Category Archives: Reading

Getting to know them

My most recent book cull made me think. You can look at reading in different ways.

I’ve often envied those who came to Harry Potter once he was all here; with no need to wait for ten years before being able to finish the series of books. But then, we who did wait, had ample time to read and wait and think and do other things.

Back in 2003 – and how long ago that seems now! – Offspring’s secondary school library started its Author of the Term project. Our first one was Adèle Geras. Then came Tim Bowler and after him, Linda Newbery. After them it is a blur and I can no longer recall who came or when.

I had barely read anything by Adèle when she came. (I’d probably hurriedly read a short book to enlighten myself a little.) But afterwards, well, I read them ‘all.’ Because I wanted to and I could. I had the time to cover her backlist, as well as everything new that came my way. What a treat! And how lovely it was.

With Tim I had read a little more. After all, I was the one who suggested him and who ‘forced’ Tim to agree to come. But there was still room for improvement and I did have a few of his books to catch up on. And then, again, the new ones.

Finally, I am almost certain I’d not read any of Linda’s many books. But she spoke so well about her writing that no sooner had she left than I started working my way through ‘all’ her books. I especially liked her war books, of which there were quite a few. And before long I also tackled Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, for the simple reason that if Linda had been inspired by it, it had to be good. Which it was.

I can no longer do this. Occasionally I have read someone’s books extra fast, before an interview, perhaps. But that was also some time ago. No more. Anyway, reading too fast is a waste of a good book, and if it isn’t all that good, then why bother?

It was a luxury, getting to know someone both as a person and reading what they’d written.

(And although I mostly bought copies of my own, I had the good luck to be helping out in the school library, with instant access to the books by Adèle, Tim and Linda. That’s why we need libraries.)

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Eagle Warrior

Gill Lewis could make me an avid nature fan, and rather more interested in wildlife than I am now. That’s how good she is when she writes her ‘nature and animals’ stories. The stories are great, and the facts are presumably more correct than in most books, because I understand Gill knows her stuff.

Gill Lewis, Eagle Warrior

In Eagle Warrior we meet Bobbie, who lives on a Scottish farm with her family, which includes her grandmother, with whom she has much in common. The two look out for the golden eagle that has been seen nearby, and they worry in case the rich landowner might kill the bird.

There is so much in this short book; wildlife, family relations, education and getting on with your neighbours.

Bobbie doesn’t just need to keep the eagle safe, but she has her own future to consider, and there are many ways of looking at what is important in life.

I loved this story.

First Names with Malala

Happy 22nd Birthday, Malala! And Happy Malala Day, too.

When I discovered David Fickling Books’ new series First Names, I was quite excited. They sounded good and I hoped someone would send me one or two. This latest one is about Malala, and that is the only reason I read it, and am reviewing it here. She, and her quest for education for girls, is important enough for me to overlook the fact I was a bit disappointed.

Lisa Williamson and Mike Smith, Malala Yousafzai

The style of Terrible Histories, etc, is entertaining, but feels wrong here. I’m unsure what age group these books are intended for, but whether young or older, readers can manage a more serious style of writing.

The jokes wear thin if you stop and consider what’s happening in the lives of real people. I don’t imagine Malala’s parents felt at all in the mood for jokes when their daughter’s life was in danger after she was shot. Yet, there the joke is.

I have learned new facts about Malala, and I probably admire her more now, but I’d have liked a different kind of book. I’m not sure the horror of the Taliban lends itself to cartoons. Yes, it’s great to see how Malala like many older siblings was less than keen to acquire younger brothers. We want to see her as the normal girl she is, or at least was.

Malala was lucky enough to have the right parents, and she has done many great things. We are lucky to have got to know this brave girl and to see how she’s working to educate girls all over the world.

My wish is this book will be read and enjoyed by many, and that the cartoon style Malala will help children understand what happened and what continues to happen in our insane world. I just hope its young readers haven’t been underestimated.

Body Brilliant

I’d like to add an extra l and o to the title of Nicola Morgan’s new book, Body Brilliant – A teenage guide to a positive body image. Because it is bloody brilliant, as are all Nicola’s advice for teens books. She’s the best friend one could hope for, and as we are considered teenagers until we are 25, and most of us are not a day over 29, these books are for everyone.

Just think how many hours of my life I could have saved back then, by not worrying about my eyebrows. These days I know I have more than the requisite number of stomachs and chins, but can grudgingly accept that there might be something good about me regardless.

Nicola Morgan, Body Brilliant

Reading all those advice columns in magazines, we’d have been so much better off with Nicola’s books. I’m glad they are here for young people today, as well as the not so young.

I won’t tell you which chapter I headed for first, but it was very satisfying and while I don’t know if I learned anything new, it’s good to have these things mentioned again.

For each chapter Nicola has comments from normal people, young and slightly older (I thought I could identify some people there), as well as her own words of well researched wisdom. She then finishes with a list of suggested websites, organisations and books, including fiction, for us if we need more.

It seems body image has nothing to do with mirrors. It’s all in the mind, and we should learn to love ourselves. There is something good about all of us, even if it’s the ability to touch worms. (I’d rather not.) Nicola covers food, exercise, the internet, sex and gender identity, and much more.

As with her previous books, I’d advise you to keep Body Brilliant to hand for when you feel a bit wobbly. It’s like Nicola, a good friend to tell you what you need to hear, and what to do. In a way it’s all pretty obvious, but every once in a while one forgets what is sensible, and you need a friend to remind you.

Murder in Midsummer

This summer crime anthology seemed like such a great idea. Clever title as a Midsomer look-alike book, and if you equate midsummer with summer holidays, or even warm, sunny holidays, you are mostly there.

And it starts well, with Ruth Rendell’s Wexford on holiday with his wife. I really enjoyed the story, nicely period, but not too old, from the 1970s. Later on, Appleby and wife are also out holidaying; also enjoyably, apart from for the poor victim.

Actually, I’m being unfair here. Nearly all the stories are good fun, and make for nice period entertainment.

Murder in Midsummer

I think it was primarily the Dorothy Sayers story featuring Lord Peter Wimsey himself which disturbed me. Yes, it’s historical. And yes, I firmly believe in not tampering with language for our delicate modern eyes. It wasn’t even the use of the word dago that got to me. It was how good old Wimsey looked at life. Yes, lighthearted as ever, but he made me feel uncomfortable. Even crusty old Sherlock Holmes felt slightly fresher.

There’s a curious – intentional? – pairing between the stories, with similar settings or characters. Lions, beach deaths, closed rooms, that sort of thing.

I’m the first to say how much I love period crime, but there is something that no longer feels quite right. And it’s so reassuring when the English, even when abroad, put their superior brains to good use and solve the crimes the local police are struggling with.

Prepping

I do not run a library. I do not run a library. I do not run a …

Yeah, OK, there’s no need to write a hundred lines. I am a – reasonably – normal witch and I should only need to surround myself with a sensible number of my favourite books. But why is this so hard?

The last few times before Daughter has come to visit, I’ve had in mind that she could help me thin the books on the shelves in her room. The shelves with my books on them. It’s not happened. And this time I thought that someone who’s mid-pack, with a whole flat to move, might not appreciate coming to this house and being asked to shift even more unwanted stuff.

So I am approaching this task myself. Thought it’d be a nice touch if her room was nice and tidy. It won’t* be, but it’s a thought.

The purpose of owning books is not to be a library, or to be complete in any way. If I like Philip Pullman, say, there is no requirement for me to have every book he’s ever had published. I could own some of his books, and then part with a few if I reckon I’m unlikely to re-read them. Even Pullman-books aren’t guaranteed a second reading.

And of course I’m not a library. I hate lending books. So why do I believe I ought to be equipped in case someone is interested in borrowing one of my Pullmans? People don’t [always] return borrowed books. So if you wanted to borrow his Clockwork, you can’t. Partly because I don’t lend, as I said, and partly because someone borrowed it and ‘forgot’ to return it, so I don’t have Clockwork any longer.

On that basis I am now clearing out books that even I am surprised by. I am choosing some books I really love, because I probably won’t read them again, and I’ve discovered someone who would be just right for these books.

It’s time to let go.

Bookshelves

(The above is a historical photo, before things got out of control.)

*Partly because the bathroom is being re-done and those bottles of shampoo and  toilet cleaner had to go somewhere…

Sea Change

Sea Change by debut author Sylvia Hehir was a pleasant surprise. A YA crime novel set somewhere in Scotland, it has an interesting – if somewhat idiotic and naïve – main character. Alex loves his mother, truants a lot, makes great jam, and isn’t all that good at knowing who’s a reliable friend, and who isn’t.

There is an untrustworthy, but charming, stranger in the village, and Alex doesn’t say no nearly as much as he ought to. Before long he and his best friend Daniel are in deep trouble. And the way trouble tends to escalate, here it does so in spades, and in the end Alex can’t keep juggling all those tasks he feels are his to look after.

Love comes into it, and there are many secrets and much mistrust. And when you are 16 or 17 you don’t share with ‘responsible’ adults, and what happens happens.

This book is a real page turner, and I’m glad I read it.

Sylvia Hehir, Sea Change

(If you are in Edinburgh, there is a launch at Blackwell’s tonight at 18.30.)