Monthly Archives: November 2009

Can’t trust anyone, then

Not only does it seem that we can’t trust reviewers not to bore us or give too much away, but they want a little extra money for their trouble. (I can tell you that my halo feels really heavy today.) From the same source as the $25 payment for reviews I gather that we can’t expect ‘staff picks’ labels in bookshops to be genuine, either.

Or maybe we can. Replies coming in suggested it works both ways. Some say that of course we can’t think that individual staff members read and recommend books in shops, and others say that in their experience it’s all genuine.

I’m rarely in the big chain shops, but had some time in a Borders not too long ago. Forget why, but I spent time waiting for whatever, by looking over the teen books section, and seeing what they recommended. Good enough selection, but disappointed by the very predictable ‘recommendations.’ So maybe they were head office recommendations. Or maybe it was just staff not reading anything terribly exciting or different.

I’m not saying they mustn’t read, like or recommend Harry Potter or Twilight, but it’s just that little bit too obvious. I’d love it if they read some more unknown titles and told shoppers about them, enticing people away from the commonest purchases.

What little experience I have from the local indie bookshop is that the shop likes to steer ‘shelf talkers,’ both as to which books should have them and what they should say and how. I used to feel this defeated the purpose of using customers, and in particular child readers, recommending something they had loved. ‘You can only love and recommend what we want.’

Do you find they assist you picking books to buy? Would you like to put up a shelf talker where you shop?

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Hand over the money!

Or rather, please don’t.

Following close on yesterday’s reviewing thoughts, here is another problem I found on Rutger’s Child Lit Request the other day. The subject is book review ethics. The person who asked had been shocked to hear of a friend who’d approached someone for a review of her book and had been told that it would be ‘$25, please’. The question is whether this is OK, and how common it may be?

$25 for a review could be seen as an advertising fee, and depending on where it appears, it’s fairly cheap. But how could you ever trust a review like that? Not that the reader of the review would know that money had passed from author to reviewer, but surely the author would feel uncomfortable with it?

It was a tempting thought, for about a split second. But think of the guilt! I suffer dreadful pangs of generally being inadequate for not reading books, or not liking them, or something. Maybe I’m simple, but when the lovely publicity people at publishers push books, I find it hard to say no.

‘Luckily’ I’m so short of time that I have to say no. I can’t even read all books that I think look promising. So with $25 in my hand I’d feel guiltier still. And what would I do once I’d read the $25 book? The bribe-free witch only writes about things that appeal, or possibly about a book that is worth a blog anyway. I give up on books quickly, in order to move on to one I like. A few times recently I have persevered, and then had the problem that several days worth of reading has turned out to mean I don’t get a blog out of it.

However much I would like to make some money, I can’t see how it would happen. (Have you any idea of how often I’m asked if I can make money out of the blog? I’ll have to put up a donate button soon. That at least would be anonymous.) The bonus for me is that I don’t have to buy books very much.

And friendship can be another obstacle, as well as a bonus. I’ve met so many wonderful people, both on the internet and in real life, and usually I like both them and their books. But what if I like the person more than the books they write? Likewise, when I’ve made it quite clear on here that I really like someone, will others trust me if I say that this writer’s new book is great?

It’s always easiest if I can sneak up from behind and blog about books and people without feeling any obligation, because nobody knows I’m looking. But that’s getting increasingly difficult.

Giving it away

Reviews. How hard can they be? Quite difficult, actually, which is why I do my own version of the things, carefully avoiding a lot of intelligent musings on a variety of literary stuff. In short, I don’t know how, so I cheat. But I do know not to just list the plot, step by step, or to tell the end in detail.

I never did get round to reading the Striped Pyjamas, because I hated being told the ending in the Guardian review. Didn’t even see it coming. These days I squint carefully at a review if the book is still waiting to be read hereabouts. In fact, I was a little annoyed at being told too much about Running Wild a few weeks ago, too.

The Guardian review of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals seemed to be only a list of what happens. Couldn’t work out if the reviewer even liked it. I wonder what people get paid for that kind of thing? I could easily summarise novels in 600 words for payment. I’ll even throw in 100 words of opinion if required.

The other question can be what to review. I was very pleased to see that the Halloween issue of the Guardian covered two of my selected Halloween books. Generally we don’t seem to attach importance to the same books.

What length? The Guardian does a crime column with about four crime novels very briefly reviewed. Barbara from Scandinavian Crime Fiction recently felt that that was just too brief. But better than not at all, I feel.

Crime and children’s books; always forgotten or ignored. Except here, naturally.

Tsunami boy

Blast that Michael Morpurgo! First he has me reading Running Wild, sort of enjoying it, but grumbling to myself that the voice is all wrong. Then I decided that it was OK, because the message was important and that’s what mattered the most. And in typical Morpurgo style he had me crying for the last 27 pages, at the end of which the man comes up with an explanation as to why the voice was all wrong. Double blast.

OK, so I should have paid more attention when Michael was talking about this book in Edinburgh. I know he wanted to write a ‘tsunami novel’, but had to wait until it wasn’t so fresh and until he’d worked out how to do it. He kills off nine-year-old Will’s parents, first one, then the other. And Will gallops off away from the tsunami on the most marvellous elephant, Oona.

I want an elephant now.

It’s Robinson Crusoe meets I Am David. Will and Oona walks the jungle, meets the most fascinating and adorable orangutans. It being a Morpurgo novel, and one with a message, bad things happen. This is enough to make me throw all my belongings away and live a better life. Michael stuffs both the tsunami, the threat to our jungles, greedy horrible people, the uncertain future for orangutans, the war in Iraq, and green living into one relatively short book.

I’ll just go mop my eyes.

(The voice I was moaning about sounded too old. Will can only be fifteen now, and can’t tell a story as though he’s looking back from fifty years hence.)

Not bad, MM.

Nation and London

Nation at the National Theatre by Johan Persson

It was my second tsunami of the week. (Although you have to wait until tomorrow for the first one. Wrong order, I know, but it can’t be helped.) It’s funny how things just happen like that. With madness running in the witch family, Son dug himself out of his Uppsala bed pretty early (3.15 GMT, as he kept pointing out) and flew over to London for Random’s preview evening of Nation at the National Theatre last night. (For carbon footprint purposes this didn’t actually happen…)

Lovely evening. Free drinks and nice company, and the play was very good, too. But if you want to know more, you’ll have to head over to Culture for your theatre review. It’s a wonder how anyone can produce a stage drama featuring a believable tsunami from a novel never intended as anything other than a book.

Exhausted from wandering all over London in the afternoon, Son and I headed for north London and the house of Sally Gardner, for beds for the night. I’m still absolutely amazed that someone would offer accommodation on such very short acquaintance, but I always knew children’s authors are the loveliest bunch of people. Arriving at the unsociable hour of the middle of the night, Sally served us tea – which she turns three times in the pot like her grandmother – and digestive biscuits, both of which were real life savers.

Two dachshunds and friendly conversation in the kitchen of a house that needs to appear in a house magazine, was a nice way to finish our day. It’s that arty north London kind of thing, which impresses peasants from the north of England.

This morning I packed Son off to his plane, and hung around for a while, but when the mouse catcher arrived I took my leave. ☺Pure coincidence.

(Photo © Johan Persson – Jason Thorpe as Milton the parrot, Emily Taaffe as Daphne and Gary Carr as Mau)

The Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009

Just a brief extra snippet for today, in case tomorrow’s blog runs late. I’m off to London this morning and will be some time. Most likely until Thursday afternoon. I may post a blog before I get back. Then again, I may not.

So, the good news is that Neil Gaiman has just been awarded the Booktrust Teenage Prize for The Graveyard Book. Very nice for Neil, and a wonderful book.

Though some of the other extremely good shortlisted books have authors who probably could do with the £2500. There’s something biblical there, I think. Goes with graveyards, perhaps.

A pity I wasn’t invited to the ceremony, seeing as I’m heading in the right direction, and it’s not clashing with the ‘other thing’ I’m doing.

Other than that, it’s been a Gaimany/Pratchetty sort of week.

Moving Pictures

It wasn’t all bad that I ended up buying a book the other week. Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures was fun, although halfway through the book the Resident IT Consultant discovered he’d already read it. Ah, well.

I hadn’t, and that’s what counts. It’s funny, but Discworld’s Holy Wood reminds me quite a bit of somewhere. Similar name, too. It’ll come back to me, no doubt.

Victor and Ginger act their way through countless romantic adventure clicks, and Holy Wood grows almost overnight. Clicks are big business.

I adore talking dogs, especially intelligent ones like Gaspode. Even the more brain challenged Laddie is quite charming, and very brave. Troll romance, truanting wizards and a swinging librarian all play their parts. But I didn’t quite understand the dormant ‘thing’ to end all those dreams. Is it a Pratchett invention, or does it, too, have a counterpart in those California hills?

Banged grains. Hah.