Category Archives: Christmas

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

Book presents

Book parcels

It’s your lucky day! A better photo has been unearthed, showing a good selection of book parcels. Plus the odd other parcel. But mostly books.

We had a somewhat hairy moment in the run-up to Christmas. I had written a little wish-list for the Resident IT Consultant to, well, consult, if he needed inspiration. On it I had put a book I’d been promised a couple of months earlier, but which I’d finally given up on as a free review copy.

And then it turned up, just before Christmas! Probably someone tidying up their inbox before taking off for some festive leave. What to do? Had the Resident IT Consultant bought one too? Should I be discreet? Should I warn him not to buy in case he hadn’t already, and save £12?

I mentioned my conundrum, but it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that I finally knew he hadn’t. He’d bought the other books on my list.

As for him, he was showered with books. Daughter had found loads for him (he is hard to buy for), and after a conversation we had a few weeks ago about graphic novels and whether they were proper books, you can guess what happened, can’t you? Yes, I went shopping for those very books… And Son gave him one of his own [translated books].

But there was no puppy under that tree. Probably just as well.

Book parcels

What with Boxing Day fast approaching, I thought I might mention a few different ways people have of giving me books.

There is the traditional way, wrapping paper and ribbon under the Christmas tree. Apologies for the dreadful picture; I was under the impression I took a useful photo of a couple of gifts under the tree… But you know the drill; book, paper, maybe ribbon and label.

Book parcels

I have already opened mine, so you’d have to wait another 363 days for another – better – picture.

Usually books arrive either in a cardboard packet from that rainforest online shop, or in jiffy bags from publishers. The inner contents of the jiffies could well look like this:

Book parcel

Reminds me of the candle and wax I used to be simultaneously fascinated by and scared of as a child. (That was before I had a job that consisted of putting bank notes into envelopes before placing the whole thing dangerously close to a ‘bunsen burner’ thing. Never set fire to any money, though.)

Book parcel

Or, the book could arrive in a pizza box. Admittedly this doesn’t happen every day. Actually, so far, only once.

Book parcel

The 2019 Christmas card

Christmas tree

Oops, that very nearly turned into 2029…

Happy Christmas from your Bookwitch, who loves you.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Casting around for more Christmassy books, the only one I could find was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I’d not read it since prehistoric times, so felt it would do. I believe it was on television not too long ago, but I couldn’t recall who’d dunnit. If television even had the same murderer.

Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot's Christmas

It’s not terribly Christmassy, though, is it? Set during a few days over Christmas, but with the festivities cancelled by the bloody murder of the rich old man whom everyone but his eldest son hated.

I vaguely recalled the how of the crime, and the gist of the who, but that was all. I realised one should concentrate on the kinder/better end of personalities, and to allow for some happiness at the end. Not that most of the characters are nice. On the other hand, the corpse had not been kind when he lived.

But I’m intrigued how much books like Agatha Christie’s change when reading them from ‘the inside’ by which I mean in the country in which they are set. Everything looked so much more exciting when viewed from another country. I’m totally with Pilar who was disappointed in the Christmas she’d been led to expect.

Too late for this year, but I need advice on more Christmas novels. Preferably cosy ones that leave a warm glow.