Testing the librarians choices

4 August 2020

Librarians are good people. They love books and they love reading - these are good things.

A close-up of a Librarians Choice sticker.

But what about taste? Librarians may like being around books, but when it comes to choosing favourites, how do they rate?

To test it out, we visited Wellington’s newest and shiniest library, Te Awe in the central city, and randomly chose items featuring the golden ‘Librarians Choice’ sticker. 

Here’s what we found - in the fiction, non-fiction, children’s and graphic novel sections.

Fiction: Coffin Waiting, by Gwendoline Butler, 1964.

This is a mad, mad book, and ultimately a pretty smart and satisfying one. An English detective novel, the first 40-odd pages are a dazzling rush of names, voices, snatches of conversations, and glimpses of working class 60s London life. And it’s also a wonderful set-up that ends with a creepy collection of corpses in a sitting room. The rest of the novel blurs along at a cracking pace and while it isn’t perfect, it is eminently readable, with some wonderful set pieces and characters, the eponymous John Coffin among them. Will I search out more of the series? Maybe. Am I glad I read it? Absolutely. 

Best line: “Takes getting almost killed to get real beaver out of Gran.”

Verdict: A choice choice from the Librarians.

Graphic novel: Julio’s Day, Gilbert Hernandez, 2013.

A life spanning one hundred years, over one hundred pages, from the blackness of a baby’s crying mouth, to the blackness of a dying old man’s final breath. This book is strange, intense, and peppered with horror. 
Cover of Julio's Day.

I won’t spoil the latter, but I had to Google blueworm poisoning just to make sure it wasn’t a real thing. The story tells the life of Julio, his family and friends, and the avalanche of physical, social and cultural changes that beset his world, aka the village of his birth. Some of the characters live horrible lives, many meet horrible ends, and there is a certain misery that pervades the 100 black and white pages. A vivid, powerful book. Oh, and did I mention the blueworms? Ugh.

Verdict: Sometimes gross, often grim, always thought-provoking.

Best line: “I’ve allowed myself my day in the sun, Julio. Allow yourself yours!”

Children’s book: Ted Rules the World, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, 2015.

What a hoot. A bullied schoolkid called Ted unwittingly gains the ear of the new Prime Minister, who starts to put into place laws which conform to Ted’s wishes. Those start with wanting an extra long weekend and forcing children to walk to school, but soon get a bit more grandiose and thoughtful. In theory at least, because when push comes to shove, Ted would rather not be bullied for his red hair than solve world peace and stop climate change. His heart is in the right place though. Ted Rules the World is short and sweet, but with some genuinely funny parts in here, so adults will enjoy reading it to children, too.

Best line: “The apple trees were thrashing about like Goths in a mosh pit.”

Verdict: A fun, funny book that is also a bit different.

Non fiction: The Beekeeper of Sinjar, by Dunya Mikhail, 2018.

A harrowing account of a recent regime of physical and sexual violence against the Yazidi people, centred around a beekeeper and the women and children he helped save.
The cover of the Beekeper of Sinjar.
Written by an Iraqi journalist and poet, it mixes poetry with first-hand accounts of those sold into slavery with Daesh, and how they managed to escape. The subject matter is grim and difficult, and the bravery and selflessness of the victims and rescuers is inspiring. When you contrast it with the depravity and cruelty of the slave-holders it is difficult to reconcile the fact that both groups could have any common humanity at all. 

Best line: “I used to be obsessed with beekeeping, but ever since we’ve had our Daesh problem I’ve been distracted from the bees. Freeing people from those savages has become my daily concern.”

Verdict: A powerful insight into the horrors of Isis, and not for the fainthearted.