Monthly Archives: July 2007

What about throwing books out then?

If re-reading is out of the question, what shall I do with my books? The speed at which I acquire new ones is getting near ridiculous. So something will have to give, unless we are to buy a larger house. And let’s face it; many books aren’t good enough to take on a larger mortgage for, just in order to keep them.

The books I’ve been most tempted to throw out are the ones I read when I was in my late teens or early twenties. But as I think about it I realise that I’m about to get rid of books that the Offspring are just growing into. Always assuming the books are classic enough to be appreciated by the next generation. So, the books are still here.

How do other people decide on what books to prune? Or do you simply build bookcases down the middle of every room?


Gods Behaving Badly

New books are rather like planes coming in to land at an airport. You can see them a long way off, and then when they get closer they have to circle, stacked up waiting for their turn. Early August has a few books coming out, and I don’t want to write about them too early or too late, so I need to get started. Because it’s a first book, I’ll begin with Gods Behaving Badly.

Right, I’ll have to tread carefully here. I have young readers, who I’m sure won’t worry too much about this book by Marie Phillips. After chapter one I thought this’d make a good book for younger readers too. By the first line in chapter two I knew I was wrong. So, by all means, read this book if you’re young. But don’t tell your parents about it!

Though apart from the sex and the frequent use of the f-word this is a good read for everyone. I don’t know when I last enjoyed a new book like this. (Well, I do, but you know what I mean.) The language is light and the plot anything but difficult, and the whole book is very funny. I can hardly believe this is a first novel, it’s so good.

Gods Behaving Badly is all about the old Greek Gods living in north London, and about their cleaner. My understanding of Greek Gods and myths has improved considerably, while I had lots of fun.

If Marie hadn’t written a very witty piece about getting published, in a copy of Publishing News, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Just before then I had read half of a children’s book about the very same Gods living in New York, and decided to give up as it didn’t deliver what it promised.

So, parents, I’d rather you let your children read this one, because it’s good stuff. I’ve practised on Daughter by letting her read page 147. She’s sort of got used to it now, and may soon be sufficiently desensitized to read the whole book. After all, she goes round quoting the first sentence of chapter 23. But, please, not at school…

Harry finished

I’m ashamed to admit that I only finished Harry this afternoon. It shouldn’t take me a whole week to read what Daughter spent a day on, but there you are. I would have enjoyed taking longer, but fear of disclosure forced me on.

Well, I liked it. It’s become so fashionable to criticise both Harry and Rowling. Can’t we just have a bit of fun and light entertainment? JK got many people reading and I feel that counts for a lot. I have been entertained and so have the rest of the bookwitch household, not to mention all the friends who had Harry rammed down their throats years ago. (I meant well.)

Bye, Harry.

The Guardian’s book blog

is where you can find the bookwitch, her Son and the Pullman expedition today.

Do have a look, and maybe post a comment. Anything to overcome that bit of “interesting Irish poetry”. I’m flattered, really…


Ashmolean, bookwitch style

Funny, at last

This will be one of my most pointless blogs ever. Very few of my readers will be able to make use of it.

Mark Levengood

I re-started ironing and listening to audio books today. And it made me laugh, so I’ve found that funny book I was after last week. It’s by Mark Levengood and, don’t get your hopes up, is called Sucka mitt hjärta, men brist dock ej. Exactly.

Mark is famous all over Sweden, and is a Swedish speaking Finn, with an American background. He sounds like Moomin when he talks, which is just as endearing as you’d think.

I’ve never quite worked out what he does; he seems to be famous for being famous. But people love him. This book with the tongue twisting title is a collection of essays, where Mark muses on things like frequent flyer points, angry nuns in the Faroe Islands, or worrying about poisoning your children with toadstools every autumn.

Mark manages to have worthwhile thoughts on all of his subjects, and to write about them in a childishly open and funny way.

And that accent… I think you want the audio book, and not the printed version.

The right to read

It’s best to admit immediately, before clambering up on this soapbox, that I’m far from an expert on this subject. But I obviously support it wholeheartedly.

It’s very easy for all of us who can read normal print, to assume that not only are there not all that many people with sight problems (as if a low number would make it all right), but that their needs are being taken care of by the authorities. After all, there are audio books out there.

For every one hundred books published in Britain, less than three make it on to audio cassettes. And when they do, they are nearly always more expensive than the paper book. I’m guessing here, but I expect that those who are registered blind get their audio books free from the library. Always assuming the library has them. But just as “ordinary” library users sometimes want to own a book, so might readers with sight problems. Except they will have to pay so much they possibly can’t.

Take Pride and Prejudice. A new paperback might be six or seven pounds, or in one of these cheap classics ranges, possibly only a pound. Used from Oxfam maybe two pounds. The last time I looked, an audio book in MP3 format was as cheap as twenty something pounds, while the more accessible cassettes cost around seventy. You’re not going to own many books like that.

Jacqueline Wilson has joined the campaign for more large print books and audio books, and she’s setting a good example by demanding they are available at the same time as the book is published.

For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows JK Rowling had also joined. Except for audio cassettes. Anyone who wants (or needs) those can wait another month or so, while the rest of the world joins in the reading frenzy.

This reminds me of the children’s television cartoon Arthur. Some years ago there was an episode featuring the much awaited publication of a thinly disguised Harry Potter. All the children got their copies, while the blind girl had to wait for her Braille version.

Years ago when one of my children needed audio books to access age appropriate books, but not on grounds of eyesight, I wrote a wish list to the local library of books they should buy so we could borrow them. I was pleasantly surprised to find enthusiasm and a new code on the library card giving entitlement to free audio books due to the “handicap”. But they never bought anything that I could see, and after a while they got irritated when I asked if they had anything we hadn’t already had.

So, we headed into the arms of Cover to Cover audio books, who were excellent, until they sold up to the BBC and things started to slide downhill. Plenty of titles, just not the right ones.

Any author reading this; if you haven’t already done so, could you add a clause to your contract asking publishers to produce books in all formats simultaneously? Please.


I’m surrounded by different SASs (if that’s how you make a plural of them?). The most interesting one to my mind is the Scattered Authors’ Society. It is what it sounds like; a group of authors who would otherwise slave away at their lonely desks and never see a soul between one masterpiece and another.

They are on their way to their annual retreat in Charney Bassett, for a couple of days of what? I think I’ve heard things like workshops mentioned in the past, and quizzes. I just hope that this year it doesn’t include swimming, as some of my favourite authors are heading straight into flood territory. Both Adele Geras and Mary Hoffman have sounded like they think it’s mad, but they will give it a go.

Hope you have fun!

HP crisis

It’s the Slave-girl of Jerusalem all over again. My young, innocent child is in tears and there’s no-one to offer support, except in a vague sort of way.

This is what happens when the child reads faster than the parent. The sibling is off at work, and can only read on the job, so to speak, so lags behind. The Resident IT Consultant is off to the wilds of Caledonia, so can’t read any more until next weekend. And the ever self sacrificing bookwitch is last in the pecking order for Harry Potter, so hasn’t got far yet.

I think that Bloomsbury should offer a counselling service for the first few days, while early readers have nobody else to talk to. Should the needs of my child come before my own needs not to have the plot revealed? Surely not..?

Is it a red herring?

The New York Times’ rather early review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a very good review. But is it really a review of the book, or a clever piece of fiction?

I’d like to think it’s real, as it feel very true to the spirit of the other books. It makes pertinent comments about many things in a way that makes it sound true.

But, could someone really read the whole book with proper consideration in a day? (I know this is what fans do, but they don’t sit down and write a carefully thought out review of it at the end.)

And, this Michiko Kakutani kills off half a dozen characters, when we have been led to believe that there’s two (that matter, anyway).

Whatever, it felt very satisfying to read a long and thorough appreciation of not just book seven, but the earlier ones as well. Kakutani has treated Rowling and Potter as though they are worthy of the real thing, rather than the countless tongue-in-cheek comments most blasé journalists manage.

I’m looking forward to tonight even more now. And I foresee worse logistical problems of two books for four readers than expected.

Voices in the dark

As I cross the landing, even in the middle of the night, I’ve got used to hearing Stephen Fry in Daughter’s room. Sometimes it’s Nathaniel Parker, but usually Fry. They’re not just there to send her to sleep, which I suppose makes them sound boring, but to keep her company whenever she’s awake at night.

Those audio books are a blessing. They are so dreadfully expensive, but when I consider how heavily used some of them are, the cost per hour must be quite low.

At first they were mainly used for the children either before they could read very well, or to provide more complex “reading” than a book. Now, they are simply companions. Some were made to be listened to, like The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Son listened to that at an early age, and can still quote far too much from it.

Now he has a nightly diet of old radio series, regular crime and classics. Some you can no longer buy, which worries me for the day they collapse and they can’t be replaced.

Daughter has listened her way through most of Jacqueline Wilson, before settling on a very steady diet of Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl. But they are lovely boys, so I see no harm in it.

The bookwitch, who has steadfastly refused to read the Lord of the Rings, or for that matter to see the films, has listened to all thirteen episodes of the excellent BBC radio dramatisation of the book. So, I sort of know what it’s like.

With Harry Potter day approaching, I’ll need to fork out for the last in the series with Stephen Fry. But for the first few days, at least, we should be kept busy with the book book.

Then I’ll just have to do a lot of ironing.