Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

Bringing it down to 40

The idea for some kind of Desert Island Books has been with me for years, but I’ve not got round to doing anything about it. Yet. Relax, I’m not going to start now, either.

But as the panic over pruning my library was beginning to slosh around in my brain, someone posted a link to a rather interesting article. Geoffrey Best in History Today mused about his book collecting, and then the reverse; the process where he’s had to get rid of one category after the other.

It makes for sad reading, actually. (Much sadder than the chap in the paper the other day who sold off his wine collection…) On re-reading the article I noticed two things. One was that as this was a collection, Geoffrey had not read all the books. That made me feel less inadequate. I sometimes believe I’m the only one who can’t keep up.

The other was that his potential final goal wasn’t for five books. It was for one.

Shudder.

His first awful ambition was which books to choose for when you can only keep 40 books. He arrived at this figure when visiting someone in a home, where he looked around and worked out that 40 might be the limit.

I reckon 40 might be possible. Hard, but doable. You’d need good criteria for how you pick, and that probably depends on who you are. I’ve always marvelled at the choice of the Bible and Shakespeare on Desert Island Discs. Obviously they had to become standard issue once almost everyone felt they had to ask for them, whether because they genuinely loved them that much, or felt they wouldn’t be seen on a desert island without them…

Yes. Quite.

While I don’t know what I’d choose, I’m fairly certain it would be neither of those.

And while I thought the end goal was five books, I toyed with the idea of How I Live Now and Code Name Verity. Both favourites, both quite short. So perhaps you can’t do it that way?

Right now I am also having some problems with working out if I’m going to be sitting on an island or in some old people’s home. Would it be more of a blessing if – when the time comes – I am past reading, to save me doing the final prune, or am I better off with any small pile of books?

Will the grandchildren visit the old witch and bring books?

Moving tales #2 – the books

The books. Some will simply have to go. About half would be good.

So, one question: Does it make more sense to hang on to old books already read and thoroughly enjoyed, or those not yet read at all? I’m beginning to think that some used ones ought to go, and some new ones should stay, in the hopes they will come into favour at some point. But not too many.

Some books have moved around with me before. A lot. I used to be of the opinion that if I’d liked something, I’d hang on to it. Part of the family and all that. Now that this looks like an impossible ambition, I suspect I can chuck out quite a few books. I look at them and ask myself if I’m at all likely to re-read, even were I not so blessed with new incoming books on a daily basis.

More often than you’d think, the answer is no. And for every 19 books successfully Oxfammed, there is bound to be a 20th I will regret. But there are libraries and secondhand bookshops, and even firsthand bookshops, whence mistakes might be rectified.

Books

Libraries. I must have imagined I actually am a library in the past. Thoughts like ‘that could be handy to have if …’ have confused me. I have hung on to books because I am a snob. It would look impressive – or at least marginally good – to have certain books on my shelves.

And, it’s so useful to have a nice selection if visitors want to read while staying with us. Pah! I don’t like lending books, and we don’t exactly run a hotel here. The only people impressed by our books have been Son’s reception teacher and our former GP. The Grandmother sometimes finds something she will read (which she then takes home with her to finish).

I have been known to feel that if I adore a writer, I must keep all of his or her books, when a few of the best will do. Now that I own a lot of signed books I have felt I can’t part with any of those. But I’ll just have to. (The embarrassing fact is that anything signed to Bookwitch will be rather obvious. Please don’t hate me.)

I can’t get rid of books written by the very nice people I am now reasonably acquainted with. But I will have to. You are still absolutely lovely people. So are your books. Lovely, I mean, not that they are people.

Several copies of the ‘same’ book makes little sense. So does keeping [all of] Offspring’s books. Unless they at least spring clean a little, so we don’t keep every single one. Son could prune his multiple copies of Terry Pratchett and Eoin Colfer. Daughter could decide she won’t bl**dy re-read Cathy Hopkins, again. Actually, no, perhaps she couldn’t.

Some of my fiction is quite easy to decide on. But what about Shakespeare? One collected works is enough, which means the other can go. But the plays we also have separately? What will we want to return to at some point? Which Tom Stoppard play do I like best? Shaw? Do we need two Swedish hymn books?*

*This backfired a little. When the Resident IT Consultant was reminded of Shaw, for instance, he promptly sat down and read one of the plays. He told me off for wanting to deprive him of the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Oh, dear. He claimed the Zen motorbike book was his, and not mine to chuck out. And so it went.

But some books went.

Twelfth Night miscellany

Gargle.

One has been awarded the Gargie Award. It’s rather ugly, but one takes what one can get. It’s for outstanding services in one’s field, or some such thing. (One doesn’t actually know what a field is.) Thank you, dearest Gargoyle.

Gargie Award

I really wouldn’t have minded getting a new dress for the occasion, however.

Bet Sally Gardner had a new outfit for the Costa award do. Bet she looked great. I would also like to bet that Sally will win the whole Costa, but I don’t know how to. Bet the Resident IT Consultant doesn’t want me to find out how to bet.

No betting needed as regards Mrs Pendolino, who achieved grandma status on New Year’s Eve. She feels very awarded, and I would too if I could cuddle a red and wrinkly baby like the one she held in her arms. Congratulations to Miss Pendolino, who did the hard work. (Note to Offspring: No need to copy Miss P just yet. One red, wrinkly, adorable baby is quite enough.)

It’s Twelfth Night. (I know you know that.) If it wasn’t also Borgen night, I’d be tempted to watch Twelfth Night, just to feel all cultured and proper. As it is we will go Danish. I have spent just under a week assisting Daughter in her catching up on season one of Borgen, just so she can watch it with us. You need some Danish in your life.

Wild Song

A little Tempest-uous is one way of describing Jane Eagland’s new book for Barrington Stoke. It’s for teens, it’s dyslexia friendly, and it’s been inspired by Shakespeare. At least I think it has.

Jane Eagland, Wild Song

It’s about Anna who lives on an island with her father, and his assistant and a couple of servants. Everything is ‘fine’ and Anna rather fancies the assistant. She is grateful to him for being so kind to her.

That’s when a young man is washed ashore and almost left for dead. Anna finds out new things from him, and her view of the world changes.

This is nicely romantic and it gets quite exciting when…

I imagine someone who comes fresh to Wild Song will find it intriguing and will hopefully want to read more like it. As for me, I would obviously have liked it to be longer, but there is a reason why it’s not. I want lots of girls who don’t read much to find this and to enjoy it. Maybe even move on to other classic love stories.

A Little, Aloud

This is one anthology that I won’t be able to carry around with me in order to catch all its participating authors for autographs. Many are dead, and anyway, there are so many of them. Many means good, because there is a tremendous variety and choice, and once you’ve read what you fancy, you might pick something you don’t. That way you discover that is actually also perfectly fine.

You don’t always get anthologies intended to be read aloud, which of course doesn’t stop you from doing so. Short stories and excerpts and poems are just right for that bedtime read, when you are praying you won’t be sitting on the edge of the bed half the night. This book obligingly tells you how long you can expect to spend reading each contribution, so no nasty surprises.

A Little, Aloud

The royalties for this collection of good reads go to The Reader Organisation, which has as its aim ‘reading and health.’ Very nice to see those two words used together. I frequently sit down with a book even when far too many little jobs and crises scream at me that my attention is of the utmost importance. I know that I will feel so much better after a read.

Foreworded by Michael Morpurgo (naturally) and with blurbs by Philip Pullman and Stephen Fry (two men whose voices I just love listening to), the book begins with Instructions by Neil Gaiman. I mistakenly thought he was needed to tell us what to do, but it was actually a proper poem.

Many of the stories in here are ones I have already read, as part of the novel they hail from or as works in their own right. They have, for instance, had the good taste to pick my favourite Shaun Tan story, Broken Toys. There are excerpts from Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as well as Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

You have Shakespeare and Kipling, Stevenson and Larkin, and even good old Anon. I haven’t read them all. Yet. This is another of those volumes I want to keep somewhere near, just to dip into. The pile for dipping is getting taller, but that just can’t be helped.

I will want to dip.

(Apologies to all those, dead or alive, whose names I haven’t listed. They are many. And how marvellous to be able to share classic writers in an easy bite size form with a child.)

This Rough Magic

Mary Stewart, This Rough Magic

Sometimes in Shakespeare I come across a quote I recognise, and I say to myself, ‘that’s a Mary Stewart title’. Which of course is the wrong way round to look at things. Or perhaps it isn’t. Why shouldn’t I learn about Shakespeare through my other reading?

Anyway, I did. And in This Rough Magic it’s The Tempest all the way. This being a romance, we have Lucy who is ‘resting’ from her acting career, and has come to Corfu, where her sister lives, to do the resting. One of the neighbours just happens to be the Shakespeare actor of all times, Sir Julian Gale. And he just happens to have a handsome son, Max Gale.

And the neighbourhood just happens to have mystery involving twins and with a handsome young Greek by the name of Adonis.

Yes.

Lucy – obviously – stumbles straight into this mystery, and Max – obviously – is also involved, somehow.

It wasn’t just old Shakespeare quotes, though. I learned about the fancy things old actors have in their bathrooms, too. They had many bathrooms, even in those days, or perhaps especially in those days of the early 1960s. They could afford to be rich then. And charming.

Oh, to be able to rattle off a whole lot of Shakespearian quotes!

Goodnight Mister Tom

Should you make novels into stage plays? Some books dramatise better than others, and it’d be unfair to expect any novel to seamlessly turn into something of the same quality as a Shakespeare or an Alan Bennett. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. I just minded a little bit that Lyn Gardner in the Guardian found the new production of Goodnight Mister Tom ‘too safe’.

What did she mean? People were dying all over the place, but maybe that’s not what she had in mind. It’s a novel first, and it can’t work in the same way that a play written exclusively for the stage would. There is a difference. And she seemed to mind that it’s such a safe choice, box office wise. I saw a packed theatre where everyone enjoyed the performance. As Daughter said, there were a lot of old people there. And those that weren’t old, were mostly around ten or eleven. Neither a category that would be looking for avant garde drama.

WWII is popular. And all those junior school pupils were presumably doing the war for history. I bet Michelle Magorian never expected to have her children’s novel put to use as a school book. I well remember Son in Y6 being told to watch the film when it was shown on television. Was meant to be, and then didn’t happen. He was dreadfully upset, and the only way we could remedy the failings of the BBC was for the video to magically magic itself into a birthday present a couple of weeks later.

Goodnight Mister Tom

This production only had time to fit in the bare bones of Michelle Magorian’s novel. But that’s fine. It was all there in spirit, including the best puppet dog I’ve ever seen. Sammy must count as a first cousin to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse horse puppets, and he truly helped with William’s transition into Tom Oakley’s home.

‘The Sad Man’ – which is how I always think of Oliver Ford Davies – came into his own as Mister Tom. So much more right for the part than John Thaw was in the film. He had an impressively worthy William in Toby Prynne, who was both small and powerful at the same time.

William and Tom in Goodnight Mister Tom

The villagers milled about as villagers do, but in such a way that you could believe in the friendship with the small and frightened evacuee. Clever use of one actress both as the kind teacher and as William’s mother, bringing their differences into the open. The simple set worked well, adding enough period feel without going over the top.

Goodnight Mister Tom is a lovely, heartwarming dramatisation of a wonderful book. It might not be the greatest play in the world, but it’s very enjoyable – apart from the sad bits – and I would guess we all went home happy, albeit in tears.

(This is a reworking of my CultureWitch theatre review on Tuesday. And the William in the photo is not my William.)

NCIS – Obsession, with Shakespeare

NCIS - Bookshop

Shakespeare - NCIS

NCIS - Obsession

The Gutenberg Bible - NCIS

‘Books are a dying business’ someone says in this week’s NCIS. I don’t think they are right, but they could have been referring to the fact that lots of people ended up dead in this episode, rather like they tend to do most weeks.

They have a bookshop in this one. A secondhand bookshop of the kind you just dream about, and with far fewer books in than you’d expect. Possibly they ran out of props.

It’s your nice little mix of KGB poisons, of the ‘umbrella murder in London’ type, a British actor, who for once didn’t ‘do it’ and antique books. When they got out the barely hidden complete first edition of Shakespeare’s plays, I was half expecting it to have been signed by the author. It wasn’t, since it was published after his death.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they then hauled out Gutenberg’s Bible, neatly masquerading as something else, but when you remove the dust wrapper…

Enough to kill for.

I haven’t plagued you with NCIS for a while, so couldn’t resist, seeing as they strayed into the book world. The rest of the time they have their ‘own’ blog. But the American fascination for old European culture is alive and well. Unlike the owner of the bookshop, who unfortunately was a Russian spy. Before he was dead.

(Photos © CBS)

Stratford Boy

Stratford Boys

There is only one other novel that’s made me feel like The Fool’s Girls by Celia Rees did, as far as getting that ‘Stratford feeling’ goes, and that’s Jan Mark’s Stratford Boys.

The first sentence of the book is sheer genius for setting the tone of the whole story; ‘The Shakespeares had the builders in again’. You can’t know that it was the same in those days, but it’s quite fun to imagine that it was. It’s what makes you identify with Will Shakespeare and his parents and friends. No matter what century; we’re all the same. More or less.

16-year-old Will ends up writing, and putting on, a play with his friends, and various other more or less sane characters. It’s absolutely hilarious, and not everything goes wrong. In fact, by the end of the book Will is thinking ahead to ‘next time’. So it can’t have been too bad.