Monthly Archives: April 2007


I love the way you can abbreviate long book titles!

I hope you have all bought a copy of the above book by now. For the uninitiated the name of the book is Take Off Your Party Dress, and it was written by Dina Rabinovitch. It’s only £7.99 and all proceeds go to cancer research. So even if you don’t want to read it, you can afford to buy it.

And when you have bought it, you’ll want to read it, because it’s good. It must be very hard to write entertainingly about cancer. And to do it when you’re the patient ought to be near impossible. I’ve followed Dina’s columns in the Guardian over the last few years, however squeamish I might have felt. It makes for compelling reading and I’m so grateful Dina has had the strength to share her experiences with us.

To read more click on the link to Dina’s blog.

And buy the book. For your friends, too.

Thank you.


Kurt Vonnegut wrote books for adolescents, or at least that’s what his obituary said. So that would be why he has suited me so well, adolescence being the next thing up from being a child, which is where I normally reside. As a real adolescent I introduced my Maltese penfriend to Vonnegut, although he (the penfriend) at first seemed to doubt that a northern European girl could know about decent books. In return I got Isaac Asimov, who wasn’t half bad either.

Someone on the Guardian’s blog remarked that it got rather tedious by the time twenty or so people had quoted that famous phrase of Vonnegut’s. So I won’t do it here. It wouldn’t feel natural anyway, as I didn’t read Slaughterhouse 5 in English. But it was a nice feeling a couple of years ago to realise that I could introduce the eldest offpring to something from my past that I could be sure he would like. So I bought a copy of Slaughterhouse 5 in English at long last.

Så kan det gå.

Wilbur Smith

Confession time again. I haven’t read him. But a lot of people have. Wilbur Smith came to the watering hole today, and many fans got very excited and some travelled a long way to meet him.

Wilbur Smith shakes everyone’s hand. Twice. And for some weird reason he asks couples if they “are together”. Thing like that could lead to awful complications, if he’s not careful.

It’s quite interesting to see what a really big name is like at a book signing. He had a far more professional team of helpers than many. Very professional wife, who kept everyone in order and made sure no fan was missed. The shady looking character who flitted about the shop turned out to be Mr Macmillan himself. That sort of puts things in perspective.

A friendly milk carton

I have an umbrella stand just inside my front door. Quite a nice one, from Marks & Spencer. I keep umbrellas in it. I’ll have to rethink this state of affairs, now that I’ve read China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun.

I’d never heard of China or his books before. His name and the title of this latest book, his first for children, somehow make me think of, well, China. But it’s about London, in a Diagon Alley meets the Oxford Ring Road, Pullman style, kind of way.

I sighed when I saw the size of it, another five hundred pages plus book. (Seriously, I’d really welcome more books at two hundred pages.) I like fantasy, or so I thought. The first third of Un Lun Dun nearly made me give up, my brain whirling with all the new concepts China must have spent ages thinking up. But I persevered, as it’s an easy read, not counting all the weird creatures you might have to remember for later. All I can say is, I want a milk carton like the one in the book.

This fantasy, set in an alternate London, is really about pollution and crooked politicians. I think. And sidekicks are good, all things considered.

Un Lun Dun is about two girls, Zanna and Deeba, who accidentally end up in UnLondon, where a war is about to begin. The story is full of a bewildering number of strange, but mostly likeable characters, good and bad. It’s about growing with the task at hand, and coping with new challenges. But I wonder if China made the two girls females to be politically correct, because I don’t feel they are “real” girls. That aside, Un Lun Dun is a really good adventure that should get a lot of fans. The editing has slipped up in a couple of places, but it’s not a big deal.

China has also made the drawings throughout the book. They are very good indeed and help when trying to visualise this very different place.

Along with the milk carton, I’d quite like a book like the book in the book. If you know what I mean. But I’m much less sure of the umbrella situation.

What would make you buy a book?

A specific book, that is. If you want something to read, you might well buy a book. But why that one? The one you bought.

Recently on the Guardian’s blog Meg Rosoff put forward some thoughts on marketing your books to get them sold, and was savaged by those otherwise (hah!) placid Guardian readers. Marketing is a dirty word, it seems. Authors should rise above such cheap, commercial tricks.

I wanted to join in, but hung back, scared to be attacked for my opinions, that were bound to be wrong. So while Meg occasionally stuck her head above the parapet and was shot at, I cowered behind her, in relative safety.

But what does make you buy a book? I dislike these new style book/author launches where the publishers have decided that X is to be the next big thing. How can they decide that? It’s for us buyers/readers to make it happen. I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time as soon as it was out, before all the publicity. And I read Eats, Shoots and Leaves after the publicity.

I have still not read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, because I disliked being told before publication how successful it was going to be. I own the book, and the other people in this house have all read it. But I’m holding out. I love Harry Potter, and read it before the whole world caught on. I have no plans to read Lord of the Rings.

I will read every book by my favourite authors. If one of them recommends another author’s book I’ll respect their opinion and try it myself.

Having “always” read a lot, there was a blip on my reading record when Son and Daughter came along. My brain seemed to cope with nothing more complicated than women’s magazines. Luckily I was such a cheapskate that when Woman and Home had a free book by Ann Granger, I bought it. Managed to read one chapter every night, and after that I have bought all Ann’s books. So that was a successful piece of marketing. And possibly cheaper than many other types of advertising campaigns. And it left it to me to decide that as the first book was so enjoyable, maybe I’d quite like to read more.

Less is more.

Publishers: Do tell me you have a new good book coming out. But please don’t tell me it’s going to be successful.

Spots and etiquette

Someone at Piccadilly Press likes pink. A whole pile of pink books landed on my doormat recently, or tried to. The pile was too fat to get through.

And so are many teenagers, or they think they are. Anita Naik has written Body Blips, Wobbly Bits and Great BIG Zits. It’s a fairly straightforward book with mostly sensible advice for young people. Except perhaps for the areas that the bookwitch can claim special knowledge of, where some of the advice stays at the superficial level, and will let the really worried teenager down. Again.

Jane Goldman has revised her earlier book on etiquette, and it’s now up to date on email and mobile phones. Do the Right Thing is a rather good guide to good behaviour. And being more fun than Debrett’s will do nicely for adults too. Though group dating or using other people’s loos aren’t high on my current list of social concerns.