  Jesus’ Christmas Party, by Nicholas Allan, is short and simple, and tells the story of a very grumpy, sleep-deprived innkeeper in a small town with a familiar name.  I adore this book, not least because I get to yell at people when I’m reading it aloud.

CoverLemony Snicket’s The Lump of Coal is a more recent find, and one that made me snort out loud at the Returns desk (NOT a good look for a librarian, I know!).  I love the way Mr Snicket writes, and the story itself is a twisty little dark jewel of a tale.

I have also fallen in love with the Usborne Activities series of craft books.  First to catch my eye was Christmas Things to Stitch and Sew.  There’s a small penguin made of felt on the front cover, and I very much fear that several unsuspecting and bemused family members will be receiving one of these for Christmas …

Do you have Christmas favourites in your house?  Are they recent finds or old traditions?  Let me know, and maybe we can all get together and take turns reading Christmas picture books to each other.  Over a big cup of mulled wine, of course …

Christmas on New Brighton Beach- Image of the Week

New Brighton beach at Christmas, 1927.

New Brighton beach at Christmas

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Trespass – holiday reading at its best

Trespass is the latest novel by multi-award winning author, Rose Tremain. She earned a place on the Man Booker long list for this book and this fan is not surprised.

Set in the rural Cevenol region of France, where the author spent time in her childhood, the story vividly describes the land where the grapes and onions grow and the Mistral blows.

The plot centres around Mas Lunel, a homestead falling into ruin in the hands of alcoholic Aramon Lunel. His fraught relationship with his younger sister reaches crisis point when Aramon decides to sell the family home. The interested buyer is Anthony Verey, a hedonistic London antiques dealer, for whom life has lost its sweetness. His sister, V, is distraught when Anthony disappears and her partner, Kitty Meadows, plays detective in the quest to find the man who threatens to break up her relationship.

I couldn’t put the book down. Rose Tremain is an astute and perceptive author. Her characters are deftly drawn and intriguing. The author explores issues of love and betrayal and, underlying it all, is concern for a beautiful part of the world that is being carved up by rich individuals seeking romantic retreats with no understanding of the land or the communities that dwell there.

A summer outing- Image of the Week

A motor boat approaches a moored yacht on the Estuary at Redcliffs, 1960.

A motor boat approaches a moored yacht on the Estuary at Redcliffs

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Sunbathing at New Brighton- Image of the Week

Sunbathing at New Brighton beach, Christchurch. 1918.

Sunbathing at New Brighton beach, Christchurch

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A bit of local nostalgia

Gods and Little Fishes: A Boy and A Beach is set in the most lucrative spot in the country: New Brighton.

Yes, New Brighton! Before the 80s and the opening up of weekend trading to the rest of the country, this local community had a buzz about it that brought swarms of ‘townies’ to the seaside in Christchurch. With a theatre, pier, shops, surf … it was a giant playground. And this is where writer Bruce Ansley grew up. After chatting with some old mates at the New Brighton Working Mens Club he decided to not let the glory days of this era go by unnoticed and wrote a memoir of his growing up years. Alternately poignant and hilarious, this book comes highly recommended for those who love local history and a good laugh.

December yachting- Image of the Week

Area adjoining the Canterbury Yacht and Motor Boat Club’s shed at Lyttelton during the second day of the regatta. 1964.

Area adjoining the Canterbury Yacht and Motor Boat Club's shed at Lyttelton during the second day of the regatta

Do you have photos of Christchurch? We love donations.

Also contact us if you have any further information on any of the images. Want to see more? You can browse our collection.