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Why not me?

The lists are gathering all over the internet. I am gathering a few books myself for my 2016 list, which is fairly imminent. Some people I admire, who are very knowledgeable about children’s books, are moaning and asking if this ‘list is any good?’ because they haven’t heard of a single book on it, or at least not read them.

And I’m rather like that myself. Not the moaning, obviously. I never moan. Except when I do, like now.

On most of those lists I have managed to find one I’ve read, and liked, and occasionally another I’ve heard of or even received but not read. My own gathering list already has too many books on it, even when I stick to my rules, children’s books published this year, which automatically disqualifies great adult crime and some really excellent books that were last year’s. But you have to have boundaries.

So I’m not short of wonderful books. I’m merely pondering why so many of the ones on other lists have not passed over my threshold. Or, it seems, a number of other thresholds either.

It is well nigh impossible to request books you don’t know exist, or I would do. And by the time enough people have enthused about them somewhere, there is less scope to jump on the bandwaggon. If they were by authors I know and have read before, the chances of hearing about their new books is greater. Except, even those writers who first became published during the Bookwitch era, and are considered – by me – to be established authors, seem to find it difficult to have their new books bought by publishers.

And at the same time there are countless debut authors. It makes me wonder if publishers actively go for new rather than established, because the established ones have failed to write the next Harry Potter, so the debut writers are seen as more likely to do a JKR? OK, so she was a beginner, but surely a new Potter success could come from anyone? Clearly not on quite the same unlikely scale, but still big.

Is a hitherto unpublished writer more likely to strike gold than the author who has had four really good novels published, but who is now not having any luck with their latest offering? Surely it must be possible to have plodded along for ten years before hitting on just the right thing at the right time?

Unless the only money publishers are looking for will be coming from celebrity books, ghost written or not?

Whatever.

Lowering the tone

I was struck by how civil everyone was. At the weekend there was a social media discussion about a celebrity who writes children’s books. There wasn’t much said that was positive, but people were discussing the topic like the adults they are.

The only reason I was a little surprised was because a week earlier I had taken part in another online chat about a fairly new, and therefore pretty unknown, YA author. In fact, I only contributed my bit on the grounds that I felt someone had to behave. The author had a couple of friends who spoke up on her behalf, and a couple of strangers who also seemed quite level headed, but apart from them it became pretty vile. And these were also adults, and I found it hard to believe so many would say so much that was so unpleasant. But they were mostly not my friends.

You may be aware I’m a long standing fan of NCIS. So far this year I have been dreadfully disappointed with the way the show is going, and the episode two weeks ago reached an all time low. For that reason I was glad to find last week’s episode pretty decent, and I even went to the Facebook page to see if people agreed with me. Unfortunately the consensus appeared to be that if they were going to be muslim friendly, then they would stop watching.

I’m sure people have always had opinions such as these, but have not been so quick to voice them publicly. Just as the YA author discussion went beyond what would have seemed decent until fairly recently.

On the morning of November 9th, I turned to Facebook as I turned off my mobile phone alarm clock, hoping for the best but knowing I’d not find it. Two friends had posted; one a relative who was now very worried about her recent – prestigious – job offer in California. The other, a friend from school, and a brand new US citizen, who was ecstatic over the result of the election.

I’m sure you can guess who overstepped the mark? Yes, the latter. She was so buoyed up by success that she started posting so many offensive comments on Facebook, insulting everyone from people like me to President Obama, that I did that modern thing and unfriended her. I was pleased for her that she was pleased, but didn’t feel it gave her the right to say what she said.

The relative? I understand she’ll head off for her new job, and I hope both she and the job will be safe. There was one thing I’d not considered before that morning. I’ve known her since she was one year old, but I’d never noticed her skin colour before.

As for the celebrity, I will leave him alone. And the YA author is someone whose acquaintance I hope to make soon. At first I thought it might have happened by now, as she took part in Book Week Scotland, at a venue within reach of Bookwitch Towers. But we decided to wait for a less frantic time.

And all this is why I enjoyed the discussion at the weekend. It showed me I know lots of people who are witty and intelligent, and they can be somewhat rude, while still spelling all the words they use correctly.

Taking refuge in a book

I sent the Resident IT Consultant into the offices of the Stirling Observer last week, bearing gifts. Every year they collect – new – toys for various charities, to give to children who might otherwise not receive any Christmas presents, due to circumstances in their lives.

You know me, I wanted to add some reading material to the enticingly packaged toys, and after checking last year if they would welcome books, I’ve had them in mind for the last few months. And that’s what he carried in. But he also came up with an idea of his own, which was that the Women’s Refuge might be able to use books. It seems they are one of the receiving charities, but I can see how they would have a use for books all year round. And I can see that it wouldn’t necessarily be just picture books for the under-fives.

It was that piece by Jenn Ashworth I had on here a week or two ago, about how she was saved by Melvin Burgess’s Baby and Fly Pie, which she discovered in the library at the age of twelve. It changed her life. And since she stole it, she clearly felt it was a book she’d need for longer than it took to read twice, in one sitting. (Btw, I’m so glad it wasn’t Junk! Good though that novel is, I was pleased someone could be that moved by one of Melvin’s ‘lighter’ stories…)

I will need to check if the refuge wants books. I’m thinking less for Christmas, but more everyday requirements. And because I don’t know if the need is temporary, i.e. a stationary library for children in a refuge to read over the hopefully short period of time they are there, or if there should be books they can pick up, but also take with them to where they go next.

If more of a library set-up, then fewer books are needed than if children can keep them. In both cases I am thinking – hoping – that used books would be fine. It’s both easier and cheaper to find lots of used, but still excellent books. On the other hand, if it needs to be new books, I could see myself trying to source them, including looking for them online, as cheaply as possible. But I know that I have books I will need to part with soon, on space grounds, and it would be great if they could find new homes. Just like the children in the refuge, in fact.

How to choose? Jenn obviously found hers by looking among many other books in the library, although her choice could still have been fairly random.

There could easily be many non-readers in a refuge, or children who find reading hard. On the other hand, the assumption that because they are in a needy situation they must be slow or un-developed readers is clearly wrong. Or that they would be quite young. Anyone could end up in a refuge. You just don’t know.

And perhaps finding the right book(s) might make a bad situation a little bit more tolerable.

I can think of several more of Melvin’s books I’d happily offer a teenager in need. But the world is full of suitable reading material. When I began compiling a mental list, it grew incredibly fast.

A spare

I reckoned I’d have a spare, once I’d placed our various Advent lights around Bookwitch Towers yesterday. It took me most of the morning, which is because we have too many lights, because I felt I had to dust before, and because it had been a very long time since any dusting happened around here.

Advent light

But at least we managed to unearth all the stuff from the building site-cum-garage, which is a good thing. The spare was expected since we are currently a room down. What was surprising in the end was that it wasn’t the spare I’d been expecting. And as it turned out to be the lightbox, I put it on a shelf in the kitchen. Near the lentils.

Obviously.

While I dusted, the Resident IT Consultant was out finishing his walk around the Fife coast. I’d forgotten to warn him to look out for James Oswald’s house or he could have popped in to say hello.

Advent books

And while searching for some other thing the other day, I came upon these two Advent books. One of them, the Jostein Gaarder is one we habitually lose, and have to buy another copy of. The other is Cornelia Funke’s Advent calendar in German, which I turned the house – almost – upside down for last month, before travelling to Newcastle to meet Cornelia.

Just my luck to miss it then and to find it now. Though I suppose it beats not ever finding it.

Thinking of translations, the Gaarder was the example at my ‘SELTA talk’ in London three weeks ago, of a book I have found to be much more readable in English than in Swedish. Both translations. Maybe I should have tried it in Norwegian. Whereas Cornelia’s story has not yet appeared in English. I wonder if that is because English-speaking children mainly eat chocolate in the run-up to Christmas, rather than mark Advent in other ways?

When books become retro

In the end it was the fonts that made me go all nostalgic.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Här är Lilla Anna

I was reading Scandinavian Retro, a style magazine, featuring mainly mid-20th century things. I’d expected furniture, china, textiles. That kind of thing. But here were all 105 books by Inger and Lasse Sandberg; every cover of every book they wrote and illustrated together for over fifty years.

First I wondered why, when they started in the mid-1950s, I hadn’t really read any/many of their books. I’ve always been aware of them, but had somehow felt they were after my time as a picture book reader. And mostly, it turned out they were. They had a slow start and I must have missed the early books while I was still young enough.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Är det jul nu igen? sa Spöket LabanI did read about the little ghost, however. Both for myself, and later to other young people, including Offspring. Lilla spöket Laban (Laban, the little ghost) is rather sweet. He is scared of many things, including the dark, which is awfully inconvenient for a ghost. Apparently he was born to help the Sandberg’s middle child who was afraid of the dark, after his older sister locked him in a wardrobe.

But, as I said, I can only have read a handful of the 105 books. They all look thoroughly familiar, however, and I worked out it’s because of the font(s) used on the covers. The pictures are also quite typical for that era, but there being so many, for me they blend into one and the same. There’s probably a name for the font, but for me it will always be the ‘Swedish children’s books font.’

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Fixa fisk, sa Pulvret

And, as I also said, there were obviously more than one font, and styles developed over the years, but mostly they all look soothingly familiar.

Just as Laban was born to deal with the dark, many of the books were written by Inger to cover a small matter of some importance to small people everywhere. I really like the sound of the story about the man who suddenly shrinks and discovers what it is like to be small and treated like a child again. He becomes a children’s politician after that, with notes explaining to young readers what a politician is.

Never mind your ABCs. You can have a book about the number 0, which when standing next to other numbers, becomes terribly important.

And when all is said and done, this whole concept feels frightfully Swedish and egalitarian, besides being trendy and nice to look at.

Those murdering Scots

How I love them!

It’s Monday morning, and it’s Book Week Scotland. And here at Bookwitch Towers, I am most likely to spend it reading, rather than being out and about, despite all the events on offer. I feel as if I’ve finally got into the swing of reading again, after far too much travelling, or agonising over things, and it does my mental state a lot of good.

And you really don’t want me too mental.

Scottish Book Trust have looked into what everyone else in Scotland is doing, and it appears that Scots are into crime, in a big way; ‘crime/thriller books are the single most popular type of fiction in Scotland.

In a recent Ipsos MORI Scotland survey of 1,000 adults, just over 1 in 4 Scots (27%) who read for enjoyment said that books which fictionalise crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives topped their choice of reading or listening genres. — While the crime genre was the most popular among readers of all ages, the second most popular genre among young readers (aged 16-34) was science fiction/fantasy (15%). — Eight in ten Scots (79%) read or listen to books for enjoyment and 39% do so either every day or most days. Additionally, among those —  50% read or listen to more than 10 books per year.’

Well, that’s good to know; both that people read, and that they like what I like. (If I hadn’t given up ironing, I’d be listening to more audio books as well.)

I suppose that with their fondness for a good murder, the Scots really are – almost – Nordic. It’s dark up here, although possibly more cheerful than ‘over there.’

And, on that cheery note I will dive back into my waiting book mountains, before the January books arrive. There tends to be this brief lull for a couple of weeks, or three, as one year [in the publishing world] comes to an end and the new one begins. When the publicists go off on their Christmas holidays, they might fire off the ‘first’ 2017 books. (That’s apart from the ones I’ve already received and filed away because 2017 was such a long way off…)

After the apocalypse

I don’t remember if I have mentioned my strong dislike of the smell from bonfires? It’s quite a nice smell, really, but it was much nicer before the fire. After the fire – which luckily wasn’t too bad, but worse than we like to think about – that smell only brings back a feeling of worry. You are constantly checking that the neighbours are ‘just’ having an innocent bonfire, and that you’re not actually on fire.

It’s the same with fiction about ‘bad’ things. I’m sure my fondness for war fiction would evaporate if I was experiencing war myself. And then there’s the future dystopias. Wonderfully exciting and thought provoking, as well as entertaining.

Post apocalyptic sign

Perhaps you have come across this picture recently? It is very amusing, or would be, if things in the world were different. It’s not quite on the same scale as similar photos of boards outside shops promising puppies and cups of coffee to all unattended children.

In the last year, I’ve read several dystopias that featured a worrying future [but one that you confidently feel ‘will never happen’], often with a crazed leader in charge of America. Sometimes Britain. In the last few months I’ve sometimes felt that these fictional leaders have resembled a certain presidential hopeful far too much for comfort.

And now that time is here. It is current affairs. And I’m finding it much harder to read about.