What a plastic lizard, receipts and fringed leather have in common

Book and bookmark

Image: Pixabay

I’m not a book purist in many ways.

I love a bit of genre  – fantasy, sci-fi, New Wave-existential-garbage-horror – I have time for them all.

I won’t turn my nose up at writers who are regularly slated on social media because their writing isn’t deemed to be of high enough quality to sell the numbers they do – J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown … even E.L James won’t find her ears burning when I’m around.

They’ve all sold millions more books than I have which means they have a gift for something – Dan Brown’s books are true page turners, J.K Rowling has a fantastic imagination and E.L James tapped into the e-mucky-book market like no one before or since. (Though e-mucky-books sounds like a Yorkshireman describing a novel after it’s been dropped in a puddle, which may well be a genre of its own one day.)

I’m not even against people writing on books – their own books, mind, not school’s, not those borrowed from the library or lent by a friend. The greatest minds in the arts and sciences annotated books (Sylvis Plath, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Jack Kerouac all scribblers) so I see nothing wrong with it. It shows the reader has engaged with the text, which is always what a writer hopes for.

This very comment will have my mother in law reaching for the smelling salts like a heroine in a melodramatic Gothic novel with an over-tightened corset. When I was studying for my degree, she discovered I annotated my texts books and her horrified face was something to behold – I actually think she gasped.

And inherited annotations can be fascinating. Seeing what a previous owner thought of a particular section, seeing the ideas expanded on or questioned by later minds is part of the joy of buying second hand. Even if it’s only to read

To Spencer, have a wonderful birthday, love Gramma Joan

still fills my heart with an extra chip of joy.

And yet to see a turned down page makes me twitch. I have to stop myself from slapping my son’s hand when he does it.

What’s the matter with finding a bookmark?

I want to cry.

A bookmark doesn’t have to be anything posh either. I’ve had cardboard, fringed leather (usually those National Trust ones with pictures of manor houses on), fabric, embroidered, brass and a few nice steel bookmarks – one blade-like my husband bought me, now sadly gone to wherever the good bookmarks go – with which I could act out vampire slayer fantasies when no one was looking. But when backed into a bookmarkless corner I’ve used

receipts

shopping lists

flyers for frozen food outlets 

playing cards

Post-it notes

pens

and on one not so successful occasion, a plastic reptile of unspecified species with a very long spiky tail and a loud squeak in his belly.

How do you feel about annotation and turned down corners? Do you have a selection of lovely bookmarks to draw on  or will you use a slice of yesterday’s pizza if necessary?

 

Why buying bargain books is better than putting pic n mix in your pants – probably

Modern high street bookshop

Image: Pixabay

I’m a BAD shopper.

I don’t mean in the urban slang sense, of course. A white, middle aged English woman using urban slang is about as pleasant a sight as you’d expect it to be, innit, and I suspect could cause serious trauma, blu-blu-blood.

A helpline would have to be set up and one of those messages broadcast – the ones you see after TV programmes about gangs or granny rustling:

If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve seen tonight …

I also don’t go around filling my pants with pic n mix or exposing myself in sporting goods departments or putting waders on the lingerie mannequins, or going to the cosmetics counter to ask the ladies if it’s part of their job description to wear every product they sell all at the same time …

I don’t do any of these things. Sometimes I feel like doing some of them – I’ll leave you to guess which.

I’m a bad shopper because I don’t really enjoy it. I don’t browse happily through one ladies wear department to the next, joyfully throwing on every pair of foil slacks, squirrel fur onesie and sequinned jumpsuit on the rails.

The way my shopping outings usually go is as follows:

(1) Root through the plastic storage box that passes for my clothes drawer.

(2) Think ‘Ooh, I really don’t have enough cardigans / jumpers for the chilly English climate.’

(3) Think ‘Ah, yes, that’s because they had holes in them / I did the gardening in them / wore them until they resembled the pelt of something dead, buried and disinterred. Then I threw them away.’

(4) Think ‘I really must get around to buying some more.’

(5) Realise it is in fact April and therefore the shops will only be selling bikinis, flip flops and sarongs for the next three months.

(6) Shrug, go make a cup of tea, eat a Hobnob and resign myself to wearing the same ragged, mouse den knitwear until the New Year sales.*

There is one thing (apart from tea and biscuits) that I am good at buying and that’s books.

Despite my self-imposed Amazon ban (Thou shalt not purchase papery beloveds from the jaws of the sulphur-scented online Behemoth – on pain of being very disappointed and giving yourself a good telling off) I still can’t resist a bargain.

You must’ve seen the offers when you go into book shops or supermarkets. Those naughty, tempting stickers on the paperbacks, the ones that say

Buy one get one half price.

To a bookish type, these stickers are as tempting as a Costa Chai Latte to a sugar addict and I can find myself prowling a table for fifteen minutes or more, one book in hand, desperately trying to find a second so I can only spend half the cover price on it.

It has meant I’ve bought books I was only half interested in, so it’s a good thing I only paid half of what they’re worth. Of course the sensible thing would be to stick with the book I really want and save myself a small amount of money and from having a book on my To Be Read list that I’m not bothered about reading.

Over the weekend, I found myself in this position. The morning had been a bit dispiriting, so to cheer myself, I headed not for the nearest stiletto shop but into WHSmith in the hope of papery nirvana.

What did I find, but a whole shelf of Buy one get on half price paperbacks – joy.

And better than that, I spotted two books I really want to read – Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins and Costa Book of the Year winner, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Excited as a puppy with two tails, I bounded to the counter and handed the cashier my one and a half paperbacks’ worth of cash.

Once home, I had the pleasure of adding my purchases to the TBR Everest next to my bed, only to spot a familiar looking spine already in the stack …

A flickering memory assaulted my brain …

Standing in the supermarket, holding a lovely, crisp paperback, desperately looking for another to buy to fulfill the Buy one get one half price offer … Spotting A God in Ruins and skipping happily to the checkout with it!

Yes, I have in fact, bought Kate Atkinson’s book twice, both times on a half price deal. This means several things.

(1) Kate Atkinson’s publisher has done big deals with several major book retailers.

(2) I have now reached the age where I really am not to be trusted to buy books without supervision.

(3) I have a spanking new copy of A God in Ruins in dire need of a good home. 

Any takers?

***

Do you find yourself drawn to these naughty offers, or do you resist and always pay full price for your literary fix? Do let me know.

*At which time, I will forget I need knitwear again until the sales are over. Then, in April, I’ll root through the plastic storage box that passes for my clothes drawer …

 

 

Four books starring Father Christmas

santa-claus-1012097_1280

Image: Pixabay

We’re over halfway through our Advent calendar. My kitchen is filling up with nuts – roasted monkeys, salted and dry roasted peanuts, in their shells sheathed in a nylon net …

I know these last can be a pain, that all family members are likely to visit the local hospital some time before the New Year due to injuries from ricochetting almond splinters. But I’ve tried buying the pre-shelled variety and they’re not as much fun. Perhaps it’s that tiny spark of triumph felt when, through sheer brute force, you finally reach that ounce of nutflesh – and without losing a finger.

Anyway half-eaten calendars and nuts equal only one thing – Christmas is nearly upon us.

Working in retail, this means I’ll be in the shop right up until the last day and will no doubt spend Christmas Day half asleep and with my feet up. 

But to steer us all through the next week of fighting septagenarians for the last box of crackers / bag of cranberries / sage, chestnut and onion-stuffed pork and bacon crown (with port wine coulis), I have complied – for a festive Wednesday Word Tangle – a short list of books where dear old

FATHER CHRISTMAS

has a starring role …

 Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

 

Although Briggs is better known for his story, The Snowman (‘we’re walking in the aaaaaiiir’), this is another great book, a kids’ cartoon from the 1970s  which depicts Father Christmas being bit of a curmudgeon, cussing his way through Christmas deliveries, negotiating cats, TV aerials and milkmen before coming home to a lone turkey dinner.

He’s a boozer, he loves his pipe and takes a hot water bottle to bed with him.

Father Christmas IS an Englishman.

 

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S.Lewis

You can’t get more Christmassy than this book.

In a snowbound, magical land filled with dwarves and fauns and talking beavers – a land where it is ‘Always winter but never Christmas’ – a tall, gowned figure driving a sleigh appears …

Father Christmass’s visit to the Pevenseys in TLTWATW is bittersweet. Yes, it means that thanks to Aslan, the festive season can finally arrive, the snows begin to melt.

But the fact the old man brings weaponry and a potion that can cure any injury as presents FOR CHILDREN suggests there will be no watching the Queen’s speech and hammering each other at Monopoly this year.

 

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Image result for the ghost of christmas present

It’s a bit of a cheat, this one, because you won’t find Father Christmas listed in the dramatis personae of Carol

BUT if you read the description of the Ghost of Christmas Present and see John Leech‘s original illustrations (above), the similarities are pretty obvious.

‘Present’ is a giant, clad in a green, fur-trimmed coat (Father Christmas was often depicted in green before the late 19th C), a holly wreath about his head, shimmering with icicles. He’s full of joy and love for the season, surrounded by food, drink and goodwill that he wants to share with a bemused Scrooge.

He’s more pagan Green Man than Coke marketing icon, but none the worse for that.

 

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas – Clement C. Moore

Not strictly that drunken bon viveur, Father Christmas, rather St. Nicholas.

It’s thanks to Moore we know what Nick’s reindeer are called (though Rudolph was clearly off sick in 1823 as he is obvious by his absence). And the fact that those reindeer are tiny – as is Nick himself. It would explain why it’s so easy for him to get down chimneys, but how many of us actually imagine him as small as he’s described in the poem?

I was struggling to find a lovely version on Youtube. Dick van Dyke nearly made it on here. Then I found this mildly unsettling puppet show (above) from the 50s or 60s to totally creep you out. Enjoy!

***

What stories featuring Father Christmas / Pere Noel / Santa / Sintaklaas are your favourites? Do share them here.

***

Thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W

How to make sure you always buy the perfect Christmas presents

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Image: Pixabay

 

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

Well, actually, these days the goose is probably already dead and nestling companionably with pigs in blankets and Yorskshire puddings, solid as a boulder in a freezer at the local supermarket.

Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? That’s what we all ask each other at this time of year, isn’t it.

It’s like some kind of competition where no one’s actually laid down any rules …

‘Have you finished your shopping yet?’

‘Well, no, I …’

‘Oh, I finished mine in October. Well, actually, I’ve been buying presents all year, whenever I’ve seen the absolutely perfect gift – a real pet unicorn with magic powers for my neice, Saoirse: dominion over the World Wide Web for my nephew, Augustus: global peace for Great Aunt Philomena – she’s always been such a softy …’

These preternatural organisational skills leaves the ordinary, shambolic mortal feeling inferior, an amateur in the shopping stakes, knowing that they’ll still be scrabbling around on Christmas Eve for the last perfume hamper / marmalades of the world gift box / port and Game of Thrones slipper set (the left foot being Tyrion Lannister, the right his sister Cersei which means your feet will constantly bicker and plot to have each other killed). 

All of this means you’ll wake up on Christmas Day, exhausted, loathing mankind and all of its works, plough through a kilo of Whisky Liquer chocolates before you’ve peeled a sprout and be nauseous and semi – comatose before you get to open your first present.

May I give you some friendly advice? Don’t do it to yourself. Don’t put yourself under all that pressure, competiting with other shoppers, family, the world in an attempt to make that one day of the year the most magical, sparkly-special perfect it can be. No day can live up to that.

Take it easy on yourself. Instead of buying people tat they don’t want and don’t need (does anyone really need a plastic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that poops caramel coloured jelly beans? I think not) buy everyone you love – everyone you really love –

A BOOK TOKEN. 

This is beneficial to mankind on several levels.

*You don’t have to stress yourself into an early, tinsel-and-cranberry-filled grave trying think about a million different presents, leaving you calmer and more able to enjoy the season.

*The recipient gets the opportunity to buy some wonderful fiction or some glorious non-fiction.

*A bookshop in your locality will receive a trickle of cash which may contribute to its survival – and who of us wish to see another bookshop close?

And if none of your friends and family are readers? If they wallow in the delusion that all there is to life is seeeing what’s trending on social media and collecting their own bodily fluids in jars around the house?

Then buy the token anyway. The bookshop still gets the cash and you’ve still given the ignoramous in your life a present.

Happy shopping.

***

This post was inspired by a conversation with fellow blogger, the bookish John Guillen at Write me a Book John

 

 

Nothing says Christmas like rubber eyeballs

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Image: Pixabay

 

It’s a bit late in the day to be writing a blog post. Late for me, anyway.

You see, I’ve been out this morning, trawling the high street, eschweing the decadent comforts of online shopping to rub shoulders with the Great Unwashed, the Great Impolite – the Great ‘Getting in my sodding way when I want a look at that vegan, gluten-free, flavour-free cookbook / rubber eyeballs on that shelf’*. 

Yes, I was Christmas shopping.

It can be a painful experience, can’t it? Especially when you have a couple of really important people to buy for and no idea exactly what they want.

It feels a little like a marathon, or a trek through the wilderness, where, overcome by the weight of novelty slippers in the shape of Darth Vader, chocolates resembling reindeer droppings and boas of tinsel as thick as your arm, you begin to over heat.

The blowers are pumping hot air into every store and you’ve worn your winter coat even though it’s an unseasonably warm December day, and you can’t take it off because you’ve nowhere to stow it. And you become so hot and weary and hassled and distracted by all the lights and tinny carols, you are in serious danger of making some rather poor decisions …

Wonder if Auntie Doreen would like a Russian Roulette game with chilli chocolates. How about a knitted willy warmer for Uncle Fred – just his colours …

Needing sanctuary, I ran for the safe haven of Waterstones, probably the UK’s largest surviving book chain.

I wanted the soft lighting, the dark bookshelves, the low music and hushed voices …

I found a pimped-up bookstore with a sofa-strewn cafe where ‘Science’ and the ‘Arts’ used to be, an entire section selling readers’ accessories (magnifying glasses, bookmarks, tiny lamps you clip to your book or your nose or wherever) and what can only be described as a toy shop attached to ‘childrens’  literature’.

It was bright, lively – humming with people. There was a school trip camped out in the cafe trashing their new carpet with destroyed Lemon Drizzle.

I so longed for the dreary gloom of the old shop.

***

What do you think of modern bookshops? Is it a shame they have to diversify to survive or do you think there’s no shop that can’t be improved by tea and cake? Do let me know.

*Yes, that’s right – there’s nothing that says Christmas to an eleven year old boy more than a rubber eyeball.

Jabberwocky: Do writers still invent words?

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Image: Copyright Lynn Love 2015

 

The above rather dodgy image is mine.

I don’t mean I bought it somewhere, downloaded it or purloined it in some nefarious activity. No, it’s mine as in, I drew it. I ‘aged’ the paper with tea, creased it to look as though it had been locked in an ancient chest for centuries, shaped the slightly broken-necked creature.

It comes from a time, twenty plus years ago when I still drew – if not brilliantly, and in a rather 6th form, indie-pretentious way – before I realised there were people who could do that stuff way better than I could, so hey, why not leave them to it and I’ll get on with the reading, scribbling lark.

Now, the reason I’m sharing my ropy, New-Age doodle is because of a conversation that happened just this a.m here, at Love Towers. (No, the house isn’t really called that – only in my head.)

My son came downstairs and said he’d been looking at The Jabberwocky. For those of you unfamiliar it, it’s a poem, a saga of youth triumphing over monster in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.

‘It’s all made up,’ said my son.

He meant the words, not the creature, for as we all know Jabberwockys are entirely factual, if critically endangered largely because they backed themselves into an evolutionary corner by restricting their diet to Mock Turtle soup and Kendal Mint Cake, the numbers of Mock Turtles having dropped severely over recent years due to cat predation. It’s a serious and seriously neglected issue – I shall raise a petition.

Anyway, back to the poem.

Just in this opening stanza, Carroll has invented –

‘brillig’, ‘slithy’, ‘toves’, ‘wabe’, ‘mimsy’, ‘borogroves’, ‘mome raths’, ‘outgrabe’.

That’s a lot to make up, even for a nonsense poem. And a few of the words from the poem have passed into popular usage –  I love ‘burble’  and ‘galumphing’ truly is a work of genius – you can almost hear the weight in the syllables.

I started to wonder – does this really happens anymore?

Do writers take existing words and smoosh them together – such as ‘slithy’, a mixture of ‘lith’ and ‘slimy’ according to Humpty Dumpty – or is language now more static than it used to be, with new words only being added to the dictionary through common usage by the general public, rather than being sneaked in by writers?

Of course, words for new concepts were still being invented in the twentieth century – George Orwell’s 1984 gifted us Newspeak, Big Brother (as an allusion to an overtly intrusive State), Room 101 (somewhere holding your worst nightmares) – the title itself becoming shorthand for a distopian future. It’s a tribute to Orwell’s prescience that the terms still feel relevant today. 

We can all name instances of character names which are widely known – Katniss Everdeen, Dumbledore* – but in recent years have authors invented verbs or adjectives which we now use everyday? Will they ever again?

Come on, you clever lot. I’m sure you can all think of some examples I’m ignorant of. Enlighten me.

***

*Though Dumbledore was a dialect word for bumblebee, so not strictly original.

 

A pile of steaming dung: when a $ 2 million advance becomes worthless

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Image: Pixabay

I’ve burbled on a few times on this blog about my dream of having a publishing contract, being given an advance of six figures, a movie deal … A poster of my face as large as the side of a fifty story building pasted across the moon so people could recognise me from earth …

Well, maybe not the last one.

I suppose I’d translated a large advance and being the subject of a bidding war into literary success, a sure fire winning combo for a solid writing career. A story I read today has made me rethink.

The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli gave City on Fire by the interestingly named Garth Risk Hallberg a scathing review. Vincentelli called the book an

Overhyped … steaming pile of literary dung.

The 900 page novel was at the centre of a bidding war some while back, which garnered the debut author $2 million – ten publishers bidding over $1 million. The book has already got a movie deal.

Now, not being familiar with the NYP, I don’t know if it makes a habit of flying in the face of accepted wisdom – I don’t know if their writers tend to be perverse for the sake of argument. I’m guessing from the shock tactics of the piece’s title, it’s not seen as a serious literary journal. Maybe one of our American cousins reading this could enligthen me.

But the book certainly hasn’t captured the readers’ imagination as the publishers will have hoped – the book was languising at number 825 in the Amazon chart as Vincentelli wrote her piece.

And although the Guardian was less scathing, admitting Hallberg was a promising talent, it did say the book was no masterpiece.

Now, first off, I’m feeling sorry for Hallberg.

Yes, he’s already earned a pile of dosh from the book. But he didn’t ask to be caught in a bidding war and the ‘genius’ of his novel was something bandied about by publishers, not him, I’m sure.

Maybe it would have been better for him if his career had a quieter start, with less fanfair, allowing his talent to gradually grow with each new book he released. 

Instead, it may have stalled before it’s properly begun. I do hope not.

And second off? Well, we all know publishers have missed signing great books because they’re hard to categorise or just plain weird – but that so many could misjudge the reading zeitgeist, leaving themselves so seriously out of pocket … That’s surprised me.

It’s made me rethink my own parameters for success. Maybe I won’t be so desperate for that six figure contract after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Fire-Garth-Risk-Hallberg/dp/0385353774

http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Fire-Garth-Risk-Hallberg/dp/0385353774