Category Archives: Reading

Three ten-year-olds

I have been reminded of some books that were first published ten years ago. 2010 was an interesting year for books and witches. There seemed to be a whole host of new authors, sort of clamouring for my attention. And that always scares me.

But early 2010 was a good year. (Maybe later in 2010 was good too. I’ll deal with that some other time.)

First I read Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story, even though it didn’t come out until May or thereabouts. But I read an early copy and I loved it. And it wasn’t a one-off, as Candy has continued to supply some lovely novels for, well, for everyone, I should say.

Second I read Keren David’s When I Was Joe, which I’d not been sure about, what with knife crime and that kind of thing. But even then, it was a fabulous story. The kind where you look forward to all the next books coming from that keyboard.

And sandwiched between these two authors was Jon Mayhew and his Mortlock. Just the title was enough to send the right vibes, and there are graves and ravens aplenty. Jon has also gone on to write lots more books. So many, in fact, that I can’t keep up. But that’s all right. I think.

This is precisely what I like in this business. New people turn up, and turn out to be as good as those who were already there. And so it grows.

Happy tenth birthday to all three books and their creators!

Prime reading

It took me a while to work out why the Barrington Stoke edition of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was so thick. OK, around 250 pages isn’t much, except when it comes to dyslexia friendly books we have come to expect half of that. While I’d noticed there wasn’t another author credited with having ‘rewritten/adapted’ the novel, it wasn’t until I began to read that I saw the word ‘unabridged.’

And, well, I approve even more of that. If a novel isn’t too long, or made up of too many difficult words, then it could, and should, be made available in a format that means more people are able to read it.

I still think of my former decorator and his delight in being able to ‘read a whole book.’ While he might not be prime Jean Brodie material, I can see that many other dyslexic adults will be.

So there we have it. If you print it differently, using the right kind of paper, the right kind of colour of paper and print and a typeface that is designed to be easier to read, a book becomes accessible to – perhaps – almost all. Maybe there aren’t the funds to do this with all of literature, but we could have a go to make more friendly books, couldn’t we?

Especially with such gorgeous covers.

Aloud

Sometimes – well, quite often now, actually – I forget the most obvious things. Like reading aloud to someone else. A child, perhaps. Even a fairly mature child, although possibly not as mature as Offspring, living in a house of their own. Or if you’ve got a cough, which gets worse for exercising the vocal chords.

It was seeing what Lucy Mangan had to say in the Guardian about what to read during these testing times. She suggested reading aloud, and now I want to do that.

Cough.

She mentioned a lot of good books, too, for any kind of reading right now. Two of them I have thought of quite a bit recently, and decided against, despite them being firm favourites, and me thinking that if I have all this extra time now, it’s perfect for re-reading. Hah.

How I Live Now, which is only my favourite book ever. By Meg Rosoff. But you knew that. I just don’t know how I could cope with it, under the circumstances. Or After Tomorrow, by Gillian Cross. I mention it often, but for now I think I will pass.

You go ahead and read them!

As with the fluffy television, it’s strictly puppies and bunnies here. Maybe not the bunnies if they’re in my garden, eating all my plants. But you know what I mean.

I already mentioned Lisa Tetzner’s ship full of undesirable passengers, the other day. That’s the book I only got halfway through when reading aloud to Son. I still owe him the second half. It’s not quite two decades ago that we stopped. Maybe I can restart, over the phone?

Malory Towers

Speaking of fluffy entertainment, we tackled the first episode of Malory Towers the other evening. It was thoughtful of the BBC to stream it immediately, rather than wait. There are many of us needing light fun, and not all of us are school age.

I am very sure I read Malory Towers when I was the ‘right’ age. It’s just such a long time ago that I remember nothing. Because it wasn’t the only boarding school book for young girls to read. I read many of them, thanking my lucky stars I didn’t have to go there.

The funny thing was, when I suggested watching this new adaptation, both Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant went blank. Not as in they wouldn’t want to, but more ‘what is it?’ So I explained about Enid Blyton and midnight feasts. The Resident IT Consultant could remember how the other children staying at the holiday centres he went to as a child, would want to organise midnight feasts in the dormitories. The poor boy didn’t get it.

Neither did Daughter, although she vaguely recalled something similar at the place her Junior school took children for a few days for outdoors fun and education.

Episode one was fine. Except if it was set in the 1930s the train rolling stock was too modern… Well, at least the Resident IT Consultant got to contribute his usual ‘they’ve got it wrong on the trains’ and everyone was happy.

But Darrell. As a name, I mean. I didn’t know it, until six years ago when we sold the old Bookwitch Towers to a woman by that name. Now I understand. Her mother was presumably a Malory Towers fan.

Lowering the standards?

Thank goodness for David Lammy! I was really pleased to see his choice of book that made him laugh.

Usually even that question in the Guardian Review’s questions to writers gets a ‘worthier’ response. But here was a grown-up, a politician, willing to mention a silly – but funny – picture book.

I remember Who’s in the Loo? by Jeanne Willis. Like all her picture books it’s both funny and seriously sensible. And I have my own personal interest in toilets, making it a lot more relevant than some.

In fact, most of the books mentioned by David are more normal than I have come to expect.

House arrest

I thought I was joking. Well, mostly I thought I was. The house arrest thing. I’ve been going on about it for years. Decades, even.

Obviously I am not under house arrest. At least not like these wannabe dictators you hear about, shut away in their homes. But some virus isolation is as good as. If I have the virus, I don’t know about it yet. But it’s worth staying more at home than going out.

I have plenty of books to read, without any last minute panic buying. And there are many books I want to re-read.

But as Son said on the phone this week, it’s not as if we suddenly have lots more time. We do what we always do.

I don’t even know if there is any point in telling you about this. You presumably have more important things to occupy yourself with. When I had my lurgy six weeks ago, I had very little inclination to read. Staring into space was a lot easier.

Medicinal Wein

As I keep saying, reading is good stuff. It’s medicine to the soul, and for that matter, to the body as well. We should all do it more.

But it’s easy to ‘forget.’ You stop, even briefly, and then you don’t get started again.

After Philip Pullman in October, and the flamingo book, Daughter tailed off a bit. The other week I dug out all my best books, of the ones she hadn’t yet read. Well, some of them. Most came from the privileged shelf next to my bed, where only the best books live.

And I thought that rather than hand her one book and try and push it, a selection of seven or eight might do the trick. Not sure how she chose, but I did notice she spent some time looking at them and thinking. In the end she went for Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief, the prequel to Code Name Verity.

It went the way good books often do. Faster and faster, so it didn’t last long. I was asked questions, which I tried to avoid answering. Like ‘is X a good character or a bad one?’ I mean, I can’t tell her that!

The next one was the other Elizabeth Wein book I’d had in mind, Black Dove, White Raven. That, too, speeded up as she went along.

In case Daughter needed even more Wein books, I excavated the two Barrington Stoke stories as well; the Russian one and the Polish one. After them I have only other authors to offer, as we wait with baited breath for the new novel – The Enigma Game –  coming soon (I hope) to a bookshop near you. And me.