January 21, 2011

Librarians reveal their personal bests

No, not that kind of personal best! The best books they read in 2010, by some of Auckland Libraries' most assiduous readers.

Finishing the hat : collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim 
     -- Rex McGregor

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Much has been written about the era of King Henry VIII but I found this a fascinating account through the character of Thomas Cromwell. I was fully emersed in the physical, social and political environment of that time because of the tremendous research and narrative skill of Hilary Mantel.
     -- Susan Jenkins

So much for that by Lionel Shriver
It is a terrible indictment of the US health care system, plus a great story about love, marriage and how illness affects an entire family. It has a subplot that would scare any reader off having elective cosmetic surgery too.
     -- Alison Fitzpatrick
The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection
by Martin Page
I'd go for  this humorous little novella  with its very Morrissey-esque sounding title. Protagonist Virgil is the new anti-hero who goes into a existential tail spin of self-analysis and navel gazing into past relationships. Best read in one sitting.

Fever, How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind For 500,000 Years by Sonia Shah
Interesting read looking at the insect that kills one million a year.
     -- Barry O'Callaghan

Room by Emma Donoghue
The perception and psychology of this story that is portrayed through the eyes of the five year old is no less than stunning. Harrowing and tragic, yet softened by the boy's voice and the love from the mother while they endure life locked in an 11 sq foot room.
     -- Di Stodart

Sydney Bridge upside down by David Ballantyne
I totally agreed with Kate de Goldi's opinion in the foreword that this book is an underestimated New Zealand masterpiece. A  surreal vision of an isolated New Zealand coastal settlement, seen through the eyes of a troubled boy.  Sydney Bridge Upside Down is a horse, who figures menacingly in the narrator's nightmares. Strange and creepy stuff!
    -- Robin Whitworth

Hand me Down World
by Lloyd Jones
Simplicity of prose, stunningly crafted, yet so much depth.

Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
Quirky tale of polygamist sect leader's bumbling humanity and the pitfalls of living amongst so much oestrogen and warring factions within his harem of women
     --Sue Wilkinson

The Help by Kathryn  Stockett 
An  unputdownable story of the real lives of  black women who serve as domestics in white households in the 1960’s in Mississippi.

U is for Undertow  by Sue Grafton
This writer just gets better and better. Kinsey Millhone, a private investigator, is hired to discover what happened to a four year old child some twenty years ago.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Beautifully paced family centred novel about what happens when even the most devoted mother plays down her son’s isolation and low self esteem.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonsen
I loved this book from the start to the finish! Life in a typical English village – much divided and completely believable.

The Nobodies’ Album by Carolyn Parkhurst
Well told story that keeps you with her all the way. Mother and son fiction.

The Misogynist by Piers Paul Read
Funny and plausible story  of retired Jomier who falls in love late in life but can’t lose the habits that got him divorced and single  the last time round.

Eleven by Mark Watson
Cleverly written -  focusing on the ways in which a single event or decision not to intervene in a random act affects a group  of people who unknowingly connect with each other.
     -- Hilary Arrowsmith

January 08, 2011

Literary doppelgangers

New Year's Resolution: Resolve those literary mix-ups 

Does this happen to everyone to have authors you always mix up with another author? Let me say without shame that until just recently I was forever confusing the poets John Berryman and John Ashbery. "What? How can he have a new book of poetry? Didn't he kill himself?" Actually, if it comes to that, at one point I used to get James Merrill mixed up with both of them -- that "err" again, and a long-term partner named David like Ashbery's.

James Merrill got out of the mix when I read about him and David and the Ouija board when Alison Lurie's memoir about them came out -- five hundred pages of poetry dictated by a Ouija board was definitely madness enough to distinguish him forever. My problems with the other two persisted until a friend of mine declared John Berryman to be his favourite poet, which astounded me since of course I confused him with the long-winded, dare I say pompous (just my opinion) John Ashbery.

syndetics-lc"No!" said my friend. "He's the womanizing alcoholic who wrote brilliant poetry and killed himself by jumping off a bridge." So then I got a book of his poetry, and it was brilliant (see bottom of post) and guess what, I've got it now! I am even picturing his kind of nerdy specs, his grizzled beard, his amused but world-weary eye, as I write.

It feels so good that I've resolved that the first literary thing I'm going to do in 2011 is to clear up the other cases of literary doppelgangerism which I find so annoying, which would be:

1. Richard Wilbur and Richard Howard

Richard Wilbur:
born 1921
Poet, translator of French literature (Moliere, Racine, Mallarmé)
US Poet Laureate
Pulitzer prize winner

Richard Howard:
born 1929
Poet, translator of French literature (Camus, Baudelaire)
Poet laureate of New York
Pulitzer prize winner

Which one has a French bulldog named Gide, wore capes and hung out with Edmund White?

2. Geoff Dyer and Geoff Nicholson

Geoff Dyer:
born 1958 lives in London
clever British author of both fiction and non-fiction

Geoff Nicholson:
born 1953 divides his time between London and Los Angeles
clever British author of both fiction and non-fiction

Which one wrote Paris Trance and which one wrote Bleeding London? Which one wrote The lost art of walking and which one wrote Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It? 

3. WD Snodgrass and WS Merwin

WD Snodgrass:
American poet, born 1926
wrote a beautiful poem with a lute in it

WS Merwin:
American poet, born 1927
wrote a beautiful poem with a flute in it

Which one looked like an elf, was married to Dido and they were friends of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes?


Richard Howard

2. Geoff Dyer wrote Paris Trance and Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It and Geoff Nicholson wrote Bleeding London and The lost art of walking

WS Merwin

I've definitely got the Richards and the Ws straight now, but I still had to look back at the catalogue for the Geoffs. They're going to take some more work. Maybe someone out there has already devised a system? Please let me know!

In the meantime,here's a modern Inferno from the brilliant John Berryman:

Parting as descent

The sun rushed up the sky; the taxi flew;
There was a kind of fever on the clock
That morning. We arrived at Waterloo
With time to spare and couldn't find my track.
The bitter coffee in a small cafe
Gave us our conversation. When the train
Began to move, I saw you turn away
And vanish, and the vessels in my brain
Burst, the train roared, the other travellers
In flames leapt, burning on the tilted air
Che si cruccia, I heard the devils curse
And shriek with joy in the place beyond prayer.

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