Category Archives: Christmas

All wound up

We believe in light. The more the merrier. Almost.

So one recent evening I watched as Daughter wound. After all, it’s her room. Although, I have to admit, the books are mine. They have to live somewhere!

These replaced some other lights that were multicoloured, and definitely not mine. But their owner grew tired of them. So that was that.

And this is this. Hopefully longer lasting than mere Christmas lights. (We’re saving the reindeer for outside.)

Murder in Midwinter

I do like a good anthology of themed short stories. Especially Christmas themed. There is no murder so lovely as a Christmas one… Hang on, that doesn’t sound right. But you know what I mean.

I hung on to this Murder in Midwinter collection, edited by Cecily Gayford, until I felt Christmassy enough. The stories weren’t all absolutely set at Christmas, but at least in the colder, snowier part of the year. Some are quite old, others a little more recent.

We have some nice blackmail in the family, cunningly devious husbands, as well as the problem with dustbins and strikes. There is the rather sweet – and exciting – story about a boy in care, and then there was the Margery Allingham that made me forget everything and which, while I could sort of guess the direction the mystery was going, I didn’t quite see the last bit coming. That woman was a master of funny, caring, intelligent crime stories, be they long or short.

And give me a snowy, retro kind of cover picture, and I’m yours.

The Robin and the Reindeer

The time has come to mention books for Christmas. I’ve been sitting on this one for some time, and it is Very Sweet. The Robin and the Reindeer by Rosa Bailey and illustrated by Carmen Saldaña is the very thing you need if you want to feel good about the approaching festive season.

A young reindeer is moving through her first snow with the herd with all the other reindeer, heading south before the weather gets too cold. It’s a bit Bambi, in a way, except mother stays alive and the large male lead reindeer is not her father, but the feeling is quite similar.

She gets lost. But she stays safe because she actually remembers what her mother told her. And then she meets a friendly robin. He is very red, and he agrees to show her the way, and does so by sitting on her nose, shining in a tremendously red sort of way.

Is it real? Or does our little reindeer magically turn into a temporary Rudolf?

Anyway, our reindeer finds her herd again and all is fine. Lovely and wintery and will lead the way to Christmas.

Bookwitch bites #148

The trip to Spain might have been fake – fake Spain with rain, not so much fake trip – but this week Kirkland Ciccone went to Sweden. Only in cyberspace, but it’s hard to travel these days, so it will have to do. I’ve been itching to have a photo published on Boktugg, and when Kirkie ended up on my television screen last Thursday, I decided to send in my picture of the occasion, and they’ve printed not only the photo, but my words about him, including the murderous porridge.

I must think before I press send…

This week gave us the long nominations lists for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals for 2021, and as always, they are good lists. They give pleasure and hope to those on them, and I feel considerable guilt for having read only a few. But those few were Very Good. I’m sure they will make the longlists and maybe the shortlists too. Even if only one – in each category – can win.

Somewhere you can win a bit more easily is when it comes to pay. Equal pay. I had kept a link to something from absolutely ages ago, but ended up never getting to it to comment, so deleted it. Now in The Bokseller I see that the gender pay gap at PRH – Penguin Random House – has widened. That’s what I would call going in the wrong direction. If you really, really want to improve pay equality, you do. More money to the women, and not necessarily less to the men, but not increasing their salaries disproportionately. Pay is something you can determine in an office. No need to wait for pandemics to end or for politicians to grow sensible.

And the same goes for reviews of children’s books. Last year The Bookseller reports only 4.9% of book reviews were for children’s books, and a year later this had managed to slide down to 4.3%. 50% is too much to hope for, I suppose, but maybe a little more than barely 5%? I forget who said this in the last few days, but children’s books matter more, because they shape their readers into the kind of people they will grow up to be. I do my best, but as you well know, that is not a lot, and my viral reading has plummeted.

My local newspaper has launched this year’s charitable collection for Christmas presents for children who might not get any. I am gearing up to give them books again. Especially with the above in mind, but also with that in mind, I fear that plastic toys in primary colours will be more welcome. At least by the adults sorting the gifts. Except I know there are children who don’t actually own any books, and who would be happy to be given one.

And finally, thirty years on, we are looking at the last book by Jacqueline Wilson to be illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Not that we have been wanting this to end, but as they say, the time has come for Nick to concentrate on his own work. Here at Bookwitch Towers we will be forever grateful for the way he has captured Jacqueline’s characters and made so many children want to read her books. I have on occasion wanted to simply sit there and stroke the gorgeous covers, especially that pink one over fifteen years ago. And who can beat Tracy Beaker?

Culture keeps us going

I don’t know about you, but writing is harder now. And it’s not as if I live off writing, or anything. But I know people who write, and they find they can’t, or at least not their usual stuff.

Sara Paretsky was bemoaning how she couldn’t get stuck in with writing, when she came across something Toni Morrison had said:

“I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, ‘How are you?’ And instead of ‘Oh, fine — and you?’, I blurt out the truth: ‘Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election…’ I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: ‘No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!'”

Morrison adds, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

I’m hoping now that Sara will be able to get started. Because we need her words, we need V I.

Within minutes of reading the above, I found myself watching a flash mob thing on YouTube that someone had linked to. It was a group of opera singers belting out Funiculì, funiculà in a Waitrose food hall. It was wonderful! I listened twice, and felt very cheered. I could tell it wasn’t recent, because people were standing too close, but it didn’t matter. I’ve since discovered it was from 2013, and had something to do with pasta sauce, but it was still joyous and fun.

I came to the conclusion that we perhaps appreciate these things more for being short and near and unexpected. Something to brighten up everyday life.

That bit of deep thinking reminded me of something the volunteer organist in church once said. Jan Wallin played double bass for the Liverpool Philharmonic for a living. It seems he, too, doubted whether what he was doing was of any use, when a doctor friend pointed out that it was hearing music like that, which made life bearable for people like him.

In short, we need ‘fripperies’ like culture to survive. Or, to feel better while surviving. Jan didn’t only play for the philharmonic and in church; he also wore the exact same shoes as Father Christmas.

All hung out

I followed my own advice. To spend an evening playing a board game with youngest Offspring, and yes, the Resident IT Consultant, will always prove to be more of a winner than doing more chores.

Whereas I’d expected us to watch a film or something, the request was for a game. We even went to our own games cupboard, for a more ancient selection. In the end it was the Penguin Bookchase that won.

Well, really, it was the Resident IT Consultant who won, because he ‘always’ wins. Or so it seems. But in this Trivial Pursuits style book game he only just reached the goal first, immediately followed by Daughter, and surprisingly immediately again, followed by me. None of this endless playing for runner-up.

We even learned a thing or two. I was under the impression we’d done it enough, and we knew most of the questions, but we didn’t. Maybe there was a second stack of cards, which would explain why we’d not encountered every single question already. Though asking the Resident IT Consultant to name the year of Magna Carta was a bit… He knew.

But Daughter got to quote Macbeth, and I knew of an author neither of them had heard of.

Then, to take my own advice further still, I read a book until my eyes got too tired.

Chai and crime

Still trying to get my head round being ‘back to work’ properly.

One of the many interesting books the Resident IT Consultant was given for Christmas – not by me – was the one about Dishoom, which some of you will know is a chain of rather tempting ‘Indian’ restaurants in the UK. It’s both a travel book and a recipe collection.

As I was idly looking through it, I noticed the map of Mumbai folded into the inside hard cover. Once unfolded by me, it revealed place names I recognised.

They were from another book, or rather, series of books. Vaseem Khan’s crime novels are set in Mumbai and his retired Inspector Chopra drives around his city, taking in these places. I realised I’ve just never had a visual idea of how these places relate to each other, or indeed, what Mumbai looks like at all, apart from the odd photo.

So that was nice; two different genre books having this in common. Both are about food, in fact, since Mrs Chopra always cooks and always makes me hungry. As does Dishoom.

Then I finished off by reading up on how the divine chai at Dishoom is made. I will have to make it, although I will use less sugar.

Another new decade

My eighth, it would seem. No, I’m not that old, but I discovered somewhere that if I counted decades – and I did – I’d be able to tot up eight of the things. No wonder I feel done in.

But, I hasten to add, in a terribly catty way, I have far fewer wrinkles than Jamie Lee Curtis. (You can tell I went to see Knives Out, can’t you? I wasn’t impressed.)

It went fast, that last decade. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing what others have done on social media, and list ‘all’ that I did during those ten years. Just not sure I can remember, or that I have the time. I have some hoovering to do, and bits of food to see to.

The last ten days have also gone far too fast. But at least we’ve enjoyed some time with further flung relatives, and had a hilarious morning coffee over which we discussed how hard it is to get out of Texas, and meeting the Benedict Cumberbatch ‘lookalike’ at no. 10. Not that I have personal experience of either.

I visited the place I can only think of as Butcher’s Corner, where I asked the lady behind the cheese counter if she could tell me which cheese I bought there last Christmas. Before the straight-jacket came out, I worked out it must have been Fat Cow. Memorable name. I’ll have to remember it.

Our quiz books still come out most afternoon tea-times, and in the evenings we’ve sat down to Christmas University Challenge, where it seems I can’t support both Jo Nadin and Lucy Mangan. Just let it be said that children’s books make people particularly able to deal with Jeremy Paxman.

Let’s see what the next weeks and the new decade have to offer.

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