December 30, 2016

Great Summer Read: Reread a childhood favourite

Of all the challenges, this is the one that most has me wondering what the top choice will end up being.

Roald Dahl is the most popular choice for now, with The Twits, The Witches, The BFG and Matildain that order.  

(If the thought just occurred to you that Hey, I could watch The BFG for Challenge number 8, "Watch a movie based on a book", may I say that yes, you could, but it does have a bit of a wait list as all new releases do. But do you know of the two other Roald Dahl adaptations which are firmly up there among the movies no child -- and few adults -- should miss: the hilarious Matilda, directed by and starring Danny DeVito, and the whimsical stop-motion James and the Giant Peach, with the wonderful Pete Postlethwaite and, please quote me, "See Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley as Aunts Spiker and Sponge and die".)

Enid Blyton is in next place, a generation older but having such a long career and being so prolific that it hardly matters, and let's not forget about the handing-down. One for all: the reader of Five go to Mystery Moor who says "This book is sentimental to me as it's the first famous five book my mum gave me to read".

If Enid Blyton is sentimental to you too, have a look at the website of the Enid Blyton society. If you, for instance, read The magic faraway tree between 1971 and 2014, you'll be able to find your very cover among the 16 covers on the 16 editions from those years. Which was your era? Bell-bottom jeans? Roman sandals? With white socks? No socks? 

2014 edition
First edition, 1943

New Zealand titles: Two that I didn't know which have been logged are The house that grew by Jean Strathdee from 1979, a "positive rendering of an alternative lifestyle in the bush" (says, which hopefully doesn't yet seem overly dubious as a premise; and No one went to town by Phyllis Johnston, published in the same period but set in pioneer days, the story of a real-life family in the hills of Taranaki. Anyone else remember these?

Oldie-but-goldies:  Oliver Twist from 1838 is the oldest of all the books people have read for this challenge, followed by, to my great pleasure, The Jungle Bookfrom 1894. This is the book where you'll find the story "Rikki Tikki Tavi", recently voted by our table of librarians at our Christmas lunch the scariest story of their formative years, and an excellent read-aloud I could have included in my recommendations, although you do have to be ready to impersonate a snake, because if you don't hiss a line like "If you move I strike, and if you do not move I strike. Oh, foolish people, who killed my Nag!'' then it's never going to work.

Moving into the 20th century, we have The railway childrenAnne of Green Gables which I was shocked to discover was first published in 1908, I read that book as a kid and it didn't seem that old; Milly Molly Mandy, Mary Poppins, then at mid-century The snow goose ("I love this book as it brings back memories of reading with my Grandad" was the comment) and The Black Stallion, and moving into the post-Beatles'-first-LP era, Watership Down.

Welcome to this century: Put your hands together for those readers who had Percy Jackson and Jimmy Coates to accompany them in their childhoods! And Coraline!

What are you all re-reading for Challenge number 4? Let us know in the comments!

Anyone share any of these childhood favourites of mine?

Alice in Wonderland (my cult book)
Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web (still digesting their gifts and will be all my life)
Ramona the pest  (and pretty much everything Beverly Cleary wrote)
Mrs Piggle-wiggle (for giggles)
Pippi Longstocking (talk about strong female heroines)
The Little House books (“Now is now. It can never be a long time ago.” says Laura. Unless you are lucky enough to have a book to read like the Little House books)
Just so stories (and which was your favourite, oh best beloved? Mine was Cat who walked by himself)
The Little Grey Men (how I dreamed of building an airplane like theirs!) and Down the bright stream 
Little Women, Little men, and even more, the proto-feminist Eight Cousins and Rose in bloom
Treasure Island (one of the most perfect books ever written)
The Phantom Tollbooth (manifesto for curiosity!)

And finally, I want to especially mention The Borrowers. I want to mention The Borrowers in this context of re-reading childhood books, because it is the book where I most vividly and unmistakably remember the sensation of believing in its magic. At the back of our old wooden house, my sister and I noticed that moss was growing underneath one of those airing grates that houses have down at their foundations. We knew that it was because our borrowers were using the grate to empty out their buckets of water (our toothpaste tube tops!) after mopping the floor of the house they had made below our floorboards. We were sure that one day we would catch sight of them. Actually, I seem to remember we did, once, or maybe it was the flash of a piece of foil a borrower was using for a mirror as she dried her hair by their window that we saw. Yes, that would have been it.

December 22, 2016

Great Summer Read: Check out a book bundle

Check out a book bundle at your library

The Great Summer Read crowd (1412 challenges logged so far!) have been taking home some very mysterious bundles  -- names like "She walks in beauty", "What I did last summer" and "Expect the unexpected" stick out -- along with the less obscure but certainly even more enticing to some, "Dystopias","Thrillers", and "For the girls".

The key to this challenge is: don't think you have to read everything in the bundle. It's about discovery. You'll discover some you like, and some that aren't for you. That's fine! 

How far along do you have to read before you know that a book isn't even going to become something for you?

I'm always hearing people tell with perverse pride about how dogged they are about finishing a book, but I've never seen it as a virtue. More admirable to toss it and move on to something better, I say. Does anyone ever talk about a fabulous meal where the first three courses were unappetizing? On the other hand, there can be some hiccups as you get into a book and it can still turn out to be a thrilling read.

Try the astute rule devised by Nancy Pearl, the American librarian diva, model for the Shushing Librarian action figure and author of the bestselling Book lustwhich goes: 

You only need to read as many pages as the number you get by subtracting your age from 100, to know for sure if a book is worth continuing. 

Basically, by the time you're 99, you'll just need to read the first page.

Great Summer Read: Read a story to someone

Not necessarily to a child!

Don't make the mistake of looking at this challenge merely as a good one for parents of small children!

In the pre-broadcast entertainment era, reading out loud was an amusement as habitual as going for a coach ride-- for the social strata who had leisure time and literacy skills of course. In even older times, pre-medieval, there are records of people commenting with surprise on seeing someone read silently, it was so unusual. Kafka used to read his stories aloud and laugh until the tears ran.

Try reading a short story to someone your own age, or older, including much older. A friend, your auntie, your cat (yes, someone gloriously reported having done this)! 

Think ghost stories around the fire and try something chilling.  "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is a time-honoured read-aloud, with its deceptively normal opening, gradual building of apprehension, culminating in a terrible reveal. Plus, plenty to talk about afterwards, as everyone wants to know what it means. Shirley Jackson claimed she herself didn't know.

Or get yourself a collection of the haunting horror stories of Daphne Du Maurier. Read "The birds" and then watch Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation for Challenge #8, "Watch a movie or TV show based on a book", or "Don't look now", less widely known because Hitchcock didn't film it, but Nicholas Roeg did, an atmospheric bloodcurdler which made film history not just for its sex scenes between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, although perhaps most loudly for those.

Daphne Du Maurier

For something less frightening, but just as unsettling, try Ray Bradbury's otherworldly stories, often futuristic but not always. "The Fog Horn" is my favourite, a soul-stirring imagining of an ancient sea monster's tragic encounter with the modern world, inspired, Bradbury said, from his having come across the coils of a disused rollercoaster laid out on Venice Beach. If you want to have a look, you can read it online in plain-to-the-nth-degree text on the Internet Archive, or get it in print from the library as Bradbury would have wanted you to. He fought digitisation of his books tooth and claw, happily claiming his right to try to prevent the future.

How about a Sherlock Holmes story? My personal choice would be The hound of the Baskervilleswhich I've always thought of as a story but which I've just discovered is technically a novel. Let's call it a long story. You could tell yourself you're going to do in parts... and then see if you're able! It's another one you could pair with a film viewing - the 1939 Basil Rathbone classic or the 1950s version: Christopher Lee! Peter Cushing! A slew of other B-cinema names!

If you like the idea of the great sleuth but you want something easier to tackle at a sitting, I've checked it out (not being a Sherlock expert myself) and "A scandal in Bohemia" sounds like just what you need. It's only about a 10 minute read, and introduces a Sherlockian-fandom superfavourite, the shadowy Irene Adler. "To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman." is the first line of the story. You can read it online here.

You can't go wrong with any of the nine stories in Nine stories by JD Salinger.

If you prefer something more contemporary, which picks up on the maddening, sad and/or scary aspects of the world we inhabit today, without forgetting the comic side, try George Saunders. Have I ever been so disturbed by a story as "The semplica girl diaries" in Tenth of December? Possibly only by "The lottery". 

Or Tobias Wolff, and here I will point you to "Bullet in the Brain". Someone once phoned the library looking for this story right when I had the book in which it appears, Our story beginssitting on my bedside table. He was looking for it because he'd seen it described as one of the most perfect short stories ever written. I agreed! Unlike that customer, who had to wait for me to return the book (but I did the very next day, even though it wasn't even due yet, because bonding), you can now read it right away online aP.O.V. No.27 .

A Christmas story, given the season? O.Henry, master of the plot twist, wrote one of the most famous and sentimental Christmas stories of all time: The Gift of the Magi. You'll find it, and many of his other stories, online at the Literature Network, where you will also find such savoury read-alouds as Edgar Allan Poe's stories ("The cask of Amontillado"! "The Pit and the Pendulum"!), Oscar Wilde's heartbreaking fairy tales, Gogol's very funny classic "The nose" (a barber starts the day by finding a familiar-looking nose in his loaf of bread), and Ambrose Bierce's spectacular "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge".

And let's not forget that classic story "The Lady or the Tiger", whose very title has entered our language, referenced by both Sylvia Plath and Batman, an appropriate story to end on. I challenge you to read it (it's very short and very worth it) and find out why I say that!

Great Summer Read: Read a book

Challenge #1 is your wild card! You can pick any book at all. 

Where to start? 

Perhaps an intriguing title you spotted on someone's bookshelf while you were waiting for them to get off the phone? In my experience, it's rare that a book doesn't live up to its title. The possibility of an islandA tale for the time beingInvisible citiesThe left hand of darkness and Heart of darkness both. Stuff I forgot to tell my daughterDon't lets go to the dogs tonightThe spirit catches you and you fall down. All good reads. But if anyone has any examples of annoyingly misleading titles, please tip us off!

Or how about defying the received wisdom and choosing a book by its cover? Without even flipping it over to see what it says about the author, or if you recognise the names on the blurbs -- you know, those other guys signed to the same publishing conglomerate, or who taught at the author's creative writing programme. 

In today's publishing world, covers are usually going to tell you just as much as the blurbs, and they will always be more imaginative.

Quick! Match these adjectives to the books below. Tantalising. Wrenching. Seventies. Surreal. Was that hard?

If you're looking for something new to read, the best place to start is with the New Titles lists on our website. Because so many new books already have a waiting list when they are delivered to the library, you won't always see them on the shelves. Browsing the lists you'll find a cover photo and a summary for each title, and be able to request it in two clicks. It doesn't always mean going on a wait list -- it could be available, but just at another library, and you'll get it in short order!

The lists include fiction and non-fiction, audiobooks, ebooks, childrens, teens, DVDs, books in other languages and more. The fiction is divided by genre and there are an awesome 20 different lists, including graphic novels with 113 new titles this month, the second highest total after good old "general fiction" (ie non-genre).

If you're looking for non-fiction, there are 39 categories to choose among, including both a Cooking - Cakes and Dessert and a Cooking - Vegetarian, Low-fat, with 27 titles just this month, including one by an Emma Bacon, who clearly does not demonstrate the nominative determinative theory.

There's also a category called Human Society, to distinguish it from, I suppose, books about bees, penguins, bonobos, tetras and the like. I scrolled through books about violence and borders, terrorism and white supremacy, sex and evolution, which got me wondering about that "Human", but I was quickly reassured by encountering a book which promised to show me how to turn grocery shopping, lawn mowing and PowerPoint making into "sources for meaning and joy".

Happy hunting! Happy reading!

The Great Summer Read

Call out to everyone taking part -- or thinking of taking part -- in the Great Summer Read! Yes, you're still in time to start. There's no registration and you can log a challenge at any time, even on the very last day, 30 January.

And from now until then, we'll be posting tips and reading recommendations for the Great Summer Read challenges here on Books in the City.

Add your own Great Summer Reading experiences into the mix using the comments feature on any of the posts and you can tick off Challenge #10, "Share your read"! (Comments on earlier posts also count - no worries, reader who commented on the Into the River post!)

NB Although only Auckland Libraries members can go in the draw for the Great Summer Read prizes, anyone can enjoy trying the challenges and contributing comments. The more the merrier!

I've been hunting down (aka requesting) and bringing home my candidates for the Great Summer Read challenges and by now have a nice stash:

Karen's bedside table 

As you can see, I am a librocubicularist, someone who reads in bed, from the Latin libro, book, and cubiculum, bedchamber. A term invented by Christopher Morley, author of a book I'm going to be reading for the Great Summer Read, or more precisely rereading-- my choice for completing Challenge #4: "Reread a childhood favourite". 

Recently I saw a comment on social media where "pastime" was spelled "past time" -- it seems a lovely expression for Challenge #4, where past time and pastime become one and the same.

No I'm not going to say -- yet -- what book I'm using for Challenge #4. Also because I'm thinking of using two books from that same year in my childhood, a favourite year, the year I got my first job in a library. 

So keep checking in with Books in the City for ideas for your summer reading -- surely one of the finest pastimes ever!

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