Monthly Archives: July 2007

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.

Funny books for convalescents, please

You’d think the bookwitch would be a good source of advice for books, wouldn’t you? But her mind is a complete blank, and please don’t say that you had noticed a long time ago.

A friend of mine asked for recommendations for funny books, for when she’s in hospital, which might be next week. I think what she’s looking for is something funny enough not to make the reader depressed, but not so wildly funny that stitches start coming undone, and other disgusting things.

I can think of several children’s books, but I suspect that other adults aren’t quite as fond of them as I am. And when they are really funny like Roald Dahl’s The Vicar of Nibbleswicke they are a health hazard. When the bookwitch started reading it to Son many years ago she laughed so much she was unable to carry on and Son had to read it to her instead.

And there is a book I think my friend would enjoy, but it’s not out yet, so what do I do?

Any ideas, people?


The bookwitch understands that the Man United team passed through a certain airport bookshop on Sunday. Well, no, that’s wrong. The team passed through the airport. One player came into the shop. The goalkeeper appears to have an interest in reading and in keeping up with current affairs. Asked to be recommended something to read (hope shop management doesn’t find out), he then bought the suggested book. The bookwitch knows which one, and will only say it was a decent choice. She is so out of things she doesn’t even remember the player’s name. But he is a foreigner. And a fan came up and wanted him to autograph an England shirt… Don’t know how that ended.

English lessons, Scrabble and idiomatic phrases

For a very long time I was blissfully unaware of the shortcomings of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. That’s the beauty of translations; sometimes you lose, but sometimes you gain. I was seven when I read my first “proper” book, i.e. one with no pictures in and lots of text. It was Five on a Treasure Island, in translation, and it took me a week. I speeded up slightly after that.

It was only when coming to live in England as an adult that I cottoned on to how “awful” the Five really are. They eat all the time (they did in translation, too) and they look down on the working classes. This didn’t translate, so went un-noticed.

I was reminded of Blyton when Marcel Berlins wrote in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago about learning English from Blyton’s books when he arrived in England as a child. And Lee on lowebrow blogged this week on bilingualism, which made me nod in recognition.

I had moved on from the Famous Five by the time I had an interest in improving my English. At thirteen I had discovered Agatha Christie. When the library ran out of translations, I started on Christies in the original to get more books.

At first I only understood about half the words, but I’ve always been lazy, so couldn’t be bothered finding a dictionary. I could always work out who did it, and there were always lots of retired colonels and things. I remember when the penny dropped and I made the connection between the printed “extraordinary” and that word from television “strodnri”. They were the same!

After Christie I started on Alistair MacLean, and used to stand in the corridors between lessons at school reading. The teachers shook their heads at this girl who not only read, but chose a foreign language to do it in.

The Christie stood me in good stead when I ended up in Brighton, staying with a family, while doing a course at Sussex University. England greeted me with what it used to do best; strikes. The rationed electricity caused havoc in my host family, who needed to entertain their ten-year-old when there was no television.

Games came out, and I wasn’t too good at Scrabble to start with. I remember golf crazy Mr G’s happiness over his seven letter word, that he felt the need to explain to his foreign lodger. It’s a real word, honestly. I knew that. Thanks to dear Agatha I’d known about niblicks for a long time. Good to murder people with. And handy in Scrabble.

However, the man who called at the G’s house on the first day when I was alone, was selling manure. I declined his kind offer, and then spent a while looking through my dictionary to work out what I’d refused. Years later I lived in Brighton, again, with the Resident IT Consultant, when someone from the gas company came to the door, going on about someone with egg on their face…

Honestly. Christie never covered that.

Harry on the screen

It wasn’t bad at all. Bookwitch and Daughter quite enjoyed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Son thought it wasn’t very good. But you can’t really put a Rowling length book into a two hour film and not leave things out. Looked at purely as a film this one was a good action film, where someone who hadn’t read the book might just grasp what was going on. And it left me with the same feeling as the book; that friendship matters.

Neville Longbottom is getting more and more wonderful, and Fred and George continue being adorable. (Well, I think so.) And in my next incarnation I’ll be Tonks.