Let’s sell this again

I was too naïve. Next time I will look more closely, because it did say, some distance down on the page for the book in the online shop. But even when I looked for it, it takes some degree of cynicism to decide that they are telling you that this is mostly old stuff.

Stuff you might have read before.

So, it mentions ‘featuring classic tales alongside exclusive, never-before-seen material.’

In a way it doesn’t matter. And the book wasn’t for me. But it sort of amounts to paying for previously published stories, except for – I believe – one that’s new. It is very good. But still.

I’m comparing it with the anthology of period Christmas stories I finished last week. I expected them to all be stories I potentially might have read, but because of the age they were from, I suspected this was unlikely. I didn’t read magazines in the 1950s. Or earlier.

But when a currently active author mentions their own new collection of stories, I kind of thought they’d be new. Not just newly selected from what had been written and published in the past.

One of them I read not very long ago. I have it in another volume on my shelf. Except it goes under a different title, so even if I had perused the list of stories with a great deal of suspicion, I’d not have known. The other one that is awfully familiar I have no idea how it is reminding me of itself, since according to the information it was published in a book I’ve not read. Unless that book in turn got the story from some other place.

If I were a collector of this author’s work, then it’d be worth it, to get some new material. Let’s face it, if this was a ‘new’ album by Roger Whittaker, with just the one track I didn’t already have, then the collector in me would scream to me to buy it. But not in the case of this story collection.

Maybe I’m saying that meeting a story again, in a volume of stories compiled by an editor, chosen from stories written by numerous authors over many years, is one thing. For an individual author to hand out their stories a second or third time without making it clear… well.

Romancing the ghost

Were it not for this Bookwitching business, I’d never have ended up on the front cover of a novel in Romania. Admittedly, someone else’s novel, but still. I’ve even said something in Romanian.

Let me see what it might have been. ‘A Beautiful book. Not that I would have expected anything else from Helen Grant.’ As you can tell from the top of the book cover, she is the author of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Or that other title, the way it looks when it’s been translated into Romanian.

Which, as you well know, is a Romance language, and therefore ought to look more comprehensible than this is doing right now. Maybe it’s just that I’m old and tired. It’s mostly me being incomprehensible.

The cover is gorgeous, in all its spookiness. And Fantoma sounds scarier than Ghost. But I dare say Helen’s characters behave just as badly, I mean well, as in the original. May they live happily ever after…

But, you know, this kind of thing I did not expect.

Baby, it’s cold out there

‘Do you even know what that is?’ Daughter asked as I read out loud from the television guide, suggesting that Saturday afternoon we could have watched Ice Station Zebra.

Would I suggest something without knowing; without meaning it?

I swiftly informed her about the film, whose novel it was based on and that the Alistair MacLean book was far superior. But the film would still have been worth watching. Again. Can only have seen it three or four times.

This was confirmed by friends on social media, who did actually watch yesterday, and I felt I had sort of missed out. Even if I can watch later. But I’m glad that at least people my age are still enjoying these ancient adventure thrillers. And there was nothing wrong with Where Eagles Dare, which both Offspring have watched.

I probably won’t reread the MacLeans. Although the reason I gave up at whatever point, must have had more to do with me moving on as the books moved in a different direction. I suspect I favour the WWII and Cold War stories.

And if I may say so, one good side to the lack of new programmes and films has been that there is so much old stuff offered again. Things that would usually have been hidden away in the middle of the night if it ever came to light again. I like seeing films again.

Again.

Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise

Yeah, that’s a mouthful, so I won’t repeat it here. I’ve only read one book by Katherine Rundell – well, two now – so have little experience of this writer, seemingly very admired by many. I have no cause to doubt them. I’ll want to read more.

But this little book, clearly aimed at adults, and so handy for sticking in your pocket when you go out, is about reading. I’m guessing it’s a talk Katherine has given. 63 small pages, starting in Zimbabwe, where Katherine first discovered that incredible thing that is a library. You go in, and you come out with books to read, and you haven’t paid for the pleasure.

On page two she mentions Martin Amis and his brain injury; the one he’d require before sinking so low as to write for children. Yes, most of us remember that comment still. We don’t like it.

And then Katherine goes on to talk about children’s books and it’s completely right, and it’s so inspiring, even to an old Bookwitch like me, who sometimes needs a push.

Well, you know how I’ve dithered recently. To read or not to read. What to read and why and when, and during 2020 ‘how?’ and getting no real answer. Until this little volume.

I do like Katherine’s mother, who had to remind her that you don’t have to break into libraries. You just walk in and you can have all the information you need. Have to admit that tunnelling in would have been fun, though.

As for the word pedagogy, I don’t know how to pronounce it properly, either. It’s the curse of having learned some words by only reading them. (I can say it in Swedish, however!)

A Surprise for Christmas

Be still my beating heart. I now know how Daughter felt when I unintentionally kept interrupting her while reading the longest of the short stories in the Christmas anthology A Surprise for Christmas. Or I think I do. I’m all shaky and disturbed and that adrenaline is pumping.

This will no doubt be because these stories are extremely well chosen. Martin Edwards as the editor of the series clearly knows what he’s doing, down to getting the order of the stories right. The ‘long one’ was the antepenultimate story, and it was followed by two more that didn’t calm me down quite as much as I would have liked.

Well.

There was not a single dud in this collection. You’d think at some point editors would run out of material from which to choose. But not yet. It looks like many of them originally were published in papers and magazines, just before Christmas, and when I think of it, it’s obvious that this would have been a big market. Good for writers to have short stories published and good for magazine editors to have suitable entertainment for their readers.

I’m not sure, but I suspect this market is no longer as big. Or it could be I don’t read the right publications, or not enough of them.

But here they are all collected for me, and I can see I will not only become a serial user of anthologies, but some of the hitherto unknown [to me] authors are calling to me to look out for their crime novels as well. I will need a lot of time to read. And preferably nerves of steel. Anthony Gilbert’s Give Me a Ring (aka the ‘long one’) scared me as much as Philip Pullman’s Tiger in the Well did.

It was preceded by [more comfortable] stories from Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh and countless others. Have a go yourself, unless the lack of Christmas stops you. Or save it for next November/December.

Might have got some things right

Or an unmitigated success.

It’s been what, four or five days since the Christmas presents were handed out? The Resident IT Consultant has reported two (of mine) book presents read and seemingly enjoyed. And there have been so many wrong books in the past.

The first one was Antonia Hodgson’s The Devil in the Marshalsea. I only worried about that one because there was something a little bit familiar about the title and I considered the possibility that he’d read it before. Or that I’d already given it to him on an earlier occasion…

But it’s fine, and it’s now on my tbr shelf.

The White Stag Adventure by Rennie McOwan followed quickly, presumably because it’s a shortish children’s book. It’s the sequel to Light on Dumyat, which has long been a family favourite. Being a bit local in its setting, it tickled the recipient’s sense for working out where the characters might be having their adventure. I suppose there could even be a walk from that.

These two successes are of course only adding to my own future reading burden.

Thoughts on Christmas shorts

For her birthday I got Daughter a Christmas crime anthology, edited by Martin Edwards. (How that man manages to fit so much into his time, I will never know!) I reckoned she’d enjoy reading about gruesomeness at Christmas, or rather, in the run-up to that peaceful time. In the snow. She did. She hinted she wanted more (because the clever publisher listed further reading suggestions at the back of the book).

I had calculated on this success, so had obviously bought her a second collection, also edited by Martin. We just had to wait for Christmas to come. And after watching the event with Val McDermid last month, Daughter felt that Val’s new Christmas murder story anthology would also be essential for her happiness.

I shopped some more.

Now I have started reading the first one, the birthday gift, and it’s very promising. The trouble is, I feel these stories really are best consumed during the month, or so, around Christmas. And I’m running out of time here. Once the sprouts have been cooked and the dishwasher’s been seen to, and a few other chores, I appear to have very little time left.

Other people watch endless television and go for walks and do jigsaw puzzles and even read books. (You should have seen me watch the other two do a jigsaw. I might have managed to put about 25 pieces in their places, but they were left to find the other 975. I did the green bits. There were not many green bits at all.)

At this rate I’ll be saving the anthologies for December 2021.

A literary lift

When the time came to hand out the Christmas presents, I barely noticed that the Resident IT Consultant slipped away for a brief time. (No, he did not don a red outfit and long white beard.) He suggested that if I checked my emails, I might find a Kindle book email there. I did. And I did. Apparently this is the way. You buy and the recipient takes delivery almost instantly.

It wasn’t wrapped, though. I have to say that.

*It* was the complete works by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Apparently ‘why buy one book when you can buy them all?’ is the reigning idea. Indeed. My thanks to Amanda Craig, whose Guardian article Books to Bring Cheer caused a bit of book buying at Bookwitch Towers. Rather craftily I asked for some books for me, and then divided things up by giving the Resident IT Consultant one I wanted to read too. What’s his is mine, or some such thing.

Whereas Daughter can think up ideas by herself, for us. Everything I’ve happened to mention gets noted. Which accounts for the Tom Stoppard collection. And my craving for codewords to solve has now received a real challenge. One for every day! What I want to know is whether I will be allowed to solve the one for, say, 13th May on a later date in May?

A grown-up Eva Ibbotson and a new book by Sally Nicholls complete my book presents.

My other pile of books supported the family Christmas gathering. We had a Boxing Day worldwide party, starting in Texas and ending in Moscow. As with everything else in 2020 it was on Zoom, and I was determined to get my chins under control. Hence the lifting of the laptop with the help of literature.

It was nice. People who didn’t often see each other, even before lockdowns became widespread, were able to join in. Before the day was over there had even been an online crossword for one new recruit. Otherwise we’d all spent the day on the Hungarian Accountant’s Russian quiz. (I know. He’s moved.) It was quite a devious one, and I seem to have outwitted the Resident IT Consultant. (There was a trick question. Or two.)

So this is Christmas

The card.

It’s been a string-light kind of year. And the elk said he’d been ignored for too long. So there is that. The books are a Christmas-Winter combo. Hoping to read some more seasonal murder stories.

And some thoughts. There were three best books last year. One went on to win the Carnegie. I have good taste. One has been shortlisted for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2021. And one is here on the pile, to remind you that Sally Gardner’s book is the perfect Christmas read. With a bit of luck it won’t be too late to get your hands on a copy.

Wishing you a Safe Christmas and a Better 2021.

The Sins of Allie Lawrence

In Philip Caveney’s new book, The Sins of Allie Lawrence, 16-year-old Allie storms out of her home and gets offered a lift by a handsome young man. Which she accepts. (Don’t do this!)

Nick, as he calls himself, offers to make her [theatre] dreams come true, and Allie finds this far too tempting to say no. (Always say no!)

She signs a contract with Nick and he takes her to Edinburgh, where in fact, her dreams do come true. But as with everything that comes too easily, it’s perhaps less satisfying than Allie had hoped for. And Nick, well, he’s rather devilish, isn’t he?

This last thing was a relief to me. I’d have been far more worried about Allie, had Nick been a normal pervert preying on young girls.

However, as we got close to the end, I could see no obvious way out for Allie and had to deduce that maybe she’d have to be sacrificed in order to show readers what not to do. Once you’re in with the devil, there really is no way out.

This is another great story from Philip, written in his usual strong style, and showing us what the world of theatre in Edinburgh might be like. Luxury flats and rave reviews. That sort of thing.

Read and learn. And enjoy, obviously.