Monthly Archives: October 2020

Gifted and inspired

I began in the middle, as I often do when there is no apparent reason to read an article in the newspaper, or in this case, in the New Statesman.

But it looked so interesting that I read a little more, near where I’d started. And after some faffing around reading a paragraph here and a paragraph there, I turned to the beginning and read the whole thing. It was an article about John Carey, whom I’d never heard of before, written by Leo Robson, who was also unknown to me.

I don’t know what I was more enchanted by, learning about John Carey, or simply the finding of such a great article when I was least expecting it.

This is what I’ve discovered about my birthday present of a magazine subscription for the Resident IT Consultant. It’s providing me with lots to read too. Admittedly, I am a week behind most of the time, but most of the time that does not matter. Good reading remains good reading even weeks afterwards. (I’ve recently started on the Atlantic – the magazine, not the ocean – and am finding it really excellent too. But that has to come by way of Son, se we are really behind there.)

Fairer than buying someone a box of chocolates and then eating most of them yourself, because in this instance we can both ‘eat’ the chocolates, so to speak. And it’s been decades since I worried about using the Resident IT Consultant’s own money to pay for his presents…

2021 ALMA hopefuls

The nominations for next year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award have ‘arrived’. Many are the same as in previous years, some are probably new. The list is long.

I was most pleased with recognising the Palestinian name, seeing as Palestine isn’t as big as it perhaps should be in the Bookwitch mind. Sonia Nimr. I have even heard her talk live!

There are some worthy names from, say, Sweden and Norway, but in most cases I feel these authors need a few more years to be ready. For the burden, if nothing else. Maybe excepting Jakob Wegelius. And then there is Maria Turtschaninoff from Finland.

I am mostly interested in the English language writers I read a lot by, and the contrast between those who have been around for a long time, and those who are really quite new, is interesting.

Beverley Naidoo comes under South Africa, and from Ireland we have Siobhán Parkinson and Sheena Wilkinson.

The UK contingent have Quentin Blake and Shirley Hughes on the one hand, and Juno Dawson and Katherine Rundell on the opposite hand, with Theresa Breslin and Aidan Chambers somewhere in the middle. As well as many others, I hasten to add.

Among US authors are Elizabeth Acevedo, Kate DiCamillo and Laurie Halse Anderson, to mention a few.

So, may the best unknown win?

An Engineer Like Me

I’m the first person to be in favour of more science for girls.

So this new picture book about a young girl asking her gran a lot of questions about science, is just right. Zara does seem to notice absolutely everything, but then, her gran has answers for all of it as well. She’s a useful gran to have.

They go for an outing, and they come past all sorts of things that need questions asked and answered. Personally I’m not sure I trust the ideas behind loop-the-loops, but I have no intention of looping anything anymore.

And I have always been fascinated by Hedy Lamarr, who despite being a beautiful actress could do serious and useful science. It just goes to show how prejudiced I am. I shouldn’t be more impressed by her than, say, by gran.

Gran has all the answers, because she is, of course, an engineer.

Old books

‘It’s going to turn into a blog post, isn’t it?’ said Daughter.

I should think so. We went antiques shopping after the dentist. Or rather, we didn’t shop at all, merely looked. We might return there once we’ve made our minds up, after sleeping on a few things we saw.

It was good. It almost felt like pre-Covid days. Although the fact that I coveted an awful lot of things, including china figurines – and I am a Scandinavian minimalist – could have been a sign of me being not quite right in the head. The Christopher Robin with Poo and Piglet was really quite sweet…

Ahem, where was I?

So, anywhere that sells old stuff will doubtless sell old books. Some of them possibly even intended for people to read. (There was a bundle of three modern paperbacks, with two of the three authors being people I really don’t care for.)

And some not. For reading, that is. They are now flogging boxes of books for people to decorate with, to give the place that look of belonging to actual readers, people who own lots of lovingly read books. I know this happens, the adorning a room with books never read [by you]. But I’d rather people thought of this idea themselves and then popped into their nearest Oxfam to find some decorating materials. Leather bound books to support a candlestick or two. Whatever.

I bent down to look at the spines, in case there were any titles that required liberating. I know that classic Penguin covers are attractive, but you could at least read them first?

Save the library?

This is something I wasn’t expecting. When you have a nice old library building, funded by Andrew Carnegie over a hundred years ago, you don’t expect to have the library moving into the former shop premises of Argos.

If I understand it right, old Argos isn’t big enough. Yes, it would bring the library ‘to the people’, or it would if there are enough people left visiting the shopping precinct in Stockport. It’s been on its way down for some time.

Yes, I know some people are worried about going into libraries, because they are not used to them, and the building might feel too grand for the likes of an ordinary person. The thing is, when I lived in Stockport, the library was what I encountered first, on arriving into town. It’s right there when you get off the train. Or the bus outside McDonald’s.

The arguments for the move, at least for the position of old Library versus Argos, are not entirely unsound. But I’m thinking here of when my other old library, the one in Halmstad, was replaced with a new, more modern building some years ago. I was really against it. But the fact is, the new library building is far better.

Yes, my childhood memories are somewhere else, but that building still remains, used for other things now. The new one is bigger and more luxurious. Because it was built to be a library, and to be larger, to accommodate everything that was needed.

It doesn’t sound as if the Stockport plans would do that. Smaller and not purpose built sounds worse, to my mind.

I did sign the [Stockport] petition. I feel there should be more thought going into this. Yes, maybe the old building can be kept and used for something truly great, although I would have believed more in that ten years ago. But the message is that library users don’t need or deserve much. A former shop will do.

What Mr Carnegie would think I’m not sure. But we generally like our gifts to be appreciated.


I have to say it! I reckon Ali Smith writes almost as well as Meg Rosoff. (Whose birthday it is today. Meg’s, not Ali’s.) It was a piece Ali wrote for the Guardian, probably just before Summer was published, that had me reach towards the buy button, and I ordered Autumn, feeling curious and actively wanting to read some literary adult fiction.

This hardly ever happens.

I felt I should start at the beginning, so Autumn it was. (Winter is already standing by.)

I really, really liked it. Elisabeth is a most interesting heroine, and her passport application is to die for. I wish I could be like her. There is a mother, who at first seemed less attractive, but who grew on me. There is a friendship with Daniel, a much older man, who was great from the start. There are many thoughts about a lot of things.

The whole book, and I say whole, but it’s admirably short, really, is full of fragments, maybe jigsaw pieces, that eventually mostly fit together. There was one piece that didn’t join up, but having cheated and read a description of a later book, I know that my feeling that it would be important, was correct.

I can’t wait.

Except I might. Winter is coming, as I said, but perhaps I will keep Spring and Summer for later. Or not. As the Resident IT Consultant says, it can be sensible to get on the train standing at the platform now. Just in case.

A whale of a read

I’d have expected it to be Ulysses. After all, that was the book I thought I’d be able to read, only so I could say I’d read it. Can’t be too hard; you just read one page after another and before you know it, the book’s over.

I was over pretty quickly. Can’t recall now if it was before the bottom of page one, or just after. Ulysses turned out to be a spectacular non-read.

But no, my totally unscientific understanding of the book most often not finished – according to the Guardian’s ‘The books that made me’ – appears to be Moby Dick.

I get it. I haven’t read it either. Unlike Ulysses, I didn’t even start, or not that I can remember.

Right now I’m even looking at the pile of post that arrived today, and that I haven’t opened. But I have actually read some things. Just not anything I’m telling you about. Or not yet.

The Turning Tide

Having fallen in love with Catriona McPherson’s 13th Dandy Gilver crime novel, I’ve moved on to the 14th, The Turning Tide. I am enjoying taking up a new [to me] crime series, allowing myself to read instalments as they come, even if I might struggle to catch up with the earlier books.

Cramond Island has a ring of mystery to it, although I’ve never been. It’s where Dandy and her partner in crime, Alec, go to work out why the ferry woman has stopped ferrying people, and possibly also to escape from newborn baby grandchildren.

There are potatoes involved, some unexpected nudity for 1936, and much skulduggery from the locals, and how did the young man Dandy’s family have always known come to die?

I love the friendship and banter between Dandy and Alec, even if they are rather well off and occasionally unaware of how the other half – more like 95%, perhaps? – lives. And then there is the war. The old one was dreadful, but now there is the threat of a second war looming and Dandy’s sons are just the right age…

This is lovely. And fun. And they do go back home, because ‘there are babies to dandle’. And if I could have Dandy’s maid Grant, I’d be most grateful.

[T]OBE or not [T]OBE

Sorry about that. I was trying to think of some sort of heading, but as you can see, I failed.

Translator, and general facilitator of all things literary, Daniel Hahn has been awarded an OBE in the [rather late] Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Many of us are very happy about this, and we’re hoping Danny is too, and that he didn’t accept his OBE just to please the rest of us. Although that would be a perfectly good reason, too.

Children’s laureate Cressida Cowell is another new OBE.

It’s rather lovely to be a little bit involved in a trade like children’s books, where some participants go on to be recognised in this way. Last year it was Theresa Breslin, and I’m very proud of her efforts too, especially considering how purply she dressed.

To return to this year, I’m also happy for the new Dame Mary Berry. I’m not into baking in any great way, but she has a nice crinkly smile.

Both Sides of the news

I’m more of an ice hockey girl myself. However I do know some names of football players, although Nicklas Bendtner was not one of them.

He appears to be a successful Danish football import, now returned to his own shores, where he teamed up with a most respectable ‘ghost’ writer, Rune Skyum-Nielsen, for his autobiography Both Sides. This is according to his translator, Ian Giles. So Nicklas was responsible for the exciting doings, Rune for writing about them well, and Ian for making it possible for you to read the whole thing, now that the English translation is out.

I have my own copy, I’m pleased to say, but will probably not get round to reading. The Resident IT Consultant did, though, and survived. (He’s not really into sports.)

With my experience of book publicity, I’d say Nicklas’s PR team is pretty good. Being famous for kicking a ball obviously helps, but so far this week there has been a double spread of excerpts from the book in the Daily Fail, followed by another couple of pages interviewing the man. This morning there were another couple of pages in the Guardian, adding quality. In the sports pages, so I could easily have missed the happy event.

I understand this is the translator’s first Danish book, so has very little to do with me.