Category Archives: Books

Twenty years of Harry

Would I be where I am today if it weren’t for Harry Potter? Would you?

Reading the Guardian article about the fans who grew up with Harry, they were all very clued up, not to mention wearing great Pottery outfits. Offspring had to make do with what we could cobble together from our own clothes and a striped tie – in the wrong colours – bought from the neighbourhood charity shop. But that worked just as well as anything else. Daughter was Hermione twice in quick succession. And I always imagined Son would be the perfect Harry in the film. I’m so glad now he didn’t become rich and famous!

From having to bribe Son to read the first book, to standing outside bookshops in the middle of the night, or being part of an event at the local stately mansion hired for book seven, in charge of what turned out to be quite hard quizzes and things. Daughter’s shock when Stephen Fry couldn’t keep up, and she actually had to actually read the fifth book because she couldn’t wait for the audio book.

It became a way of life, almost. And people still refer to most things Harry Potter and expect the rest of the world to keep up and know what they mean.

And to think I was dreadfully disappointed when I realised that the book I’d bought after reading a very positive review, turned out to be about wizards! I almost sat down and cried. I had been under the impression I’d bought a nice old-fashioned boarding school crime novel for children…

And to think I might not have read it had the Resident IT Consultant not bitten the bullet and gone first. The man didn’t even have the decency to tell me he thought it was ‘all right, I suppose.’ He simply put it down and reached for book two, which I’d already bought by then. My reasoning went that if he did that, maybe it would be worth my while having a second go.

It was.

Walk from the library

The Resident IT Consultant was so pleased with the way the local branch library looked this week, that he – almost – insisted there be a blog post about it. And you’re not tired of libraries, yet, are you?

He volunteers to take other ladies out for walks. Not just ladies, but there are probably more of them than there are men. They are health walks, were people who need to get out are invited to walk in groups, led by volunteers such as the Resident IT Consultant.

There was a drive this week to encourage more people to join, so the library, which is where they meet before the walks, was set up with books on walking and leaflets and badges. I believe there was even cake, which I suppose is the naughty opposite to exercise.

St Ninian's Library

The library was so keen on this sneaky way of bringing them more customers that they happily sourced books on walking and set up the display. All the Resident IT Consultant and his colleague had to do was look like fun company for the walks.

And I believe he might have borrowed a book or two. It’s what he does. That and walking.

The easy read

Another thing I discovered at the library (see yesterday), was their section of beginners’ fiction in English.

Well, that’s what they called it. I noticed the thin books in English by, among others, Bali Rai and Kevin Brooks on the shelves on the end of one of the sections.

I didn’t recognise these books, so went closer, and realised that they were older Barrington Stoke titles. And yes, as such they are easier to read. Shorter and in a simpler language, and thereby ideal for the novice reader of English. We should have had books like that when I was at school! We got Somerset Maugham instead.

Have no idea how popular they will be, now that impatient young readers tackle Harry Potter in the original, because they can’t wait. And I get the impression that having started, many young teens go on to read a lot more in English, because they’ve realised it’s possible. That they can.

But for those who can’t, these dyslexia friendly books are just the thing.

Barefoot among the prawns

Halmstad Library

Earlier this year I just missed the opening of the refurbished children’s department at Halmstad Library, and I promised myself I’d go along and have a look later. This I’ve now done. I wasn’t sure at first if it’d be a noticeable change, or just some new paint here and there.

Halmstad Library

It was much more than that, and really quite attractive. They have money to spend in Sweden, and children and books do well. There is a tiny carpeted bridge for small feet to run across. And back. And back again.

Halmstad Library

In fact there are several carpeted areas for small children to crawl on all fours in. And bigger children to just enjoy lazing around in. You have to take your shoes off, and there are signs that make this quite clear and there are pigeon holes to put the shoes in.

They have a small kitchen style room to the side, called a workshop, where parents and young children sit round a kitchen table, doing stuff. I wish I could have taken Offspring somewhere like that, back when.

Halmstad Library

There is an astronomy area, with space-y carpet. And there are tables at which you can play Ludo and similar. I was gratified to discover a prominently displayed copy of Kodnamn Verity, that well-known book by Elizabeth Wein, my second favourite, ever.

Halmstad Library

That was in translation, but should you need fiction in English, there are many shelf metres of the stuff. More than in some English language libraries.

Halmstad Library

Further along there are still the comfy lime-green armchairs for adults and plenty of desks for people to plonk their laptops down and work. That is if they are able to with such a good view of the river outside.

Halmstad Library

And when you’ve had enough carpet and wifi you can eat a fresh prawn sandwich in the adjacent café. By that I mean freshly shelled prawns, and even I was surprised to find this kind of quality in a library. Plentiful prawns too.

But if you’re tempted to think this is unadulterated paradise, it isn’t. I lost my balance a little, standing next to the carpeted moon surface and put one little shoe-clad foot over the edge of the carpet. Luckily for the safety of any child, the librarian wasn’t too busy to notice and she was able to come and tell me off straightaway.

On occasion I feel that Swedes need to consider public relations and kindness, and not merely the cleanliness of carpets or style to die for.

Generosity

Translator Daniel Hahn had two pieces of good news to share yesterday. First he won the International Dublin Literary Award with author José Eduardo Agualusa for the book A General Theory of Oblivion. They share the €100,000 award, which is very generous as literary prizes go. Even Daniel’s 25% is a lot of money.

And then Daniel decided to give some of it away again. He’s using half his money to fund a new First Translation Award for the Society of Authors, with an annual £2000 given to a first literary translation, to be shared by the translator and the editor.

But the generosity of people does not end there. Many of our favourite illustrators have donated art to an auction starting tomorrow, in aid of stranded refugees in Greece, via the Three Peas charity. I’ve had a little look, and there are many, many beautiful illustrations that would look great on anybody’s wall. Go on, you have about ten days to bid!

Not surprisingly the dreadful tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower in London has caused many authors to join in to help raise money for the British Red Cross to help residents affected by the fire. Authors for Grenfell Tower can be found here.

As always, there are many interesting and diverse items and services on offer. I quite fancy naming a character in Philip Pullman’s 2nd Book of Dust. I’m guessing that could fetch a lot of money. Or I could go book shopping with Lucy Mangan.

Bookwitch bites #143

‘If the bacon flashes…’ It was late. I was tired. And some sign appeared to mention flashing bacon at Edinburgh airport. The second time I looked it said beacon. Whatever. I need to give up careless reading.

Holiday postal yield

We arrived home in the middle of the night. Thank goodness for 24 hour M&S where you can get your milk and juice and bread. Not to mention blueberries. Possibly also bacon. The postman hadn’t been too busy carting vanfuls of books to Bookwitch Towers while we were gone. Almost half of what you can see here arrived five minutes before we left. We had a quick look, in case there was anything that warranted a change of holiday reading plans. Yeah, I know the armchair should be for sitting in, but the books had to go somewhere.

Our leftover holiday milk was left (obviously) for Son who took over after us. His route from Helsingborg on Friday had him meandering between visiting the New Librarian, picking up Dodo in Copenhagen and [finally!] meeting ‘his’ author Andreas Norman, a mere three years – or is it four? – after translating Into A Raging Blaze. Seems selfies are the way to go these days. (My arms are too short.)

Andreas Norman and Ian Giles

On the home front the Carnegie Medal was busy being given to Ruta Sepetys on Monday. I wish I had read her winning book, Salt to the Sea, but despite no one sending it my way, I am sure it was a worthy winner. I’ve loved Ruta’s other books, and the refugee topic is as important today as it was in 1945.

Ending on a sad note, Swedish author Ulf Stark died a week ago. Having spent most of my life fairly unaware of him, it’s been different since I met Ulf in Manchester five years ago. There is never a good age to die, but Ulf was definitely too young to go at 72. Goodbye, and thanks for the singing.

Ulf Stark

Phonetics

Almost the moment she joined us on holiday ten days ago, I hit Daughter with Daniel Jones. Well, no, first we went and had delicious Princess pastries in white. They are usually a lurid green, and somehow tasted better in white.

But after that she made the ‘mistake’ of asking about Phonetics. Seems her French teacher is really a lecturer, or maybe professor or something, of Phonetics. So he uses it to teach his astrophysicists French. I hesitate to say ‘pearls before swine’ as that is very unkind. What I mean is that these intelligent scientists are not necessarily the best customers to make good use of his expertise with the funny upside-down letters and all the rest.

I felt fairly sure that Mother-of-witch had a copy of Daniel Jones, so went in search of this to show Daughter. And there it was, right next to some other dictionaries. His English Pronouncing Dictionary; the bible which some of us relied on when the saying of words got too difficult. In fact, I ought to go back to using Mr Jones as there are often words I prefer not to say, in case I get them wrong.

And Daughter, to give her her due, was actually interested in what the old witch had to show her, and saved the information by taking photographs of the relevant pages with her mobile phone… She even showed some interest in my old favourite, the Vowel Diagram.

Because whatever you think of Phonetics, it makes sense. The back-to-front letter e sounds the same in French as it does in English. Try it and see. Hear.

Daniel Jones, English Pronouncing Dictionary

The cover of Mother-of-witch’s copy turned out to be pretty lurid as well, like the green cake we didn’t have. It’s all stripey in pinks and yellows. A very cheerful sight when you are struggling. My own copy is just red.