Monthly Archives: December 2008

Tidying up

Have you too been concerned about the state of Son’s room? He’s not had time to tidy up for the past couple of years, at least. He’s been in and out over a weekend here and there, and the mess had grown and the dust had reached unspeakable levels.

So, we have had some quality time this Christmas, with me watching him tidy up and lending moral support in his time of need and all that. Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust took on a new meaning as we tackled the bookcases, but now they are orderly and not overflowing, and less dusty for a short while.

Son’s desk has emerged again, and things look pretty good. The rest of the house looks worse, as the excess had to go somewhere else, but I trust it’s nothing that a trip to a charity shop won’t cure.

A good way to start the new year.

How to ruin a book with a sticky label

As I understand it, Oxfam staff are meant to write the price of the used books they sell, in soft pencil, inside the book. Many branches of Oxfam do, and all I need to do post-purchase is to get my eraser out, and the book will look fine.

Some of my local branches, like the big one in central Manchester, use sticky labels. You know, the kind that divides into three or four pieces, in order to prevent shoplifting. The ones they use are particularly sticky, and for good measure they use two per book. One on the outside, front or back. One on the inside where the soft pencil should go.

Some book covers are strong enough and glossy enough to allow removal of the label without too much damage or difficulty. The inside is another business, and I’ve torn a good many books that way. The very worst is when the book cover is soft or has a matt finish. Then the outside label can’t be removed. The worst I’ve ever had was a really old copy of an Arthur Ransome, where the label ruined the dust wrapper completely.

Oxfam could argue that with used books it doesn’t matter, but I just don’t want an ugly label stuck where it doesn’t belong. If the books were still sold for 20p, my case would be weaker, as it would be really good value (though I still don’t think it’s OK to ruin books), but Oxfam are expensive. Sometimes the books are not much cheaper than the big online bookshop. And if I’ve found an old book, it would be good to have it free from both labels and damaged covers.

In the news today

Feel sufficiently bad about what’s on the front page of the paper today, to add something myself. I am not all that knowledgeable on the finer points of the situation in the Middle East, but I’m so old that I’ve seen news like this more times than I should have.

In the spring I blogged briefly about  Message in a Bottle by Valérie Zenatti, feeling it was a book everybody should read. If you didn’t, now is a good time to do so. And maybe give it as a gift, if you’re buying gifts or books for someone you like.

Horace and the paperback

I read my previously mentioned house magazine over lunch, and it wasn’t so much inspiration, as anger, which came over me. And I’m sorry if I’m repeating this ad nauseam, but what is wrong with paperbacks? And how come some people really can’t see that keeping books has to come to an end some time, unless something changes?

They had pages of the most wonderful bookcases, but they forget that ordinary people run out of floor space for more bookcases, or money for some of the more expensive ones. And even if that doesn’t happen, there will always be one book, sooner or later, that won’t fit, because it’s full. I cleared the worst excesses before Christmas, by handing some books over to Oxfam, but mainly by brushing the problem under the carpet on a temporary basis. (Yes, I know. Fairly bulky and uneven for a carpet.)

But for people who aren’t ordinary, like Horace Engdahl of the Swedish Academy, books are a hygiene problem! He’s the one who tells the world each year who gets the Nobel prize for literature. I’m still working on the hygiene aspect of books. One of the magazine’s standard questions, which drives me mad every time (do they know, and do they do it on purpose?), is “Do you keep paperbacks?” Horace keeps them “if they have something sensible in them”.

Why would paperbacks have a less worthwhile content? They may not look good enough to some, but the contents? Even Nobel prize winners have books out in paperback. In fact, when I bought my Pinters years ago, I saw nothing but paperbacks in the shops. His silences are equally powerful without the hard cover.

The next page in the magazine then goes on to show bookshelves for paperbacks. Do they need to be separated? Segregated. Discriminated against. I don’t get it.

The Knife of the Cliffhanger

There are cliffhangers, and there are cliffhangers. Then there’s The Knife of Never Letting Go. Patrick Ness has hit on a way of getting all his readers to return to the next book about Todd, the boy who’s about to become a man. Luckily, I’d been warned, so wasn’t hopeful of getting a satisfying end on page 479. (That’s the last page.) Some books end seemingly happily, only for the sequel to start with a new serious bad thing, pushing the protagonist(s) into more adventures. This one gave me no hope whatsoever, and the only good thing is I read it so late, that my wait will be shorter. (Please feel free to send me a really early proof to ease my agony…)

I’d heard so much about this book, and had formed my own mental image of it. All wrong. This was very different, and much better for it. I suppose it’s trying to be some kind of space travel version of the Europeans setting out to find a new life in America. That’s what it feels like to me. The new world has Noise, which means you hear what other men are thinking. Only men, mind you.

Todd and his dog have to escape the place where Todd grew up, and set off on a long and perilous walk to a safe haven. The difficult bit is to keep your Noise quiet enough for the enemy not to hear it and know what you’re up to. Todd finds a travelling companion, and they spend the whole journey avoiding the bad people and occasionally meeting some good ones.

The big question is whether Todd is a murderer and can kill when necessary.

Another big question is: What happens next???

Beta Sara Paretsky

Visit Sara Paretsky’s new-ish blog for some instalments of fresh fiction. It’s a kind of Warshawski set-up, with nice touches of current current affairs, and so far, some interesting bodyguards.

Sara has also added a good looking Chicago map, which is something we badly need in these far flung parts, unless we fly over to Chicago in the spring to go on the advertised tour in V I’s footsteps with Sara herself.

Used presents

This year’s charity shop Christmas presents have been unwrapped, and I did quite well. Only two books, thank goodness, and one of them a Sara Paretsky I didn’t already own. Daughter will soon have her buying down to perfection, which is why I’m going to hark back to the Stephen Booth Christmas present book running  joke.

I’m a bad mother. Before we gave up on new gifts and went for used ones (and nobody minds if they go back to Oxfam at the end of the week), I used to write a wish list, just to give people a vague idea of my needs. Four years ago I asked for the first Stephen Booth novel, Black Dog. Then I decided to ask the local bookshop to get one signed for me when Stephen did an event there in December, which I couldn’t attend.

So I ticked the book off the list by the time Daughter arrived home with one she’d just bought. Despair.

I suggested getting it changed for the second book, Dancing with the Virgins. Done.

Then I was given that very book, signed to me, by the school librarian, for services rendered. Oops.

By this time Daughter was ready to ask to be adopted by someone nice and lovely and normal.

A year or so later she came home from the local charity shop, very excited. She asked where I keep my Stephen Booths, and went to have a look. This satisfied her, and all was explained on Christmas Eve with the arrival of One Last Breath, the fifth book, which I actually needed at that point.

So it has a special place in my heart, and it was the one I asked Stephen to sign this summer when we met. And I try to behave around present buying times these days. I’ve not been forgiven yet.

…and for Christmas night

I borrowed this beautiful short story from Lucy Coats. No need to say any more.

Bad chocolate

You may feel I’ve got it in for chocolate, and it’s true that it tends to attack me, unless I’m feeling really good and it’s white chocolate, but I have nothing against it as such. Except possibly that heavenly smell when others near me are showing a lack of solidarity with my non-choccy state.

Hinter verzauberten Fenstern

But I do mind chocolate calendars, because they seem to have taken over. It’s like it’s not proper if it’s not a chocolate calendar for Advent. And I will not have my children brainwashed. (I know they are quite old, now, but it’s the principle of it.)

So, I’m with Cornelia Funke on this. Her Hinter verzauberten Fenstern is all about the effect chocolate calendars have had on the good, traditional calendars. Julia, the main character in this book, makes friends with the people in her traditional calendar, and she meets the baddie from the chocolate calendar castle.

All will be well in the end, of course, but you can’t be too careful. And I would like to know how Julia explains to her parents about popping in and out of the Advent calendar. At least her pesky little brother Olli can understand about “the other side”.

Three weeks ago, when I started on this book, I didn’t think I’d finish it. So I’m quite pleased, to be honest. Time for a translation, though. I think this would be a very good story for English speaking readers, too.

Christmas songs from Siobhan

It’s Christmas, so I hope Fiona Dunbar won’t mind a little borrowing from her blog. Anyway, I think Fiona might have gone away for Christmas, so perhaps she won’t even find out.

I’d only just “met” Siobhan Dowd when she died last year, so I didn’t know that she and her husband Geoff had a habit of recording Christmas songs and sending to people, but it seems they did. Also had no idea Siobhan had such a good voice.

Here is a link to where you can find their songs from the last few years.