02 September, 2015

Chaucer’s tale by Paul Strohm

From something to nothing to one of the greatest: 1386 was the year that made Chaucer famous. 

Before then, he was a bit-part player in English politics, helped by his family connections. Although he only lived for a few years after 1386, it was the literary achievements of 1386 that wrote his name into literary history. 

I fell in love with Chaucer’s work at high school when we read (translated) extracts from ‘The general prologue’. At university, I met and admired ‘The Wife of Bath’, and pondered the description of ‘The Knight’. 

To think that none of these literary wonders (and the rest of The Canterbury tales) would probably never happen if Chaucer had remained in favour. Or, in the least, hadn’t been so closely linked to those who lost power. 

This is the period that lay the seeds for the Wars of the Roses, and Chaucer was firmly tied to the Lancastrian side. By 1386, support for the king, Richard II, and his party was in decline. And the bureaucrats and local politicians at this time had FIFA well-beaten when it came to allegations of corruption. 

Unlike today, some of Chaucer’s associates were punished by death. Put like that, Chaucer was lucky to get away with losing his job and house. 

This microbiography will fascinate any medievalists out there. 

A more general biography is Chaucer by Peter Ackroyd. 
One of my favourite Chaucerian reads (of the non-fiction variety) is Who murdered Chaucer? 
A feminine fictional approach to Chaucer’s time is Katherine by Anya Seton. In real life, Katherine [Swynford] was Chaucer’s sister-in-law – and the mistress of John of Gaunt.
Another microbiography you might like to try out is: 1599: a year in the life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro.

Title: Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the road to Canterbury (also published as The poet's tale: Chaucer and the year that made The Canterbury tales). 
Author: Paul Strohm. 

Recommended by Annie C, Helensville Library. 
Annie C is a voracious and versatile reader, but her habitual reads are fantasy, romance, and a diverse selection of non-fiction subjects. 

01 September, 2015

The Ghan - Australia's grand rail journey by Ian Grady and Don Fuchs

We all know of the Ghan, Australia's outback train, but this book gives us the full picture from the earliest exploration through the centre of the Australian continent, right through to the latest premier tourist service.

The book starts with the story of the telegraph service in the outback, then leads to the spread of settlers and their need for supplies and access. The name "Ghan" originates here; camels were imported to help transport goods to the remotest parts, and with them came Afghani camel handlers. They became known as "ghans" and the name of this outback service stuck, even though most of the Afghanis eventually returned home.

The Ghan now runs from Adelaide to Darwin, through famous places and landmarks like Port Augusta, Alice Springs, the ‘Red Centre’, Coober Pedy - where people have their houses underground due to the heat - and Katherine.  While the first part of the train service was constructed in the 1870’s, it took another 130 years before the Ghan service finally reached Darwin in 2004.

The book outlines the history of the service, details the various sections of the route and provides spectacular photos of the locations.  It is well laid out and easy to read.  If you have travelled on the Ghan, or are interested in going, or are just interested to learn more about this unique and historic service, then this will be a great read.

Title:The Ghan, Australia's grand rail journey
Author: Ian Grady and Don Fuchs

Recommended by Ana, Central Library.

Ana loves reading. She reads mainly fiction but also non-fiction and Scandinavian thrillers. I have many favourite authors but some of them are Ian McEwan, William Boyd, Lionel Shriver.

31 August, 2015

Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood & Ian Kelly

Innovative, rebellious and often scandalous, British fashion  designer Vivienne Westwood is still, at 72 years of age, at the top of her game.

Most people know her best from her connection with Malcom McLaren. Already a schoolteacher, wife and mother when she met him in 1965 they teamed up to form a creative, potent duo. Vivienne recounts those crazy years in great detail - the early days of their shops (Let It Rock and SEX) on the Kings Road selling rubberwear and punk clothing, and Malcolm’s  band, The Sex Pistols.

Fascinating what she has to say about Malcolm McLaren. I really enjoyed hearing her version of events.

Born during the Second World War and rationing Vivienne came from a family who were good at making things from materials that were available. She still believes that people should buy less and choose well (quality over quantity).

Fighting for a number of causes, climate revolution, human rights, Leonard Peltier and Julian Assange, she skilfully uses her celebrity to make her message heard.

I also found it interesting seeing how the fashion industry has changed over the years and become a huge player in the global economy. The couture collections are fashion as art. Thousands of hours can go into creating one outfit that few could afford while the wider public buy versions of these and other products carrying the designers name.

And her best accessory?
 – a book! “Reading is my sublime luxury.”

Ian Kelly is also the author of Beau Brummell, Casanova, Mr Foote's other Leg & Cooking for Kings: the life of Antonin Careme the first celebrity chef.

Authors: Vivienne Westwood & Ian Kelly

Claire S works in the Information Services/Arts Team and loves reading biographies, contemporary fiction and non-fiction (art and anything related to New Zealand). 

26 August, 2015

Go set a watchman by Harper Lee

Could the long delayed and unexpected sequel to To kill a mockingbird be any good? Yes, it is. Places are vividly described and characters speak eloquently, if not always to a receptive audience.

Scout Finch has grown up, graduated and been living in cosmopolitan New York for several years when she returns to visit what remains of her family. Her equilibrium is totally upset when she sees her father, Atticus, in despicable company and thinks the worst of him: that he has deserted his principles. 

There are calls throughout the U.S. to end segregation and establish equality. Maycomb town is reluctantly facing change. Fear rides on the winds of change and the whites of Maycomb are wary of their Negro neighbours.

Warning! There are many utterances, by racists, of a word that has always been considered vulgar but now many find very objectionable.

Author: Harper Lee

Reviewed by Christine O, Takapuna Library

Christine O has worked at North Shore libraries for over 20 years. She likes her fiction to be credible and her nonfiction to be accessible.

25 August, 2015

The book of memory gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

I'm not usually a reader of graphic novels but this one caught my eye. It is a beautifully illustrated and evocative portrayal of the power of human memory.

Haunting, witty and thought-provoking - each little vignette skims over the surface of a deeper, more profound experience - packing a powerful emotional punch that stays with the reader long after the book has been put down.

This book succinctly captures the essence of memory and how it helps us to identify with ourselves, find our place in the world and define our relationships.

If you’ve never thought of reading a graphic novel let this be your first. A little book you’ll want to keep revisiting and contemplating. I loved it so much it’s made it onto my Xmas list!

The book of memory gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

Reviewed by Jo C, Central City Library

Jo C works as a library assistant at Central City Library and enjoys reading crime fiction, most contemporary fiction and also non-fiction books that inspire creativity and open her mind! Her favourite authors are Margaret Atwood and Stephen King.

21 August, 2015

The five secrets you must discover before you die by J. Izzo

Death is a word that is avoided in many cultures. Why? 

Because people think it is a word which represents evil or badness, and they fear it. But the truth is, nobody is able to avoid it. Rich or poor, high or low, mankind becomes completely equal in front of it. 

Since nobody can escape from death, why don’t we choose to face it positively, and relax?

This is what this book wants to tell you. From the title, it seems like this book is about death, but on the contrary, it is about living, and how to live a worthwhile life through practicing the five secrets in your everyday life. (Leave no regrets; Give more than you take…)

It is a guidebook which leads you to review your life from these five secret aspects weekly and to think of how to improve in the next week. 

Finally, the book tells you that it is never too late to live out these secrets.
Do you want a quality life? Do you want to live fearlessly? Then read this book!  

Title: The five secrets you must discover before you die
Author: John Izzo 

Reviewed by Honour Z, Northcote Community Library

Honour Z works at Northcote Library. She loves reading biographies and nonfiction in general.

16 August, 2015

Longbourn by Jo Baker

This is a very different take on the Pride and prejudice story, in fact the Bennets only appear as incidental characters in this story of the servants of Longbourne house. Mrs. Hill has her hands full managing the staff that keep Longbourn running smoothly: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. Jo Baker reminds us that someone must have been up very early in the morning to lay the fires, empty the chamberpots, cook the meals and scrub the laundry. 

"If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them."

As we know from Jane Austen's masterpiece, the Bennet family’s respectable but rundown estate at Longbourn is under threat, destined to pass out of the family, since Mr. Bennet has no sons. Downstairs, the servants are worried too. Will the heir, Mr. Collins, bring in his own people and turn out the present staff?

There is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. Each person has their own  past or aspirations, and Baker vividly evokes the circumscribed lives of the lower classes in  Regency England, from trips in the rain to distant shops to the struggles of an infantryman in the Napoleonic Wars. She creates a vivid and believable world in which by comparison the Bennets seem pampered, oblivious, their dramas trivial.

This is a very easy book to keep on reading late into the night, the story was engrossing and drew me on. If you are familiar with Pride and prejudice, you will recognise the significant events in the story, but it is but a backdrop to the story of the servants. Highly recommended.

Title: Longbourn
Author: Jo Baker

Recommended by Anita S, Blockhouse Bay Library

Anita S reads widely and eclectically, but most often random non-fiction fact books, good general and teen fiction, (often dystopian future types), fantasy and sci-fi if they cover a new angle on something, kids books and... actually she'll take a look at most stuff. Books are great! She also loves art and illustration.


15 August, 2015

Yotsuba&! 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma

Yotsuba&! (Yotsuba and...) is a manga story about a young girl named Yotsuba Koiwai who has moved to a new neighbourhood. Each chapter of the manga revolves around Yotsuba's everyday adventures with her dad, the next-door Ayase sisters and various people around town.

​This manga is awesome and is one of the few reasons I drop whatever I'm reading, turn off any visual media and tell my niece to 'clear off' (bad uncle), just so I can giggle at Yotsuba and her friends. Well half-truths aside, Yotsuba is pure great fun. Each chapter takes Yotsuba's five-year-old point of view and unfolds with a delightful innocence. Yotsuba will engage in whatever takes her fancy, succeeding, failing, and learning, and you will enjoy reading about it. Simple as that.

​Kiyohiko Azuma has a great feel for these slice of life stories and Yotsuba&! is an example of stories that are both fun-loving and enjoyable, but also grounded in a realism that readers of all ages will enjoy. The artwork is also clean and expressive which adds to the tone.

Got kids? Introduce them to this manga. It's one that you can both enjoy together. Don't have kids? Just say you're picking something out for a niece or nephew and read it yourself (I won't tell). I can't really recommend this all ages book highly enough.

For those a little older, check out Kiyohiko Azuma's other manga: Azumanga Daioh, also a super excellent fun read.

Title: Yotsuba&! 1
Author: Kiyohiko Azuma

Recommended by James W, Sir Edmund Hillary Library Papakura

James W was once told to sleep with one eye open, he failed. James is also rubbish at Tekken.

14 August, 2015

The book of disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

When a little known twentieth century poet and prose writer from Portugal named Fernando Pessoa was included in The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom’s elegiac roundup of the most vital writing to emerge in the history of western literature, one review in the Times accused Bloom of being wilfully obscurant and elitist.

The benefit of hindsight has proven this notion to be more an indication of Pessoa's lack of a mainstream readership at the time than of Pessoa’s significance, or Bloom’s literary snobbery. New translations and editions have brought increasing acknowledgement that Pessoa’s body of work, mostly written under the guise of heteronyms (Pessoa's word for a variety of poetic nom de plumes for which he had created singular biographies and stylistic tendencies), was as brilliant as it was unique.

Pessoa’s most renowned work never saw publication in his lifetime. First published in Portugese in 1982, 47 years after Pessoa's death, The Book of Disquiet consists of hundreds of prose fragments which were found in a trunk in his room in Lisbon after his death. What connects these fragments is Pessoa’s crediting of them to the heteronym “Bernardo Soares, assistant bookkeeper in Lisbon.”

The pieces in this “factless autobiography,” as Pessoa calls it (or is that Soares?), include diaristic rumintaions, dreamlike aphorisms, passages as exquisitely beautiful as they are forlorn and meandering. Most pieces are combinations of all those things. Together they create a cumulative effect that is transporting, mesmerising, and, as the title implies, disquieting.

Unsurprisingly, it is within the books own pages you’ll find the most apt descriptions of both its strange appeal and mode of composition:  “In the faint shadows cast by the last light before evening gives way to night, I like to roam unthinkingly through what the city is changing into, and I walk as if nothing had a cure . . . . As my feet wander I inwardly skim, without reading, a book of text interspersed with swift images, from which I leisurely form an idea that’s never completed.”

Title: The Book of Disquiet
Author: Fernando Pessoa
Recommended by: Simon C, Central City Library

Simon C works in Readers Services for Auckland Libraries. His special reading interests include 19th-century French poetry and 20th-century modernist fiction. He likes to take psychogeographical walks in his spare time, sometimes not even leaving his desk to do so.

The intern's handbook by Shane Kuhn

At 25 John Lago is about to retire, but is recruited into the H.R. organisation after offing his drug-running foster parents. John infiltrates high-level companies as an intern and eliminates their executives.

Interns are invisible - between making photocopies and getting coffee they gain the trust of their targets and, by doing the grunt work, they gain access, allowing them to pull off clean untraceable hits. 

John’s last assignment is to infiltrate a prestigious law firm and find out which senior partner is selling the names of people hiding in the witness protection programme. Complicating matters is Alice, a tough FBI agent bent on arresting his target.

Part assassination manual and part confessional, The intern's handbook is plotted like a good B-movie.

Title: The intern's handbook
Author: Shane Kuhn

Recommended by Murray L, Devonport Library

Murray R
enjoys horrors, thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy books and good B-movies