28 February, 2015

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems [Hamish L, Avondale]

Hey kids, can you say self-reflexive? That's what this picture book is: a book that's about being a book. Not too many words, but very clever ideas.

Elephant and Piggie realise, to their surprise, that they are in a book. They realise that you, the reader, is reading them. They want to see if they can make you say a word (the word is "bananas"). Will you do what the animals in the book tell you to do?

Parents, if you want to encourage your kids to be critical readers, who realise that what they are reading comes from a particular context, and is written by an author who is a person just like them, this is an engaging and fun place to start for quite young ones.

Title: We Are in a Book!
Author: Mo Willems
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children, 2010

23 February, 2015

The Last Hiccup by Christopher Meades [Monica, Orewa Library]

When you get to the point in your reading when you know what to expect from a book just by the author, genre or blurb, then take a leap of faith and try The last hiccup.

The first thing that struck me about this little book is that it has no genre label, which is getting rarer as authors and publishers ultimately have a goal audience in mind to sell their books to. The image on the front cover also intrigued me and I deliberately avoided reading the blurb on the back cover.

I therefore had no expectations when I started reading, and the story was all the more adventurous for that. What a strange little story: dark and sometimes bawdy humour; a tragedy set in Russia from 1929 to 1941, with an unsettling ending that left me feeling that I needed a good laugh and a long walk to come to terms with it.

It tells the story of young Vladimir, who, on his eighth birthday, suddenly develops a case of hiccups. His case becomes the focus of two doctors who try to help him, and we are drawn into the drama of their lives as much as Vladimir’s. Christopher Meade’s characterisations are spot on: his characters were real and believable, and a mix of the strange medical case presented before them and the insecurities and foibles of the leading characters twist together to hurtle at increasing speed towards the finale.

Author: Christopher Meades
Published: 2012
Publisher: ECW Press
ISBN: 9781550229738

19 February, 2015

Eat Me: the food and philosophy of Kenny Shopsin by Kenny Shopsin and Carolynn Carreño [Louise, Central Library]

Any restaurateur worth his kosher salt has a cookbook out, but this is something else. It’s part-memoir, part-recipe book, and part-philosophical ranting and raving: it's Kenny Shopsin’s take on food, people, family, and what a restaurant should be. His food is famously quick, easy, and made with as few ingredients as possible. He’s a regular New York kook, and the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.

Shopsin’s started as grocery store, and when the rent went up it became a restaurant with the addition of some tables but from the sounds of it pretty much everything else stayed the same. The shelves were still crammed full of ingredients and all the stuff you need to prepare food but Kenny just added some bungee cords to prevent the tins from falling on people.

There are some rules about going to Shopsin's, but not your usual dining out rules like ‘wear shoes’. Don’t come into his restaurant with crazy ideas about how you want your meal prepared. Or, give it a try but you might end up with no food at all. Food intolerances are not tolerated. Parties of no more than 4 people at a time. Did you come in a group of 5? Bad luck for you. No cell phones. No smoking. No, wait, smoking is OK just not around customers on the list next to this ‘Smoking is OK!’ sign. Did you eat everything on your plate? No? Was something wrong? OK 'cos Kenny is going to shout at you from the kitchen.

Kenny sometimes refuses to serve people. Sometimes he just has a bad feeling about them. He doesn’t like people saying “I’ll have what that person is having” – you gotta have some imagination, people! There are literally hundreds of things on the menu and Kenny is cooking it all and he doesn’t want to cook the same thing all the time. Literally. Hundreds. The menu is chaotic. It would change between one and four times a week but the one included in this book has over 900 items. It is 6 pages long, with a few pictures (not of the food) but mostly a lot of words.

Eggs every way: Egg Nachos, Egg Pizza, Egg Guacamole. Any kind of pancakes you can think of: Mac n Cheese Pancakes, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pancakes, Postmodern Pancakes (bits of pancakes on a pancake!!) all made with Aunt Jemima Frozen Pancake Batter. Salads where the main ingredients are meat and cheese. Weird international salads: Thai Cobb salad, Mexican Cesar salad. Soups. Sandwiches. Burgers. YUM! I’m getting hungry. Maybe I’ll have some Chicken Tortilla Avocado Soup with a side of banana guacamole while I contemplate the sign in Shopsin’s that reads “all our cooks wear condoms”. Wait, what? Bless that cantankerous old New Yorker. He's still going strong today.

Title: Eat me : the food and philosophy of Kenny Shopsin

Author: Kenny Shopsin and Carolynn Carreño; foreword by Calvin Trillin

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2008

ISBN: 9780307264930

18 February, 2015

The screaming of the innocent by Unity Dow [Christine, Takapuna Library]

Although this book is set in Botswana and the protagonists are mostly women this is a far darker story than those about Precious Ramotswe.

Here is Amantle, a brave young woman with ambition to be a doctor. As part of her training she is sent to the nurses' station in a village far from the capital, Gabrone. There she discovers a box of bloodied clothes, that once belonged to a girl who disappeared five years ago.  The villagers believe that the girl, Neo, was 'harvested' for use in witchcraft.  This is not an unreasonable theory in Botswana; some men believe that eating  human body parts can make them more powerful or richer.

There is a huge division between the sophisticated city dwellers and the plain-living villagers but corruption and superstition taint the whole society. Just as well there are brave women such as Amantle and her friends who persevere to get justice.

The screaming of the innocent

Title: The screaming of the innocent
Author: Unity Dow
Publisher: Spinifex           

Māori art for kids by Julia Noana [Anne, Helensville Library]

This title has rocketed itself up my personal must-buy list. If you have crafty kids – or adults – and need some inspiration, then check it out. 

Fifteen traditional pieces of Māori art are profiled. Each entry includes a history of the piece, a modern artist’s re-imagining, and an art or craft activity based on the piece. 

Get ready for Matariki with the manu tukutuku (kite) activity. Get recycling with a kowhaiwhai container. Beach comb for supplies to make a koru. Be inspired. 
Utterly brilliant. 

Title: Māori art for kids
Creators: Julie Noanoa; with photography by Norm Heke
ISBN: 9781927213148. 
Publisher: Craig Potton.  
Publication date: 2014. 

17 February, 2015

Malicious Damage: The Defaced Library Books of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton, by Ilsa Colsell [Claire G, Grey Lynn Library]

In 1962, an extraordinary court case in London resulted a prison sentence of six months for two “frustrated actors and frustrated authors”. They were guilty of stealing and damaging books from Islington Libraries – crimes that brought them to the attention of the press and hence a wider public than the irate customers of small libraries.

Five years on, Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell would again be in the headlines, but that is another story and, to author Ilsa Colsell’s credit, only a small part of Malicious Damage. Instead she describes the artistry shown by the men in their remarkable book collages, such as the Collins Guide to Roses, the cover of which was altered to feature the face of a monkey. “Thus anthropomorphised,” she writes, “the rose’s stem took on the guise of a saucily arched back, its unopened buds the raised paws of a provocative exclamation. It was this book that Orton later thought had tipped their case from prank to iniquity.”

Colsell reflects on the social context that resulted in the punishment of Messrs Orton and Halliwell. That these creative collaborators were (illegally) homosexual is never far from people’s minds, though only “a very strong emotional relationship between the two” was mentioned in the press.

They maintained separate single beds in their tiny flat, and decorated the walls with an intricate collage of pictures taken from the library books they borrowed or stole. Orton was a playwright; he would become famous as such for Entertaining Mr Sloane. Halliwell was an under-recognised artist and editor;* his best-known work would be the eventual murder–suicide that cut short both their lives. Together they gained further posthumous fame as a result of Prick Up Your Ears – a biography and an Alan Bennett screenplay,** and a film.

Following a foreword by Orton’s sister and an introductory essay (‘A Genius Like Us’) by Philip Hoare, Malicious Damage visits the scene of the library-book crimes – the flat – with fold-out photos taken that year by the Islington police, then Ilsa Colsell’s interesting and insightful text ensues. The later, full-colour pages of the slim volume show surviving book-cover collages and rewritten blurbs in their satirical, subversive, surreal glory: this is an art book, after all.

The transparent jacket is not, as I first thought, a library-supplied barrier to multiple sets of sticky fingers, but a feature of the finished product. On the one hand it gives the designer’s nod to the look of a common library book; on the other it suggests sophistication and rarity. The hard cover beneath that jacket is almost entirely unadorned. It’s a pale grey that gives particular impact to the narrow black capitals of the debossed title, creating a sense of austerity, even severity. The end papers, though also plain, balance the black and the grey with a lilac blush, perhaps approaching the light pink that (we’re told) a young Kenneth Halliwell chose for the walls of his bedroom.

Malicious Damage is the first release from Donlon Books.*** It was printed in Spain, published in London by an Irish bookseller, then judged one of “The Most Beautiful Swiss Books” of 2013 – a title for which it was eligible thanks to designer Roland Brauchli.

The book is meticulously prepared and presented, and I recommend you borrow the single copy that our network of 55 public libraries has acquired. But please, dear reader, bring it back – and do refrain from using Auckland Libraries books (apart from those we’ve withdrawn) to create collages of your own.

* Perhaps to remedy the lack of recognition, this book’s subtitle puts Halliwell first. 

** Is it superficially apt that both of these are held in the basement of Auckland Libraries' Central City branch?
*** “Donlon” could be an outsider/invert anagram for “London”, in keeping with the company’s interest in countercultural books. In fact it is the owner’s surname.

Title: Malicious Damage – The Defaced Library Books of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton 

Author: Ilsa Colsell
Published: 2013, London
Publisher: Donlon Books
ISBN: 9780957609501

14 February, 2015

Where We Going Daddy? Jean-Louis Fournier [Sue W, Central]

This is such a beautiful book, a lyrical declaration of love for the the author's disabled sons. It's achingly beautiful, absurdly funny and very moving.

The book is a collection of sound bites, a deeply personal communication between the author and his two boys. It is like reading a  love letter; a profoundly intimate communication between the writer and the recipient - only what makes it so poignant is the boys will never be able to read and understand the emotions, thoughts and feelings contained within.

I found myself marvelling at the beauty of the writing, the humour, the honesty, and the overwhelmingly huge emotions which far outreach such a slim book.

It seems way too early in the year to be saying this is my best read of the year, so instead I will say it's definitely the most beautiful read of the past six months.

Title: Where We Going Daddy?
Author: Jean-Louis Fournier; translated by Adriana Hunter
Publisher:  Press New York 2010
ISBN: 9781590513385

13 February, 2015

The colour of of food: a memoir of life, love & dinner by Anne Else [Suneeta, Highland Park Library]

“I fell in love with this book from the start” writes Elisabeth Marrow of the Daily Post.

Many others have been similarly delighted  with this memoir by Kiwi writer, blogger and food lover, Anne Else. Here Else, who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Literature in 2004, dishes up a delicious account of how food flavours life, as she dips into her experiences of  motherhood, marriage, divorce, her own adoption and the heart-breaking death of loved ones. All the time, food and cooking are never far away, constant companions that see her through the ups and downs. 

The ten chapters served up can be viewed as ten portions of her life, starting with the early years that begin at age 3 when she discovers herself eating “crunchy, crumbly, satisfying rich dark soil”  to getting married at 19, having two children, moving to Albania with husband Chris - who later leaves her, then meeting and marrying Harvey with whom she shares love, companionship and food. 

The death of her young son and in the end the death of Harvey are when she is at her lowest; still she writes bravely and cheerfully. This is a warm and honestly told life story pictured largely through the joyful experiences of eating and sharing food.

The colour of food was Listener’s choice for best book of the year in 2013 and is accompanied by some of the author's favourite recipes and titles of inspiring memoirs and cook books. 

For an online gourmet experience, visit Anne Else's blog, Something else to eat.

Author: Anne Else
ISBN: 9781927249154
Published: 2014
Publisher: Awa Press

11 February, 2015

Asunder by Chloe Aridjis [Biddy, Highland Park]

This unusual novel follows Marie, a young woman who works as a guard at the National Gallery in London. She drifts quietly through her days, donning her gray uniform, her near-invisibility a stark contrast to the splendour of the art works surrounding her. She has chosen this career as she has "always been more interested in being than becoming" and appears content in her contemplative role, following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather Ted.

Marie's days involve warning visitors not to stand too close to the masterpieces at times or merely watching for any nuances that may hint of threatening behaviour. She is aware of the possible dangers to the collection as Ted experienced a rude interruption one day in 1914 when the suffragette Mary Richardson slashed Velasquez's Rokeby Venus as he slipped while running to apprehend her.

Marie accepts an invitation from her friend Daniel, an aspiring poet and guard at Tate Britain, to join him on a two week break to Paris. There is a hint that their relationship might move to another level but this doesn't eventuate and their break is interrupted by Pierre from Stockholm who demands all of Daniel's attention and forces Marie back into her familiar role of silent observer.

Marie joins the two men on a tour of a hamlet in Burgundy, Challement, where they visit a chateau in a state of "wondrously indifferent dilapidation". They encounter the chatelain, a recluse, who they disturb from his bed in one of the enormous chimneys in the chateau. Marie is deeply affected by the encounter and it leads her to change her life when they return to London.

This is a true literary novel where Aridjis' poetic use of language is a delight throughout the book.

Title: Asunder
Author: Chloe Aridjis
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, London
Date: 2013
ISBN: 9780701187415

03 February, 2015

The look of love by Sarah Jio [Kathy, Collections Development]

Totally, unashamedly romantic!

I have read and enjoyed a number of Jio's books and this title is one I’ve enjoyed the most because it has such a clever premise.

Jane is a florist in Seattle. She has always had unexplained episodes of blurred vision and has been under the care of a neurologist all her life without any satisfactory diagnosis. Just before she turns 29 she meets a mysterious Frenchwoman who reveals what the blurred vision indicates – the ability to recognise true love. Jane must witness and record the fabled 'six types of love' before she turns 30.

Jane has many couples around her and love comes to them all in different ways. The characters are varied and all are endearing in their own individual ways and there is almost a fairy-tale feel about the story which makes it all the more charming. It's not long, less than 300 pages, so perfect to read when you want a break from more challenging books. I loved the cover too - it made me think of Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s.

An engaging read that reminds us that love is all around us and not always in the ways we expect.

Author: Sarah Jio
ISBN: 9780142180532
Published: 2014
Publisher: Plume

02 February, 2015

Life on air: memoirs of a broadcaster by David Attenborough [Surani, Waitakere Central library]

Having grown up watching nature documentaries on TV hearing the distinct voice of David Attenborough explaining some strange and bizarre creature; imagine my surprise when I found this heavy tome about his life! David Attenborough, or Sir David as he is now known, started his career in broadcasting from the young age of 26 and six decades later is still going strong. We learn about his rise to controlling BBC2, how he introduced colour television to Britain, his encounters with celebrities including the Queen herself, and the many remarkable journeys he embarked on to bring those memorable documentaries.

Life on air is not just an amazing account of David Attenborough's passion for the natural world, but he also tells us of the hardships he faced filming in the exotic and far flung regions of the world, and the advancement of technology as film making involved techniques like CGI and 3D. Each chapter in this book focuses on the different documentaries he has made and it brought them vividly into my mind's eye. This is a delightful and often funny read as Sir David recounts minor mishaps and other equally hilarious episodes in his life.

I found this updated version a truly inspirational and fascinating read!! If you like me grew up watching those amazing documentaries, then you will love reading about this gentle man who continues to inspire and educate us about our planet and all the other millions of species who call it home.

Title: Life on air: memoirs of a broadcaster
Author: David Attenborough
ISBN: 9781849908528
Published: 2014
Publisher: London: BBC Books