Monday, 31 August 2015

Reading Between The Wines

Have you always wanted to join a book group? I have.

Have you tried and failed, because you couldn't decide on a reading list, or because you're all talk and no organisation? I have.

Have you finally felt cohesive and confident enough, after a couple of wines, to really bond with people about literature, only to find yourself shy again the next day? I have.

I'm sure you all have too, and luckily enough, my lovely manager Laura has addressed all of these issues, and organised Reading Between The Wines. It's basically what it sounds like - we want you to come to bars and drink with us (responsibly, of course) and talk about books! There are no reading lists, no rules, and no expectations and we will be armed with recommendations and actual books, library cards in case you're not a library member (shame on you!) and if you don't know how to do the digital library and e-book thing, we can help you!

We're having our first shindig this Thursday 3rd September at the Gypsy Tea Room (455 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn) from 6pm. No pressure to be a sparkling wit or equipped with soaring intellectual insights, just come, hang out, eat bar snacks, and maybe make a new best friend.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Werewolves, walking trunks and magical dresses!

My 'second' update! The trouble with reading books you don't know about is that you're always going to come across one or two that didn't particularly float your boat. Fortunately, books aren't written to take everyone's fancy, so if a werewolf romance or shenanigans in love (or fantastical tourists) sound like a bit of you, then grab these books for what could be your idea of a good time.

A book by a female author - Bitten by Kelly Armstrong

Elena is your average everyday modern woman - except, she's also a werewolf. The only female werewolf in the world, in fact. After being transformed against her will by her lover, Clay, and finding she didn't fit in well, she left her 'pack' to try her hand at becoming a normal person again, living in cities and working your normal 9-5 job with an even normal-er fiancee. It's been years that her pack has tried to contact her, but now the Alpha is calling her back - the pack family is under siege and someone is murdering humans on their land.

A paranormal romance, this one was the first werewolf romance I've read since Twilight (if you could call it one). While not a huge fan of Elena herself, I could definitely see how Armstrong became the immensely popular author she is today if this was her first in what is now a HUGE series.

A book by an author you love that you haven't read - The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

I'm a fan of the hugely popular Discworld series, but I came in late to the books - starting with Going Postal. I had read a few of the older ones, but never bothered to read the first, as I'd already seen the movie. However, when this category came up, I thought I might as well. An earlier work and you can tell, it was still interesting to read of the 'beginning' of the Disc.

Rincewind is by far the most useless wizard in Ankh-Morpork. He only knows one spell, and even then he's never used it. When Ankh-Morpork's first ever tourist Twoflower turns up, with a sentient trunk and bundles of gold, it's Rincewind who gets stuck with him as a tour guide. All his life, Rincewind has tried to avoid trouble - but all Twoflower seems to want is trouble. Seeing dragons, meeting barbarians and getting in pub fights is all on his to-do list, and Rincewind is unfortunately dragged along.

A book with a love triangle - The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

Cora is a scientist, with no time for love, or feelings of any heartfelt manner. Walter is the young man with a heartbreaking voice at the bookstore, who is hopelessly in love with her. And Etta is Cora's troublemaker of a grandmother, who sells dresses that are magic. Everyone is nursing a broken heart, and only Etta takes any steps to fix them. Not hers, of course, but definitely Cora's. When Etta's magic goes awry, nothing goes to plan as Walter finds 'love' elsewhere and Cora gets entangled in a strange crime regarding her parents death.

Van Pragg is a unique storyteller. Every chapter follows a different characters perspective and gives insight to how everyone reacts to Etta's well intentioned magic. The different perspectives did get me a bit confused at times, but it was a magical read with lots of twists and turns.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Computer Chess

 Computer Chess is set in a cheap Californian hotel, around 1980, and revolves around an annual chess tournament for programmers. Or as one character puts it, "the computer plays chess versus other computers.

Visually the movie is bold, idiosyncratic and shot like a low budget eighties documentary. Director Andrew Bujalski and cinematographer Matthias Grunksy used old 1969 Sony video cameras, the resulting footage in hazy tones of black and white. There's also the occasional split screen and overlaying text like an image on an  overhead projector.

The cast includes many non-actors some of whom are software developers, who add credence to their lines. Their costume and appearance, nerdy and awkward. They look more like the real deal. Less like Hollywood actors dulled down for comedic effect.

You could be lulled into thinking nothing much is happening beyond the chess tournament. But strange things happen. There is a short sequence of washed-out colour that ends with one character stuck in a repeated loop of movement like a chess piece. There's also an influx of cats, night wanderings down long corridors and a lingering 'mysterious lady' who haunts the hotel lobby.

Also staying at the hotel, touchy feely couples attending a relationship workshop. When the two groups interact it is often uncomfortably funny, as in one programmer's re-birthing and another young reserved programmer's dalliances with an older swinging couple.

Initially Computer Chess looks like a dry documentary from the digital dawn about the semblances of artificial intelligence. But it's weird and funny, with a lot of strange things happening beneath the surface. 


Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women

I haven't blogged here in a very long time. Probably due to being back at university, but also because to be honest I haven't enjoyed anything as much as I enjoyed reading the Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, edited by A. Susan Williams which I read, I think, about a year ago now. Basically everything I've read since then has been an author I discovered thanks to this anthology, and everything else has been re-reading what I'd already read by familiar authors in the collection. So, I thought I would just get it off my chest how much I adore it. It's an incredible anthology, possibly the only collection of short stories of which I haven't sneakily skipped a couple (or a few, or like half?). And, every time I go back into it I find out something new and impressive about various authors. It includes the obvious gold standard queens of female fantasy - Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Leguin, and our beloved Janet Frame. However, the lesser known writers are actually just as good or even better. I don't know if they're really lesser known, I figured out I was a bit late to the party with Shirley Jackson, but anyhow. A little list of my favourite figures from the anthology:

Leigh Brackett: Her story in the anthology, 'The Lake of Gone Forever' is a stand out to me, and I just found out she wrote the screenplay for 'The Empire Strikes Back'??? I'm embarrassed I wasn't already reading her. If you like good science fiction, find her here!

Anna Kavan: 'A Bright Green Field' also stuck out to me in this collection (for all the good things you want in sci fi/fantasy: imagery, spookiness, palpable political allegory) and I then found out she has some ties to the New Zealand literary landscape. Kavan spent 18 months or so here, meeting the likes of Frank Sargeson, and offending some with her bleak characterizations of New Zealand published back in the UK - quoted as saying that New Zealanders live "in temporary shacks, uneasily, as reluctant campers too far from home". In 'Anna Kavan's New Zealand', Jennifer Sturm offers a broad and sympathetic reading of Kavan and her time here, analyzing the effect of her time here on later works (notably her novel Ice), and her indeed quite fond feelings toward our still relatively young, and culturally ambiguous country. It's an interesting, if slightly glum read - Kavan was not a happy woman, but, as often goes her writing did not suffer. You can find more of her here, and I suggest you do.

Leonora Carrington: I had only known Carrington as a surrealist artist, and her painting 'The Giantess" graces the anthology's cover. Her writing is as wonderful and odd as her art, and "My Flannel Knickers" manages to stand out in the collection at not quite 3 pages long. You can find more of her here.

Christine Brooke-Rose: I adore Christine Brooke-Rose, and fell in love with her about a paragraph in to her story 'The Foot', narrated by the phantom pain in the amputated foot of a beautiful young female patient. Very nasty and disturbing, and full of exhaustingly mellifluous sentences. Brooke-Rose is not easy to read, in fact she can be very hard to read, but she is very, very worth it. If you want an author that plays with language and narrative stance, but doesn't leave you feeling like that was the entire point of the exercise, please read her! After I read 'The Foot', I was dying to read her collection 'Go When You See the Green Man Walking' and tried to suggest a purchase, only to learn it was out of print. However, a few months later on in October 2014 I learned that it had been republished, and promptly had it ordered in, and you can find it here.

I could go on forever. Joanna Russ introduces the anthology and is another favourite, and whose literary criticism is essential, particularly 'How to Suppress Women's Writing' which I am suggesting for purchase right this second. Kit Reed is definitely worth a look. Muriel Spark is in there, Octavia Butler too. I'm not even really a fan of Anne McCaffrey (bit romantic for me?) but that said her short story in this anthology "The Ship Who Sang" might actually be my favourite (and, to be honest, it's very romantic and made me tear up). I recommend this anthology to everyone I know, and am slowly making it my mission where possible to add as many of its authors as I can into our collection. If you're into sci fi or feminism then it's essentially a guide to people you should know about, and would like to have been. Read it!