Monthly Archives: December 2019

The Bookwitch and Pullman screen adaptations

This time twelve years ago I was full of the latest Philip Pullman adaptation on BBC television. It was The Shadow in the North, and I loved it. I loved it so much that I persuaded the Guardian to let me blog about it for them. There was a lot to like, and I went on and on.

The Shadow in the North - Guardian blog

And now? I still like the various televised Pullman books. But the recent His Dark Materials I have almost managed to push from my mind. Not actively, but I’ve been surprised at how little I’ve thought about it. I never went back after the first two episodes, preferring to do other things when the Resident IT Consultant sat in front of the television for another six Sundays.

I’d happily watch the Sally Lockhart films again, not to mention I Was a Rat. ‘All’ we need now is The Tiger in the Well. Except I guess Billie Piper is too old. The Tin Princess might work, though, as Sally is older in the last book. And dare I say it? There was meant to be another book or two, or so Philip said a long time ago.


Little Women

I was about eleven, maybe twelve, and I thought it was a stupid title. Unga Kvinnor it was called in Swedish. But it was a gift – most likely from the Retired Children’s Librarian – and in those days I combed the shelves at home for possible books to read, so I read it. Despite the title.

It didn’t take many pages before I was hooked and I loved it and I read everything about the March girls, like generations of other young females.

Little Women

We went to see the film this weekend and on the way home Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant ‘fought’ over who’d get to read it first. It’s probably a reflection on them having enjoyed the film… As did I. The director, Greta Gerwig, is quite possibly a genius.

Starting at the end made a tremendous difference. If nothing else, it created a sort of Schrödinger’s Beth; you never knew whether she was still alive, or not. At times it was a little hard to be sure where in the story we were, although the length of Jo’s hair helped.

I hope lots of young readers will see this film, and not just us oldies who know what to expect. I hope it means they will read the book, and that it will change many lives. Apart from my early dislike of the title, I grew up at a time when classics got the attention they deserve. Now, I suspect most younger readers stick with new fiction [because there is so much of it]. Emma Watson has helped, by hiding/leaving copies of the book in London, as well as thousands across the UK as a whole.

Find it, read it, and leave it for someone else to discover.

Louisa May Alcott, Unga kvinnor

Book presents

Book parcels

It’s your lucky day! A better photo has been unearthed, showing a good selection of book parcels. Plus the odd other parcel. But mostly books.

We had a somewhat hairy moment in the run-up to Christmas. I had written a little wish-list for the Resident IT Consultant to, well, consult, if he needed inspiration. On it I had put a book I’d been promised a couple of months earlier, but which I’d finally given up on as a free review copy.

And then it turned up, just before Christmas! Probably someone tidying up their inbox before taking off for some festive leave. What to do? Had the Resident IT Consultant bought one too? Should I be discreet? Should I warn him not to buy in case he hadn’t already, and save £12?

I mentioned my conundrum, but it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that I finally knew he hadn’t. He’d bought the other books on my list.

As for him, he was showered with books. Daughter had found loads for him (he is hard to buy for), and after a conversation we had a few weeks ago about graphic novels and whether they were proper books, you can guess what happened, can’t you? Yes, I went shopping for those very books… And Son gave him one of his own [translated books].

But there was no puppy under that tree. Probably just as well.

Book parcels

What with Boxing Day fast approaching, I thought I might mention a few different ways people have of giving me books.

There is the traditional way, wrapping paper and ribbon under the Christmas tree. Apologies for the dreadful picture; I was under the impression I took a useful photo of a couple of gifts under the tree… But you know the drill; book, paper, maybe ribbon and label.

Book parcels

I have already opened mine, so you’d have to wait another 363 days for another – better – picture.

Usually books arrive either in a cardboard packet from that rainforest online shop, or in jiffy bags from publishers. The inner contents of the jiffies could well look like this:

Book parcel

Reminds me of the candle and wax I used to be simultaneously fascinated by and scared of as a child. (That was before I had a job that consisted of putting bank notes into envelopes before placing the whole thing dangerously close to a ‘bunsen burner’ thing. Never set fire to any money, though.)

Book parcel

Or, the book could arrive in a pizza box. Admittedly this doesn’t happen every day. Actually, so far, only once.

Book parcel

The 2019 Christmas card

Christmas tree

Oops, that very nearly turned into 2029…

Happy Christmas from your Bookwitch, who loves you.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Casting around for more Christmassy books, the only one I could find was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I’d not read it since prehistoric times, so felt it would do. I believe it was on television not too long ago, but I couldn’t recall who’d dunnit. If television even had the same murderer.

Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot's Christmas

It’s not terribly Christmassy, though, is it? Set during a few days over Christmas, but with the festivities cancelled by the bloody murder of the rich old man whom everyone but his eldest son hated.

I vaguely recalled the how of the crime, and the gist of the who, but that was all. I realised one should concentrate on the kinder/better end of personalities, and to allow for some happiness at the end. Not that most of the characters are nice. On the other hand, the corpse had not been kind when he lived.

But I’m intrigued how much books like Agatha Christie’s change when reading them from ‘the inside’ by which I mean in the country in which they are set. Everything looked so much more exciting when viewed from another country. I’m totally with Pilar who was disappointed in the Christmas she’d been led to expect.

Too late for this year, but I need advice on more Christmas novels. Preferably cosy ones that leave a warm glow.

The seventh chair

I read the article several times.

Before that I had had a telephone conversation with Son, about various things. One of the ‘things’ was Åsa Wikforss. It was a professional sort of mention. Minutes later I sat down to eat supper in the company of the December issue of Vi magazine, of which page 30 was already lying open.

It turned out to be a long interview article with Åsa Wikforss. Coincidence? Serendipity, more like. She was photographed on top of a stepladder, wearing a shiny – but nice – copper coloured dress and a scarf billowing in the studio’s wind.

So I ate, and I read about Åsa. I liked everything I read. In fact, I felt a bit like her. No, not that exactly. More that we seemed to have a lot in common, in that comfortable way you sometimes discover when you talk to people. I wish I could. Talk to her, I mean.

The reason I probably won’t be able to, and the reason we are not the same, is that today she will be sworn in as a new member of the Swedish Academy. Yes, that slightly tarnished but formerly great institution. Chair number seven, I believe. The one that belonged to Sara Danius, whom I also felt strangely close to.

Åsa sounds very sensible. Intelligent. She doesn’t hail from a privileged background, so as far as I’m concerned she is the real deal. By privileged I mean money or family ties. Otherwise she was really quite privileged, having sensible – working class – parents, growing up in a concrete suburb of Gothenburg. Possibly studying at the Literature department at the same time as me. Possibly not. Then the obvious stuff; Oxford, international romance, New York, back to Sweden to be Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, and now the Swedish Academy.

It’s a long article, and the author, Stina Jofs, regrets not having had room for all the information she’d collected. So there’s no point in me going on and on here.

But she’s been where I’ve been, even if she did it in New York and I was in Stockport. It’s almost the same.

I read the article again. Told Son about it, and he wants me to save it for when he gets here. Fine. I will. But I might want to read it again.

Here’s hoping Åsa’s first day with her Swedish Academy colleagues goes well, and that soon she and her rookie peers will sort them out good and proper.

Åsa Wikforss, photographed by Thron Ullberg for Vi

Very good in 2019

To be perfectly frank with you, I’ve not known what to do. So, yes, it’s the 19th today, and it’s 2019 and my task is to give you some idea of the books I liked the best.

I started the list a couple of weeks ago. But there are simply too many books on it. That’s obviously good, as it indicates there were many books to be enjoyed. And I did.

Many of my favourites are Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia friendly books. This is especially great, meaning there are now loads of grownup books short in length, full on story, and easy for anyone to tackle. So I pondered making 2019 a dyslexia year.

But that would leave others, equally worthy. Some of the best books were part of trilogies or series. That doesn’t make them more, or less, good. Less of a surprise, perhaps, if one already knows their siblings. Should I not mention them?

Perhaps just go for the normal standalones?

Or, you know, make it a long 2019 shortlist? Maybe pick 19 books?

I colour-coded really nicely. Got quite confused when some books seemed to be in more than one category. And – I can hear you say ‘get on with it, witch!’ – then I plumped for three. Three that tingled inside. Me, that is. I went for non-series, and as you can see, only one of the three is part of a series, so that counts more or less as a success.

Wein, McGowan, Gardner

Elizabeth Wein, Anthony McGowan and Sally Gardner. Very good in 2019.

and following on from that

The cartoon below shows I am not alone in not knowing what to do and finding that reality takes over and runs away with my life.

Tom Gauld cartoon

With many thanks to the very clever Tom Gauld (who had absolutely no say in turning up here, and for which I feel a little bad).

Have we read everything, then?

I have often wondered. I know I have neither the time nor stamina or even motivation to read everything ‘put in front of me.’ The idea of being a judge for a literary award strikes me as prestigious and maybe fun, but something I’d rather not touch with a bargepole.

It’s not only that it would take time away from pleasure reading and any other book activities I might want to engage in. But in some cases I simply don’t see how it’s possible to read all that an award’s scheme requires.

Likewise the needs of a professional reviewer. There are simply too many books. And you could be wanting a private life as well. It’s not unreasonable. Knowing how hard I find it, I have on occasion asked others, including proper, well-known reviewers, how they handle the influx of books, and at what stage they give up on one, and that kind of thing.

The answers tend to be that they read everything, or at least give every book quite a chance before leaving it. And I would like to believe that. I really would. But somewhere, something has to give. And I think it’s the truth, and not people’s lives.

So the fuss in the media about the Saltire Society Literary Awards when one of the judges claimed the others hadn’t read all of the books, was interesting.

There are other areas in life where I seriously doubt that people can have done quite as much as they say. It leaves me feeling inadequate. But I can’t claim I’ve done all sorts of things I haven’t. The time I couldn’t finish the book I reviewed – because it was scaring me – I said so. When I can’t read a book due to time pressure, but would like to mention it, I do exactly that. I mention it.

I am very lazy. I am also getting much slower with age. Both these facts are behind me doing less than I’d want to. And I definitely do not give every book that crosses my threshold the opportunity to grab me for as long as the first 100 pages. The ‘triage’ situation is anything from put aside immediately to read over a third of a promising book and then give up in disappointment.

(This blog post was made possible by the fact that someone else cooked my dinner. Lovely.)