October 30, 2015

Launch of The Dreaming Land by Martin Edmond




(All photos by Dan Liu)


You missed it? Don't worry. In an exciting first for Books in the City, we're offering a podcast of the event. We've asked Simon Comber from Readers Services, who presented on the night, to present it.


On a pleasant spring Tuesday evening in late October people gathered at Central City Library to celebrate the launch of Martin Edmond’s childhood memoir The dreaming land.

Martin Edmond has been writing acclaimed prose works since his debut in 1992, the haunting The autobiography of my father. Other significant works include Chronicle of the unsung (2005) and Dark night: walking with McCahon (2011). The launch of Edmond’s memoir this year coincides with his increasing acknowledgment as one of New Zealand’s best writers. In 2014 he was honoured by the New Zealand Society of Authors for his work, and this year he was the Michael King Writer's fellow.

The initiated and the curious turned up to have a wine in the Atrium before moving in to the Whare wānanga to listen to a discussion between Edmond and Peter Simpson, a former Associate Professor of English at Auckland University with an expert knowledge of, and large passion for New Zealand literature. Simpson had prepared thoughtful engaging questions, and Edmond never failed to reply with warmth and generosity, but what really made the discussion was the rapport between the two, and their obvious mutual respect as writers and scholars.





Stream the podcast to hear the discussion. Either listen via Soundcloud below or search for "Auckland Libraries" in iTunes or on your favourite podcast app to download the episode.


October 18, 2015

Patti Smith on the childhood pleasure of reading books too old for you

(Photo Jesse Dittmar)

From Patti Smith's new memoir M Train:

There were red rosebuds in a small vase in the bathroom at 'Ino. I draped my coat over the empty chair across from me, and then spent much of the next hour drinking coffee and filling pages of my notebook with drawings of single-celled animals and various species of plankton. It was strangely comforting, for I remembered copying such things from a heavy textbook that sat on the shelf above my father's desk. He had all kinds of books rescued from dustbins and deserted houses and bought for pennies at church bazaars. The range of subjects from ufology to Plato to the Planarian reflected his ever-curious mind. I would pore over this particular book for hours, contemplating its mysterious world. The dense text was impossible to penetrate but somehow the monochromic renderings of living organisms suggested many colors, like flashing minnows in a fluorescent pond. This obscure and nameless book, with its paramecia, algae, and amoebas, floats alive in memory. Such things that disappear in time that we find ourselves longing to see again. We search for them in close-up, as we search for our hands in a dream.

My father claimed that he never remembered his dreams, but I could easily recount mine. He also told me that seeing one's own hands within a dream was exceedingly rare. I was sure I could if I set my mind to it, a notion that resulted in a plethora of failed experiments. My father questioned the usefulness of such a pursuit, but nevertheless invading my own dreams topped my list of impossible things one must one day accomplish.

In grade school I was often scolded for not paying attention. I suppose I was busy thinking about such things or attempting to untangle the mystery of an expanding network of seemingly unanswerable questions. The hill-of-beans equation, for example, occupied a fair portion of second grade. I was contemplating a problematic phrase in The Story of Davy Crockett by Enid Meadowcroft. I wasn't supposed to be reading it as it was in the bookcase for third graders, but drawn to it I slipped it into my schoolbag and read it in secret. I instantly identified with young Davy, who was tall and gangly, telling equally tall tales, getting into scrapes, and forgetting his chores. His pa reckoned that Davy wouldn't amount to a hill of beans. I was only seven and these words stopped me in my tracks. What could his pa have meant by that? I lay awake at night thinking about it. What was a hill of beans worth? Would a hill of anything be worth a boy like Davy Crockett?

I followed my mother around the A&P pushing the shopping cart.

--Mommy, how much would a hill of beans cost?

--Oh, Patricia, I don't know. Ask your father. I'll take the cart and you go pick out your cereal and don't lag behind.

I quickly did as I was told, grabbing a box of shredded wheat. Then I was off to the dry-goods aisle to check the price of beans, confronted with a new dilemma. What kind of beans? Black beans kidney beans fava beans lima beans green beans navy beans all kinds of beans. To say nothing of baked beans, magic beans, and coffee beans.

In the end I figured Davy Crockett was far beyond measuring, even by his pa. Despite any shortcomings he labored hard to be of use and paid off all of his father's debts. I read and reread the forbidden book, following him down paths that set my mind in unanticipated directions. If I got lost along the way I had a compass that I had found embedded in a pile of wet leaves I was kicking my way through. The compass was old and rusted but it still worked, connecting the earth and the stars. It told me where I was standing and which way was west but not where I was going and nothing of my worth.


-- Excerpt from M Train by Patti Smith, published by Alfred A. Knopf


Patti Smith on reading books too old for her-- and a lot more, I should have said. 

I've been reading 'M Train' all weekend. It's as singular and as moving as her earlier memoir 'Just kids'. But if 'Just kids' had something of the 'One thousand and one nights' about it, with its magic talismans, enchanted trips to Coney Island, even a young prince in the person of Robert Mapplethorpe, 'M train' would be more akin to the classical era narrative 'Anabasis' by the Greek historian Xenophon.  The term anabasis means an expedition from a coastline into the interior of a country.  Although Patti Smith is of course at least a continent.


October 14, 2015

Into the river is no longer a banned book!




"I have always imagined paradise as a kind of library."

If -- as I imagine -- you're visiting Books in the City because you like reading about books, chances are you've already encountered this quote from the great Argentinian poet, writer, and essayist Jorge Luis Borges.

Maybe you also know that for many years Borges earned his living as "first assistant" at a municipal library in Buenos Aires, cataloging books down in the basement (also, apparently, catching up on his reading), until he was dismissed for political reasons when Juan Perón came to power – only to be appointed the director of the National Public Library of Argentina after Perón was deposed.

My appreciation of this feel-good quote for readers par excellence was turned upside down recently when I read Paul Monette’s Borrowed time: an Aids memoir. Monette's friend Roger Horwitz (I use the word 'friend' because in the book Monette spends some time telling us how it is the term he prefers to use for what another might call lovers or partners), under assault from HIV in the pre-antiretroviral days, comes to the traumatic realisation that he is losing his sight. Monette recalls Borges, who famously also lost his sight in mid-life, and reveals -- guess what! That the quote as we’ve been fed it is all wrong!

Borges was not musing dreamily about his enjoyment of books. He was commenting on how his encroaching blindness meant that he would never be able to read again (this was the 1950s, no audiobooks, and he never learned Braille). And this twist of fate had happened to him, of all people -- “I, who had always thought Paradise to be a kind of library”.

Ironically, a decade earlier, in his famous story "The Library of Babel", Borges had described how the very infinity of the hexagons of the library which held all books meant that the possibility of finding any one book was equal to zero, and how this made men despair:

The certitude that some shelf in some hexagon held precious books and that these precious books were inaccessible, seemed almost intolerable.

The other night I went to hear Ted Dawe talk at Central City Library about his book Into the River, which had been banned in New Zealand by the Office of Film and Literature Classification while their board of review examined a submission from the conservative Christian lobby group Family First.

What powerful things came out of the mouth of this white-haired ex-teacher of English (35 years, Aorere College, Dilworth School) and author of acclaimed books for young adults, including Thunder Road (New Zealand Post Children's Senior Book of the Year and New Zealand Post Best First Book in 2004) and Into the river (New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and Best Young Adult Fiction Book in 2013), with his firm but lightly quizzical expression.

On being a writer:

"I write from a sense of mission. I want to create readers by giving them a powerful and memorable experience. I believe one novel can create a reader. I know it can, because it happened to me."

"Inspiring new readers has been my life's work."

"My iwi is the tribe of writers."

About Into the River: 

"I wanted to tell a powerful story and leave nothing out."

"The events depicted in the novel are blunt, coarse, immoral, illegal and shocking. But never gratuitous. Every one has a reason."

On its banning:

"Writers hold a mirror up to the world and sometimes the world doesn't like what it sees. This is true in New Zealand. If 'Into The River' has made aspects of our society look ugly, then hiding the mirror will not make it beautiful again." 

On the importance of reading:

"Novels are the last bastion of introspection."

On his reaction when he was notified the book was being examined:

 "I didn't realise we still censored books!"

As we headed out of the library, we passed a display which had been put up for the occasion, pictured above. I had been well aware of the long travail of Into the River, in and out of the censor's office, on and off our shelves, but the combination of Dawe's words, scribbled in my little notebook, and the physical representation of those small rectangular objects (smaller than a breadbox!) which according to some people are so dangerous that they must be kept off library shelves, made the oppression suddenly overwhelming. How did Borges put it? "Almost intolerable".

Today, the news is just in that the Film and Literature Classification Board of Review, following an appeal by Auckland Libraries to lift the 14+ restriction on Into the river,  a counter-appeal by Family First and a subsequent restriction order banning the book from being given, lent or even exhibited, have now made their decision. Into the river is to be "unrestricted". We are releasing all our copies back on to the shelves and/or into the hands of the more than fifty readers who optimistically put themselves on the wait list.

It would be nice to think that some of those who were lobbying for it to be restricted are on that list, but I doubt it. As Ted Dawe pointed out:

The book's critics often start by saying  "I've never read the book and I don't intend to."

What does that tell you?



Ted Dawe at Central Library, unable lawfully to "exhibit" his book


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Find out more:

Read an interview with Michelle Baker, Acting Manager of the Information Unit at the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Listen to a podcast of the talk:

 
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