Book review: Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Hold Me Closer cover imageHold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan, Text Publishing, ISBN 9781922182722, RRP $26

Anyone who’s read Will Grayson, Will Grayson (hereafter known as WG, WG) knows the eponymous characters weren’t necessarily the star of that show, um, book. No, the star was definitely Tiny Cooper, WG1’s best friend and WG2’s short-term boyfriend. Tiny (ironically nicknamed because of his big bones) was definitely out, definitely proud and definitely a fan of musicals and show tunes.

A large part of the WG, WG plot revolved around Tiny’s self-written, self-produced musical about his life. Apparently WG, WG fans loved this idea so much they inundated the authors, David Levithan and John Green, with requests for more Tiny Cooper. David Levithan has obliged with this, the book version of the musical of the life of Tiny Cooper.

And what a life. What a book! I loved WG, WG (and reread it in in anticipation of Hold Me Closer – I’d forgotten how mean WG2 could be, and was to Tiny) and Hold Me Closer was glorious, loud, sparkly fun. It also sent me to Spotify to start a “Musicals” playlist.

With songs like Oh, What a Big Gay Baby!, The Size of the Package, and The Nosetackle (Likes Tight Ends) this is such a funny read and also really does reveal quite a lot more about Tiny Cooper, especially as he provides production notes throughout. It’s also full of lovely role models for all sorts of people, a few good rebuttals about negative stereotypes and some thumbing of noses at bullies and the like. A double pack of this and WG, WG would be the perfect gift set for all teenagers.

The only thing better than the book of Hold Me Closer? A production. Please please PLEASE someone do this. I want to know what these songs sound like. I want to sing them into my hairbrush in the privacy of my own home. Just wonderful.

Book review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro returns with an intriguing, infuriating masterpiece

The Buried Giant cover imageThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber & Faber, ISBN 9780571315048, RRP $36.99

It’s been ten years since Ishiguro’s last novel, Never Let Me Go*. Ten long years for Ishiguro fans like me. The announcement of a new novel was a welcome relief.

The Buried Giant is the story of the journey of Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who have set out to find their son in post-Arthurian Britain. This is a landscape of Roman ruins, Saxon and Briton villages, trolls, fairies, dragons and Sir Gawain wandering on his horse.

Through the course of the story we realise that despite the fairy folk and mythology this is a tired land and a tired people. War between Arthur and his Knights and the Saxons is not long finished, and it is a war that has been bloody and threatens to return. For the moment the land is in peace. However it’s a strange peace with a fog that has befuddled the land and people’s brains and blocks memory. Conflict is metaphorically and literally just below the surface.

A fine green valley. A pleasant copse in the springtime. Dig its soil, and not far beneath the daisies and buttercups come the dead.

Ishiguro uses Axl and Beatrice and the mirrored greater relationship of the Britons and the Saxons to explore the ways that shared memory can bring us together, can bond people, and at the same time allow us to push others away. On behalf of my ancestors, gone a hundred years, I can hate you, even though you might be standing right in front of me now, causing me no offence. It’s not hard to see the timeless story here.

Should Querig really die and the mist begin to clear. Should memories return, and among them of times I disappointed you. Or yet of dark deeds I may once have done to make you look at me and see no longer the man you do now. Promise me this at least. Promise, princess, you’ll not forget what you feel in your heart for me at this moment. For what good’s a memory’s returning from the mist of it’s only to push away another?

Despite the context The Buried Giant is no set piece of fantasy action, it’s a heartbreaking and quiet meditation on love, relationships, aging and the passing of time. It’s also often infuriatingly elusive and opaque, slow and obstructive. Like several other of Ishiguro’s books (The Remains of the Day especially) this story is like an elegy to times passing, and Ishiguro uses the classic mythology of the boatman ferrying passengers to unknown islands to great effect.

Ishiguro’s particular brand of genius is his spare and stunning use of language. I loved the way he used language in The Buried Giant and the playfulness of the omniscient narrator. The central pair of Axl and Beatrice are intriguing and like many of Ishiguro’s characters they reveal themselves slowly and only in small parts. Sir Gawain adds a Don Quixote-esque humourous element, bringing shades of traditional wandering knights, talking to his horse, Horace.

Some books you read because they give you an escape. Some books you read because you want to give your brain a holiday. Some books you read because you just want to pretend.

You read Ishiguro because you want to wrestle with life, to dig deeper into the mystery that is other people, to marvel at how simple words can say so much and to wonder at a master at work.

*But only six since his short story collection Nocturnes.

Literary giant Haruki Murakami headlines 2015 Auckland Writers Festival

Photo of Haruki MurakamiOne of the world’s most lauded and elusive literary greats, Haruki Murakami, will appear at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival which takes place from 13-17 May at the Aotea Centre.

Exclusive to Auckland, Murakami will feature in one session only at the festival, on Saturday 16 May at 7.30pm.

Festival director Anne O’Brien says Murakami’s acceptance is a huge honour.

“Haruki Murakami is a literary superstar and someone continually invited to Festivals around the world but little seen.  His attendance is a wonderful coup for Auckland and New Zealand.”

Known for his surrealist writing, Murakami’s popularity saw fans queuing outside Waterstones bookstore in Piccadilly, London last August from5pm for an event that began at 11am the following day.

Now in its 15th year, the Auckland Writers Festival plays host to more than 150 writers over five days of ideas, readings, debates, stand-up poetry, literary theatre, children’s writers and free family events. The Festival saw a 45 percent increase in ticket sales last year, with more than 55, 000 attendees and many sessions sold out.

Photo of David WalliamsThe biggest UK children’s author to debut this century, David Walliams of Little Britain and QI fame, and Dav Pilkey aka Captain Underpants will also appear the Festival.

Ms O’Brien says programming Walliams and Pilkey symbolises the festival’s commitment to encouraging a love of books and reading in people of all ages.

“David Walliams and Dav Pilkey are funny, irreverent, clever and, above all else, brilliant writers. We have made both of these events FREE for children under 12 years of age,” says Ms O’Brien.

They join a heady line-up of novelists, poets, thinkers, scientists, historians, playwrights and children’s literary stars including: one of the world’s most influential medical writers Atul Gawande who will talk about his most recent work Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End; the Festival’s 2015 Honoured New Zealand writer C.K. Stead; Helen Macdonald, winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award 2014 with her stunning Memoir  H is for Hawk; actor, writer, broadcaster, director, producer and musician Alan Cumming; UK poet laureateCarol Ann Duffy; internationally-acclaimed NZ singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook (aka TINY RUINS); journalist and media critic for The New Yorker Ken Auletta whose books include Googled: The End of the World as We Know It; multi-award-winning New Zealand poet and art historian Gregory O’Brien; much-loved Australian food writer Stephanie Alexander;  globally renowned Kiwi visual artist and writerGrahame Sydney; Australian National Living Treasure Tim Winton; British investigative journalist Nick Davies, responsible for uncovering the News of the World phone hacking affair; New Zealand’s favourite satirical writer Steve Braunias;  multi-award winning novelist David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks);  Booker Prize winning novelist and poet Ben Okri; England’s insatiable scientist Philip Ball who has written on just about everything – from how music works to his most recent book: Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics Under Hitler; Australia’s biggest-selling non-fiction writer Peter FitzSimons; critically acclaimed novelist Helen Garner whose most recent novel is The House of Grief; The Good Women of China writer Xinran who will talk about her latest work Buy Me The Sky;  multi-award winning New Zealand novelist Witi Ihimaera; globally-celebrated British author of Alex Rider fame, Anthony Horowitz; New Zealand playwright Fiona Samuel and New York’s most irresistible literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn.

The 2015 Great Kiwi Classic

New Zealand Book Council director Catriona Ferguson says choosing this year’s Great Kiwi Classic was made difficult due to the compelling arguments put forth by passionate readers in favour of their choice book.

“We received hundreds of nominations for books of all persuasions. It was fascinating to read through the nominations and to realise how much love there is for our country’s writers and their books.

“This year’s choice stood out from the others not only for the extraordinary writing, but also because of her standing in our country’s literary and social history,” says Ms Ferguson.

The 2015 Great Kiwi Classic is Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame.

Special events snapshot

DAMIAN BARR’S LITERARY SALON. Toast of the London literary scene, UKs ‘enfant terrible’ Damian Barr brings his wit to town for the first New Zealand edition of his literary salon. Join him for cocktails as he chats with visiting international writers Emily St John Mandel, Zia Haider Rahman and Ben Okri at SEAFARERS, BRITOMART, TUESDAY MAY 126.00-8.30PM.

NEW ZEALAND LISTENER GALA NIGHT: TRUE STORIES TOLD LIVE: STRAIGHT TALKING. Eight writers deliver a seven-minute true story, propless and scriptless. Featuring NZ comedian and author Michele A’Court, lauded US novelist and short story writer Amy Bloom,The Good Wife star and memoirist Alan Cumming, former Wallaby, sports columnist and author Peter FitzSimons, Australian public intellectual and writer Helen Garner, Waitangi Tribunal member, lecturer and co-author of seminal book Tangata Whenua Aroha Harris; Melbourne-based New Zealand short story writer Nic Low; and Booker Prize winning Nigerian novelist Ben Okri. ASB THEATRE, AOTEA CENTRE, THURSDAY 14 MAY 7.00-8.30PM.

FAMILY DAY returns on Sunday May 17 with five 30-minute sessions for children aged 5-10, and another five short story-reading sessions for the under-5s. Presenters include Donovan Bixley, Trish Gribben & Judy Miller, Jenny Palmer, Sally Sutton, Zak Waipara and Philippa Werry. HERALD THEATRE, AOTEA CENTRE. Sessions  are free but ticketed and booked through Ticketmaster.

THE UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND FESTIVAL DEBATE. In a year where freedom of expression is being severely tested, we ask whether the right to offend is absolute?  The New Yorker media correspondent Ken Auletta; UK investigative journalist Nick Davies; English comedian and classicist Natalie Haynes; and Indian/Canadian novelist and scientist Jaspreet Singh argue the toss with Linda Clarkkeeping things democratically on track. ASB THEATRE, AOTEA CENTRE, WEDNESDAY MAY 138.00-9.30PM.

SHAKESPEAREAN SPINACH. What do Popeye, the Dude, R2-D2 and Quentin Tarantino have in common? That would be The Bard of Avon. Join Notre Dame University professor Peter Holland – University of Auckland’s Alice Griffin – Fellow in Shakespeare Studies as they talk Shakespearean spin-offs, mash-ups, dramatisations and novelisations, not to mention the success authors are having turning cult films into dramas using something approximating blank verse. CLOCK TOWER 039, 22 PRINCES STREET THURSDAY MAY 145.00-6.00PM. Free event.

AN EVENING WITH ALAN CUMMING.  Scottish Manhattan-based actor Alan Cumming has built a fine career with roles ranging fromTaggart and The Good Wife on TV, to the X-Men films, and Cabaret and Macbeth on the stage. Most recently he’s turned his attention to family history: in his lauded memoir Not My Father’s Son. Cumming will discuss this and more with Michael Hurst. ASB THEATRE, AOTEA CENTRE, FRIDAY MAY 157.15-8.30PM

THE WORLD’S WIFE. British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy joins actors Fiona Samuel and Rachel House in a performance of The World’s Wife, Duffy’s poetry collection of the same name in which unappreciated women are given free rein. Join them for hilarious renditions of Queen Herod and Frau Freud as well as Queen Kong, the Kray Sisters and Mrs Aesop. Dave Long provides musical accompaniment to the readings. LIMELIGHT ROOM, AOTEA CENTRE, FRIDAY MAY 158.30-9.45PM and SATURDAY MAY 169.00-10.15PM.

HONOURED NEW ZEALAND WRITER 2015: C.K. STEAD. A distinguished novelist, literary critic, poet, essayist and Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Auckland, Stead is one of New Zealand’s foremost literary figures. His singular place in the cultural life of this country is celebrated in this free session to end the Festival. ASB THEATRE, AOTEA CENTRE

SUNDAY MAY 176.00-7.00PM.

LUNCH WITH STEPHANIE ALEXANDER.  Food queen and face of an Australian 60 cent stamp Stephanie Alexander joins a lucky few to talk of cooking, as well as the now global kitchen garden movement she kick-started to encourage children to grow and cook their own food. SAILS RESTAURANT, WESTHAVEN MARINA, AUCKLAND, THURSDAY MAY 1412.00-2.15PM.

DALLOWAY. Returning to the Festival after sell-out performances of Austen’s Women, Rebecca Vaughan returns with her latest hit: a stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. This five-star Edinburgh 2014 success has been hailed as accomplished, thoughtful and poignant. WINTERGARDEN, CIVIC. VARIOUS TIMES, see www.writersfestival.co.nz for programming.

THE MICHAEL KING MEMORIAL LECTURE. TROUBLE IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. Author and BBC journalist Bill Hayton dissects the complexity, and the absurdity, of the current geo-political struggle for the South China Sea. LOWER NZI ROOM, AOTEA CENTRE,SUNDAY MAY 1712.00-1.00PM.

THE WEEKEND GALLERY SERIES FEATURES UK Scientist extraordinaire Philip Ball, Professor Penguin aka Lloyd Spencer Davisand influential Australian artist Jim Allen. All in the AUCKLAND ART GALLERY AUDITORIUM. VARIOUS TIMES – SEE PROGRAMME FOR DETAILS.

Tickets to the festival go on public sale from 9.00am, Thursday 19 March from www.ticketmaster.co.nz , by calling 0800 111 999, by post to Auckland Writers Festival: Bookings, Ticketmaster NZ,  PO Box 106 443, Auckland 1143 or in person at the Aotea Centre box office  or any authorised ticketmaster seller.

The Auckland Writers Festival warmly thanks its Gold Partners: The University of Auckland, Freemasons Foundation, New Zealand Listener, ASB Community Trust, Creative New Zealand and ATEED; and all our Silver, Bronze and Supporting Partners.

We are enormously grateful to our Festival patrons for their enthusiasm and generosity.

For the full 2015 Auckland Writers Festival programme go to www.writersfestival.co.nz.

Auckland Writers Festival 2015 programme is released

Auckland Writers Festival logoThe programme for the 2015 Auckland Writers Festival is out now!

And what an amazing line up it is. David Walliams, David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, Anna Smaill, Phillip Mann, Philip Temple, Tim Winton, Bernard Beckett, Laurence Fearnley, Stephanie Johnson, Steve Braunias… and that’s ONLY THE BEGINNING.

Start saving your pennies book lovers!

Terry and me

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I want to write something that truly explains what Terry Pratchett’s books have meant to me over the years.

I was first introduced to the Discworld waaaaay back in the 90’s, when I was a young wee slightly confused teenager, by my first ever boyfriend convincing me I needed to read Terry Pratchett. I was highly sceptical, mainly because Pratchett was described as … dun dun dun DUUUN.. Fantasy. Ew. Fantasy. I did not read fantasy. I was 16 and literary and a keen young feminist and read worthy authors like Margaret Atwood (who, it must be said, is still eminently worthy). Fantasy was all swords and sandals and lots of Bebuldeebum meeting with Aberaldee and travelling to the magical world of Hoovierpoo on a dragon.

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You get my point.

No, said the boyfriend. Pratchett’s not like that. He’s… smart. And he bought me my first Pratchett books, namely Eric and Truckers. I liked Truckers. But more than that I liked Eric. It WAS smart. And it was fantasy but it was also making fun of fantasy and it was also real and making fun of real.

Later on I borrowed Wyrd Sisters, Colour of Magic and Sourcery from him. After some compressed teenage angsty goings-on boyfriend and I were no more.

I kept the Pratchett. (Dear M, sorry. If it’s any consolation I’ve still got them.)

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And that’s how it all started. From there I used to buy a new Pratchett almost every six months, until I had all the backlist. Then I had to be patient and buy every new book when it came out. Later my last ever boyfriend bought me every new book when it came out (which for some reason always happened around my birthday, this is really going to dent his present plans). The great thing was the Discworld books really hold up to re-reading. During some of the hardest times of my life I’ve gone back and re-read my favourites, and I still do.

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What is it that makes Pratchett so (re)readable?
1. The writing is so appealing. It’s not basic but it’s not obtuse. Language is delighted in but never used to prove the author is so much cleverer than his reader. It’s enjoyable to read. It’s never wrought or tortured.

2. The characters are wonderful. Vimes. Granny Weatherwax. Vetinari. Nanny Ogg. Tiffany Aching. Carrot. So individual. So full of life and never, ever one dimensional.

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3. The storylines are so crazy but so true. As Pratchett went on with Discworld he started to move beyond the fantasy tropes and use his alternative multiverse to explore humanity. The craziness of the entertainment industry in Moving Pictures. Racism, terrorism and xenophobia in Jingo. Sexism and “difference” in Monstrous Regiment. The nature of work and slavery in Feet of Clay. Religion and philosophy in Small Gods. Why is Australia trying to kill us in The Last Continent.

4. As many people have said, above all, his books are so very funny. It’s not easy to be truly funny. You have to be smart. You have to be a bit (or even a lot) sad. You have to understand how fleeting the moment is which means you have to understand loss. You need deep insight into the human condition and a love for the ridiculous.

Thank you, Mr Terry Pratchett. Thank you for hours and hours of fun. Thank you for the laughing and the thinking. Thank you for the difference you made to my life. Thank you for your stories. (And M: you were right.)

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Thank you Terry

I’ll write a longer post later but for now we’ve woken to the sad news this morning that Sir Terry Pratchett has died, aged 66.

It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called living. – Sir Terry

Rest in peace, Pterry. Thank you for everything.