Ready, steady…relax

If you’re like me then the prelude to Christmas is a hectic blur of to-do lists, gift-wrap flapping, and sugar. Yes, I have started to hoe into the Christmas treats already but I need to keep my strength up.

But it’s good to know that after this last flurry of activity there will be a week or so of peace and relaxation (more or less, depending on your annual leave allowances).

And how do we relax? My favourite thing to do is a good solid block of book or magazine reading, or maybe some movie-watching. So while it’s important to have all your Christmas meal planning and gifting ducks in a row, do make sure to plan for the bit afterwards where you get to put your feet up or spend time with family.

Here are some ways we can help with that –

  • We are open – Not the public holidays mind you, but with only a couple of exceptions libraries will be open between Christmas and New Year. Some closing times may be different though so check our Holiday Hours for more information so you’ll know just when you can pop in with the kids, or on your own for a bit of soothing shelf-browsing.
  • So is the digital library – We have a heap of eResources you can access online. Ebooks, eMagazines, eAudiobooks and more. And these are available any time, including public holidays.
  • We have stuff for kidsStories to go packs, DVDs, music, holiday reading, audiobooks and at Tūranga there’s Lego and Duplo. And if you’re planning a family trip we have titles for that too:

Cover of 52 Fun things to do in the car Cover of 52 fun things to do on the plane Cover of Lonely Planet Travel with childrenCover of My first trip on an airplane Cover of Backseat A-B-See

  • Recommendations – Too hard to choose? Don’t know what to pick? Our staff have selected their favourite books, music, movies and TV shows of the year into our Best of 2018 lists – sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction – whatever you’re into. Or just rock up to a library and ask a staff member what’s good!
  • Summertime Reading Challenge – Pick up a postcard at your local library or enter online for a chance to win some great prizes. Or keep and eye on our Facebook page for more opportunities to win.
  • Fun activities for kids in Christchurch – We list a bunch of fun stuff for kids happening over the summer, from holiday programmes to shows and performances with families in mind.

Whatever you end up doing, stay safe, and we look forward to seeing you in the new year. Ngā mihi o te wā!

Wish I was there …

It has been lovely to see the sun, after such a gloomy June – but as my family reminded me, we still have two months of winter to go. I keep thinking that I should have booked a midwinter break to somewhere sunny and warm. I think I will start planning now for next winter and here is my starting place for research. We have an great collection of always available Lonely Planet travel guides from OverDrive, no holds or waiting, there for you to read straight away with your Christchurch City Libraries card and password / PIN.

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Remembering the Wahine Disaster – 10 April 1968

The Wahine Disaster took place fifty years ago. Today we reflect on the loss of fifty one people on the 10th of April 1968. This tragedy resonates strongly down the decades.

Policeman Ray Ruane holding a young survivor of the Wahine shipwreck. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1968/1574/26a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22508739

The Wahine Disaster played out across the nation’s television in grainy black and white, and the newsroom brought the story to our living rooms.  The ferry’s proximity to shore where people watched helplessly certainly added to our sense of powerlessness in the face of tragedy.

You can watch some of the original footage on NZ On Screen.

NZBC Classics - Wahine Disaster

Wahine at Lyttelton, 1965
The Wahine used as a backdrop for a shot on the Port at Lyttelton, circa 1965. Kete Christchurch 1965_g_-_Wahine.jpg

The storm affected many parts of the country including Canterbury. It tore of the roofs of houses on Canon Hill and forced many homes in Sumner to be evacuated.

I recall my parents pointing to the wreckage, which was still visible for many years, as we neared Wellington on our ferry voyage. Each time there is a rough ferry crossing, the fate of the Wahine ferry is remembered and our thoughts are once again with those who died and with the survivors of that ill-fated voyage.

Find out more:

Articles on the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster

Ah, the serenity of the West Coast

This Labour Weekend I’m off to the West Coast of our South Island again. I get an itch to escape to there fairly often and this time it felt like it had been too long since last visit. There is something wholly relaxing about leaving your busy city life for the wilds of ‘the Coast’.

Here are some West Coast reads:

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Be safe on our roads this holidays.

How to be a writer: Steve Hely – WORD Christchurch

Steve Hely author photo for The Wonder Trail
Steve Hely (image supplied)

I’d be willing to bet cold, hard cash that of all the writers who took part in WORD Christchurch this year, Steve Hely is the only one who has “actor: flautist and shirtless bohemian, The Office (US)” on their CV. Assuming that he does, in fact, even have that on his CV… and if not, why?

One possible reason is that despite this and at least one other noteworthy appearance on 30 Rock, Steve Hely is actually a writer.

He’s also one of those annoying people who are intelligent, funny, and interested in lots of things and therefore make the rest of us feel bad with their rampant overachieving.

In addition to having worked on some of the best comedy shows EVER (in addition to The Office and 30 Rock, there’s American Dad and chaotic political comedy Veep – pretty sure those are on the CV), he also does a podcast, The Great Debates, in which he argues passionately about the big questions in life… such as whether dogs should be allowed on the beach.

He’s also written several books. His novel “How I became a famous novelist” is a satire of the literary world (and somewhat awkwardly, given the context of this talk, literary festivals).

His two non-fiction efforts are both travel books, of a kind. The first, The Ridiculous Race, documents the competition he and friend Vali Chandrasekaran undertook to travel around the world, in opposite directions, without air travel. First one back to Los Angeles won. The second follows him on his trip down the west of the South American continent, right down to Tierra del Fuego at the southern end of Chile.

On Comedy writing

Toby Manhire started out asking him quite a few questions about the process of television comedy writing*, and how it differed between shows like Late Night with David Letterman and 30 Rock.

Letterman had much more of a factory approach where people worked independently like “12 monkeys at 12 typewriters”, which answers the question “if infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters will eventually produce Shakespeare, what will a drastically smaller number get you?” A Letterman top ten list, is the answer.

Toby Manhire with Steve Hely
Toby Manhire with Steve Hely, WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Flickr File Reference: 2016-08-27-IMG_2495

Sitcoms, according to Hely are a more collaborative kind of environment, though being employed as a writer on a show that is already hugely successful is pretty intimidating. Of his arrival at 30 Rock, says Hely “I was a scared little puppy trying to help out”.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Great television writers have a magpie-ish ability to retain “something weird, some odd sentence that someone said to them” and turn that into a gag or even a whole episode. There is also such a thing as “riffing” for comedy writers though it’s “embarrassing to talk about compared with guitar music because it’s less cool, but it is, in a way, similar to how music is made”.

With regards to his forays into sitcom acting, it was definitely useful, as a writer, to have that experience, to be able to understand what it’s like for the actors.

 “The feeling of being an actor is terrifying and strange.

And in a long-running show like The Office, the actors have spent more time with their characters than many of the writers have so “you’re wise to listen to the actors’ ideas about their characters.”

On Travel

Hely admits to a certain kind of wanderlust and feels that travel breaks a person out of the routine ways of doing things, creating a certain kind of heightened awareness. Where will I get food? Where will I sleep?

“It really makes you feel alive”.

He’s also interested in the whole genre of travel writing – the history of going somewhere and reporting back on it, from Herodotus to Mark Twain (another American writer who has visited Christchurch, by the way).

Cover of The wonder trailThere are examples of this interest in The Wonder Trail, which in certain chapters feels like a meta-travel book (a travel book about travel books) when Hely documents the history of what what travellers of old have made of the place that he’s visiting in the present, which allows you the perspective of seeing what has changed (or not) in the meantime. It’s an amusing, enlightening, and informative read, whether you’ve any interest in travelling to South America yourself or not, there’s plenty to keep you reading.

On Trump, Clinton and Sir Edmund Hilary

There’s no denying it, things have gotten weird. Or as Hely puts it “that satire is being outpaced by reality is alarming”. Er, yes, it is rather.

Hely is in a good position to say just how alarming as he got press credentials for and attended the Republican National Convention. He found it “upsetting”, though in the wake of Ted Cruz not endorsing Trump it felt “like a pro-wrestling match – I enjoyed the chaos of that”.

A lot of Trump’s political success, he believes, is “because politicians are boring”… as they should be – “I want boring people working on policy,” he says.

Trump is woefully unprepared for the job.

“His plans for being president don’t seem like those of someone who thought about being president for more than an hour…”

Whereas Hillary Rodham Clinton has probably been thinking about being president “since the second grade”. This is not to say that he’s necessarily a fan of HRC. In fact he thinks she’s very cavalier with the truth, going so far as to call her “chronically dishonest”.

An amazing example of this was the time she claimed to have been named after our own Sir Edmund Hilary. Later fact-checking revealed that Clinton was born years before Sir Ed and Sherpa Tensing reached the summit of Mt Everest. So why lie? Did she even really claim that? Was it a joke that got misreported? If not had she just, as Hely put it “wigged out” and made it up, or did someone in her family tell her it was true and she believed it?

We know from audience member (and veteran political cartoonist) Peter Bromhead, who knew Sir Ed and spoke with him about this very topic, that Clinton certainly did relate the story as fact and that the man himself had believed it to be true initially. As to why Clinton lied…well, who knows? Or as Hely suggested, was it true after all? Might her parents have just been really, really keen on beekeepers?

Reading recommendations

Cover of The PossessedHely is a fan of Cormac McCarthy but also evocative non-fiction like The Possessed by Elif Batuman. He’s also loves the design of Penguin classics.

*And one from me. If you’re at all interested in the topic of American comedy writing, may I recommend And here’s the kicker: Conversations With 21 Top Humour Writers on Their Craft.

More Steve Hely

More WORD Christchurch

Abandoned places & Bio art: Cool picks from the selectors

Abandoned Places: 60 Stories of Places Where Time Stood Still.Cover

Illustrated liberally and with short articles this is a great book for the armchair traveller. Chernobyl is of course featured, but there are a surprisingly large amount of places that have been abandoned because of environmental disasters as well as urban migration.  Interestingly Waiuta in New Zealand is included, one of the small towns abandoned after the gold rush. With haunting photographs this is an ideal book for flicking through and choosing places that are of interest, and perhaps you might even get some ideas for your next trip overseas!

CoverBio Art: Altered Realities

Featuring artists work from all over the world,  this is also an easy book to pick up and flick through to find a piece of work that takes your fancy.  The amount of art representing the biological sciences is about as broad and never ending as nature itself.  Some are environmental protest pieces, others are representations of science itself. Well illustrated with informative articles on each artist.

CoverBeyond Belief: Racist, Sexist, Rude, Crude and Dishonest. The Golden Age of Madison Avenue

The titles says it all!  Examples from the 1950s advertising world featuring some nasty advertising for soap (suggesting that a black child needs to wash more),  how smoking Camel cigarettes can cure throat irritation, and Valium can restore cheerfulness and optimism alongside plenty of examples of how women can catch a man….

Beautiful but dumb.  She has never learnt the first rule of lasting charm. A long lasting deodorant.  People on the go use ODO.RO.NO

CoverSeven Brief Lessons on Physics

Physics is not usually considered an easy read, but this title is promoted as “playful, entertaining and mindbending”.

In under 100 pages all those questions about modern physics that have been keeping you awake at night are answered!

 

 

Slow Down: It’s Christmas

Christmas is busy enough without the combination of end of school year events, preparing for holidays, managing heat, burnt sausages and then the relations coming to stay.

The Slow Movement encourages us to – well, slow down. Slow is the new black if you were to believe all the books written on the subject.  Perhaps now is the time with all the bustle, bad driving and endless searching for the ultimate gift to take a deep breath and S.L.O.W.

You could try:

Cover of Whole food slow cooked Cover of Slow Stitch Cover of Slow reading Cover of The art of slow writing Cover of Slow Gardening Cover of Fed up with frenzy Cover of Slow train to Switzerland Cover of Don't just do something, sit there Cover of The kinfolk home

The host of RNZ Sunday Mornings Wallace Chapman has a book Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Manifesto for Living the Slow Life. Or you could create a Slow Home – Kinfolk home: interiors for slow living.

Cover of A slow passionPerhaps the ultimate in slowness is to read about snails! A Slow Passion: Snails, my garden and me by Ruth Brooks sounds like the most delightful book. As a gardener frustrated by the damage snails were doing, Ruth Brooks started on a ruthless mission to eradicate these annoying blighters and ended up becoming (slowly) fascinated by their habitats and behaviours.

A Slow Passion is a sweet, funny and surprising investigation into the hidden life of snails, which will change the way you look at the smaller (and slower) things in life.

Arrivals and departures

The Universe can count itself lucky that there were no cameramen on hand to record my New Zealand arrival 15 years ago. Months of wailing, breast beating and sad partings had taken their toll. Add to that a Harare detour, a missed connecting flight and a night spent in a Perth Airport Transit Lounge, and what emerged at Christchurch Airport Arrivals Hall umpteen hours later was not a pretty sight.

However, I am looking forward to Christchurch Photo Hunt Competition, with its theme: Arrivals and Departures – the journeys that have shaped us.

Christchurch Photo HuntKiwis are great travellers, and worldwide there is a growing trend for people to live away from the countries of their birth. According to an article in the Jul/Sep 2015 Destinations magazine, approximately 3% of the world’s population live outside of the countries in which they were born. Frankly I would have put that figure higher given the teeming masses at the airports I frequent on my annual trips back home (wherever that may be). Maybe I am just seeing the same tired old passengers again and again?

If you are looking for inspiration to get your photographic juices flowing, we have masses of beautiful photography books, and I have a fair smattering of  of recent reads on the topic of coming and going – and running on the spot:

On coming home: Kiwis often travel out and wing their way back at some stage in life. Paula Morris has written an excellently researched little book on this topic: On Coming Home. It is a tiny book of only 76 pages about the author’s return to Auckland to look after her ageing mother, herself an immigrant. Arriving and departing is inextricably linked to our concept of Home, and this book comes with an outstanding bibliography. Norris’s mother sums it up like this:

My mother: I’m not a New Zealander.

Me: You’ve lived in New Zealand for forty years.

My mother: If I lived in China, would it make me Chinese?

Cover of The Other side of the WorldOn the lure of the new: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is the book I wish I had written. In this novel Charlotte uproots from Cambridge, England, to Perth, Australia, where her husband has landed a lecturing position. It is a book about people who just do not transplant well. People whose rope of yearning is so strong it starts to pull the corners of their mouths down. I have always known that I am not really a mover. Yet here I am. This book was written for me.

On to-ing and fro-ing: Justin Cartwright grew up in South Africa, but lives in England. Several of his books are about the pull that South Africa still exerts on him. Books like White Lightning, To Heaven by Water and more recently Up Against the Night. In Afrikaans (and indeed in the book White Lightning) he is disparagingly referred to as a “soutpiel”. This is a man who has one foot in England, one foot in South Africa – and I leave you to work out which part of his anatomy is in the salty Indian Ocean.

Cover of Island HomeOn staying put: My choice here is Tim Winton‘s latest book Island Home: A Landscape Memoir. This is a beautiful song of praise for how the land that we love makes us who we are – in this case the land is Australia. You get the distinct feeling from this book that Tim Winton would wither away if he had to live away from his beloved country.

But don’t think that you have to be the world’s greatest Frequent Flyer to enter the Christchurch Photo Hunt. Maybe you just went on a picnic from Sockburn to Spencer Park and you have a great photo of it. Maybe someone took your photo as you left on the bus from Worcester Boulevard (in the good old days) to take your place at Uni down south.

Help us flesh out the full panorama of all our arrivals and departures over the years. Every Picture Tells a Story!

Fancy a trip overseas? How about Greece?

If you are lucky enough to have a few spare dollars and fancy a trip overseas then a writer at The Guardian suggests that a trip to Greece would be a way to help the country out! It doesn’t sound like a huge sacrifice to leave the Christchurch winter behind and land on the sunny shores of a Greek island. The writer has ideas for how to deal with the issue of money, and suggests spending what you can with local businesses.

The Greek Islands Greece on my wheels Cover of My Greek Island home Cover of Greek Islands

The library has plenty of travel guides to help you on your way, suggestions for Greek recipes to get you in the mood, and history books to fill in those gaps from what you learnt in Classical studies at school.

If – like me – the money won’t stretch to an overseas holiday, then perhaps a bit of Armchair Travel will have to suffice.

Sneaky characters, intrigue, love, betrayal, and dressing sheep in helmets to frighten off the English army

Cover of Gemini by Dorothy DunnettI’m always excited to read new books, whether it’s a debut or the latest in a series, but there’s something equally exciting about discovering a new favourite author who already has an extensive back catalogue.

I’m now halfway through Dorothy Dunnett‘s House of Niccolò series with four to go, having finished her six-part Chronicles of Lymond earlier this year. I’m not always a fan of book series, but these work so well both individually and as a unit that I can’t complain. Unfortunately some books are out of print, so the library may not have the full sequence, but each book stands alone — often taking place in different countries, but also building on the characters and relationships in a way that rewards faithful readers.

Both the House of Niccolò series and the Chronicles of Lymond are historical novels, with the House of Niccolò taking place from 1460 onwards and Lymond from 1547. While Niccolò Rising begins in Bruges, Belgium, and Lymond hails from Scotland, both protagonists travel widely over the course of their narratives.

I love being amused, surprised and betrayed by my books so these are definitely my cup of tea, with the bonus that I’m getting an education on various historical events that I’ve failed to learn or retain from school. Plus it will hopefully make me look intelligent and well-read when I go to Europe next year.

Yes, well spotted, my previous post about armchair travel has inspired me to book a ticket to Italy. I’m looking forward to eating my way around the country and pretending I’m in Room With a View or Enchanted April. After reading Disorderly Knights, third in Dunnett’s Lymond series, I have even added a jaunt to Malta. Reading is definitely dangerous to the budget! On the plus side I now know all about the Order of St John, Knights Hospitaller, unreliable protectors of Malta in 1551 and modern-day ambulance service. One mustn’t skimp on a good education.

Other great historical series:

Cadfael series by Ellis Peters in the library catalogueElizabeth Wein in the library catalogueGillian Bradshaw in the library catalogue

What are your favourite historical series?