Category Archives: Blogs

Neither tried nor tested

It’s funny how I do things I really ought not to. Except it’s not funny. I just feel as though I must. Must buy that book, or at the very least, put it on a list to be ‘dealt with’ soon.

I have spent several days not reading the second half of an incredibly good book. Some of those days I have instead glanced a little at the first few chapters of a book I read many years ago, which I remember to be very good, but can’t recall a thing about.

But what I thought I’d mention now are some books I’ve not read. That’s fine, isn’t it?

Nick Green has a new book out. It’s only available on Kindle, so that’s what I bought. It took me all of two minutes to decide, after Nick had told me about it. It’s called Sparrowfall, and it’s only £2.95, which is cheap for something he spent four years writing. It’s an adult novel, but even Nick didn’t know that to begin with. If you hurry, you might have time to read it before me.

Then there are books I probably won’t be buying. But you know how hard it can be to resist books with gorgeous covers! And these two travel books by Charmian Clift, are about to be reissued by Muswell Press in the spring. While we can’t travel ourselves, it’s just as well that books can do it for us.

Some people I trust more than others. And while Sophie Hannah’s ‘own’ crime scares me a lot, I trust her implicitly when she recommends certain books. The time she talked about her discovery of Agatha Christie as a child; well, that could have been me. So when she wrote in the Guardian Review that we absolutely must read Agatha’s non-crime novels, published under the name Mary Westmacott, I knew Sophie was right.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve already read one. But you know how my memory works, or rather, how it doesn’t. So I can see myself needing to read these six books. At some point. Though possibly not in the next month…

Plague event

Here’s one I went to earlier.

A chance encounter online, with a fairly cute looking plague doctor, reminded me of my real life encounter with one of those. Real life, but, I think, not real plague doctor.

On the other hand, the way things are going, how could I possibly be sure?

It’s now nearly seven years since I made the jump and crossed over the Scottish border to live, which was a generally wise choice, or so I believe. Within days there was an event at an Edinburgh school, featuring none other but another Stopfordian, who has since also moved, but hadn’t then.

It was he, Philip Caveney, who had written about a plague doctor, and ever the good publisher, Clare at Fledgling had spirited one up, complete with stick and all. Mercifully I don’t recall what he was supposed to do with the stick.

But a good day was had by all, I’m sure, and I reckon his mask was a lot more uncomfortable than the ones we are wearing now. And we’re not getting into strange cars at all.

With a little help from Patricia

I now know what I am doing. Maybe.

A friend sent me the link to a recent Winter programme on Swedish Radio. Even for someone like me, in exile, it makes sense, because there were always Summer programmes, and one has to assume Winter is the same. Except in winter.

It seemed to be.

They are very popular, and ‘everyone’ listens to them. I don’t know how they find the time! I really wanted to listen to this one, but setting aside 90 minutes isn’t easy. In the end I cut the vegetables for a while, and then had a solitary lunch.

The pattern for the programmes is that someone – usually famous, or important/interesting for some reason – talks about their lives and plays music. A sort of Desert Island Discs.

This time it was Patricia Tudor-Sandahl, who is English but who has lived in Sweden since 1964. The other side of me, so to speak. I only knew Patricia as a psychologist, having read her column in a weekly magazine for some years. But it seems there are books, too.

And it was those that pointed the way. Patricia had been interviewed by someone who asked what sort of books she writes. Her answer was ‘the kind of books she wants to read’. Not unusual in itself, but as quite a few are not fiction, I found her reply more interesting, even if it should make no difference at all.

It made me realise that I blog what I’d like to read. That sounds presumptuous, I know. But what I mean is that I like to find other blogs like mine. And while I search I write what it is I need to write, in the hopes that someone else out there was waiting for the drivel I am offering them.

Anyway, this realisation went slightly deeper than I had expected.

As for Patricia, she spoke of her humble beginnings in Manchester – which I did not know about – having tin baths and trying to stay warm while her father fought in the war. And how she was in such a need to get away, and with a choice of Turkey or Sweden, she went to Sweden and never left. Her first job was teaching us all English, alongside Ian Dunlop who was famous on television in the 1960s.

Like me, she has adopted many, many Swedish things in her new life, but she will never be Swedish. I needed to hear that.

And I’d not listened to Mikis Theodorakis’s Zorba for far too long.

Careful with that advice

And I should obviously heed that, erm, piece of advice myself, re advice on what to tell people to read.

I can’t tell you how relieved I felt on reading today in the Guardian Review that Patricia Highsmith can be a bit iffy to read. It absolves me from the disaster that was the younger me having a go with one of her books, on the advice from someone else. I forget who. I found it a horrible book, and I can no longer recall if I soldiered on or if it was an early instance of me permitting myself to give up.

Since then I have steered well clear.

Setting personal tastes aside, I feel the suggestion was made to too young a reader. I don’t mind inappropriate sex or violence at too early an age, as you will generally just filter it out if you don’t enjoy it. But the sheer boredom of not understanding what’s being written about is a sure way of turning people off.

At what was most likely an even lower age, I was told to read Graham Greene. I started on The End of the Affair, found it incredibly boring, but made it to the, well, end of whatever this affair was. I forget. I went on to read many Greene books, but they were slightly later and they were chosen by me, so the subject was more suitable.

And at a rather more mature stage in my life, someone said I would love P D James, because she’s just like Agatha Christie. That sounded good, and I did have a go. But it was a lie. She’s not like Agatha. I’m sure she’s very good, but I was mis-sold, in all innocence. So me and P D have not really recovered from that first meeting.

I shall now go away and see if I can reign in my own advice on who should read what and when.

Let’s sell this again

I was too naïve. Next time I will look more closely, because it did say, some distance down on the page for the book in the online shop. But even when I looked for it, it takes some degree of cynicism to decide that they are telling you that this is mostly old stuff.

Stuff you might have read before.

So, it mentions ‘featuring classic tales alongside exclusive, never-before-seen material.’

In a way it doesn’t matter. And the book wasn’t for me. But it sort of amounts to paying for previously published stories, except for – I believe – one that’s new. It is very good. But still.

I’m comparing it with the anthology of period Christmas stories I finished last week. I expected them to all be stories I potentially might have read, but because of the age they were from, I suspected this was unlikely. I didn’t read magazines in the 1950s. Or earlier.

But when a currently active author mentions their own new collection of stories, I kind of thought they’d be new. Not just newly selected from what had been written and published in the past.

One of them I read not very long ago. I have it in another volume on my shelf. Except it goes under a different title, so even if I had perused the list of stories with a great deal of suspicion, I’d not have known. The other one that is awfully familiar I have no idea how it is reminding me of itself, since according to the information it was published in a book I’ve not read. Unless that book in turn got the story from some other place.

If I were a collector of this author’s work, then it’d be worth it, to get some new material. Let’s face it, if this was a ‘new’ album by Roger Whittaker, with just the one track I didn’t already have, then the collector in me would scream to me to buy it. But not in the case of this story collection.

Maybe I’m saying that meeting a story again, in a volume of stories compiled by an editor, chosen from stories written by numerous authors over many years, is one thing. For an individual author to hand out their stories a second or third time without making it clear… well.

Romancing the ghost

Were it not for this Bookwitching business, I’d never have ended up on the front cover of a novel in Romania. Admittedly, someone else’s novel, but still. I’ve even said something in Romanian.

Let me see what it might have been. ‘A Beautiful book. Not that I would have expected anything else from Helen Grant.’ As you can tell from the top of the book cover, she is the author of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Or that other title, the way it looks when it’s been translated into Romanian.

Which, as you well know, is a Romance language, and therefore ought to look more comprehensible than this is doing right now. Maybe it’s just that I’m old and tired. It’s mostly me being incomprehensible.

The cover is gorgeous, in all its spookiness. And Fantoma sounds scarier than Ghost. But I dare say Helen’s characters behave just as badly, I mean well, as in the original. May they live happily ever after…

But, you know, this kind of thing I did not expect.

Baby, it’s cold out there

‘Do you even know what that is?’ Daughter asked as I read out loud from the television guide, suggesting that Saturday afternoon we could have watched Ice Station Zebra.

Would I suggest something without knowing; without meaning it?

I swiftly informed her about the film, whose novel it was based on and that the Alistair MacLean book was far superior. But the film would still have been worth watching. Again. Can only have seen it three or four times.

This was confirmed by friends on social media, who did actually watch yesterday, and I felt I had sort of missed out. Even if I can watch later. But I’m glad that at least people my age are still enjoying these ancient adventure thrillers. And there was nothing wrong with Where Eagles Dare, which both Offspring have watched.

I probably won’t reread the MacLeans. Although the reason I gave up at whatever point, must have had more to do with me moving on as the books moved in a different direction. I suspect I favour the WWII and Cold War stories.

And if I may say so, one good side to the lack of new programmes and films has been that there is so much old stuff offered again. Things that would usually have been hidden away in the middle of the night if it ever came to light again. I like seeing films again.

Again.

Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise

Yeah, that’s a mouthful, so I won’t repeat it here. I’ve only read one book by Katherine Rundell – well, two now – so have little experience of this writer, seemingly very admired by many. I have no cause to doubt them. I’ll want to read more.

But this little book, clearly aimed at adults, and so handy for sticking in your pocket when you go out, is about reading. I’m guessing it’s a talk Katherine has given. 63 small pages, starting in Zimbabwe, where Katherine first discovered that incredible thing that is a library. You go in, and you come out with books to read, and you haven’t paid for the pleasure.

On page two she mentions Martin Amis and his brain injury; the one he’d require before sinking so low as to write for children. Yes, most of us remember that comment still. We don’t like it.

And then Katherine goes on to talk about children’s books and it’s completely right, and it’s so inspiring, even to an old Bookwitch like me, who sometimes needs a push.

Well, you know how I’ve dithered recently. To read or not to read. What to read and why and when, and during 2020 ‘how?’ and getting no real answer. Until this little volume.

I do like Katherine’s mother, who had to remind her that you don’t have to break into libraries. You just walk in and you can have all the information you need. Have to admit that tunnelling in would have been fun, though.

As for the word pedagogy, I don’t know how to pronounce it properly, either. It’s the curse of having learned some words by only reading them. (I can say it in Swedish, however!)

Might have got some things right

Or an unmitigated success.

It’s been what, four or five days since the Christmas presents were handed out? The Resident IT Consultant has reported two (of mine) book presents read and seemingly enjoyed. And there have been so many wrong books in the past.

The first one was Antonia Hodgson’s The Devil in the Marshalsea. I only worried about that one because there was something a little bit familiar about the title and I considered the possibility that he’d read it before. Or that I’d already given it to him on an earlier occasion…

But it’s fine, and it’s now on my tbr shelf.

The White Stag Adventure by Rennie McOwan followed quickly, presumably because it’s a shortish children’s book. It’s the sequel to Light on Dumyat, which has long been a family favourite. Being a bit local in its setting, it tickled the recipient’s sense for working out where the characters might be having their adventure. I suppose there could even be a walk from that.

These two successes are of course only adding to my own future reading burden.

A literary lift

When the time came to hand out the Christmas presents, I barely noticed that the Resident IT Consultant slipped away for a brief time. (No, he did not don a red outfit and long white beard.) He suggested that if I checked my emails, I might find a Kindle book email there. I did. And I did. Apparently this is the way. You buy and the recipient takes delivery almost instantly.

It wasn’t wrapped, though. I have to say that.

*It* was the complete works by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Apparently ‘why buy one book when you can buy them all?’ is the reigning idea. Indeed. My thanks to Amanda Craig, whose Guardian article Books to Bring Cheer caused a bit of book buying at Bookwitch Towers. Rather craftily I asked for some books for me, and then divided things up by giving the Resident IT Consultant one I wanted to read too. What’s his is mine, or some such thing.

Whereas Daughter can think up ideas by herself, for us. Everything I’ve happened to mention gets noted. Which accounts for the Tom Stoppard collection. And my craving for codewords to solve has now received a real challenge. One for every day! What I want to know is whether I will be allowed to solve the one for, say, 13th May on a later date in May?

A grown-up Eva Ibbotson and a new book by Sally Nicholls complete my book presents.

My other pile of books supported the family Christmas gathering. We had a Boxing Day worldwide party, starting in Texas and ending in Moscow. As with everything else in 2020 it was on Zoom, and I was determined to get my chins under control. Hence the lifting of the laptop with the help of literature.

It was nice. People who didn’t often see each other, even before lockdowns became widespread, were able to join in. Before the day was over there had even been an online crossword for one new recruit. Otherwise we’d all spent the day on the Hungarian Accountant’s Russian quiz. (I know. He’s moved.) It was quite a devious one, and I seem to have outwitted the Resident IT Consultant. (There was a trick question. Or two.)