Recent Events

DIALOGUE IN THE LIBRARY: EXPERIMENT, DIVERSITY AND CREATIVE WRITING ( 20th May 2019 )

Before he started writing This Brutal House, Niven Govinden was re-reading the work of James Baldwin and asked himself, “If Baldwin was writing now, what would he be writing about?” Niven decided the answer was, “Voguing” – a dance form created in Harlem’s black and Latino clubs – and developed this idea into his own new book.

Niven was talking at Redland Library, where he and Saskia Vogel, author of Permission, discussed their new books and the creative writing process with Dr Madhu Krishnan, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol and Harriet Castor, author and Senior Lecturer at UWE.

(L-R): Dr Madhu Krishnan, Harriet Castor, Saskia Vogel, Niven Govinden

An experimental novel, This Brutal House explores the dynamics of protest and the family through the Mothers, guardians of New York’s voguing – or drag ball – community and their Children. In Permission, Saskia Vogel takes us into the world of BDSM on the margins of Hollywood, through a story of grief, loneliness and healing. “I wanted to take on a challenging topic in the least sensational way,” she said.

Madhu began the conversation, asking both Niven and Saskia about their initial inspiration and the overall themes that run through both books: loss and pain as well as communities that are often invisible to the outside world. As Saskia said, “I wanted to show what it is to live this lifestyle and what it means to live on the fringe.”

In This Brutal House, the Mothers relate part of the narrative, “To give a voice to people who feel power and influence has waned,” Niven said. This voice is expressed in the first person plural and when Harriet asked him about this unusual approach, Niven explained that the opening of the book had come to him in a dream. “When I wrote the first paragraph,” he said, “I knew I wanted to write in the collective voice.”

Harriet turned the discussion towards the writing and publishing process, asking Saskia and Niven how they approached their work and how they maintained their impetus through years of writing. Saskia talked about the value of her writing group, which meets once a month to review and discuss one another’s work. For Niven, the most important thing is to, “Believe in the strength of the idea.” He added that writers must be “massively honest” with themselves. “You know when you’re coasting,” he said, “And that isn’t good enough.”

Patience is another quality that writers need because the publishing process is very slow, but as Niven said, “It is really exciting when you see your manuscript typeset.” Permission is Saskia’s first book and she was keen to be edited. It was, she said, “A really good learning experience.”

Both This Brutal House by Niven Govinden and Permission by Saskia Vogel are published by Dialogue Books. This Brutal House can also be ordered through Libraries West and borrowed from Redland Library.

 

SPACE OPERA, DYSTOPIA AND A THISTLE: DESERT ISLAND BOOKS AT REDLAND LIBRARY ( 9th May 2019 )

“When science fiction is really doing its job, it’s about what’s going on in our heads, exploring the way we think and what’s important to us,” said Sam Rogers, a member of the panel discussing ‘Books, Science & Fiction’ at Redland Library.

The event was the latest in the Desert Island Books series organised by Friends of Redland Library. Members of an expert panel were invited to talk about the science fiction book they would choose to take to a desert island, together with a ‘wild card’ – a book in any genre that they would also like to take with them.

Sam, a senior lecturer in English at UWE, was joined on the panel by award-winning science fiction authors, Virginia Bergin and Gareth L Powell, together with Cheryl Morgan, science fiction critic, publisher and broadcaster.

(L-R): Sam Rogers, Virginia Bergin, Gareth L. Powell, Cheryl Morgan

Beginning with a book that seems to meet Sam’s definition, Virginia introduced her pick, Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison. The book, which was recommended by a librarian at the Central Library, is about a journey into deep space, but also explores myriad moral, social and psychological issues. As Virginia said, it is packed with ideas and is in her view “jaw-droppingly fabulous.”

Sam continued the multi-layered theme with his choice, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula Le Guin, a collection that examines gender politics, the evolution of society and our place within it. Gareth also picked a science fiction classic, Nova by Samuel Delany. A space opera that explores the politics and culture of the future, Nova is based on the grail legend. It is, said Gareth “a joy to read – it looks like a pulp sci-fi, bit it’s a literary firework.”

Travelling further in time, Cheryl selected The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, a series of science fantasy novels set in the distant future when the sun has dimmed and the earth is growing colder. Told by an unreliable narrator, the book is, Cheryl said, ideal for a desert island because it is “full of plot” and worth re-reading “to work out how the narrator has misled the reader.”

Cheryl’s ‘wild card’ was The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner, a dystopian book about environmental disaster. Bringing some hope to dystopia, Virginia recommended, The History of Bees by Maja Lunde. For his ‘wild card’ Gareth returned to space opera with The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard, a sci-fi mystery inspired by Sherlock Holmes and highly recommended.

Sam’s main area of research is poetry and for his ‘wild card’ he chose A Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle by Hugh Macdiarmid, a long Modernist poem in which Macdiarmid reconstructs literary Scots. While some way from science fiction, the poem is said Sam, about our place in the universe.

Most of the books discussed can be ordered from Libraries West at www.librarieswest.org.uk and collected from Redland Library.

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Virginia Bergin: (1) Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison (2) The History of Bees by Maja Lunde
    Also mentioned: (3) The Age of Miracles by Karen Walker Thompson
  • Sam Rogers: (1) The Birthday of the World by Ursula Le Guin (2) A Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle by Hugh Macdiarmid
  • Gareth L Powell: (1) Nova by Samuel Delany (2) The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
  • Cheryl Morgan: (1) The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (2) The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner.
    Also mentioned: (3) Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle (4) The Holdfast Chronicles by Suzy McKee Charnas

WAKE UP AND DREAM: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF OLIVER MESSEL ( 25th April 2019 )

When re-opening after the Second World War, the Royal Opera House mounted a production of The Sleeping Beauty, which was performed by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. The costumes and set were designed by Oliver Messel, who created a spectacle of colour, grace and courtly magnificence that, after the desolate war years, was a revelation.

The designs for this 1946 production of The Sleeping Beauty were so successful that, according to Gemma Brace, curator at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, they are still used for reference. This was just one of the insights Gemma shared in her recent talk at Redland Library about the Oliver Messel archive, which the Theatre Collection acquired in 2015.

Gemma Brace

This is Messel’s own personal archive of letters, photographs, sketches and memorabilia that bring to life his extraordinary life and career. A pressed rose, for example, is one that Margot Fonteyn, gave Messel from her bouquet when the Sadler’s Wells Ballet opened their first American season at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York with The Sleeping Beauty in 1949. Again the production was a huge success and Fonteyn shot to international stardom.

As Gemma explained, Messel originally trained as a portrait painter at The Slade School of Fine Art. He moved into stage design when his exhibition of masks resulted in commissions for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and then for C.B. Cochrane’s revues.

Becoming a master of theatrical illusion, Messel’s career in stage design would run until the early 1960s. He also designed for opera and for cinema, working on eight films, including Caesar and Cleopatra (1946), which starred his great friend Vivien Leigh.

Messel also applied his anti-realistic, elegant style to interior design and textile design, book illustration and decorations for society parties. But by the 1960s, his work was no longer fashionable and he moved to Barbados, where he took up architecture, designing fantasy holiday homes for the super-rich.

The recent Theatre Collection exhibition of the Oliver Messel archive borrowed the title of a Cole Porter revue, Wake Up and Dream (1929), for which Messel designed the costumes, because as Gemma said, “The title seems to sum up Oliver’s world.”

For more information on the Oliver Messel archive at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection go to: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/theatre-collection/explore/theatre/oliver-messel-archive/

BOOKS & DISSENT: PROTEST, SEDITION AND FIGHTING FOR REPRESENTATION ( 9th April 2019 )

From Universal Credit to Robin Hood, by way of the Dreyfus Affair and the Battle for Seattle, the discussion at Redland Library’s latest Desert Island Books ranged over subversion, conspiracy and direct action, as expert panellists recommended their favourite ‘Books & Dissent’.

The event was organised by Friends of Redland Library, who invited members of the panel to talk not only about a book on the theme of dissent, but also to choose a ‘wild card’ – a book in any genre that they would like to have on the desert island.

The panellists were: Colin Davis, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol and member of Extinction Rebellion; Peter Fleming, Professor of History, UWE; Tony Gosling, BCfm Friday Politics Show, investigative reporter; Morag McDermont, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bristol and Jack Windle, Chair of ACORN, Bristol.

L-R: Morag McDermont, Jack Windle, Colin Davis, Tony Gosling, Peter Fleming

Morag began the discussion with her recommendation Life Chances by Simon Poulter, Sophie Mellor and others, an experimental novel seen through the experiences of an investigative journalist, Diane Butler. Written in collaboration with two community associations – one in Bristol and another in Cardiff – against the background of the Universal Credit roll-out, the book looks at how marginalised communities can find a way to influence decision-making. “This shows what can happen when communities take control,” said Morag, “It’s an interesting read and a fascinating story.”

Jack developed the idea of fighting for representation with his choice, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. Jack told the story of how the book came to be written, the struggle for publication and the tremendous influence it has had on generations of socialists. Author Alan Sillitoe, for example, credited the book with winning the post-war election for Labour in 1945. “Don’t be put off because it’s a classic of socialism,” Jack said, “It’s also a great work of literature.”

Colin discussed the theory of protest with his pick, Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order by Howard Zinn. As Colin explained, Zinn challenges arguments against direct action and makes the case for civil disobedience. “Democracy is not just a counting of votes, it’s a counting of actions,” he said.

Moving to the glamorous but turbulent world of 1890s Paris, Tony recommended The Prisoner in the Mask, by Dennis Wheatley. Set against the background of the Dreyfus Affair, Wheatley tells the tale of a conspiracy to restore the French monarchy. He is, Tony said, “a master of the cliff-hanger.”

Travelling further back in time, Peter’s desert island choice was Imagining Robin Hood by A J Pollard. Taking stories and ballads that date back to the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, Pollard examines the Robin Hood legend in the economic, social and political context of the time. As Peter said, Robin Hood appears to have been, “all things to all men.”

Peter stayed with the medieval period for his ‘wild card’ choice, The Waning of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga, which argues that the end of the Middle Ages should be seen as a pinnacle of achievement in its own right rather than simply as a prelude for the Renaissance.

Colin developed the discussion of civil disobedience with his ‘wild card’, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa, a novel based on the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle. Similarly, Tony continued with the conspiracy theme, choosing Op. JB: The Last Great Secret of the Second World War by Christopher Creighton, the story of Ian Fleming’s raid to smuggle Martin Bormann out of Berlin.

Both Morag and Jack went for poetry ‘wild cards’. Morag chose Prayer Before Birth by Louise MacNeice, a poem that expresses, “what we would wish for our children and our grandchildren – and what we would like them to resist.” Jack’s pick was Selected Poems by Tony Harrison, who he said, “is the best poet in the English language.”

Most of the books discussed can be ordered from Libraries West at www.librarieswest.org.uk and collected from Redland Library.

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Morag McDermont: (1) Life Chances by Simon Poulter, Sophie Mellor and others (2) Prayer Before Birth by Louise MacNeice
  • Jack Windle: (1) The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (2) Selected Poems by Tony Harrison
  • Colin Davis: (1) Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order by Howard Zinn (2) Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
  • Tony Gosling: (1) The Prisoner in the Mask, by Dennis Wheatley (2) Op. JB: The Last Great Secret of the Second World War by Christopher Creighton
  • Peter Fleming: (1) Imagining Robin Hood by A J Pollard (2) The Waning of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga

PERFORMANCE AND TRADITION: THE MAKING OF A POET ( 26th March 2019 )

Where does the gift of poetry come from? How important is poetic tradition? Should poetry be expressed by the spoken word or the written word? These were just some of the questions discussed by panel members at Redland Library’s ‘Books That Made me a Poet’ event.

Held on 26 March as part of the extended programme of the Bristol Poetry Festival 2019, the event was organised by Friends of Redland Library, who asked a panel of local poets to talk about the books that had most influenced their lives. They were: Fiona Hamilton, poet and writer; Deborah Harvey, poet and novelist; Tom Sastry, 2019 Bristol Poetry Festival Laureate; Calum Wensley, poet; Dr William Wootten, poet and lecturer in poetry and creative writing, University of Bristol.

 

L-R: Tom Sastry, Callum Wensley, Deborah Harvey, Fiona Hamilton

Poetry has been an important part of William’s life since early childhood and his first choice was Lavender’s Blue: A Book of Nursery Rhymes by Kathleen Lines and Harold Jones, which his mother read to him and he now reads to his daughter. For Fiona, her grandfather and his love of “the sounds of words, the musicality of language”, was an important influence and her first pick was George Hamilton’s Notebook, a collection of his thoughts on poetry.

Childhood memories of Sunday school and church inspired Deborah’s first choice, Hymns and Psalms: The Methodist Hymn Book. “I didn’t have a clue what I was singing,” she said, “but I think that meant it had a greater influence on my imagination…I was a rhythm Methodist.” She also talked about her childhood visits to Filton Library with her father, where she fed an early obsession for Enid Blyton and pony books. One of the books she borrowed was The Red Pony by John Steinbeck and was so horrified by the fate of Gabilan that she could read no further. When she eventually finished the book as an adult, she wept for the characters and “for the child who was so marked by the unfinished book.”

Tom was originally a singer/songwriter, but found that he could best express himself through poetry. “I learnt by getting up in rooms and reciting poems I had just written,” he said. His first recommendation was 52 by Jo Bell, a poetry writing handbook, which encourages both established poets and beginners to write a poem a week.

Callum is also a performance poet, who as a drama student, discovered poetry by watching YouTube videos. His book recommendations, which are an excellent introduction to spoken word poets, were: Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn; We Need to Talk by Agnes Torok; Stunt Water by Buddy Wakefield, Requite by Malaika Kegode and Madness by Sam Sax.

In difficult times, the panel agreed, poetry can help find a way forward. Callum talked about how his selection had helped him through depression, while Tom’s recommendation Mayakovsky’s Revolver: Poems by Matthew Dickman, explores the importance of perseverance in the wake of grief. Tom also chose Everything That Can Happen, an anthology that he had edited with Susannah Evans, which interrogates visions of the future. Meanwhile, as a guide for uncertain times in the present, Fiona suggested Living with Contradiction: Benedictine Wisdom for Everyday Living by Esther de la Waal, which shows that ambiguity can be transformative.

Looking back to the twentieth century canon, Fiona also chose Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 by W H Auden, while William recommended Collected Poems by Philip Larkin – the poet, he said, had who shown him how to write, “…again and again I come back to Philip Larkin.” Unclay by T F Powys was William’s final pick. A quirky book about death in a Dorset village, it “allows you to think about important things in a simple setting.”

It was after the death of Ted Hughes that Deborah – trapped in a disintegrating marriage – discovered his Birthday Letters. She was inspired, realising that “I needed to attend to this part of me that was dying. I started to write.”

Most of the books discussed can be ordered from Libraries West at www.librarieswest.org.uk and collected from Redland Library.

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Fiona Hamilton: (1) George Hamilton’s Notebook (2) Living with Contradiction: Benedictine Wisdom for Everyday Living by Esther de la Waal (3) Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 by W H Auden
  • Deborah Harvey: (1) Hymns and Psalms: The Methodist Hymn Book (2) The Red Pony by John Steinbeck (3) Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes
  • Tom Sastry: (1) 52 by Jo Bell (2) Mayakovsky’s Revolver: Poems by Matthew Dickman (3) Everything That Can Happen edited by Susannah Evans and Tom Sastry
  • Callum Wensley: (1) Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn (2) We Need to Talk by Agnes Torok (3) Stunt Water by Buddy Wakefield (4) Requite by Malaika Kegode (5) Madness by Sam Sax
  • William Wootten: (1) Lavender’s Blue: A Book of Nursery Rhymes by Kathleen Lines and Harold Jones (2) Collected Poems by Philip Larkin (3) Unclay by T F Powys

BOOKS & TRAVEL: BY LAND AND SEA ( 12th March 2019 )

“Reading is an act of travel, because it takes us to another world,” said Professor Helen Fulton, panellist at ‘Books & Travel’, the latest Desert Island Books event at Redland Library. From Afghanistan to Alaska – over land and by sea – the panel took us on a journey of literary discovery.

The event was organised by Friends of Redland Library, who asked the panel to recommend a book of travel writing together with a ‘wild card’ – a book in any genre that they would take to the desert island.

Professor Helen Fulton is Head of the Department of English, University of Bristol and joining her on the panel were: Jean Burnett, novelist and travel writer; Mike Manson, writer, historian and co-organiser of Bristol Festival of Literature and Professor Robin Jarvis, Emeritus Professor of English Literature, UWE.

L-R: Jean Burnett, Professor Helen Fulton, Professor Robin Jarvis, Mike Manson

An avid reader of travel literature since childhood, Jean chose The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier to take to the desert island. Bouvier tells the story of road trip from Serbia to Afghanistan that he and a friend took in the 1950s, captivating the reader said Jean, with the power of his writing.

Helen is a specialist in medieval literature, which features stories of journeys and pilgrimage. But her choice was Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. Discussing walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, spiritual and social purposes, the book examines the relationship between the body, mind and surrounding environment.

Moving from land to sea, Robin’s desert island pick was Passage to Juneau: A Sea and its Meanings by Jonathan Raban. Telling the story of his own voyage through the Inside Passage to Alaska, which traces that of Captain Vancouver in 1792, Raban also reflects on the way the sea has influenced the art and culture of the indigenous people of the Northwest coast. As Robin said, it is “a rich and multi-layered book – and an example of the best that modern travel writing has to offer.”

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee was Mike’s desert island choice. Leaving his Cotswold village home at nineteen, Lee walked to London and then through Spain as it heads towards civil war. The book is, said Mike “a beautifully written coming of age story that is also about a country on the cusp of change.”

Jean stayed with travel writing for her ‘wild card’, which was A Victorian Lady in the Himalayas by Maria Caroline Bolitho, whose descendants had discovered the manuscript and asked Jean to edit it for publication, which was she said, “a wonderful thing to be able to do.”

Helen’s ‘wild card’ was A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a re-telling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in 1970s Iowa. Examining gender politics and family relationships, the book also considers how we relate to the land and to particular landscapes.

Picking up on the landscape theme, Robin’s ‘wild card’ was A Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks. A vivid account of life as a hill farmer, the book is a riposte to Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and the long tradition of shepherds and shepherdesses in English literature. As Robin said “it overturns the tradition of people who are not shepherds writing about shepherds.”

From the countryside to the city, Mike’s ‘wild card’ was The Public Health of Bristol – 1850 by George T Clark. Written at a time when the city was expanding, the book had an important influence on the development of Bristol’s utilities and as a result, on improved public health.

Most of the books discussed can be ordered from Libraries West at www.librarieswest.org.uk and collected from Redland Library.

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Jean Burnett: (1) The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier (2) A Victorian Lady in the Himalayas by Maria Caroline Bolitho
  • Helen Fulton: (1) Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (2) A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
  • Robin Jarvis: (1) Passage to Juneau: A Sea and its Meanings by Jonathan Raban (2) A Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks
  • Mike Manson: (1) As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (2) The Public Health of Bristol – 1850 by George T Clark

BOOKS & IDENTITY: PHILOSOPHY, PSYCHOLOGY AND THE PERIODIC TABLE ( 28th February 2019 )

What is identity and why does it matter? These were just two of the questions discussed by the panel members at ‘Books & Identity’, a Desert Island Books event, held at Redland Library on 28th February. Our panellists were Richard Cheston, Professor of Mental Health Research at UWE and Julian Hughes, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at the University of Bristol. Both Rik and Julian, who are specialists in dementia care, gave the audience some thought-provoking insights and fascinating reading suggestions.

L-R: Professor Richard Cheston, Professor Julian Hughes

The event was part of the Desert Island Books series organised by Friends of Redland Library, who asked both panellists to talk about a book on the theme of identity together with a ‘wild card’ – a favourite book in any genre – that they would like to take to the desert island.

Julian’s first choice was Sources of Self: The Making of Modern Identity by Charles Taylor. In this philosophical work, Taylor examines how the contemporary understanding of identity has evolved from earlier views of the self. Taking a combined analytical and chronological approach, he pieces together the history of emerging modern identity and according to Julian, reveals “what it is to be a good human being”.

Before studying medicine and qualifying as a psychiatrist, Julian took a degree in philosophy and it was during his time as a philosophy student that he discovered Charles Taylor, who he said “changed my life”. Through his explanation of esoteric philosophical thought, Taylor showed Julian “what it means to be alive in the world”.

This convergence of philosophy and medicine is also reflected in Julian’s ‘wild card’, The Danger of Words by Maurice O’Connor Drury, a Dublin psychiatrist, who had been a pupil of Wittgenstein. In this book, Drury applied his philosophical training to questions of psychiatry and according to Julian, the book is “both erudite and easy to read.”

Rik focussed on the issue of why identity matters with his pick, The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon and Tom Pyszczynski. Based on the theory that fear of death drives everything we do, the book looks at how we can manage this terror and live happily. As the authors show, we need the security of a cultural worldview, together with a strong sense of personal significance – or self-esteem. It is, said Rik, “a very interesting read”.

For his ‘wild card’ Rik chose The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. Inspired by the elements of the periodic table, Levi draws on his experiences in fascist Italy and later in Auschwitz to create a thoughtful – and often funny – collection of short stories. The book, Rik said, is full of humanity and has much to say about the nature of identity.

Some of the books discussed can be ordered online through Libraries West at: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

    • Julian Hughes: (1) Sources of Self: The Making of Modern Identity by Charles Taylor (2) The Danger of Words by Maurice O’Connor Drury
    • Richard Cheston: (1) The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon and Tom Pyszczynski (2) The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

 

GORMENGHAST TO CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN: THE MAKING OF A BOOKSELLER ( 12th February 2019 )

There are twists and turns along the road to running a bookshop. But according to a panel of local booksellers, this journey is well worth the effort. Talking to a capacity audience on 12 February at Redland Library, panel members discussed their own experiences and the ‘Books That Made Me a Bookseller’.

This was the first in a series of new events organised by Friends of Redland Library, who asked panel members to talk about the books that had most influenced their careers. The panel was: Emily Ross, co-owner of Storysmith Bookshop in Southville; Sam Taylor, co-owner of Max Minerva’s in Henleaze; Simon Baines, manager of the Oxfam Cotham Hill Bookshop and George Forrester, manager of the British Heart Foundation Bookshop on Blackboy Hill.

L-R: Simon Baines, George Forrester, Emily Ross, Sam Taylor

Discussing the importance of books to inspire children to think about “other worlds and other places”, Simon recommended his own childhood favourite Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. He was at university when he discovered the extraordinary world of The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake, a work that “…blew me away and made me appreciate literature in a way I never had before.” On graduating, Simon trained as a teacher – a move represented by his third choice, Essential Teaching Skills by Chris Kyriacou – but he is much happier as a bookseller.

George was also heading for the teaching profession, but a breakdown at university – precipitated by the New Testament’s Epistle to the Hebrews and Winkie Pratney’s Youth Aflame: A Manual for Discipleship – set him on a different path. Harold Hare’s Annual signified George’s lifelong love of books, but it was his own book Emerson Lake & Palmer: The Show That Never Ends by George Forrester, Martyn Hanson and Frank Askew that gave him an insight into the publishing industry and inspired him to become a bookseller.

Emily started her career in publishing, producing children’s books such as The Incomplete Book of Dragons by Cressida Cowell. But she realised that she “wanted to be there when people discovered books for the first time”, an impulse that led to the opening of Storysmith. One of her favourite books is Wise Children by Angela Carter, but it was recommending Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata to customers that she said “first made me feel like a real bookseller.”

For Sam, bookshops like record shops are a place of refuge where people can “find a voice that resonates with them” and his first choice was High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. But the somewhat winding road to Max Minerva’s started with And the Band Played On: Politics People and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts. This book prompted him to volunteer with an AIDS charity, which indirectly led to him meeting his book-loving wife. Now, inspired by Dave Eggars and his book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Sam has started creative writing workshops for children at Max Minerva’s, because he said, bookshops can also be a place where “people can find their own voice.”

Most of the books recommended can be ordered through Libraries West at: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Simon Baines: (1) Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (2) The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake (3) Essential Teaching Skills by Chris Kyriacou
  • George Forrester: (1) Epistle to the Hebrews and Youth Aflame: A Manual for Discipleship by Winkie Pratney (2) Harold Hare’s Annual (3) Emerson Lake & Palmer: The Show That Never Ends by George Forrester, Martyn Hanson and Frank Askew
  • Emily Ross: (1) The Incomplete Book of Dragons by Cressida Cowell (2) Wise Children by Angela Carter (3) Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
  • Sam Taylor: (1)High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (2) And the Band Played On: Politics People and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (3) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggars

BOOKS & THE CINEMA: HEROINES, VILLAINS AND REAL LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD ( 10th January 2019 )

Books that became films, books about films, autobiographies of people who make films: an expert panel discussed ‘Books & the Cinema’ at Redland Library’s latest Desert Island Books event. They gave the capacity audience some interesting recommendations – and plenty to think about.

Held on a bitterly cold evening in early January, the event was the latest in our Desert Island Books series. We asked the members of the panel to choose a book on a cinema-related theme along with a ‘wild card’ – a favourite book in any genre – that they would like to take to the desert island.

The panel included: Owen Franklin, Founder/Director, Bristol Film Festival; Tara Judah, film critic, cinema producer at the Watershed, Trustee of Clevedon’s Curzon Cinema; Professor Sarah Street, Professor of Film, University of Bristol; Cllr Estella Tincknell, Associate Professor Film & Culture, University of the West of England and former Cabinet Member for Culture, Bristol City Council.

L-R: Estella Tincknell, Tara Judah, Owen Franklin, Professor Sarah Street

Estella opened the discussion by recommending The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, a book that has posed some interesting challenges for film-makers. Narrated through the voice of a Victorian novelist, the book is saturated by a twentieth century sensibility. In the film, the complexity of this “double consciousness” is reflected by a “film within a film” – but as Estella explained, the cinematic device is not entirely successful.

Owen’s choice, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald has been adapted for film five times. The most recent version was by Baz Luhrmann in 2013 and like every other film of the book, it was criticised for lack of subtlety. As Owen said, the book is so delicately nuanced that “everyone has their own interpretation.”

The Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden, was more successfully adapted for film and this was Sarah’s desert island pick. As she said, the film version is probably more well-known than the book itself, which is nevertheless a fascinating insight into “the end of empire”.

Tara’s recommendations were two books on different aspects of film-making. Born to be Bad: Talking to the Greatest Villains in Action Cinema by Timon Singh is collection of interviews with the actors behind the villains, while Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema by Sophie Mayer, has become a bible for contemporary feminist film-makers, curators and critics.

For her ‘wild card’, Estella chose Only Entertainment by Richard Dyer, a collection of essays that make the argument for the value of entertaining films, which show us a way of being better in the world. As Estella said, Dyer’s “lightness of touch combined with serious scholarship would be just what you need on a desert island.”

Sarah’s ‘wild card’ choice was Swanson on Swanson by Gloria Swanson, an autobiography that shows what it was like to be in Hollywood during its early days. Hollywood is also the backdrop to one of Tara’s ‘wild-cards’, Joan Didion’s devastating novel Play It as It Lays. Her second recommendation was Claudia Rankine’s collections Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric.

Owen also selected poetry for his ‘wild card’ with the Collected Works of Shelley ed. Michael O’Neill. Owen explained that his choice was in memory of Professor O’Neill, whose teaching at the University of Durham had made a great impact on his life. As Owen said, this ‘wild card’ is “a nod to educators, may we never take them for granted.”

Most of the books recommended are available from Libraries West: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Estella Tincknell: (1) The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (2) Only Entertainment by Richard Dyer
  • Owen Franklin: (1) The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (2) Collected Works of Shelley ed. Michael O’Neill
  • Sarah Street: (1) The Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden (2) Swanson on Swanson by Gloria Swanson
  • Tara Judah: (1) Born to be Bad: Talking to the Greatest Villains in Action Cinema by Timon Singh; Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema by Sophie Mayer (2) Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion; Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

UNDERSTANDING THE BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL BUDGET CONSULTATION ( 12th December 2018 )

On 6th November, Bristol City Council launched a consultation to gather views on the options for the level of council tax for 2019/20.

This meeting was intended to provide more information on the impact of the 2019/20 Budget Consultation on both council tax and council services.

Councillors Clive Stevens and Estella Tincknell provided a valuable insight into the Bristol Council budget process and the budgetary challenges being faced by the city.

L-R: Cllr Clive Stevens, Cllr Estella Tincknell

The consultation closed on 17th December and feedback will be considered by both Cabinet and Full Council. Budget setting meetings are scheduled for January (Cabinet) and February (Full Council).

BOOKS & EUROPE: BREXIT AND MUCH MORE ( 6th December 2018 )

While the Brexit storm raged around Westminster, all was calm at Redland Library, where the Desert Island Books’ panel discussed ‘Books & Europe’. After all, as Professor Michelle Cini pointed out, “There is a great deal more happening in Europe than Brexit.”

Professor Michelle Cini is Head of School of Sociology, Politics & International Studies, University of Bristol and she was joined on the panel by Professor Susan Harrow, Ashley Watkins Chair of French, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol and Molly Scott Cato, MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar.

L-R: Molly Scott Cato MEP, Professor Michelle Cini, Professor Susan Harrow

The event was the latest in our Desert Island Books series and we asked the panel to recommend a book on a Europe-related theme as well as a ‘wild card’ – a favourite book in any genre – which they would want with them on the desert island.

Illustrating her point about the wider European context, Michelle chose The European Union in Crisis eds. D. Dinan, N. Nugent and W.E. Paterson. Focussing on different aspects of the EU, the book analyses issues such as migration, the Eurozone and ongoing integration as well as problems with membership. As Michelle said, although crises present challenges and threats, they can also be, “turning points that allow new ideas to flourish.”

Susan’s desert island recommendation, Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq, seems to fizz with ideas. A social satire set in Paris, the novel is a critique of the beauty myth and gender representations. While it tackles commercial and sexual exploitation in a way that foreshadows the #MeToo movement and its French equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc, the book – as Susan explained – is also about “what it means to be human.”

Molly also chose to take fiction to the desert island and her pick was The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. Set in Switzerland against the background of the Second World War, this is a story of friendship and loss that develops themes of neutrality and self-mastery. The book, said Molly is “very moral, but not moralising.”

For her ‘wild card’, Molly chose Middlemarch by George Eliot, who she explained, also explores the question of how to live a good and moral life. Middlemarch, she thought, would be perfect for a desert island because it contains many different stories and – if she were to use her time on the island to write her own novel – who better to be her guide than George Eliot?

Michelle thought she might also try novel writing on the desert island, but her mentor would be Kate Summerscale, whose book The Wicked Boy, was her ‘wild card’. A true story of Victorian murder and morality, the book is a meticulous examination of a criminal case with interesting parallels today.

The evening concluded on an upbeat note with Susan’s ‘wild card’, Scapegoat by Daniel Pennac. Set in a Parisian department store, this part-crime, part-comic novel debunks the concerns of consumerism and celebrates resilience with, Susan said, “surreal humour.”

You can order most of the books discussed on the Libraries West website at: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Michelle Cini: (1) The European Union in Crisis eds. D.Dinan, N.Nugent and W.E.Paterson (2) The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale
  • Susan Harrow: (1) Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq (2) Scapegoat by Daniel Pennac
  • Molly Scott Cato: (1) The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (2) Middlemarch by George Eliot

BOOKS & THE CITY: CONNECTION AND CREATIVITY ( 1st November 2018 )

What do George Orwell and Bleak House have in common with Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime? They all offer an insight into urban life and – in a discussion that ranged from the early 18th century to the present day – they were among the authors and titles discussed by the ‘Books and the City’ panel at our recent Desert Island Books event.

The members of the panel included photographer Colin Moody; John McTague, lecturer in English at the University of Bristol; novelist and poet, Lucy English; Alon Aviram of The Bristol Cable and Councillor Paul Smith, Cabinet Member for Housing at Bristol City Council.

L-R: Colin Moody, Dr John McTague, Lucy English, Alon Aviram, Cllr Paul Smith

The event was the latest in the Desert Island Books series and we asked the panel to recommend a book on a city-related theme as well as a ‘wild card’ – a favourite book in any genre – which they would want when castaway.

Colin, who specialises in photographing Bristol and its people, chose Down and Out in London and Paris by George Orwell. Although Orwell’s book was published in 1933, Colin could see clear parallels between the world that Orwell portrays and as he said, “how tough it is for people on the streets of Bristol today.”

Lucy linked Colin’s observations and Orwell’s experience to Joe, the crossing sweeper in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. This dense, complex and captivating novel was her desert island pick because the book spans every layer of society and, as Lucy pointed out, it shows that, “even in the seething mess of the city, we are all connected to one another.”

The liberating aspects of the city are explored in John’s recommendation, Fantomina; or Love in a Maze by Eliza Haywood. Written in 1725, the book explores the ways in which people can use the anonymity of the city to construct social status and new identities in a way that would not have been possible in traditional village societies.

Moving forward in time to the early 21st century, Alon’s desert island choice was Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime by Dan Hancox. The book shows how a new musical genre was created on inner London council estates, against a background of protest, pirate radio, police harassment, riots and gentrification.

Picking up the theme of social housing, Paul Smith chose Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing by John Boughton for his desert island book. As Paul pointed out, council housing offered a new beginning for working class families moving out of Victorian slums, but the concept was subsequently undermined. Nevertheless, Paul is optimistic. If we learn the lessons of history, he said, “opportunities for council housing can happen again.”

“International photographers show us who we are,” said Colin introducing his ‘wild card’, Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers by Alona Pardo and Martin Parr. Lucy, a spoken work poet, chose a verbal snapshot with Bristol Slam Poetry Anthology, edited by Glenn Carmichael and published in 1998. This book, Lucy said, is “a celebration of the melting pot that is still part of Bristol city.”

John chose Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, a collection of prose poetry about what it means to be black in the US today, while Alon’s ‘wild card’ was Q by Luther Blissett, a historical novel that creates a world of violence and intrigue along with political and religious fervour.

Paul brought the discussion to a close on an unexpected – but reassuring – note. His ‘wild card’ was the Ladybird book that had comforted him every night as a small child, Tootles the Taxi and Other Rhymes by Joyce Clegg.

You can order most of the books discussed on the Libraries West website at: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Colin Moody: (1) Down and Out in London and Paris by George Orwell (2) Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers by Alona Pardo and Martin Parr
  • Lucy English: (1) Bleak House by Charles Dickens (2) Bristol Slam Poetry Anthology, edited by Glenn Carmichael
  • John McTague: (1) Fantomina; or Love in a Maze by Eliza Haywood (2) Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
  • Alon Aviram: (1) Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime by Dan Hancox (2) Q by Luther Blissett
  • Paul Smith: (1) Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing by John Boughton (2) Tootles the Taxi and Other Rhymes by Joyce Clegg

BOOKS & THE SEA: ABOVE AND BENEATH THE WAVES ( 16th October 2018 )

From the history of the shipping container to Moby Dick – by way of the Western Isles and the secrets of fish – the panel at our recent Desert Island Books event discussed the many ways the sea influences our literature and our lives.

The theme of the event was ‘Books and the Sea’ and the panel included, Dr Kate Hendry, Royal Society Research Fellow and Reader in Geochemistry at the University of Bristol; Dr Laurence Publicover, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Bristol; Captain Richard Whalley, Royal Navy; Professor Rosamund Sutherland, School of Education at the University of Bristol and Trustee of the SS Great Britain.

L-R: Captain Richard Whalley, Professor Rosamund Sutherland, Dr Laurence Publicover, Dr Kate Hendry

We asked the panel to recommend a book about the sea, as well as a ‘wild card’ – a favourite book in any genre that they would want to take with them to a desert island.

Richard, who specialises in naval logistics recommended The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson. The book, he explained, was recommended to him by a friend at the Admiralty library. It is, he said, “a fascinating story of invention and innovation …and how something quite humble can change our lives.”

From global trade to life beneath the waves, Kate chose Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything by Helen Scales. An underwater journey that invites us to enter the fascinating world of fish, the book includes accounts of Helen’s own aquatic adventures, both recently and as a child. Since Helen is Kate’s sister, the childhood stories are also her own.

Moby Dick must be literature’s most famous whale and Moby Dick by Herman Melville was Laurence’s desert island pick. He acknowledged that it is a book more people have heard about than actually read, but encouraged us to persevere. As Laurence said, Melville not only tells you everything you could possibly want to know about whaling, he also “uses the sea as a way of thinking about life.”

Rosamund is a keen sailor and her choice, Off in a Boat by Neil Gunn reminds her of a holiday in 2015 when she and her husband sailed around the west coast of Scotland. Rosamund’s love of books that explore the idea of wilderness on both land and sea was also reflected in her ‘wild card’ choice, Wild Places by Robert McFarlane.

Richard continued the nautical theme with his ‘wild card’, which was Three Corvettes by Nicholas Monserrat, a collection of short stories about the terrible reality of war at sea. Kate travelled to the future with a science fiction ‘wild card’ Embassytown by China Mieville, while Laurence went back to the past with Evelina by Fanny Burney. Set partly in Bristol, Evelina is a social satire with a great plot. It is, Laurence said, “a lot of fun and thoroughly recommended.”

You can order most of the books discussed on the Libraries West website at: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Richard Whalley: (1) The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson (2) Three Corvettes by Nicholas Monserrat
  • Kate Hendry: (1) Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything by Helen Scales (2) Embassytown by China Mieville
  • Laurence Publicover: (1) Moby Dick by Herman Melville (2) Evelina by Fanny Burney
  • Rosamund Sutherland: (1) Off in a Boat by Neil Gunn (2) Wild Places by Robert McFarlane

JANE DUFFUS AND THE WOMEN WHO BUILT BRISTOL ( 27th September and 4th October 2018 )

“Where are all the women?” asked Jane Duffus when she discovered the history of Bristol was dominated by men, “they can’t all have been mousey types sitting at home.” So she started to research Bristol’s women and found that many have helped shape not only the city, but also our everyday lives.

Jane discovered so many inspiring stories that she collected them into a book, The Women Who Built Bristol 1184-2018, which was published earlier this year to raise funds for Bristol Women’s Voice.

Like many other people, we were fascinated by Jane’s book and invited her to give two talks at the library – the second arranged by popular demand – so that she could tell us some of her favourite stories. Here are just a few:

Frances Power Cobb (1822-1904) Suffragist, Campaigner

“If you are a woman and you have graduated from university, you have her to thank,” said Jane.

Frances not only fought for women to take university examinations and be awarded degrees, she also wrote widely on women’s suffrage and the legal rights of married women. Her pamphlet Wife Torture ultimately influenced the Matrimonial Causes Act 1878, which gave abused wives not only the right to a separation, but also custody of any child under the age of ten.

Seeing a link between some men’s attitude towards women and cruelty to animals, Frances also established the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Anti-Vivisection Society, for which she won the support of Queen Victoria.

Persuasive and indefatigable, Frances was much admired by her contemporaries. In 1902, to mark her 80th birthday, she was presented with an album signed by 300 respected women – including Florence Nightingale and Millicent Fawcett. Given “as an expression of sincere regard,” the album commemorates the “philanthropic activity and high moral purpose” of Frances’ long life.

Matilda Bennett (born 1830) Pottery Maker

Matilda’s story offers a snapshot of a working-class child’ life during the Industrial Revolution. Starting work as a painter at Bristol Pottery when she was just nine years old, Matilda became a case study for an inspector checking on the pottery’s working conditions in 1841.

According to the inspector’s report, Matilda “paints cups and saucers from 6am to 6pm with a half hour for breakfast and one hour for dinner….Is paid as much as she earns and gets 4s 6d a week at most or sometimes 2s 9d. Has her health very well and likes her work and treatment.”

Jane pointed out that we do not know what happed to Matilda. There is a report in the Western Daily Press of 20 August 1906 about a woman called Matilda Bennet who was found dead by the Victoria Pottery in St Philips, having been knocked over by a train. But whether this is the same woman, it is impossible to say.

Elsie Stephens and Violet Frampton (dates unknown) Nurses

On night during the March 1941 air raids, Lilian Braund went into labour while trapped beneath the rubble in the cellar of her bombed house. Braving the raid – and the broken gas mains – Assistant Matron Elsie Stephens and Nursing Sister Violet Frampton, volunteered to help.

The two nurses made their way into the cellar although, as the London Gazette reported in May 1940, “There was considerable danger as the whole building was liable to collapse.” Eventually, Lilian gave birth in the rubble, but remained trapped until 1.00pm the following day, when she and her baby were taken to hospital and found to be in good health. A few months later, both Elsie and Violet were awarded the George Medal.

In its report the London Gazette paid tribute to the fact that despite danger all around, “the Sisters carried on.” As Jane said, this phrase could be used for most of the women in her book because as her research shows, “Women will pull together and get things done.”

 

The Women Who Built Bristol 1184-2018 can either be reserved online through Libraries West at: www.librarieswest.org.uk or you can buy a copy from Bristol Women’s Voice at: https://bristolwomensvoice.bigcartel.com/product/the-women-who-built-bristol-book

BOOKS & POETRY:  PERFORMANCE, EXPERIENCE AND STORYTELLING ( 13th September 2018 )

“What is poetry?” asked Richard Jones, publisher of Tangent Books and Small Press Books. Is it about a sense of identity? Does it tell a story or is it more abstract? Should it be written, spoken, experienced – or all three? These were just some of the questions explored by the panel as they discussed ‘Books and Poetry’ at our recent Desert Island Books event.

Joining Richard on the panel were Clive Birnie, publisher of Burning Eye Books; Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet 2018-2020 and Rebecca Kosick, co-director of the Bristol Poetry Institute at the University of Bristol.

L-R : Clive Birnie, Richard Jones, Dr Rebecca Kosick, Vanessa Kisuule

We asked the panel to recommend a poetry collection or a book about poetry, as well as a ‘wild card’ – a favourite book in any genre that they would want to read and re-read on a desert island.

Fascinated by the question of who we think we are, Clive chose Nigh-No-Place by Jen Hadfield. As he explained, Clive is descended from Peterhead fishermen and this collection, which is rooted in the ever-changing Shetland landscape, reflects his own deep-seated connection to Scotland.

From a sense of identity to poetry as storytelling, Richard’s recommendation was High on Rust by Bristol poet, Ray Webber. The collection, which tells the story of Webber’s life, was published in 2016 when Ray was 93. Influenced mainly by TS Eliot and the Beat Generation poets, Webber’s work has, as one critic said “a fierce sense of energy, vitriol and devilish laughter.”

Rebecca’s pick was An Ordinary Man by Ferreira Gullar and translated by Leland Guyer. Born in Brazil, Gullar was part of the inter-disciplinary neo-concrete movement. He believed that poetry should be part of everyday lived experience and as Rebecca explained, that the reader’s participation makes the work complete.

An increasingly popular way of experiencing poetry is the spoken word and Vanessa, who has herself won many poetry slam titles, chose Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. Vanessa described Smith as a poet “of both the page and the stage,” who writes about being a black man in America in a collection illuminated by “moments of joy”.

Vanessa’s ‘wild card’ was equally challenging. She recommended Fishnet by Kirsten Innes, a meticulously researched novel about the sex industry and Coming Out Like a Porn Star, a book of essays by Jiz Lee, both of which she said, made her “look at sex work in a much more nuanced way.”

Rebecca’s oldest child has just started school and her ‘wild card’ was a book about learning to read, Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words by Ruth Rocha, translated by Lyn Miller Lachmann. Richard’s pick was Dylan Thomas Selected Works because, as he said “his prose is often more poetic than his poetry.”

Bringing the event to a close, Clive returned to Scotland with his ‘wild card’, Cancer Party by Andrew Raymond Drennan. A bleak, gritty novel set in Glasgow, this book shares the colloquial immediacy of the spoken word poetry that first inspired Clive to set up Burning Eye Books.

You can order some of the books discussed on the Libraries West website at: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Clive Birnie: (1) Nigh-No-Place by Jen Hadfield (2) Cancer Party by Andrew Raymond Drennan
  • Richard Jones: (1) High on Rust by Ray Webber (2) Dylan Thomas Selected Works
  • Dr Rebecca Kosick: (1) An Ordinary Man by Ferreira Gullar and translated by Leland Guyer (2) Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words by Ruth Rocha, translated by Lyn Miller Lachmann
  • Vanessa Kisuule: (1) Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith (2a) Fishnet by Kirsten Innes and (2b) Coming Out Like a Porn Star by Jiz Lee

BOOKS, RELIGION & ETHICS ( 14th August 2018 )

“It’s the journey not the destination that’s going to count,” said Kieran Flanagan at the start of our Desert Island Books event on ‘Books, Religion and Ethics’. Although Kieran’s comment referred to his own choice of books, it soon became clear that he had identified the main theme of the evening; the value of the journey and its potential for change.

Along with Dr Kieran Flanagan, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol, the panel included: George Ferzoco, Research Fellow, University of Bristol; Reverend Dr Tim Gibson, an Anglican priest and Senior Lecturer, University of the West of England; Reverend Rachel Haig, Community Minister, Tyndale Baptist Church, Bristol and Rabbi Monique Mayer, The Bristol & West Progressive Jewish Congregation.

L-R (Seated) : George Ferzoco, Rabbi Monique Mayer, Rev’d Dr Tim Hutton, Rev’d Rachel Haig, Dr Kieran Flanagan

We asked the panel to recommend a book on religion and ethics, together with a ‘wild card’ – a book in any genre that they would like to take with them to a desert island.

Kieran began the discussion by recommending Crossways by Guy Stagg, a book that charts the author’s pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem and his struggle to recover from years of mental illness. Along the way, Stagg becomes fascinated by Christianity and although he does not find faith, he does find healing.

Rachel’s pick was William Horwood’s Duncton Wood, the story of a mole empire and the struggle between good and evil, love and hate, traditional and modern values. Against these classic themes, the book also highlights the value of the simple things. “It’s life-changing,” said Rachel, “and that’s not something you can often say about moles.”

With a warning that his choice is a harrowing – but rewarding – read, Tim selected The Enduring Melody by Michael Mayne. While writing this meditation on a lifetime of faith, Mayne was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Looking back over his life, he traces and celebrates ‘the enduring melody’, which as Tim explained, is the rhythm that affirms our relationship with God.

Monique developed the theme of the spiritual journey with her pick, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis. Mussar is an ancient system of ethical ideas and practice that can guide us through life, helping us to change our behaviour not only for our own benefit, but also to improve the world.

Dante’s The Divine Comedy charts one of the great journeys in literature and this was George’s recommendation. George teaches Dante at the University of Bristol and talked about the poet’s life and work, giving the audience an insight into the beauty and complexity of his desert island choice.

Staying in Italy, George’s ‘wild card’ was The Story of a Humble Christian by Ignazio Silone, a book about an elderly hermit who briefly became Pope Celestine V in 1294, abdicating when he came into conflict with the realpolitik of Church bureaucracy. From the historical past to a dystopian future, Rachel chose The Power by Naomi Alderman, an easy read which she said, helps us to think through many of the difficult questions we face today. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness was Monique’s ‘wild card’, a book she said, that raises powerful issues around truth and lies.

For his ‘wild card’, Kieran recommended The Samurai by Shusaku Endo, a pilgrimage into Christianity that gradually uncovers the differences between Eastern and Western psychology and faith. The evening’s final journey was across France’s Haute-Auvergne with Tim’s ‘wild card’ The Wisdom of Donkeys by Andy Merryfield, a very good book, he explained, “for cheering people up”.

Most of the books discussed are either on the shelves of Redland Library or you can order them through the Libraries West website www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • George Ferzoco: (1) The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri* (2) The Story of a Humble Christian by Ignazio Silone
    * Recommended translations by: Robert Hollander, Charles Singleton or Robert Durling
  • Rabbi Monique Mayer: (1) Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis (2) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • Rev’d Dr Tim Hutton: (1) The Enduring Melody by Michael Mayne (2) The Wisdom of Donkeys by Andy Merryfield
  • Rev’d Rachel Haig: (1) Duncton Wood by William Horwood (2) The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Dr Kieran Flanagan: (1) Crossways by Guy Stagg (2) The Samurai by Shusaku Endo

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: LIBRARY CONSULTATION ( 28 July 2018 )

If anyone doubts that Redland Library is one of the busiest in Bristol, it would be a good idea to drop in on a Saturday afternoon. That’s when we held an informal community consultation about the future of the library and – in between changing books, catching up with periodicals and using the public access computers – local people had lots to say.

Everyone was relieved that the Council has guaranteed funding until 2020 and looking ahead, they had some interesting suggestions about planning for the future. People were also enthusiastic about the Desert Island Books events and gave us some excellent ideas to investigate.

Thanks to the Co-op on Whiteladies Road, we were able offer tea, brownies and flapjack to all who had time for a chat. And, thanks to Councillor Clive Stevens – who lent us his flipchart and went to Sainsbury’s to buy us some coloured felt tip pens – we could record everyone’s thoughts.

Thank you to all who came along and if you weren’t able to join us, please send your thoughts and ideas to: FriendsOfRedlandLibrary@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

BOOKS, ENVIRONMENT & GLOBAL WARMING ( 17th July 2018 )

“What is the one action everyone could take to fight climate change?” asked a member of the audience at the recent Desert Island Books event at Redland Library. “Read some books, find out what’s going on and start some conversations,” said Ian Roderick, a member of the panel discussing ‘Books, Environment and Global Warming.’

Ian Roderick is Director at the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems and joining him on the panel were Darren Hall, Project Manager, Bristol Community Land Trust; Honor Eldridge, incoming Head of Policy, The Sustainable Food Trust; Chris Bennett, Head of Behaviour Change and Engagement, Sustrans and Jenny Briggs, Account Manager, Green House PR.

L-R: Darren Hall, Honor Eldridge, Chris Bennett, Ian Roderick, Jenny Briggs

We asked each member of the panel to recommend a book about the environment or global warming, together with a ‘wild card’ – a book in any genre that they would like to read on the desert island. From the Wild West to the perfect tomato – and practically everything in between – they gave us plenty to think about.

Darren started the discussion with his recommendation Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari. Tracing the evolution of our species from pre-history to the present day, the book looks at how humans became custodians of the natural world and examines our impact of on the planet.

In a more specific context, Honor chose Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America by Richard Slotkin. Showing why nature has only economic – rather than intrinsic – value in the United States, Slotkin offers a valuable insight into recent political decisions affecting the physical landscape of America.

Capitalism also plays a major role in Chris’ desert island pick, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein, which shows that society must fundamentally transform if we are to tackle climate change. A daunting prospect, but as he pointed out, it is a hopeful book.

Continuing the optimistic theme, Ian recommended, The Winning of the Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett. Written in the style of a diary from 2013 to 2015 in the lead up to COP21 in Paris, the book shows that although environmental change is super-tanker slow, it can – and does – happen.

Jenny recommended Roger Deakin’s nature writing classic, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, which takes the reader across Europe to Central Asia and Australia to discover what lies behind our profound connection with wood and trees.

With her ‘wild card’, Jenny went for My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis, by Diana Darke. Ian chose Lila by Robert Persig, a book he has already read three times and would happily read again. The Snow Leopard by Robert Matthiessen, the story of a journey through the Himalayas, was Chris’ ‘wild card’, while Honor’s pick was Diana Henry’s Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa, because, “It was one of the first cookery books to make me care about food.”

Closing the event with a call to action, Darren’s ‘wild card’ recommendation was Trying Hard is Not Good Enough by Mark Friedman, a reminder that if we are to fight climate change we must all play our part. Taking Ian’s advice, reading the panel’s recommendations is a good place to begin.

Most of the books discussed are either on the shelves of Redland Library or you can order them through the Libraries West website: www.librarieswest.org.uk

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Ian Roderick:  (1) The Winning of the Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett  (2) Lila by Robert Persig
  • Darren Hall:  (1) Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari  (2) Trying Hard is Not Good Enough by Mark Friedman
  • Honor Eldridge:  (1) Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America by Richard Slotki  (2) Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa by Diana Henry
  • Chris Bennett:  (1) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein  (2) The Snow Leopard by Robert Matthiessen
  • Jenny Briggs:  (1) Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin (2) My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis by Diana Darke

BOOKS & THE WORLD OF CRIME ( 14th June 2018 )

Proving that crime is the most popular fiction genre in the UK, a capacity audience filled Redland Library for the Desert Island Books event, ‘Books and the World of Crime’.

Following our usual format, we asked an expert panel to recommend a book about crime. We then asked them to choose a ‘wild card’, a book in any genre that they would like to read – and possibly re-read – on the desert island.

The panel included Sue Mountstevens, Avon & Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner; Chief Inspector Leanne Pook, District Commander of North Somerset, Avon & Somerset Police; Marcus Keppel-Palmer, Associate Head of Bristol Law School, University of the West of England and Cally Taylor, who as C L Taylor, is the best-selling author of a series of psychological crime thrillers.

L-R: Sue Mountstevens, Chief Inspector Leanne Pook, Cally Taylor, Marcus Keppel-Palmer

Although she has little time for reading in her current role, Sue recommended Philosophical Investigations by Philip Kerr. A futuristic novel that blends police work and philosophy through the diaries of a detective and a serial killer, the book reveals a chilling – though thought-provoking – vision of criminal justice.

Back in the present day, Leanne chose Blue: A Memoir – Keeping the Peace and Falling to Pieces by John Sutherland. As she explained, most novels and television programmes do not reflect the reality of policing. But John Sutherland is a former Chief Inspector with the Metropolitan Police and as she said, “He tells the truth because he is one of us.”

As a writer of psychological crime fiction, Cally Taylor is interested in the impact of crime on its victims and the motivation of its perpetrators. Her pick was Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent, a complex ‘whydunit’, which maps the making of a sociopath.

For his desert island choice, Marcus focussed on the reporting aspect of the criminal justice process. He recommended Evidence of Blood by Thomas H Cook, an evocative thriller set in America’s Deep South, about a real-crime writer’s search for the truth behind a forty year old murder.

Marcus continued the reporting theme with his ‘wild card’, which was The Run of his Life: The People v. O J Simpson by Jeffery Toobin. With her ‘wild card’, Cally revealed her love of dystopian novels with The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, while Leanne talked about loneliness and the importance of kindness with her pick, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Sue’s ‘wild card’, which highlighted another aspect of kindness, was Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton. Women in public roles, she felt, are more open to criticism than men and we should give them more support.

Most of the books discussed are either on the shelves of Redland Library or you can order them through the Libraries West website www.librarieswest.org.uk

Two books, Unravelling Oliver and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine are also available as audio books.

 

Summary of Book Choices

  • Sue Mountstevens: (1) Philosophical Investigations by Philip Kerr (2) Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton
  • Ch.Insp. Leanne Pook: (1) Blue: A Memoir – Keeping the Peace and Falling to Pieces by John Sutherland (2) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Marcus Keppel-Palmer: (1) Evidence of Blood by Thomas H Cook (2) The Run of his Life: The People v. O J Simpson by Jeffery Toobin
  • Cally Taylor: (1) Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent (2) The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist