Letters to the Zoo

Books, mostly.

Month: June, 2017


Dear Zoo,

A “quick” post today. I wanted to tell you about the book I’m halfway through because it’s so interesting! I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about it but all in good time, right?

I’m reading ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks‘ by Rebecca Skloot. The book is a non-fiction/ semi-biography type book but it’s written like a good story. It’s hard to put down. The book tells three stories: it tells the story of the author writing her book and learning about Henrietta Lacks, and in that way tells the story of Henrietta (like a story within a story). It also tells the story of some of Henrietta’s cells, known to the science world as HeLa.

Henrietta was a black woman from a poor family in Baltimore who died in the 1951 from cervical cancer. At the time of her treatment some cells were taken from her body and used for experimentation in cell culture. It’s not clear whether she knew about this before she died. Henrietta’s cells were the first ‘immortal’ cells and because of this were grown and used in thousands of science experiments in the 50s. They were used, for example, in the creation of the polio vaccine. Her cells benefited science in innumerable ways. But of course, her family knew little about what was happening and were not compensated for her contribution to science (I haven’t finished the book so I could be wrong about this, they were certainly never compensated at the time).

To me this book is an absolute gem because it tells the story of race and science intersecting – two topics I’m fascinated by. Despite these lofty topics being the centre of the book, its accessible to a general audience and very readable. I’ll write again when I’ve finished!

Yours the procrastinating student*,


* I should be studying for my exam right now  but my brain started feeling fury and I needed a break! Also cake, I need some cake.


That one time, a year ago

Dear Zoo,

This time last year my fiance and I loaded his Toyota Trueno with four months worth of my stuff and drove down the West Coast, headed for Hokitika. It was a glorious winters day and we took the Coastal route. The huge waves and Nikau Palms made it feel other-worldly. I remember feeling scared and excited in equal measures – I really had no idea what was in store for me! I worked in Hokitika, in small but exceptionally busy and vibrant, library with four staff (including me) for four months as their Youth Librarian, running all the programmes for children, including outreach, maintaining and buying the youth collections and working on the desk.

A year later, I say with some regularity, that I was meant to make that scary voyage into the unknown. I’m not a very spiritual person but I believe that the stars aligned last June. Working and living in Hoki was one of the best and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I spent a lot of those four months feeling quite homesick and missing my family but I’m really glad that I stuck it out because I learnt so many things.

Some of my favourite parts of living/ working there: doing storytime and experimenting with programme ideas, doing outreach, planning school holiday programmes and other special events, Roald Dahl week was a highlight, reading lots of amazing books including most of Kate DiCamillo’s and Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, the wide roads in Hokitika and going for big walks and looking at all the interesting houses, having lots of fun times with a variety of visitors, almost dying of happiness every time Rowan came to visit and going on crazy adventures up and down the West Coast with him, the amazing ladies I worked with in the library who were so kind and funny and shared my love of chocolate, the really crazy waves at Hoki beach, looking at houses and thinking about buying one for under $200,000 (!!!), doing lots of fun, crafty displays in the library, the strawberry milkshakes at Stella, going to the movies in their 400 seat theater (once, completely by myself), exploring lots of mine remnants on the WC, seeing lots of new calves, getting an amazing parcel in the mail from my bro in Europe (and any other time I got mail), the redonculous rain on the roof at night and surviving several ‘storms’, staying tucked up in bed reading on the weekend, a really awesome trip to Palmy to attend a children’s librarian conference…okay I’ll stop there. It was such an amazing trip!

It’s weird that a whole year has passed and this year I’m not going anywhere. Since then I’ve done a few more papers at uni, done more CL stuff at my home library, gotten married (!!!), and spent a lot of time thinking about last winter and how this winter is different. It’s good to be at home with my peeps but it was equally good to go on a crazy adventure.

What are you up to this year?

Yours at home,


Words: Joined by Genes and Letters

Dear Zoo,

Hey there. So. In a bid to write more things, both here, and generally, I’ve made the dramatic decision to start sharing my fiction on the blog. Most of what I share, at least for now, is stuff that has been sleeping in a folder on my laptop. Here are some words I wrote in 2015 about Finland.

Joined by Genes and Letters

There is a sweeping road and a paddock to the left with a horse in it. The horse is black and stands with its head bent grass-wards, illuminated by the midnight sun: handsome. This road joins my grandmother’s house, squatting in front of a forest of birch trees, to the speckle of shops that make up the village of Pojo. When I was a child I wrote to my grandmother on floral paper and learnt that Pojo doesn’t sound like pyjamas. The Swedish ‘J’ has a ‘Y’ sound that sits on my tongue like a spoonful of soup. There are other memories that fold in at the edges like silk. Memories of the sauna smell in the basement and the scent of the geraniums on the windowsill of her spare room where I camped on a mattress.

At a halfway point between home and the memories, I press myself into a squelchy pleather seat and sip a cup of tea. It burns the tip of my tongue and tastes mostly like the cardboard cup it came in. I am in a no-mans-land of brightly dressed air-hostesses and haggard travellers. I feel microscopic: a hexagon in the carpet pattern. I think about the horse’s mane tousled in the June breeze and the first time I rounded that one bend to see it just standing there, watching out.

It has been six years since my parents and I hauled our suitcases through a stuffy train station in Helsinki. This time I’m alone. I hug my backpack and feel fear and excitement tango in my stomach like old friends. I’m ready to join another queue and climb 30,000 feet into the air. Tomorrow we’ll visit the horse. I hope he’s expecting me.

Yours the persistent typist,


Currently Pop Culture

Currently Pop Culture 5-6-17

Dear Zoo,

So apparently it’s June? If there is one clear indicator of a bad blogger – someone who should probably just throw in the towel – its a blogger who misses whole months of the year. Sorry about that. But I’m not going to throw in the towel because I have more to write – it’s just buried deep, deep beneath assignments and letters to IRD (nothing sinister, apparently I’m changing my name) and work and wintry blankets. I thought I’d just share what I have been reading, watching and listening to lately.

Currently reading – Everyone Brave is Forgiven, the first Chris Cleave novel I’ve delved into. Set in WII, mostly in London during the Blitz, Cleave tells the tale of two women and two men and how the war impacts on their lives. Goodness Cleave, can write, right? If the story is a little slow, he makes up for it with immaculate prose. And I kind of just love Mary, a socialite who is stubborn and clever, if a little naive.

Currently reading The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, Finnish writer and artist. Oh Tove. Tove makes things (well, made  them) and I fall in love, be it a Moomin comic strip or a short novel set on one of Finland’s magical islands. If you want to read something quite strange and a bit great read one of her novels.

Currently watching – Broooooadchurch! Okay, so I’m late to the party of blockbuster Nordic/ British crime shows (I spent last winter watching Shortland Street in a cottage on the West Coast). This show is just massively brilliant. I take all of the hats I’ve ever owned off  to Olivia Coleman (and yes, David Tennant). I don’t think I’ve ever been so glued to a screen or so invested in a character. And yes, I cried. Quite a lot.

Currently listening – to Hidden Brain, an NPR podcast. I’m going to say something a bit horrible. If I had my way, I would probably live in a nice cottage in the middle of nowhere and just read fiction and books about natural history because to be frank, reading or learning about the world as it currently stands is just a bit shit. It’s broken. But I can’t bury my head in the sand and so Hidden Brain is one way that I engage with and try to understand our world as it is now. It’s a good, balanced, thought-provoking look at some big and some unusual topics like crime, immigration, big data…

What are you watching, listening to or reading?

Yours all eyes and ears,