Saturday, 28 March 2015

GNU Terry Pratchett


When I hear people mention things about fantasy, my knowledge is pretty much limited to fairy tales, those little ones with badass chicks on the front or Terry Pratchett. And even about those things, I hardly know much of outside of the books I've read. I don't really care much for the lives authors have outside of writing the books I love - except for if they're writing their next book and when can I have it.

However, just because I don't know jack about the world of authors and what they do, it didn't stop me from shedding a tear or two earlier this month when I found out that Terry Pratchett died.

I know nothing about him, except that he wears wide brimmed hats, appeared as cameos in film versions of his books and that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's (courtesy of one of my great reader friends who was devastated at the news). I know nothing about the guy personally and I know nothing about who he was as a person - but I did know that he wrote very, very amazing books.
So, I won't pretend I know him and write about how amazing he was and how he changed the world, whether he did or not. I'll write about the only thing I feel at liberty to write about.

His books have a magical kind of power. Discworld, his main series (which can also be read as stand alone novels) is a mess of hilarious illogical logic and such detailed and reasonable chaos that you either had to put the book down because it was too much to grasp, or fall directly down the rabbit hole into the most amazing, well put together world that you can actually imagine co-existing with ours in some kind of crazy parallel universe. Funny, stupid, wise, heartbreaking, all rolled into one.

The first Terry Pratchett book I ever read was Going Postal (the second word will link you to the film instead of the book, as the first does). As such, it holds a special place in my heart as my favourite book in the Discworld series. No, I haven't read all of them - I just checked Wikipedia and I've only read 11 out of the 41 listed there (did I mention I don't keep track of this stuff?). Anywho, Moist von Lipwig's adventures into being a Postmaster was my first adventure into Discworld, and I still haven't left.

Moist is a scruffian big-time crook, who likes to have money, and lots of it. He likes it especially if it comes out of others pockets - which he often dips into. When finally caught by Lord Vetenari, he has the choice of either dying or facing the ultimate punishment... Becoming the Postmaster of Ankh-Morporks run-down and shabby postal office.

His first in the Discworld series, The Colour of Magic (also a film), is literally about the very first tourist Ankh-Morpork has ever seen, Twoflower. As he wanders about in pursuit of fun and wonder (ie. dragons, barbarians, bar fights), his travel guide, the not-wizard Rincewind of Ankh-Morpork is driven around the bend by the constant shenanigans Twoflower gets them into, and he tries very hard not to let them get killed. That's it. No epic romance or spell-flinging swordfights (or not very many, at least) and yet it's everything that there is to love about the Discworld.

Which, by the way, is the (flat) world, on a disc, on the back of four giant elephants, on the back of an even bigger, great turtle flying through space.

I'm pretty sure Terry Pratchett is the only author who can think up the Discworld and still make a reader believe it, make them say, 'Okay, I get that. I see how that can work'.

The last in my favorite series in the Discworld of his (the Tiffany Aching series) was his last book he ever managed to write, and is planned to be published this year posthumously. If you ever feel the need to pick up one of his books, I suggest starting with The Wee Free Men, the first in that series. Its under Teen Fiction (and in some cases, Children's) but don't let that fool you. It's as amazing as any others of his. If you feel the need, order some of his books - read them for the first time, or the fifth time. Read all of them, or only one.

Why would a criminal taking over a post office be interesting? Why do you need to know what a tourist gets up to on his first OE? Why do I care what Death the Reaper is doing on a farm or dressed up as Santa the Hogfather (again, a film) or how a sports team made of incompetent wizards does? The answer is, I don't know. I don't know how it could pull me in as much as it did - it just did. That is the power, the magic of what Terry Pratchett did. And this is what I, and all of his fans all over the world, will miss.

'Certain things have to happen before other things. Gods play games with the fates of men. But first they have to get all the pieces on the board, and look all over the place for the dice.' - Soul Music

Shaking hands with Death - Sandara

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Cats, books, love and eco-feminism.


I've been thinking a lot during the past few months about animals. How much they mean to me, and to us all. I grew up with one parent whose often very small flats were packed to the rafters with greyhounds and whippets, which accounts for the fact that most of my life I have been a dog person. Last year, my flat took in a cat that I immediately dismissed as 'rude' and 'snobby' (cat like) because she didn't leap into my arms immediately or respond to my meowing. However, tentatively, Lacey warmed to me and I to her. She was my first love of the cat world, and I became reliant on her companionship - I adopted her when our flat broke up and she moved house with me, and it became a source of pride to look after her well and see that she was happy, buy her the best kitty biscuits and make sure her fur was brushed. I felt like a grown up, and was glad to have a dependent. She was empirically and objectively the best cat to ever live, and when she was hit by a car the day before Christmas last year, her death really devastated me. I'm still heartbroken and I don't think I will ever be able to love another cat. I spend a lot of time looking at our pictures together, and watching the one video I have of her licking my eyelids.

This post is dedicated to her, and to all animals domestic and wild. At about the same time that Lacey entered my life, I had my job interview at Parnell Library and while I was there I borrowed a book which caught my eye, and which started something of a breadcrumb trail of fiction and non fiction, which fit very well with my romance with Lacey. That book was A New Zealand Book of Beasts, which is a wonderfully absorbing overview of the myriad roles of animals in the lives of New Zealanders. Covering animals in farming and agriculture, domestication and companionship, and representation in literature, art, and mythology, I found this book to be a very rewarding and compelling lesson in our cultural history. There are thrilling facts about the relationship of ancient Maori to our bird-life which blew my little mind, some adorable anecdotes, a look at the work of such beloved names as Janet Frame and Witi Ihimaera, and most importantly the ethical aspects of human-animal relations offer significant insights to some of the political characteristics of New Zealanders as a people. I would recommend this to vegans and vegetarians, agriculturalists and art historians alike, and it is a book that has had a lasting impact on my imagination and critical bearings.

Second in line in my breadcrumb trail of books about animals was The Postmodern Animal by Steve Baker, a treasure I found shelving in the basement not too long after finishing A New Zealand Book of Beasts, drawn in by the very appealing of a shark with a crudely executed painting clamped between its jaws (very cute). A more specifically art-focused collection of essays, Baker explores the animal via the lens of Postmodern theories of identification and creativity in a variety of mediums, including performance art, sculpture, and fiction writing. For fans of Derrida, performance art, body politics and so forth - another effectual and enjoyable collection of essays.

Thirdly, as I was growing weary of the academic and conceptual, I turned to the work of Megan Mayhew Bergman on a recommendation from a library patron. Not only was it like a soothing balm to my brain after my non fiction binge, to my delight (I do love serendipity) it tied in with everything I had been reading and thinking about, and perhaps because it is Mayhew's craft, everything I had been feeling. Birds of a Lesser Paradise is a collection of short stories which focuses on the inner lives of a handful of women, each with reference to their relationship with the animal world. A woman compelled to visit the once loathed pet parrot of her now dead mother. A woman affianced to the landscape and wildlife of the swamp but divided by her father's deteriorating health and dreams of capturing an endangered species. A recovering alcoholic who searches for redemption volunteering in an animal shelter. Mayhew traverses companionship, independence, motherhood, identification and subjugation in a way that is deft, simple, yet rarefied and almost spiritual. Birds of a Lesser Paradise reveals, as do A Book of New Zealand Beasts and The Postmodern Animal, the complex and profound relationships we have with animals, and the interweaving strands of political, historical and cultural relevance that make them up but often go unnoticed. Beneath the subtle prose lies encouragement of radical ecological and feminist theories, and I was not surprised to learn that Mayhew is married to a veterinarian and lives on a small farm in Vermont (a dream existence if I were ever to picture one). I was also not surprised to discover that her latest collection of short stories published January of this year, Almost Famous Women is just as exquisite to read. A glimpse into the private lives of extraordinary women who were nonetheless only a footnote in the lives of larger personalities, it is just as touching and attentive as Birds of a Lesser Paradise.

So! Go forth, read, and give some extra attention to your animal friends. And here is Lacey, R.I.P



Thursday, 19 March 2015

The musings of a Minecraft Mum



Over the last several months I have discovered the joys of being a Minecraft Mum. That is, a Mum to two small boys who have become rather addicted to the game Minecraft, and all of its related trappings (and toys!). I read somewhere that once your kids start playing Minecraft, it is all you hear about, and I can confirm it is true ;)
This year it even meant that when my lovely sons shopped for my birthday, they were very proud that they brought me these diamond earrings. As a good Minecraft Mum, I did proudly wear these to work, where I kind of hoped all the cool kids would be most impressed. They weren't, but I did meet lots of OTHER Minecraft Mums who were, lol.

What is Minecraft? Well, it looks like a very basic kind of game, where everything is in cube form, including the main boxy character Steve. But while it looks really basic (and like WHY WOULD ANYONE EVEN PLAY THAT), it is in fact a virtual sandbox, where players can build and create anything they can imagine, using cube shaped building blocks. The possibilities are pretty much endless, and that is the true beauty of the game. The things my five year old has created are stunning…..and a little scary ;)

I knew we had reached new levels of addiction when my 5 year old was completing activities for the Dare to explore summer reading programme at the library, and in nearly every case, he could find a way to make it Minecraft related. We needed to come up with ingredients for a magic potion, and he came up with ghast tears, gunpowder and redstone, which I was a bit of a mix of disturbed and impressed with, until his Dad pointed out they were things that you pick up in Minecraft, phew!

It is so nice to know that being a Minecraft Mum is quite a common phenomenon, there are even websites such as this one  to support and inspire us (and maybe give us a clue when the kids know more than we do).
Not to mention all the fantastic books we can borrow from the library, some of the personal favourites in our household are:
Minecraft for dummies by Jesse Stay

You can even borrow the game itself from the library! 
We have it available to borrow for the Xbox 360Xbox OnePlayStation 3PlayStation 4, and the PlayStation Vita . Just be warned, that’s just how we got started….and I don’t regret it for a minute ;) 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

That New Book Smell



Ahh, that moment when the book you've finally been waiting for comes in. It's brand spanking new and shiny and perfectly covered. The pages aren't marked and it still smells​ of new book. 
And then sometimes, you get the book you'd long forgotten you'd even wanted. It's a favorite authors book and you've been waiting in line for it for months.The hold you put on, oh, what, late last year? It's finally come in! You pick it up and you think about it for a second - a memory niggles the back of your brain, and then BAM! It's exactly what you needed. Past you knows you so well. You hold it in your hands and you know that the instant you get home, you'll be unreachable to all others until you've at least finished the first 100 pages. That's the perfect moment and definitely one of my favorite things as a book-lover. 

You take that baby home, devour it in one, two sittings, and then afterwards you feel a mixture of excitement, contentment and sadness at the face that it's over so quickly. But it's okay! You're rejuvenated, you're ready for the next one. Hop on our webpage and put more holds on the latest additions, and hopefully beat the rush and get first in line.

If you're like me and you love to take out new books, check out our New Titles tab on the Auckland Libraries website. It has all the books the library has just bought this month (as well as a couple of previous months if you want to look back), plus the links to every one of them on the catalogue. (If you're not sure if we're going to get a book you're looking forward too, you can always suggest it for purchase, too).


Some of my favourite 'new' books that have just come in were these treasures -

Displacement - Lucy Knisley
A travelogue from one of my favourite authors and comic artists, Lucy takes us with her on a cruise... for the elderly. She volunteers to go with her grandparents when her family gets worried, and ends up being run around mad while trying to come to grips with mortality and the hard work of watching the ones you love get older.

First Frost - Sarah Addison Allen
My absolute favourite author. This is the second book in the Waverly Sister series (the first being Garden Spells), but is entirely fantastic as a stand-alone novel as well. The Waverly women are known for their powerful but obscure family magic. Claire starts to doubt her cooking magic which she has always been so sure of, while Sydney (hair magic) tries to understand her teenage daughter, Bay, the way most mothers do. Lovesick Bay knows where things belong - but doesn't know what to do when the person she belongs with doesn't think the same. A lovely, endearing story all aglow with magical realism.

In Real Life - Cory Doctorow, Jen Wang
A simple but thoughtful fiction graphic novel that looks at the way poverty and gaming come together in the form of gold farming - the act of collecting valuable items in-game to sell in real life to wealthier players. Anda, new player to the MMO taking the world by storm, starts out by taking out these gold farmers - until one of them stops to talk to her and an unlikely friendship begins.

And some I've just put on hold now, from browsing through the New Titles list (again)!

Cut, fold & hold : unique cardboard projects for the home - Petra Schroder & Dirk von Manteuffel
I love love love looking at craft books. I don't often make the things in them, but they inspire me nonetheless - especially ones to do with papercraft. 

"This book is filled with detailed photographic instructions on how to create amazing items from cardboard. Everything needed to complete the projects is outlines in the first chapter, and a vast majority are typical household items many people already have lying around."

Sound of a Woman - Kiesza

Yep, even the recent CDs that the library has bought are available to see on the New Titles page. I am a huge fan of what little I've heard of Kiesza and am totally stoked to hear what's on her album past the singles released on the radio. Check out her music and the rest of what we've recently got!

It's always interesting to just scroll through our catalogue and see what has popped up. And now that March has officially started, it's time for me to get requesting... Just joking, I already did on the very first of the month.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Sneak Peek: Bosch The TV Show, Not the Appliances

 

On the surface Bosch sounds like every other TV cop show. There's a hard-ass cop who smokes too much, a murder that soon turns into a possible serial murderer and behind-the-scenes political intrigue.

And yet watching Bosch is like having a long soak in a warm bath or a firm but relaxing massage or eating a bar of chocolate.  It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and relaxed and is highly addictive.

Like seriously addictive.

To the point where you finish an episode and just want to watch the next one.  Even better it has just 10 episodes in the 1st season which means it's perfect for a marathony binge.

It has an old-school film noir feel along with a gritty edginess, a superb cast including the much under-rated but always excellent Titus Welliver in the lead role, lots of twists and turns and red-herrings and the story pacing is taut, tight and rolls out the hits one by one.

Of course if you've read the books you're probably already aware of who Bosch is, if you haven't then you're in for a treat.

So remember the name and keep an eye for Bosch on your screens.

Reconsumption

What is it about watching the same movie or TV show over and over? Why do some books survive repeat readings? Well, it’s partly because with reconsumption you pick up on different aspects of the story – details that you missed the first time, or the tenth time. And partly it’s your brain wanting that reliable reward - every time, guaranteed - whether that reward is delight, thrills, or consolation. It’s also a way to gain insight into your own life and gauge how you’ve changed over time.

Anyone with kids will know that they love to have the same stories read to them, over and over and OVER. It’s comforting and familiar, and repetition has some actual sciencey benefits too: children learn vocab much faster through repeat readings and they gain a deeper comprehension of, say, exactly where is Spot.

We’re going way back here, but for me as a tween (although tweens hadn’t been invented then) my most-thrashed movie was the Parent Trap (1961) starring Hayley Mills AND Hayley Mills (see what they did there??). This was when you had to rent movies on VHS from your local video store – there were no easy downloads straight to your phone – but I still managed to borrow it so often that I learned all the dialogue by heart AND drove my family completely crazy.

When I re-watched it as an adult I was absolutely shocked at how TERRIBLE the story is! But it's good-terrible. Hayley Mills stars as identical twins, Sharon and Susan, who were separated from each other as babies when their parents divorced. Each parent took a kid, Dad took Susan to California and Mom took Sharon to Boston, and they never told them about their sister. Can you imagine? These details are just glossed over in the movie. It’s Disney. There is no bitterness, no family therapy, not even a “how could you lie to me for my whole life?!”

The twins meet at summer camp and decide to switch places. (Sample quote: “You must bring Mother to California. Boston is no place to rekindle a romance.”) I think this was the big draw card for me: an opportunity to have a complete change of scene for a while: new city, new family – what fun! The twins have a good old time meeting their long lost parent and plot to get them to meet and fall in love again. (At confession time: “Let’s get this straight. I’m not Sharon I’m Susan. Sharon – your Sharon – is out in California with Daddy, swimming, riding and having a keen time while I’m stuck here with these lousy music lessons and I hate them!”) The spanner in the works is Dad’s new girlfriend, icy blond Vicky who’s out to get his money (Vicky: “You're a big girl now, Susan. You're old enough to understand that wonderful, delicate mystery that happens sometimes between a man and a woman.” Sharon: I know what wonderful, delicate mystery Daddy sees in you. And I can't say I blame him there, either. You're very nicely put together.”)

You get the idea: pranks, shenanigans, misunderstandings, camping. And a happy ending. Even I can still see the appeal in all that, even if the premise is seriously suspect.

Monday, 2 March 2015

What to read: Not That Kind of Girl - Lena Dunham


“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told,” writes Lena Dunham, and it certainly takes guts to share the stories that make up her debut memoir, Not That Kind of Girl.

Fans of Lena’s will know already, she is queen of the outrageous one-liner.

“I am twenty years old and I hate myself,” are the opening words of the book; from a writer who uses pure self-loathing to mask her incessant narcissism.

Written in typical Dunham fashion, the book is disguised as an advice column in how to navigate the tribulations and awkwardness of girlhood. She delivers a candid and sincere reflection of the experiences that molded her young self into the empowering, confident and outspoken woman she is today.

Clustered into five main sections - Love & Sex, Body, Friendship, Work and Big Picture - the series of short essays provide insightful, and sometimes cringe-inducing, reflections on Dunham’s key life experiences.

Being an avid Girls fan, I waited patiently for months until her memoir finally hit the shelves. Having finished binge-watching Season three of the show in March, I desperately needed my Dunham fix. I had high expectations for the wild, witty, and warm girl I had grown to respect on screen – and in no way did she disappoint.

It is loaded with frank and intimate accounts that draw similarity to the trials faced by the fictional Hannah. She crafts a revealing, unfiltered, graphic and at times uncomfortable description of what she has learned thus far.

Before she was a sensation, Dunham was a 9-year-old vowing to be celibate; a 14-year-old playing dead at an all-girl sleepover, and the one girl sporting a tankini at an Oberlin University party.

It may seem like I’m gushing about this woman, but from my perspective, Lena’s likability stems from the fact that she doesn’t fit into a traditional celebrity mold. She is loud, unruly, imperfect, and some might say even a little gross. She speaks openly about feminism and sexuality, without apology, and for the majority of the book she is so wildly inappropriate, you don’t know whether to keep reading or slam the book down from embarrassment. Ironically, it is these unique qualities that I believe make her one of the most relatable celebrities to date.

I asked my friend the same question: ‘What is it that you like about Not That Kind of Girl”, to which she replied “her memoir just feels like an extension of the show and we get to dive in a little deeper into her personality – that, and she’s just so raw and hilarious, what’s not to love about her!”

Whether you have seen Girls or not, this book gives you access into the quirky mind and experiences that created one of Hollywood’s hottest comedic talents.

Not That Kind of Girl is from that kind of girl: bold, gutsy, ambitious and willing to stand out. This is why Dunham is not only a voice who deserves to be heard but one that will continue to shock, thrill and will most likely, continue to surprise us all.


- our thanks to Sophie Buchan for the guest post!