Category Archives: Reference

On being a traveler

I own a book by Meg Rosoff that most of you might not have heard of. It took a bit of effort obtaining a copy, but I am nothing if not determined.

It’s her London Guide from 1998, co-written with Caren Acker, and I actually do wish I’d come across it back then. Not that I particularly needed a guide to London, but it would have been fun to read something not quite like every other guide book.

Meg Rosoff and Caren Acker, London Guide

I bought it to complete my Meg collection, because it was intriguing, and because I could. And the book is fun, written in much the same style as her other books.

Primarily aimed at Americans, it has at least been written by someone who knows London like a native. I have an especial dislike of guides written by people who don’t know how little they know. Meg gives advice on how to find toilets, and what to call them. Very useful.

For good and cheap eating Meg suggests the Diwana Bhel Poori near Euston, and this pleased me a lot when I first read this guide. I like finding other people who like the same places I do. And I suppose the other side of the coin is that if they recommend somewhere else I don’t know, chances are I’ll like that as well.

By now some things in London have changed beyond all recognition, so I wouldn’t suggest using the guide as an actual giude, but more for fun and as an – almost – historical document.

Although, perhaps I could work my way round town and see how I do?

Tree v books

Christmas tree

The tree is on its way out. It always makes me sad, because I like my Christmas tree. And after our second Christmas in the ‘new’ Bookwitch Towers, I am very satisfied with its position in the house too, while the Resident IT Consultant is less thrilled.

I like it because I see it as I exit the other downstairs rooms, since despite the grand name, Bookwitch Towers is a small bungalow, albeit double-fronted. So unlike the much larger, old BT, this one offers a long vista from one end to the other, and I rather like seeing the tree all lit up across the rooms.

The reason the Resident IT Consultant isn’t so happy is that it blocks off the reference books for four weeks every year. My feeling is that with all those mince pies needing attention, he will have no time to look things up [in books]. And if he absolutely must, he can jolly well look up what’s in the almost reachable half behind the tree.

And let’s face it; once the books are uncovered again, the reunion will be that much sweeter.

All of them

‘You must read a lot of books?!’ people say when we meet.

Well, I don’t know. How long is a piece of string? Who am I comparing myself to? You? Them? My own wishes? My past reading habits?

I don’t always count the number of books I read in a year, but I have just done so. 146. Is that a lot? Or perhaps a disappointingly low figure? 37 were picture books, so around a quarter. Eleven non-fiction books and ten adult books; mainly crime.

Quite clearly I am not someone who has a review up every day. Not even every other day. My gut instinct has always told me that I might average three book reviews a week, and that seems to hold. Meaning that four days a week I have to make something up.

Maybe not really. There are events. Perhaps I should count those? (I just did. 44 of my own, plus a few by others.)

Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively and Daniel Hahn

Interviews (4) and the odd guest blog. Eight profiles, and – sadly – five author death announcements.

Actually, 2015 will be more than 146. I still have a few books coming. In contrast, Christmas means much more making stuff up and writing very little, hoping that no one will notice. After all, you are face down in mince pies and turkey stuffing, aren’t you?

That last sentence presumably counts as either one of my opinionated posts, or as one of my ‘musings,’ rather like what I’m doing now.

There are awards, shortlists and longlists, cover images, other photos, travelling. Stuff.

Do I read a lot?

Stuff You Should Know!

There is a lot I don’t know. Like what the insides of things look like, or how those things with insides work, and any number of other similar facts.

In Stuff You Should Know! by John Farndon and Rob Beattie you can find out. I don’t remember well, either, but will admit that since looking things up, I have thought of how my mobile phone knows what my finger is doing when it dabs or ‘paints’ a line on the glass screen. It appears to be magic, but it seems there is some sensible logic behind it.

I don’t need to know these facts, but I can see that lots of readers would like to. And the younger they are, the likelier it is they will understand and remember. I’m just pleased I can use a food processor. No more is needed.

And the extra long explanation of how a letter makes its way from one end of the globe to another was probably something I did know. Maybe it’s because I’m old. And with a postal past.

John Farndon and Rob Beattie, Stuff You Should Know!

Weather, rubbish* and 3D printers all get an airing in this fascinating book of facts. I wish I was younger! (On the other hand, new-fangled ideas won’t have time to take a hold these days. Someone is bound to invent new stuff before today’s children are very much older.)

It’s still fun.

(*It says rubbish in the British version.)

City Atlas

Travel the World with 30 City Maps. It’s Non-fiction November, and here is an atlas to inspire the reader to visit lots of cities all over the world. Or possibly ‘only’ read about them, which is equally fine.

Written by Georgia Cherry and illustrated by Martin Haake, this atlas is a little on the large side to actually travel with. It’s more for inspiration. The double page spread for each city is not so much an actual map, as a colourful sketch of the city, showing many of its most famous landmarks and pictures of people and possible activities. And for every city, if you look closely enough, you will find a small person saying hello, in the langauge of that country.

City Atlas

Sketch it might be, but looking at the cities I know, I feel it’s quite accurate. For Stockholm they’ve got Långholmen to the west and Gröna Lund to the east; just where they should be.

In London Henry VIII is skateboarding just where he always does… hang on, maybe not. But you get the right flavour for each city. (Not sure that fried fermented herring will tempt the Stockholm visitor, but it’s genuine.)

It can be quite tricky finding the small person greeting you, which is presumably intentional. That way you see everything there is to see while you search.

Fling and Sling

Or Fling, Sling and Batter your way to Victory as the full title reads. It’s ‘all you need to know about medieval weaponry.’

What’s more, this ‘book’ written by Philip Steele is as much toy as book, since you can build a working catapult with the 15 model pieces and the two rubber bands. (I like the preciseness of the number of rubber bands…)

Fling, Sling and Batter your way to Victory

It’s actually quite interesting. I learned things I didn’t know before. You know how when you read medieval novels (ones set in those days, rather than being quite that old) and there is fighting, they will mention ‘stuff’? Well, I’m the kind of person who just reads on, not necessarily able to visualise quite how these warriors are fighting each other.

Mobile towers (no, not anything to do with phone reception) and battering rams are both concepts from past reading. And it’s not until now I actually know both what they look like and how they work!

I’m not totally sold on catapults, however, and the trebuchet looks lethal. I know which end of it I’d prefer to be. And ‘storming the breach’ looks much more dangerous than the words suggest.

I suspect that real catapults didn’t depend on rubber bands, either.

This is very hands-on non-fiction reading.

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

‘Oh, it’s not a real map,’ said the Resident IT Consultant on seeing the newly arrived Discworld Atlas. Whereas I would say it is as real as Discworld. But what do I know?

In fact, I feel it looks suspiciously like Earth in some ways, which is odd for something supposedly flat, which rests on tortoises and elephants and stuff. (I know. Discworld experts are fainting left, right and centre on hearing – reading – my ignorant musings on Discworld. Sorry.)

It’s just, my Discworld looks different, in my head. And yours, and theirs, will be different still inside your respective heads. Which is where it should remain, unless it’s to get messy.

The Compleat Discworld Atlas

But it’s a lovely volume of regional maps (I’d forgotten, or possibly never realised, quite how many areas there are), with all sorts of information on people and money and anything else you might want to know.

And when you get to the end there is a big fold-out map, which could get very nicely tangled in windy weather or turn soggy in the rain, were you to take it out when you go places.

All in all, this is a nice book. At least, I think so. If it has anything new to offer the Discworld nerd, sorry, specialist, I couldn’t say. It has plenty to offer me, and that’s what matters.

(You could always play with the elastic band which keeps the atlas under control.)