Tag Archives: Guardian

The never ever books

Almost exactly seven years ago – when I was a brand new little Bookwitch – I blogged about which book from a list of 100 I would never read. Today the challenge has been upped somewhat, in that I’m supposed to find 100 books I would never read. I blame the Guardian. They started it. Then Maria Nikolajeva picked up the gauntlet and in turn got Clémentine Beauvais to pick hers.

And here I am, copying them, while having no clue what I am about to claim I will never read. So that is fine. I so know what I’m doing.

Anyway, the Guardian’s idea is that what is not on your shelves is more revealing than what is. Although that relies on you giving shelf space only to what you read and like. Some of us have books to show off with, or books we hope to read one day. Some of our best books might not be there at all. We could be in love with novels borrowed from friends and libraries, and actually returned to them again. We are not all shady types who steal what we can’t get hold of by any other means. Tempting, but …

Clémentine seems to agree with me on Martin Amis, so I was more topical than I realised the other day. Between them, she and Maria disagree on John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Clémentine won’t read it and Maria loved it. Well, I have read half, and am more than satisfied not to be taking it any further.

It’s almost impossible to know for certain what you won’t ever read (again). But I do feel very strongly I won’t be going near anything by G P Taylor.

Sitting here and squirming won’t get me to even ten, let alone 100. But I really don’t like saying negative things about books and authors. OK, I have severe reservations about Lionel Shriver and Jeanette Winterson.

Am in agreement with Clémentine on not wanting to read sequels to some books, whether I enjoyed the first one or not. I also have several more than TFIOS as a half-read-but-no-further book. Disagree about The Knife of Never Letting Go, which just got better and better.

It’s a relief to see that one is allowed to have no intention of reading certain classics or the big iconic books. You know, the kind that people you admire swear by, claiming it made them who they are, and all that. On that basis I honestly still don’t expect to read Hilary Mantel, however much Meg Rosoff likes her.

I unpack books from jiffy-bags every week that I will never read. Either because I don’t want to, or because time is limited. And that’s interesting in itself, since whatever people send me, it does tend to be children’s books or crime, which are my favourites. Just think how much worse it would be if my letterbox suddenly started spitting literary novels.

No, I give up. It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t know, and when I do know, I don’t always want to put it in print.

To G P Taylor: I want my wasted week back!

At least there were some children’s books

It’s the Guardian top 100 bestselling books of 2012 I’ve got in mind. Maybe I’m wrong to feel pleased there are 23, or 24 if you count The Hobbit, children’s books in the top 100. It’s children from the Hunger Games age group down to the Julia Donaldson age level, with The Wimpy Kid and David Walliams in the middle.

There are rather a lot of Wimpy Kids and David Walliams books on that list, at the expense of more individual fiction. But if the books have been bought, they have most likely been read too, because that’s the kind of books they are. And that has to count as A Good Thing, surely?

The Hunger Games film caused hundreds of thousands of books to be bought, and if the Bookwitch Towers experience is anything to go by, they were definitely read, and very quickly, too. Not by me. The film was enough. But I recognise that fervour, awakened by a cinema visit. I saw Five On a Treasure Island before reading the books. Almost before I could read, but that didn’t stop me. And look where it got me.

War Horse stage play

Even theatre can cause book buying, as evidenced by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I would guess the books are bought by adults, but most likely read by children as well. Or was it ‘just’ the film effect again?

War Horse film

Whereas I am – reluctantly – conceding that it might be mainly adults who bought and read John Grisham’s latest Theodore Boone, simply because they are Grisham fans. Or possibly because they didn’t realise it’s a children’s book.

But what of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger? It comes in the top twenty children’s books in the 100 list, but has not made it into the children’s top twenty. Might that be the adult fan reading everything by their favourite author again?

The fact that Jacqueline Wilson is not in the top twenty, is an indication of how well the film industry sells books. (Did I just say that?)

Wimpy Kid film poster

What makes me happy, is that at least a couple of million readers benefitted from the top twenty titles. I hope they will also be reading other books, lower down in the sales league, and that they will continue reading. Always.

A true story for Christmas

You must ‘click through’ and read this! Even on re-reading the true story by Eva Ibbotson (from the Guardian) I found that my eyes developed some inexplicable dampness.

It’s about libraries, war, refugees and more. Eva Ibbotson is no longer with us, and our libraries seem destined to go the same way. Wouldn’t it be lovely if stories like this one could stop library closures, while also opening our hearts more to those who have had to leave their homes, through no fault of their own?

Kensal Rise library

Here is to knowledge and reading and friendship and languages, in and out of libraries!

We’re on our way

Now, why am I going to link to an interview which most of you can’t read*? Or tell you about a book review with the same problem?

Because it would be a shame not to. Have I ever mentioned that the Resident IT Consultant likes books that are different from what I like? We dragged him off for some shopping as soon as he joined us on holiday. (That means he drove us to town where we ditched him, and went off to do our own thing, leaving him to do likewise.)

So he found a book, which he wanted to buy, and I let him, on the basis that I thought it’d make him happy and keep him quiet for a bit. It was about the place where we stay, so seemed suitable. Pretty pictures, if nothing else.

Haverdalsvy - omslag till Haver du sett Haverdal, av Ingrid Magnusson Rading

But, you know, we’d barely got back before he had to show me a map in the book and before I knew it, I found I was hooked. I began to read through the book for my own entertainment, rather than to just pretend an interest. It’s good, this Haver du sett Haverdal. It features places I know and people I’ve met, and is bursting with facts and beautiful pictures.

Then I mowed the grass one afternoon, and that is as good for the creative juices as ironing is. ‘I must interview her!’ I said to myself. If we are both in Haverdal at this time, I must interview Ingrid Magnusson Rading.

I trotted inside to check for means of contacting Ingrid and found a website for the book, including an about page different to what was in the book. I noticed the photo of her, which was different (=better) than the one in the newspaper. In a split second I realised that we had gone to school together, so I sent her a rambling email to that effect.

Before too long she was sitting on my sofa drinking tea and chatting non-stop. We even fitted in a short interview, but it was mostly chat. So, even though only five of my regular readers can read about Ingrid, or read the book, I still felt I should mention this.

The book is self-published, and has had two print runs in the less than two months it’s been out, and is currently oop, until the third edition comes (soon, I think). It is a fantastically well done job, both from the woman who decided she could write a book like this (her original intention was a small leaflet for private consumption…), and from her Resident IT Consultant who did all the technical, fiddly bits.

It’s a very professional book. And once someone has translated it into English, you can read it, but I would ask you to not all visit Haverdal at the same time. You’ll want to, but it’s a quiet-ish kind of place.

And now that I am back from there, I am already on my way elsewhere. Edinburgh, here we come! (I found last Saturday’s Guardian Review, where it said EIBF starts today [4th]. I nearly choked on my Weetabix.)

*I have been reminded that you can use online translation programmes. They aren’t all hopeless all the time.

Here’s one they made earlier

I’ve been working on educating the Resident IT Consultant. Whenever the Guardian publishes a photo of whoever they are writing about, you can be fairly certain it will be an ex-Edinburgh Book Festival photo, if the person ever appeared there. And let’s face it, most people seem to have passed through at some time or other. It’s a convenient way of collecting images. And having been on the other side (I don’t mean that other side; just the right side of the cameras) I can now recognise them instantly.

The Guardian on a Saturday also does a My Family Values regular thing, which featured Jacqueline Wilson last week. Her photo ‘hit’ me from across the room (well, it was big) and when I quizzed him, the Resident IT Consultant gave me the correct answer at once.

This time there was nothing really new, seeing as I keep up with who Jacqueline is. It was as I got to the end, where they mentioned her most recent book, that I worked out that these columns are most likely made quite some time in advance. OK, so they don’t expect people to pop two books every year, but her September book is no longer the most recent.

And then I thought about the mention of the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories in Newcastle, and the penny dropped, albeit slowly. Maybe they prepared this piece back in October, when both exhibition and book were brand new? That’s when there was extra media interest in both.

So even national newspapers ‘make things earlier’ and keep until needed, or wanted.

Jacqueline Wilson and paparazzi

As for the photo which started this post, can you see me there? On the other side? I’m not there all the time, but increasingly I have my own version of what the ‘real’ press use. And sometimes it feels as if the Witch Photo Gallery (I just made that up) actually has pictures the ‘real’ photographers never end up using. Whereas I have used this one several times. (To be fair, Colin McPherson who is getting ‘his’ book signed here, recently let me use one of his photos for free.)

I too do Blue Peter style blog posts. You never know when you’ll have a rainy day and need a magically transformed bottle of washing-up liquid. It’s not Sapphire Battersea which is the latest. It is The Worst Thing About My Sister. And if it isn’t, then this post has Blue Petered out of all control.

Bookwitch bites #66

Double sixes! How exciting. Let’s be mean. I mean, let me be witchy.

I know. I’m not a native English speaker. I may have been headhunted (hah!) by an agent last week, but I won’t be writing a book. The Resident IT Consultant said he thought I could, until I informed him of my limited vocabulary. After close to 30 years, it’s not as if he will have noticed yet. OK, it’s not bad. But it’s not good. My passive vocabulary is acceptable, but what I am actually able to use confidently is so much smaller.

And on those occasions when I consider saying ‘that word’ out loud (whatever the word might be), I realise I haven’t got a clue how to pronounce it. And you people do not want to know what I do to monasteries on a regular basis. I mean, I know, really. But it just slips out.

So, this morning I’ve been unable to let posturepedic out of my head. (I dare say that’s as good a place as any for it.) I saw this bed advert recently. I have seen the word posturepedic before, and made sense of it. This time I tripped and it took me ages to see what word it was. Try and say it yourselves, using the antepenult rule for where the stress goes. There’s no escape.

It wasn’t beds I set out to have a go at. Just wanted to point out how far from perfect I am before I start complaining. But could someone please tell me why, why, why intelligent and well educated people who work with words will use a phrase like ‘it was a surprise to my husband and I’??? Remove the husband (generally to be recommended) and where are you?

That old teen heart throb David Cassidy used to do a column in my beloved teen magazine, and even he got it right. He reminisced about a girl from school who used to run after her friends, calling ‘wait for I!’. Without a husband it just didn’t work, did it? And I’ve now found it in the book I’m reading, which until then was going so well. Editing? What editing?

I sit up at night, editing. I still leave the odd thing for Son or Daughter to email me about, just to make them feel superior. But I do my best.

Now, at long last, I have found something that I rate below ‘wait for I’. I just don’t know who to blame. David Walliams? Or Penguin? Or the Guardian? At some point there must have been an editor in charge. I quote. ‘…which of course made we kids love it all the more.’


And that leaves me ‘sat’ here moaning about one last thing. I put my trust in Daughter’s teacher, fondly imagining she would tell her how wrong it is. She didn’t. You now get it everywhere, and the Resident IT Consultant has gone so far as to suggest I could be wrong. (He’s sufficiently scared of me not to say so absolutely…) Am I wrong?

I was beginning to think I was, when a lovely author on facebook agreed with me and even offered up a grammatical rule. (I’m useless at grammar.) Soon after there was another author, busy flogging her newly published book in the Guardian (twice in one week), using the phrase, thereby immediately absolving me from any need to show further interest.

Perhaps we are all reading from the same English work sheet Offspring brought home from Primary school. It was about tenses. Present tense looks like this, apparently: ‘I am sitting’, where it’s the sitting that is the present. I always imagined it was ‘I sit, you sit, he/she sits’ and so on.

Goodness me. It’s Saturday. This is supposedly a Bookwitch bites, and here I am, going on and on. Sorry. It must have been the 66 that bewitched me.

I’ll just proofread this now. It’s a mere blog, but…

(This makes it 666 words.)

Being critical

I’ve done nice, in a Thumper-ish kind of way. If I don’t like a book, I will stop reading. If I can’t, I probably won’t review it. Though, having lost time reading something I didn’t care for, it’s possible to salvage something by blogging about it in a more general way.

In a week that began with Anthony McGowan’s much discussed negative review in the Guardian, and continued with Julie Bertagna’s blog, I have come to the conclusion that it might be time for a policy change. Not to slag off books, but to blog about them, warts and all. I have some way to go before I can do what Anthony did, because he got it just right (not having read the book in question I don’t know if I share his opinions), which requires skill.

What’s the verdict of my review of Advent yesterday? It’s a book I liked for the most part, and in the past I would have concentrated on that, while leaving a bit of a hole in the middle. I now feel that when I’ve invested the time, I shouldn’t do half a review. (Or should I?)

I remember the book by GPT some years ago, which I had to finish because I was leading a group discussion afterwards, only to find that not a single child in the group had bothered, so I needn’t have either. If only I could have that week back!

More recently I was grabbed by the description of a novel by a new author, except the story ended up going nowhere. By then I felt I might as well finish the book, and that’s when it turned out it was the first in a trilogy. So no review. Perhaps that’s where I went wrong? Maybe I should have shared my thoughts?

I tested this idea on the Resident IT Consultant yesterday. In no uncertain terms he pointed out that my review of Advent was negative. At least for me.

So where do I go?

Book Power 100

I had so hoped to be on it. Or would have, if I’d known it was being done. ‘It’ being the oddly named Guardian list of the most powerful people in the book world. The top one hundred names, except they have cheated by having pairs of names for some entries, making it 100+.

Unlike other commentators I am not horrified by having J K Rowling at no. two. I see no reason why she shouldn’t be. It’s quite interesting to see how they have picked people I know quite well, and also people I’ve never heard of.

First I went on the website showing the lucky one hundred as un-named photos, and came to the conclusion I recognised about twenty of them. Furnished with names I ‘recognised’ a lot more. I have spoken to six, and met another two.

And I finally know who that chap with the wild beard is. Not Ardagh. The other one. (Have already forgotten his name…)

The thing is, I have talked to people who know many of these important ones. Or who have met them, or heard some juicy gossip about them. And somehow, when that is the case, it’s harder to take them seriously. There is one author in particular, highly thought of by many, who sank considerably in my estimation on hearing a personal account of their behaviour.

But then, they can behave as they wish. It’s their books that matter. I do find that the best books are written by decent human beings. At least in the children’s books world. And they haven’t been forgotten here.

Good to see so many women on there, and interesting that so many CEOs are female. Two Swedes, albeit one dead, which didn’t go down well with some. (Bet he’d have preferred not to be dead, too.) And it’s odd, what I know. I couldn’t have put a name to Nick Barley. But seeing his photo I could have told you he is the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as he is a visible kind of leader, who is always out and about in Charlotte Square.

Books 100

And it turns out that I am indeed on the list. I made it as no.100, which is a round and pleasing figure. Rather like myself.

Bearded off

You can’t leave a good yurt alone. It grows. The Edinburgh press yurt has sprouted an extra room over the winter. The sideways growth will no doubt prove to be a blessing. As the witch and her photographer fell across its threshold yesterday afternoon, suitcases and everything in tow, we found Claire Armitstead from the Guardian interviewing away in there. (Come to think of it, perhaps it’s the Guardian as BookFest guardians we have to thank for the space?)

My photographer returned General Sutton’s press pass from the Science Festival in April (don’t ask…), and then we set off with our fresh press passes for the year, with much softer ribbons, so we won’t be uncomfortable. At least not round the neck area.

Philip Ardagh

Gentleman with beard

We went looking for Philip Ardagh, of long beard fame. We found someone with an even longer beard! Although PA will be pleased to know he still leads in the excessive height and very large (red, nice) shoes department.

Philip Ardagh

Philip had moderated the Horror boys, aka as Alexander Gordon Smith, Barry Hutchison and Darren Shan. We missed their event, but not their signing, with a mile long queue of mainly boys, and some very useful mothers who queued for them.

Alexander Gordon Smith

Barry Hutchison

Darren Shan

(I fully believe Darren is starting an argument above.)

I can tell you that Patrick Ness doesn’t arrive in time for official photocalls. And we had been so pleased that he’d been considered important enough to merit one… Oh well. We got Nick Sharratt instead. Although as the photographer pointed out, there are only so many pictures you can take of a man wearing a cloud shirt, even of someone who happens to be her favourite illustrator.

Nick Sharratt

‘Hi, here we are!’ said Patrick when he arrived for his event A Monster Calls, in the company of moderator Julia Eccleshare. (Too late, I say.) He read the first chapter of his book with the same title. Then he and Julia talked about how the book came to be written, after an idea by Siobhan Dowd.

It was something she wanted, and Patrick has written it as a tribute to Siobhan, rather than trying to copy her style or even using the first chapter she had written. He got the general idea for the plot and the characters from Siobhan’s notes, and then he did his own thing.

That’s generally important to Patrick, writing for himself, keeping it private, and he reckons A Monster Calls is a sad book, but a hopeful one. He remembers only too well what it was like to be a teenager. He feels it’s important to have picture books like this, for older readers, and Patrick was involved in choosing the illustrator, Jim Kay.

To engage in some name dropping I can tell you that the Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson was in the audience, joining in asking questions afterwards. It was an almost full event, after which most of us obediently toddled over to the bookshop for a spot of queueing. It’s a something we can never have enough of.

Patrick Ness

Although it might have been the after-effects of the massive queue round most of Glasgow Queen Street station earlier in the day that finished us off pretty promptly, and meant that all my earlier ‘coughing’ all over Philip Ardagh came to nothing. I’d been hoping to hear him and Jenny Downham talk about her second novel You Against Me. But I’m sure it went well, even without my witchy presence.

We just went and stood in a few more queues on the way to our BookFest home-from-home. Edinburgh in August, is there anything better? (That’s a more or less direct quote from one of the natives. It would have been rude to disagree.)

Bookwitch bites #48

I so want to go to the Oxford Literary Festival. And that does sound pathetic. I know. I found this really good selection of events that would suit me perfectly, on Sunday 3rd April. And do you know, the trains aren’t running that morning. This is Britain, after all. Thwarted by a train! Or lack thereof. When I started looking, the fare was even quite reasonable. But you don’t buy a ticket in order not to get somewhere. Candy Gourlay, Michelle Magorian and Meg Rosoff… How can I not want to go? Christ Church College frowned on people sitting on their quad wall last year. I suppose that sneaking in the night before and sleeping on the very same wall wouldn’t go down any better.


Some people are off to Bologna next week. That’s another place I’ve not tried. Not sure it’s suitable for the likes of me, but whenever people say they are getting ready to go I feel a pang. It honestly doesn’t hurt much at all. I’d rather do Oxford.

Henning Mankell

Antibes now, that’s something else. I’m not sure that’s where my guest blogger Declan went to interview Henning Mankell. It’s probably just the Guardian who sent their interviewer there for their Mankell interview. The current glut of Mankell interviews suggests a new book. It’s the end for poor Wallander, in some way or other.

And please note that we have our own Mankell photo from the same session as the Guardian’s. I’ve learned to recognise that green backdrop now.

After this week’s travelling I have an excellent quote from Julie Bertagna. It really should go on the cover of my book, but I haven’t written one yet and it seems like a long wait expecting that to happen. Julie was reading Bookwitch, as any self-respecting author ought to, and found she couldn’t ‘get off the site’. She suspects an entrapment spell.

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