Showing posts from February, 2015

Planes, trains and literary loves

I still laugh about the wintry morning when I headed into the library so distracted by thoughts about trains, or rather, about stories with trains -- Anna Karenina throwing herself under a train, Coral Musker aboard the Orient Express with the guard calling "Budapest!" as a fellow passenger presses a folded note into her hand -- that I walked right into a big green loden coat. To my delight, the person inside the big coat was Paul Reynolds, the visionary who developed our first website, but also, and in this case more importantly, a keen reader, who in fact had earned his living as a book reviewer when he first arrived from the UK.

Just the person to consult about the question which had me racking my brain: I could think of many books in which trains feature as elements of mystery, excitement, danger -- of romance, in short; but were there not any where aeroplanes play a similar role? Paul was on to it in a flash. "What about Biggles?", he said.

The story came to m…

On the long-term poetry of snails

One of my most prized possessions is this decade-old clipping from the NZ Listener of a news item about a scientific study on memory. It's entitled "Lest we remember" and goes like this:

"Will it be possible for people to have their unwanted memories erased, or at least weakened? Who knows, but scientists at UCLA have reported in the Journal of  Neuroscience that they have been able to erase the long-term memories of marine snails..."

"The long-term memories of marine snails"!

I was -- still am -- irremediably fascinated by the idea.

Take the conch. The conch, according to the marine biologist featured in Stanford University's "microdoc" video on conch, spends its life "cruising around" (changed to "wander" for the written version) in the deep waters near the reef, eating seagrass. What could a conch's long-term memories be?

So here I am, years later, reading about Shelley in Italy, the long afternoons under a sh…

On the joys of the writerly memoir

"Reality, as Nabokov never got tired of reminding us, is the one word that is meaningless without quotation marks."

Was Pippa Middleton the beginning of the end?

Penguin would have thought it a sure-fire win. An in-law of the royals (and not just any in-law, but the one the press nicknamed "Her Hotness" when she burst onto the scene at her sister's wedding to the second in line) imparts the secret of -- not curing the King's Evil, no, something much more 'of our time': brilliant parties year round.

They handed Pippa a £400,000 advance, and she handed them Celebrate: a year of British festivities for family and friends. And it flopped! Only 2000 copies sold in its first week. In a nation of 65 million people! Plus the Commonwealth!

It wasn't the first celebrity title to flop -- earlier, a book by Alec Baldwin on fatherhood failed even more spectacularly, not surprisingly, I think you'll agree -- but maybe because of the personality in questio…