It seems it's award and competition time of the year. (But then, perhaps the season for awards never really stops). In the news, firstly, a New Zealand girl reached the semi-finals of the United States national spelling bee.
We didn't have spelling bees in New Zealand when I was a child, which gives me mild cause for regret because I would have done rather well. They seem to be a new phenomenon in the last few years. And the winner of our national contest gets sent to Washington to compete there, which I think is a little odd for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it's the United States national spelling bee, not the International Spelling Bee. But secondly, because we don't spell things the same. Presumably Kate swotted up on words like "plough", "theatre" and "favourite" before she went, learning to spell them as "plow", "theater" and "favorite". Or more likely, these words are too simple for the contest anyway.
Apparently Kate's "heavy accent" gave the judges some problems - they debated for several minutes whether she had said "g" or "j" when she spelled "jardiniere" - finally they had to ask her for another word that began with the same letter.
Come on now - New Zealanders don't have heavy accents - it's Americans that have accents! Given the regional variation, New Zealand accents can't be any more difficult. Just unfamiliar, I suppose. We hear American accents of all sorts on TV so much that we are used to the differences.
Actually, my favourite spelling story relates to a New Zealand family that lived in the States for a couple of years. Their daughter came home from school and announced she had scored 19 out of 20 on her spelling test. "Over here", she said, "they spell Revolution with a capital R".
Also in the news recently is that New Zealand novelist Lloyd Jones won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his novel "Mr Pip". The Christchurch City Libraries blog celebrated the win in slightly inflated terms, declaring the book had been named the world's best book. The last I heard, the Commonwealth excluded a few of the larger countries of the world, including the United States, and a very large portion of the non-English speaking world as well. Still, it's a noted achievement, which leaves me thinking it's time I read the book (though no doubt the library now has a large queue to borrow it, and my book buying funds are a bit limited).
It had me thinking about a passage in a short story I read, called "The Life Coach". **
Erica wonders what book Anna is reading and Becky promises to ask. She rings back later that week:Snow Falling on Cedars.
"You're kidding? Anything else?"
"The Shipping News?"
"Well I liked it, especially the movie. And there's..."
"Let me guess. Captain Corellis's Mandolin."
"White Teeth actually. She couldn't really get into Captain Corelli."
"Becky, that's a book club reading list from eight years ago. She's a fraud."
Well, I haven't read White Teeth myself yet, and I presume it's still worth reading if it was worth reading when it first came out. I'd like to think that good books last more than a year or two. A couple of the others mentioned are on my book shelves and I'd be happy to re-read them. Do we just have to read the newest, latest thing?
Speaking of book clubs, I've noticed a disturbing trend when I've been browsing in book shops. some books now come complete with "book club reading notes" at the back. Looking at the notes, they seem to offer discussion questions at least as bad as the worst any of my school teachers came up with. If I were to join a book club, I'd want it to be like my poetry group. No set questions, just honest discussion of the personal impact of the book. I can't imagine joining in a club where we discussed set questions from the back of the book, as if we were thirteen years old again.
**The quote above is from a book called "The Six Pack", which was the result of a competition for New Zealand book month last year. The winners, judged anonymously, in categories of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, get a substantial cash prize and the book of six winners is sold for $6.00 which is fantastic value given that no other paperback can be bought in New Zealand for under $20.00 these days.
Five of the winners are chosen by judges, and the sixth is chosen by public vote. This year's entries can be found here.