Monthly Archives: February 2008

Want some advice?

There are teen advice books. And then there is Jeanne Willis. Her Snogs, Sex & Soulmates and Bits, Boobs & Blobs, with illustrations by Lydia Monks, came my way when I started looking into Jeanne’s very varied writing.

I could now safely go back to being a teenager again, because “all I ever wanted to know, but was afraid to ask” is here. I’ve learnt an awful lot, not least a new vocabulary.

They say that if you don’t know your subject, you can always do extensive research. I wonder which it was in this case?

I’d happily put these books into the hands of a teenager. Come to think of it, I’ve got one nearby I can test the books on. And then maybe I’ll be left in peace. After all, I didn’t know all this before.


Are paperbacks OK?

Hmm, good question? No, I think it’s a stupid question. I keep going on about this, but only because I get so surprised by what people say and think.

The other day I opened my excellent new house magazine and was pleased to see that bookcases are now in. No need to be minimalistic. Oh. So where were the books that I’m now supposed to put in my newly sanctioned bookcases, while I was minimising my style? Waiting in the attic to be in vogue again?

The magazine asked a few specialists about what’s OK to put in your bookcases. Some way down on the list of questions was “Are paperbacks OK?” Luckily the experts were open minded enough to believe they are. But I’m really shocked that someone could come up with the question in the first place. This is the same magazine that featured the wallpaper I showed back in December, which was a stack of battered paperbacks.

They also favoured the idea of colour coordinating your bookcases; i.e. all yellow books together, and so on. A bit like Laurie suggested in her comment to the book wallpaper. It does look good. And hopefully I’ll remember whether Ulysses had a yellow spine, when I try and find it. But there’s the fading. Most of my books have changed colour since I bought them. And when my visitors try and ascertain if I have a copy of Ulysses, how will they know what colour my particular edition is?

We fed our local bookshop dinner the other night. Before leaving they needed to see our “library”. They now know first hand that we have a problem. And it’s not the colour coordinating.

Good bookshops

Normblog has a profile of Vanessa from Fidra, who owns the new Children’s Bookshop in Edinburgh. It’s an interesting read, and the shop sounds lovely. Mrs Normblog (aka Adele Geras) has visited, and gives it the thumbs up. I have ascertained that the shop has an armchair ready and waiting for me, so I really must go North. Soon. The shop is just round the corner from Son’s student abode, so not much of an excuse at all. And any shop that gets criticised for its carpet (!) by the big chain, must have something going for it. Can’t wait.

The White Darkness

Daughter and I have this joke we call the White Darkness. It’s also the name of a book by Geraldine McCaughrean, and it’s a very good book. That’s the problem with Daughter. I tried to push the idea of her reading it so hard and for so long, that she will obviously never go near the book. And whenever she suspects I’m trying to do the same again, she mutters “The White Darkness”. So I’m afraid I’m a bit of a failure when it comes to getting my nearest and dearest reading. Sometimes.

I’d already planned writing about it here, when I saw a mention of the book on the lowebrow blog last week. It seems The White Darkness has won the Printz Award. And it’s not the first award it’s won, either. I then clicked on the title in the blog and found myself transported to that big online bookseller, where I read some of the reviews of Geraldine’s book. Some of them were quite negative, but most were glowing.

I can understand the shock of the negative reviewers, because partway through reading it myself, I felt very uneasy. There’s a very sick uncle figure, taking advantage (though not in “that” way) of the 14-year-old Sym, and carting them both off to the Antarctic. Sym herself has private conversations with Titus Oates, of Scott fame, and somehow this works very well in the story.

In the end it’s Sym’s courage and vast knowledge and common sense, which save the day for her. For me the word crevasse sets off an unpleasant chain of nightmare thoughts, and makes me think of a lovely friend, who’ll never come back. Even the wrong episode of Pingu will leave me feeling a bit sick.

But setting that aside, The White Darkness is a great adventure.

The Book Sale

I promised you the weird and wonderful world of the Swedish Book Sale. I’ve been in exile for so long that I forget, and then friends will mention it, and enthuse at great length. So, in this day and age of internet shopping at all times, the sale still holds people’s interest.

Swedish books are expensive. And by books we mean hardbacks. That seems to be all that counts. So after a year or two or three, a book will end up in the sale. And that’s it. The year before last when I suddenly needed several copies of Adele Geras’ Facing The Light in translation, I bought the one last remaining copy. It was after the sale, you see.

And when Philip Pullman won the Astrid Lindgren award, they had to reprint His Dark Materials, as it was no longer around. It’s mad.

This year the sale starts on 26th February, and whereas it used to be something like a 7 am start for the aficionados, they are now doing a Harry Potter and opening at midnight. People will have been poring over the catalogue for weeks, ticking and choosing. People “save” themselves for the sale; i.e. they don’t buy something, because they’ll wait for the sale.

As if it wasn’t mad enough, some books are reprinted in an especially cheap edition, purely for the book sale. It’s sometimes the only way to get hold of classics.

Among this year’s offerings are Artemis Fowl and Septimus Heap, Eldest and Wolf Brother, Coraline and Spot, Bob the Builder and The Gruffalo. Special offer on Stieg Larsson, of course, a collection of Dostoevsky and the latest Henning Mankell (that WAS fast). My favourite elk annuals, Tintin and the new unabridged Anne Frank. Already. Coffee table books like Cosmos and dictionaries and atlases, as well as THE basic cook book. Not even English language paperbacks are left in peace. They’re going too.

Good-bye to all that.

And my friends wonder why I buy British, when it comes to books.

Chicken Dance

For those of us who are awkward and nerdy and generally socially challenged, the kind of book that newcomer Jacques Couvillon has written is both very good and quite awful. I’m sure that the more Neurotypical you are, the more fun you’ll get from this book. I did enjoy it, though, and it definitely qualifies as one for my Aspie Books list. But I need to stop wincing first.

Chicken Dance reminded me a lot of Louis Sachar’s Holes, except this is about keeping chickens and about dancing. Eleven-year-old Don lives on a chicken farm in Horse Island, Louisiana. His parents are anything but normal, and Don dreams of his dead sister Dawn, when he’s not tending to his beloved chickens, or learning to dance.

It’s Don’s priceless observations on life in general that make this story so special. He is not very capable socially, but he’s an intelligent boy who doesn’t miss much. Except the outstretched hand waiting for a handshake. He also doesn’t know not to begin a conversation with “Are you at that time in your menstrual cycle?”

And speaking of cycles; throughout the book they are peddled. I wish they could have been pedal(l)ed instead.

Ladies who lunch

I’d better get this covered while things are fresh, as it were. The witch met up with Adele Geras for lunch, and for an exchange of gossip. Luckily I can no longer remember what it was I wasn’t meant to tell you, so I can’t anyway.

We went French, which is unusual for the witch, but she felt safe in the company of a fluent French speaker. Adele got to say merci quite a few times, which probably means it was a very genuine restaurant. Exotic, anyway.

I can now understand how easily the tabloids can report all kinds of inaccuracies. Quoting Adele I could tell you about how she was tricked by Philip Pullman. Except she wasn’t, really. So, I will hasten to add that no trickery at all was involved, and Philip is totally without blame. Possibly. But it’s fun to see what you can do with the truth, let alone with lies.

Adele had been out hat hunting, but not done very well, so will have to resort to plan B for Saturday. And I’m somewhat concerned about the amount of hoovering going on in the Geras family. Though I should be talking. I don’t even use my broom.

A special hello to Sally P. I didn’t even know you were a reader..!

Dina’s target

I have good news for you. The fund raising event last Sunday in London, which was inspired by Dina Rabinovitch, was very successful indeed. They raised £8700 with their Kosher Komedy, which means that Dina’s target of £100,000 has now been reached with a good margin. At the moment it stands at £109,913. There is until the end of February to donate, so any spare cash lying around would find a good home here.

I’ve been sent a brief video from the event, which I understand was great. I’d have wanted to be there.


Or stats. If I’d known that Declan over on Crime Always Pays was that close to 40,000, I’d have spent all Wednesday sitting there waiting for the stat counter to reach the magic number. As it was, by the time I called round it was 40,059, which is a terribly unround figure.

Anyway, congratulations Declan. And I hope you have no thoughts of retiring, because I need something to make me smile some days. (It’s just that that “speech” you wrote there, sounded like a retirement speech. Don’t you dare.)

And I’m just a little jealous. But I’m not that far behind. Honestly.

The graphic Alex Rider

Can you have too much Alex Rider? As I’ve said before, we quite like him around these parts. Like so many other fast paced stories, Stormbreaker was made into a film. It was OK, though I’m not sure how well it did, as I’ve not come across any evidence that there are more films on the way.

I’ve just been road testing two graphic novels about Alex. Stormbreaker is exactly like the film, rather than the book. The changes made to the plot, etc, for the film are in the graphic novel as well. That’s not necessarily bad – just interesting. It probably made the job easier to take the film almost frame by frame.

Talking about taking – that’s what happened to the book once it got here. You’d think Daughter would have had enough with book and film, but oh, no. Alex Rider quietly disappeared off the kitchen table, and I only found him a week later. When I did, I carried him back downstairs, only to find him gone again (if you can say that). The Resident IT Consultant is not the type to read comics, so what was he doing with Alex? (Rumour has it that when he was six and got put on the train to Glasgow to visit his grandmother, he was given some money to buy the Beano, or equivalent. It appears that he was found with a copy of The Times.)

Point Blanc carries on in much the same vein, though as I have no film to compare it with, I don’t know how they decided to adapt it. One thing that feels a little wrong is that both Alex and Sabina look far too young. More like twelve than fourteen. But even the cynical witch found it quite addictive. That could be why this book also disappeared. I warned him that it was not to be taken out of my sight, so he read it standing right next to me. It could be that if he had read the Beano that time long ago, he wouldn’t have needed Alex Rider. On the other hand, the witch bought two comics regularly during her teens. No serious side effects.