Tag Archives: Normblog

Goodbye Norm

Norm Geras died yesterday morning. He’d been ill for some time, and earlier this year when I asked Adèle how he was, her reply wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. So I knew what to expect, but you still feel sad when it happens.

He was such a widely respected man, and I was extremely flattered when asked to contribute to his Normblog profile early on in my blogging career. That someone like Norm would consider me ‘grown-up’ enough to contribute felt astounding.

I didn’t read his blog every day, but as his facebook friend I caught most of his daily comments about ‘everything.’ When I acquired a new fb friend some years ago, the thing that really impressed her was that I was friends with Norman Geras!

The first thing I ever heard about Norm was about his room, filled with books on cricket. He had a lot, though I understand he actually parted with some of his collection before he and Adèle moved from Manchester three years ago. I admire him for that, now that I am facing a cull in my collection of not-cricket books.

Norm and Adèle Geras with grapes and strawberries

We met when Daughter and I came to their house to interview Adèle four years ago. Not wanting to eat with us girls – or perhaps not being allowed to – his salad was brought to his office, but he came down for cake and strawberries later.

Norm kept blogging and generally staying in touch with the online world until last week. I kept checking, always hoping he’d be there.

(People have been collecting tributes and links on this new blog.)

Bookwitch bites #112

‘One of the best writers in Texas’ died this week. I didn’t know John Graves, either as an author or as a person. But as I mentioned here a while back, in this crazy online world, I sort of know his daughter Helen. I had no idea her father was a writer, nor that he was well enough known to merit an obituary in the New York Times. He sounds like a lovely and very interesting man. John would have been 93 on Tuesday. This may sound simple, but I appreciate it when people share their friends and families with the rest of us. It’s good to know about people.

Someone who got shared a little too much for Michael Rosen’s liking, was little George, whose birth was registered this week. He – Michael, that is – wrote a poem about being told what he likes. Much as I enjoyed baby George for his parents’ sake, I have to agree with our former children’s laureate. There is much I really do not need to know. And I don’t necessarily feel the same way about it as you do.

Mind by Michael Rosen

To get back to online friendships, I found someone’s opinions so off-putting this week that I nearly de-friended them over it. It’s rather like Michael’s poem; I know that others disagree with me and try to allow for it, but am amazed that some of them seem to have no concept that I might see things differently from them.

Someone who is always wise, with – mostly – sensible thoughts on a variety of topics is Norman Geras. His blog was ten years old a week ago today. I don’t share his fondness for cricket, but that just makes things more interesting. Not less.

And you know other people telling you about their holidays? Can be boring, but not when it’s done like this. Theresa Breslin blogged about her long suffering husband, who has finally had a holiday where doing research for Theresa’s next book didn’t come first. In fact, might not have happened at all. (I don’t read The History Girls every day. I should. They are always interesting.)

I will leave you with a great cartoon of another children’s laureate. Here is Malorie Blackman as seen by the very talented – and slightly crazy – Sarah McIntyre. When I grow up, I want to be able to draw like Sarah.

Malorie Blackman by Sarah McIntyre

A little bit of shame everywhere

One thing we tend not to get in books about WWII is bad American behaviour. Don’t laugh. Today we might spread our criticism more evenly, but in most fiction the Americans were the good guys.

So were the British, but the difference tends to be that while we know people had to make sacrifices in the British Isles, we ‘know’ the Americans at home had it good.

A more recent trend in books has shown us what WWII was like for people in Europe. Not just for the fighting Allies, but for Germans at home, Poles, Italians. And when we read about the inhumane imprisonment or moving of innocent civilians, all in the name of war, it’s only too easy to see the other side as always good.

We know that Germans were locked up in Britain. But we seem to know much less about the internment of Japanese Americans in the US.

Last year I watched a film about this, I’ll Remember April. Then I read about something similar on Normblog a month or two ago. It was very touching in all its simplicity, and shows that it’s not just in films that people acted in a certain way. Real people in real life did too. This in turn made me get the film out again, to watch a second time.

It’s worth remembering this when getting worked up about atrocities towards Poles, Lithuanians, or anyone else.

Bookwitch bites #50

High time for a bite. Here at Bookwitch Towers we have been so busy with real stuff happening that there has been no room for any bites whatsoever. It’s the gazillionth Bank Holiday during far too brief a period today, so no one needs anything very substantial. Not that I expect anyone to call in. Is it the weather, or is it all this holidaying and going to weddings?

We had an attack of ‘tinned meat’ the other week, which we have now seen off. But it took some doing. Sometimes, the tinned meat is rather amusing, and I found myself warming to this recent one: ‘Great blog here! Also your site a lot up fast! What host are you the usage of? Can I am getting your associate link on your host? I want my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol’, and I trust that will be the one and only time I will use those that last ‘word’ in any of my writing.

The Resident IT Consultant finds himself being offered instant translations when he reads (or attempts to read) Swedish Bookwitch. He showed it to me and it’s surprisingly accurate. I sometimes send foreign links to authors when I find their books praised on other blogs, and it seems they must use similar services, seeing as they appear to understand what they get sent. Has to be better than Babelfish.

It doesn’t help being a highly thought of writer if your readers don’t like your books. Meg Rosoff has found someone quite underwhelmed by The Bride’s Farewell. To save you the hard work of clicking on a link I will copy and paste the full appreciation of Meg’s reviewer here: 

“Another year in the Carnegie Medal and once again another Meg Rosoff book. So many people tell me that I’m not seeing the true beauty of Meg Rosoff’s books, but all I can say to them is, ‘You mean corny beauty of course.’ I believe ‘The Bride’s Farewell’ is her first real historical novel, and no offence to Rosoff, but it did absolutely nothing to impress me. I feel that Pell’s choice to run away was silly because eventually everyone has to grow up and live like adults. Within the first few pages the odds have already overwhelmed Pell. It was stupidly funny to read about Pell running away, so determined, and fail before she’s even started. I mean, didn’t she think it through? The characters in the book are as plain as an A4 sheet of paper and have about as much charisma as a wet cabbage. You knew hardly anything about Dogman and although many people may find this makes him more mysterious, I found it made him uninteresting and dull.

A short book but a boring and unsatisfying read. I am pretty sure this book isn’t going to win. Sorry. 1/10.”

This must be the sort of thing that prevents people from becoming too full of themselves.

Although I found Meg on Normblog this week, as his profile 386. You’ll have to click on this one, I’m afraid. It’s exactly 150 profiles after my own. (Just saying…)

The proof for There is No Dog has alighted at Bookwitch Towers. Alas, when many others on Facebook couldn’t contain their excitement, I have had to. Contain my excitement, that is. The Resident IT Consultant (yep, him again) laid his mitts on the fifth Rosoff novel and expects me to wait. It’s not as if he is her biggest fan, is it?

I ‘do not follow Fylde Libraries’. Yet. After being suitably admonished I might decide to follow. On Twitter. They follow me, which is awfully nice of them. So do a few others, including that crafty faerie Seth McGregor. I suspect I’m quite close to taking the plunge and tweet. Some of you have kindly asked what name I use, having found that Bookwitch is not me. And don’t get me started on that witch masquerading as an almost me on the Guardian’s site! Anyway, on Twitter I am Culturewitch. So, go on. Follow. I might just tweet. If I feel like it. If I feel brave.

Bookwitch bites #45

Or what the husbands said.

I frequently get asked ‘is there anything worth reading?’ when the Resident IT Consultant hasn’t got a clue what to do with himself. (Another maths book, maybe?) I always – nearly always – reply that ‘no, there is absolutely nothing to read in the house’. After all, what can I say? Sometimes I take pity on him and lead him to my secret stash and let him choose a little something.

One that was published earlier this week  is Prophecy, a crime novel by S J Parris. The Resident IT Consultant has read it, and he particularly liked the fact that the detective is/was a real – if dead – person. This being a historical crime novel, you know. He kept wondering what was real and what was made up. And as always he feels it was written with the film in mind. But then that’s what he says after almost any book. And it needs a map. He says that after most books, too. This being a proof, I wouldn’t be surprised if the real book does come with a map.

Adèle Geras also has a husband. Norman Geras recently blogged about his experience with Booker winning The Sea by John Banville, which I’m now awfully relieved not to have tried. It just goes to prove what I’ve said for so long, that so-called ‘real’ literature can be like the Emperor’s new clothes. Let’s not linger awhile with the utterly utterly or the bicycle asprawl. I have other things to do with what time I have.

With my luck it will turn out to be one of the books chosen to be given away tonight. It is tonight, isn’t it? World Book Night. I’m always unsure of which night counts as the 5th of March, seeing as nights of necessity almost always have two dates. But anyway, none of the really deserving books that I had in mind will be handed out for free tonight. However, if you don’t mind paying for the postage, then Declan Burke has a few free books littering his house. He, too, is a husband and his wife might appreciate it if you could take a few copies off from wherever they keep their spare books.

But it’s better than road fill.

Where are the wild dogs when you need them?

I don’t suppose Adèle Geras expected her email alert to have quite this effect on me. But that’s the blogging world for you. I was out all Sunday so did not, in fact, see the Observer article where Ed Docx – ‘literary author’ – tears Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown to pieces. And the crime fiction genre and genres in general. Thank god for real literature. What would we do without it?

Ed Docx 2

A brief meeting with the good Ed means I seem to know that he has a literature background, which will be why he knows so much. He lectures quite strongly, and wrongly, in this Observer piece. Just as he did at the bookshop event I went to, where he thought nothing of telling the assembled readers, most of whom were at least twice his age, how to read a book. He wasn’t trying to be funny, either.

On Normblog Mr Geras had this to say about the article. Such a relief to find some well put-together sentences such as ‘Oh dear, Yeats! If only he’d roamed free of those poetic forms’, even if Norm doesn’t share my fondness for crime.

Stieg Larsson would surely turn in his grave if he knew he was being bracketed with Mr Brown of Da Vinci fame. There is a lot of difference between the two, and I think Ed would have been better to concentrate on complaining about only one of them.

Over on Crime Always Pays there is also a debate going on, with John Connolly sticking up for Ed. Which I will forgive him for. This time. And I agree with the comment about Lee Child, but then I would.

I was going to find a way to link to what I wrote about Ed a couple of years ago, but technical difficulties are getting in my way. Besides, when there are quotes like this one from the Observer comments section to enjoy, who needs old witch material? ‘The important thing is that anyone who claims to be a writer and writes copy like Docx’s should have their bowels torn out by wild dogs.’

(And you can never have two many drinks. As long as they balance.)


Did anyone see a blue streak in Didsbury yesterday morning? If you blinked you probably missed her. It was Adèle Geras, fitting in a book award coffee – Costa, to you and me – between last minute chores and moving house. Very sweet of her to even contemplate elevenses at a time like this.

Adèle Geras 11

She and Norm are deserting Manchester for somewhere nearer the grandchildren. Adèle told me all about the new house, which sounds wonderful, and now that Norm has managed to part with some of his beloved books they may even fit into their new home.

We talked about our children, and it seems that Adèle’s (that’s Sophie Hannah) did what I wanted to do, and spent the weekend in San Francisco. I can’t decide whether to go for green with envy or to breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not recovering from an exhausting trip.

We talked about Ann Widdecombe. As you do. Shoe shops. Marcus Sedgwick. Christmas parties. Universities. And most likely other things, already forgotten.

Adèle is doing a guest blog on Normblog today, so it’s worth popping over to read what she has to say. I gather Norm is too busy masterminding the move to spend as much time on blogging as he usually does. Seems the same doesn’t apply to Adèle…

Bookwitch bites #27

I was about to say something hasty – and incorrect – like we seem to have left the shortlists behind and it’s time for award winners, but stopped myself in time. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ‘shortlist’ was made public this week. It’s a jolly long shortlist, but since it’s the last list, I suppose it has to count as the shortlist. It has the usual names on it, like Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and David Almond, among the British. Also Mary Hoffman for – I think – the first time, which is nice. Lots of organisations, and I do feel that they are perhaps worthier recipients of so much money. But if Mary wins I hope she remembers me.

Thursday must have been a Swedish announcement sort of day, with this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa. The Resident IT Consultant inquired if I knew him. Not personally, obviously, but with Spanish literature deep in my past, I do ‘know’ him.

Another winner this week was Michelle Paver who was received the Guardian children’s fiction prize, also on Thursday. Busy day, clearly. As I mentioned earlier, I never got started on Michelle’s books, so have long felt the uphill effect of even trying to catch up. But if everyone will insist on saying quite how excellent the books are, I will have no option but to dive in. Wouldn’t have minded being there for the award, but couldn’t make it. Not that I was asked, but you know…

More failure to attend for me with Cheltenham having got under way this weekend. Wonderful programme as always, and lovely town. Must work on returning some time soon.

Doing quite well on the new book front, however. My recent visitors were taken aback when they realised the postman staggers up the drive and rings the doorbell (once only) on most days, delivering books and more books. Yesterday I received six, and the bad news for me was that I liked the look of all but one.

I know I mentioned Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen last week, but must return to it today. The hardback has arrived and it’s gorgeous. I found myself sitting there stroking it, and gazing at the names of the great and the good who sing its praises on the back.

Had an uncharacteristically successful reading day as well, finishing three books. I’m sure that means I won’t get anywhere near my reading chair for a while.

And Norm Geras loves his books so much he wouldn’t ever consider a Kindle.

Small reading

One very positive aspect of The Radleys was the short chapters, if one can call them chapters. Many were just a page, maybe two pages. It may look bitty, but it’s so easy to read. I’m not saying I can’t cope with long, but I firmly believe that I may read more and faster if a book is divided up like this. You look at the next chapter and find it’s only another two pages, so you read on. And possibly even another two pages, or more. Whereas the long worthy chapters get the chop, because you don’t have the time or the inclination to continue.

I had already been thinking small when I read Normblog yesterday. Now, Norm was primarily discussing how to pick your next book to read. And why, and so on. I disagree with Norm about reading more than one book on the same topic, one after the other. I may not decide to do it, but have often found that books featuring say, Alchemy, just happen to jump into my reading pile together. Zeitgeist? Coincidence? Don’t know, but it’s nicely weird when it happens.

It was Norm saying ‘I decided my shelf needed more thin books and so I went out with a mission to get “thin books by authors I like”,’ that caught my eye. I like the idea of a sane and intelligent man going shopping for books by size. It’s different. And of course, he had a valid reason.

I love these tiny books in the photo below. That’s another kind of small reading. I love being able to put one in my pocket, just in case I need a book. And if the commuter train is full to bursting, there will be room to unfold a tiny read without killing, or even offending other passengers.

Small books

Sara Paretsky tends to write shortish chapters, so she is another author whose books are easier to read, especially when the reader feels he or she is in a hurry. Right now I’m reading Sara’s Burn Marks, which also happens to be a tiny book. It’s a Virago edition, of the smallest kind. The drawback is that the print is small, too.

But that’s what I have reading glasses for. When I can find them.