Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The lunch guest who brought a book

Also in today's blog

The private libraries of 40 bibliophiles
Last blog until September

I was introduced to artist and author Oliver Jeffers by my eldest grandson who was three earlier this month.

Arriving for lunch last Sunday, he took off his bright yellow wellies and then produced from his backpack a book called The Incredible Book Eating Boy, the latest addition to his already extensive library.

The author's website is interesting but requires a bit of patience as the pages don't load instantly.

At his publisher's website, I read -

"He has had a number of adventures that he has collected into his books for children; his debut picture book, 'How to Catch a Star', was inspired by a moment sitting on the end of a jetty in Sydney, looking at the stars. Not having an agent, Oliver sent his work unsolicited to HarperCollins Publishers. Its potential was immediately recognised, it was whisked off the slush pile and the publishing process began. In 2004, the book was published by HarperCollins Children's Books and was also short listed for the Booktrust Early Years Award for Best New Illustrator. In 2005, 'How to Catch a Star' won a Merit Award at the CBI/Bisto Book of Year Awards."

At Amazon UK someone has written – "My son aged 3 loves this book. It is by far the best book I have ever bought for him. The illustrations are fantastic. My son was amazed when he saw the picture of Henry with the books
inside his stomach and refuses to go to sleep until has seen the page of what happens to Henry when he has eaten too many books! At the back of the story book you will see the indents on the pages where Henry has
literally taken a huge chunk out of the back of this book. You must buy this book."

And at Foyles there's a page about the book including this -

"The mouth-watering new book from acclaimed author illustrator, Oliver Jeffers. Henry loves books...but not like you and I. He loves to EAT books! This exciting new story follows the trials and tribulations of a boy with a voracious appetite for books. Henry discovers his unusual taste by mistake one day, and is soon swept up in his new-found passion -- gorging on every delicious book in sight! And better still, he realises that the more books he eats, the smarter he gets. Henry dreams of becoming the Incredible Book Eating Boy; the smartest boy in the world! But a book-eating diet isn't the healthiest of habits, as Henry soon finds out... "

The private libraries of 40 bibliophiles

Yesterday, sorting out clutter, I came across a page from the Weekend Telegraph dated November 18, 1995. It was headed "Every library tells its owner's story – You may not be able to judge a book by its cover but you can judge people by their bookshelves, says Lesley Gillilan."

Further down the page, I read, "Living With Books (published on Monday by Thames & Hudson at £29.95) looks at the book-lined homes of 40 bibliophiles whose private libraries reflect their inner passions and peculiarities of taste. In essence, American authors Estelle Ellis and Caroline Seebohm have compiled a practical guide to collecting and caring for books but the focus of their lavishly illustrated work (photographs by Christopher Simon Sykes) is a study of the bookshelf as art and of books as furniture and ornament."

This sent me to Amazon UK where I found the book has been re-titled At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries, and a new edition was published in April 2006. The Amazon synopsis reads –

"… takes the reader into the houses of forty booklovers to view their very personal libraries and reading spaces. Not only is it a visual delight, but it also includes professional advice on editing and categorizing your library; caring for your books; preserving, restoring and storing rare books; finding out-of-print books; and choosing furniture, lighting and shelving. This indispensable resource, newly available in paperback, will be an inspiration for every bibliophile with a growing home library."

A reviewer writes, "The moment I saw AT HOME WITH BOOKS, I put my bag full of books down, sat on the floor at Blackwell's in Oxford, and drooled at the luxury of others. I'm not a materialist person. And yet I envied EACH and EVERY person in this book, envied them their remarkable libraries. There are so many of us who live with our noses in books. Here are people who do it in grand style! Buy this book for a book lover!"

For those who, like me, think twice about spending £30, Amazon gives a link to 38 used & new copies from £11.00.

Last blog until September

I'm taking August off to concentrate on a project needing undivided attention. So this will be the last Bookworm on the Net blog until Monday, 3 September. Meanwhile good reading and my thanks to everyone who has posted comments.

Monday, July 30, 2007

New novel for adults by Adele Geras

When Bookworm on the Net was a quarterly column in The Bookseller, each time I used to give links to around 25 publishing world websites and pick out one as Bookworm's Choice. In February 2003, the Choice section read –

"When the first novel for adults by children's author Adèle Geras Facing the Light (Orion, £12.99, 0752851543), is published in late March, readers will enjoy visiting her recently launched site. Ms Geras has provided interesting content, and site designer Wendy Wootton of Artemis Website Design has done another good job with the design. Artemis now has a waiting list of authors who want fast, easily navigable sites."

Adèle Geras has written more than 80 books for children. Her fourth novel for adult readers, A Hidden Life, comes out on August 8th. Orion have sent me a copy but, as I shall be on holiday next month, I'm writing about it today.

I have not met this author but we have exchanged emails from time to time and she comes across as a delightful person. Which makes me feel uncomfortable about criticising the novel. However any publicity is said to be better than none, and my comments about A Hidden Life tie in with what I wrote about John Sutherland's book last week i.e. the possibility that authors are being encouraged to use certain themes which are known to bestsell.

Here's an extract from a long Q&A between Mark Thwaite and Adèle.

"MT: Do you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Do you write specifically for them?

AG: No, not at all. Not even when I’m writing for young children. I write entirely for myself. I have to fall in love with the hero, cry when it’s sad, laugh when it’s funny, be spooked when it’s scary and then there’s a chance that you might be too….or someone might be. Once you start considering the readers, you’ve had it, I reckon. But I do try to ensure that as many people as possible might like my novels by deliberately including protagonists of all ages in my adult novels….see the ‘old ladies’ referred to in question 1. These ladies have daughters and granddaughters and I try to appeal to several generations in my books."

The main character in A Hidden Life is Lou, full name Louise Barrington. We meet Lou on page 3 when she is about to attend the reading of the will of her disagreeable grandmother who, we have already learned, intended it to upset her heirs and successors.

Although Lou is short of cash when the novel opens, this is a prosperous upper middle class milieu and the late Mrs Constance Barrington has left a large house and a substantial estate. But to Lou she has left only the copyrights of her grandfather's books which were never bestsellers and now are long forgotten.

So far so good. But then the reader learns that while Lou was starting her second year at York University she met a man called Ray, not an undergraduate. He looked "like a male model for a particularly butch brand of aftershave."

On their third date, she went to bed with him, and when Ray suggested she should drop her course and live with him in London, she didn't hesitate. They had been together for a month when he behaved in a way – including hurting her physically – which would have made any sensible girl ditch him on the spot. But Lou stayed until, when she was six months pregnant, he threw her out.

It stretches my credulity, but I can just about swallow the idea of a girl opting out of uni if she thinks she has met Mr Right. However when his brutality proves he's a thug, and she not only tolerates that but, without any sign that he wants to marry her, starts a baby, my sympathy evaporates.

The novel runs to 343 pages and we have to wait until p 264 - by which time Lou has had another abortive relationship - for Mr Right to appear.

The only thread in this novel I enjoyed was that of Lou's grandfather's life. He had spent part of his childhood in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and written about it in his unsuccessful book Blind Moon from which there are extracts.

It may be that the various other threads involving unsatisfactory marriages and a love affair between two women will appeal to other readers. But the novel was a disappointment to me.

However, of Mrs Geras's last novel, Made In Heaven, an Australian reader posted the following at Amazon UK.

"I've enjoyed all Adele Geras' adult novels(the other two are Facing the Light and Hester's Story) but this is my top favourite. It's a story that enthrals from the very first chapter, when we're led into the lives of the (about to be combined) Gratrix and Whittaker/Ashton families. They're about to be combined because of the impending wedding of Zannah Ford (nee gratrix) and Adrian Whittaker--but actually there's a lot more that links them than that. There's a secret which is about to be revealed and which ticks away like an unexploded bomb under the increasingly elaborate and frenzied preparations for the 'big wedding.' And there are unresolved things from the past which loom larger and larger even in the unclouded horizon that is Zannah's dream for her big day..Will there be a catastrophe? is there any hope to be salvaged? will it all end happily?
There are many pleasures in this wonderfully warm and entertaining novel--the subtle, deep exploration of character, a story superlatively well told, and the rich, fun details of planning that big wedding. Minor as well as major characters are really well depicted; you get a real sense of family and how weddings brings often very disparate people together--not necessarily in mutual understanding.
It's a totally involving, gripping, and vivid read and is very highly recommended."

So, despite my own reservations, it wouldn't surprise me to see A Hidden Life climbing the bestseller charts next month.