Tuesday, November 20, 2007


My name is David and I am Anne's son.
Thank you for all of your kind comments - which Mum would have been touched by, but disapproved of!
She was ill for about six months and during this time was incredibly brave. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to be uspet!
The last message was to not mope but to carry on, be happy and to remember the good things and times.
My father and I are trying hard to comply.
She would want you to as well!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Apology for absence

I'm sorry I wasn't able to resume blogging on September 3rd as planned. Nor can I do so now.

The reason is that the on/off button on my Hewlett Packard laptop ceased to function. I assumed that it could be repaired at the local shop where I bought it less than a year ago. But apparently HP do not allow their agents to stock parts, so it had to be returned to the factory and when it will be returned is uncertain.

Meanwhile I have been thinking about buying another laptop but can't make up my mind which make to invest in. I've had two Dells. On the last one the screen died, but the works were still functioning when plugged in to an old desktop monitor. Unfortunately, after the HP catastrophe, this state of affairs lasted only a few days and now the Dell laptop also appears to be defunct.

I'm writing this on someone else's laptop. Some marvellous books arrived last month, but when I'll be able to praise them...who knows?

For someone who spends as much time online as I do normally, it's an interesting experience to be forced offline for a while.

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.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Book Depository and ReadySteadyBook

Did you read Mark Thwaite's comment on Wednesday's blog about The Boy Who Loved Books? If you didn't, he wrote -

"I'm not a fan of Sutherland but, still, I'm disappointed that this isn't wholly about the "books he read from early childhood to his late teens." Surely, we don't need another misery memoir? And, surely, a book by a literary critic about the books that shaped him as a young man would appeal much more to what you would gather was Sutherland's target audience."

Clicking on Mark's name above his comment, I was taken to The Book Depository where, on the About Us page, I learned that the business was founded in 2004 "with the aim of making "All books available to All" through pioneering supply chain initiatives, republishing and digitizing of content. It is a continuing project, still in its infancy and one of the most ambitious ventures in the Book Industry."

"Currently The Book Depository is able to ship 1.3 million unique titles at keen prices from our fulfillment centre in Gloucester, United Kingdom (within 48 hours) and this figure grows and grows everyday. Apart from publishers, distributors and wholesalers we even list and supply books from other retailers! Amazingly we are also able to arrange the reprint of over 300,000 out of print titles which again we can dispatch from Gloucester within 48 hours."

Further down the page, I read – "Our Managing Director and Founder, Andrew Crawford was part of the start up team at Bookpages which in its time was the fastest growing online bookstore in Europe. When Amazon purchased Bookpages in 1998, he subsequently moved and helped to start up Amazon in Europe. Andrew looked at different ways of achieving his personal ambition of making as many books available as possible - and the result is The Book Depository!"

Mark Thwaite [see photo] is TBD's Managing Editor. A librarian by profession, he spent five years with Amazon UK before founding "the acclaimed literary website ReadySteadyBook.com. His writing has appeared in many journals including the TLS, Context and PN Review. If you have any interesting book-related news and/or you are a publisher wanting to suggest books for review, please email mark@bookdepository.co.uk."

Later I discovered that Mark has an online literary journal at ReadySteadyBook.

Both these sites are packed with interesting articles and interviews I haven't had time to explore fully yet.

Looking for a photo of Mark, I came across an interview with him at
Simon Owens' Bloggasm
. Here's an extract -

"Simon Owens: You’ve said in a previous interview that you’re falling away from modern literary fiction. What is it about the genre that turns you off?

Mark Thwaite: Its lack of perspicacity, skill, wisdom, depth, relevance and artistry. I keep my eyes peeled for good, modern fiction (I’m always desperate to read a new, relevant voice), but, sad to say, there is very little new good stuff out there. Certainly, few British writers are up to much (there are some, of course: Tom McCarthy has started well; Gabriel Josipovici is a vital, ongoing presence; Dai Vaughan is vastly under-read), but mediocrity rules. I do see some fine modern works in translation, however. But British writers? Who are our most vaunted? Monica Ali and the war-apologist Ian McEwan? Please …"

If you're curious about the breed of Mark Thwaite's puppy - I thought she might be a very young husky - her name is Lola and she's a German Spitz (Mittel).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Antidote to all the depressing books around

If you're interested in art, check your public library's catalogue to see if they have a copy of High Relief, the autobiography, illustrated with more than 60 photographs, of sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler.

I came across a forgotten copy on our sitting room bookshelves and have been re-reading it as an antidote to the gloom and doom, in both fiction and non-fiction, coming my way recently. High Relief was published at 45 shillings for Country Life Books by The Hamlyn Publishing Group in 1968. I think I must have spotted it in Bibliophile's catalogue about 20 years later.

Although there is nothing about him on the Academy's website, Sir Charles Wheeler was the eighteenth President of the Royal Academy and the first sculptor to hold that office. But, more importantly in my view, he fell in love with his wife while still in his teens, was engaged to her for five years because they were too hard up to marry, and loved her all his life.

He writes – "I met Muriel Bourne first when I was 16 and when we were art students together at Wolverhampton… She had artists as forbears, I had none that I knew of."

And, on the next page – "Muriel and I studied in the Antique and Life rooms and in the same modelling studio, often working back to back. Sometimes we would collide in stepping back to look at our models. This was the beginning of a life long devotion which has been undimmed and undivided from then until now... The £100 [prize money] was about all I possessed and she married me on that in St Peter's Church, under the torture of whose practising bells we had sat many examinations together in the adjacent Wolverhampton Art School, and in whose lovely interior we had together made many drawings, labouring to improve our art. With what care and calculation we had to order our affairs few couples in these more affluent days can conceive. However, with pinching and her courage and care we got through some very lean times."

A little further on, we read – "I was often tempted then to vacate my studio, save the rent and take a safe teaching job. I was well qualified for that, but when I spoke of it she would never listen. 'The last thing you do,' she would say, 'is to give up your studio.' And so I held on till after about two years of Spartan living there was a knock one morning at the door of my Justice Walk studio. When I opened it I saw a short man standing in morning dress and wearing a tall silk hat. My first thought was – here is someone selling encyclopaedias, and then he handed me his card. On looking I was so astounded that I handed it back to him. It read 'Rudyard Kipling'. I've ever since regretted my stupidity for his card would have been a thing to treasure as it brought relief, not before it was needed, and from that day to this I have never lacked commissions."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not the memoir I was expecting

I'm beginning to wonder if publishers are pressing authors – the literary ones as well as commercial writers – to include best-selling elements in their books.

The thought occurred to me because Professor John Sutherland's memoir, The Boy Who Loved Books, is so different from the book I was expecting. I thought it would be largely about the books he read from early childhood to his late teens, but in fact it is more of a fashionable misery memoir.

It isn't until page 38 that he mentions having Wind in the Willows (sic) read to him by an American admirer of his war-widowed mother.

On p 44, Sutherland writes, "I recall my mother in London spending six shillings she could ill afford (or was not keen on parting with) on a book for me at the Marylebone W.H.Smith's. I must have been around eleven at the time. It was They Died with their Boots Clean by Gerald Kersh. I was at the station to be sent off to some relatives in Nottingham and nagged her for the book. It was, as she would see it, a sacrifice – but I was being discarded. And, now I think of it, the subject of Kersh's docunovel – patriotic guardsman undergoing basic training and preparing to be posted abroad – had a certain significance. He was not otherwise a writer I was interested in."

John Sutherland was born in 1938. In 1942 his father was killed in a Royal Air Force flying accident in South Africa. You might think that a four-year-old would quickly get over the loss of a parent. But his mother, whom he adored, put her interests before his. He was sent to live with relations in Scotland, ostensibly because of doodlebug air raids, but actually so that he should not witness "her intimacy with a man to whom she was not married."

There's a lot about class in this memoir. From the author's perspective, working class people were admirable, upper class people were not. Of the Rt. Hon Alec Douglas-Home, he writes, "He probably passed a dozen historical replicas of his vacuous, overbred physiognomy when he ascended the stairs every night to his four-poster."

I have no political leanings but was put off by that contemptuous reference to a man I thought totally trustworthy, more than can be said of many people involved in politics.

So, on several counts, the book is a disappointment with, at least for this reader, too much about the author's time as an alcoholic and not nearly enough about the books he read.

However, as I said at the beginning, it may be that his editor at John Murray pressed the professor to concentrate on the aspects of his life which would appeal to those who enjoy misery memoirs, and to cut out a lot of the bookish stuff he had intended to include.