Thursday, May 16, 2013

Speaking quietly

In the supermarket today, I was once again being shouted at by someone trying to tell me what to buy. A shop assistant was filling up the bin of oranges, so I (very unfairly) told him how much I disliked being hectored by this disembodied voice while I was shopping. He said, with great feeling, that he hated it too - and I immediately realised that it's so much worse for the people who work there, they have to put up with it for hours.
        I hate being shouted at in writing even more. Fortunately there seems to be a wealth of quietly spoken, deeply considered writing on offer. I'm now reading The Burgess Boys, the new novel by Elizabeth Strout (the author of Olive Kitteridge). It concerns a family of two boys and a girl who grew up in Shirley Falls, Maine. Only the girl, Susan, has stayed there; Jim and Bob have both moved to New York. A peculiarly contemporary crisis with Susan's son, involving the town's new Somali community, brings them back one autumn:
"In Shirley Falls the days were short now, the sun never climbing very high in the sky, and when a blanket of clouds sat over the small city it seemed as though twilight began as soon as people finished their lunch, and when darkness came it was a full darkness. Most of the people who lived there had lived there all their lives, and they were used to the darkness this time of year, but that did not mean they  liked it. It was spoken of when neighbours met in grocery stores, or on the steps of the post office, often with an added phrase of what was felt about the holiday season to come; some liked the holidays, many did not. Fuel prices were high, and holidays cost money."
The whole book is perfectly balanced, and all the more moving for its calm, quiet, comprehending voice.

Friday, May 3, 2013

May Day: moving on

Well, just after - I meant to write this on 1 May, but have been languishing in bed with a pesky cold. I've decided that from now on I'll move the focus a little for this blog, so that it's mainly about reading and writing, two pursuits that were central to Harvey's life, as they are to mine. So it's fitting that this post centres on a wonderful children's book, A Great Cake by Tina Matthews.

I heard Tina talking about it to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon. Apart from the fact that it sounded such fun, what caught my attention and made me go  to Unity Books and buy it next day was the name of the little boy: Harvey. It's the first New Zealand picture book I'd heard of which features that name.

Both the words and the pictures are by Tina, and she's come up with the most realistic family I ever saw in a kid's book - piles of washing, authentically messy kitchen and living room - as well as an enviably patient and creative mother. I'll be posting it soon to Taylor and Ryan, with a line inside that they won't understand yet, but their mother will appreciate: "From your great-auntie Anne, in memory of your great-uncle Harvey, who loved books."