Tag Archives: books

My memories of reading and books as a child

I recently befriended a lovely woman who tweets under the name of @AliB68, following an event we both attended in London a few months ago involving Russell Hoban, of whom we’ve both long been big fans. Ali runs a blog about children’s books called Fantastic Reads on which she’d written about Hoban’s classic The Mouse and his Child, while I’ve been webmaster-in-chief of the SA4QE website for many years. It was great meeting her, as it always is other Hoban fans (I’m something of a veteran in these quarters), and Ali went on to help “Russ” celebrate his 86th birthday this year by delivering his annual “birthday bottle” gift donated by his fan club The Kraken.

Anyway, a few months passed and, inspired by Ali’s excellent blog, I had the idea of writing about the books I myself had read as a child. I remembered quite a lot of the titles and luckily still have many of the original books (I read some now to my own children). I asked Ali if she’d be interested in a guest post for her site, and very generously she said yes, so I set to work. When my first draft turned out to be over 5,000 words long, I fully anticipated her changing her mind, but she adapted effortlessly and broke my epic down into a series of posts. So here, for the hopeful entertainment of Thoughtcat readers, are the links to said posts:

Part 1 – on James by Kathryn, The Great Pie Robbery by Richard Scarry, and Little Richard by Patricia M. Scarry

James was the first book I remember reading and still one of the most original books I’ve ever seen. The Scarrys’ books had pies and biscuits in them – nuff said.

Part 2 – on Mr Tickle by Roger Hargreaves, Aesop’s Fables, and a Ladybird I won for singing

Mr Tickle’s own deft way with a biscuit made him my favourite Mr Man. Plus: the mystery of Aesop’s missing limbs.

Part 3 – on The Adventures of Uncle Lubin by W. Heath Robinson, Paddington by Michael Bond and Rabbiting On by Kit Wright

Uncle Lubin was a brilliant book, even if it will psychologically damage you for life. And Paddington had marmalade sandwiches (you may detect a certain sweet-tooth theme by now).

Part 4 – on Grimble by Clement Freud, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans & Ronald Searle, and meeting Bobby Brewster author H.E. Todd

My schoolboy role models! (Together with the Uncle Lubin influence it’s a wonder I managed to become a fully-functioning adult at all.)

Part 5 – on Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, A New House for Mouse by Petr Horáček, Mr Big by Ed Vere, This Is London by Miroslav Sasek, Yellow Submarine “by” The Beatles, Miss Renee’s Mice by Elizabeth Stokes Hoffman and The Animal Train by Christopher Wormell

A round-up of modern books (and recent discoveries of classics) that I read to my own children.

Having written all of this (especially at such length), I then realised I’d still left out a few titles. One was Elmer by David McKee, the classic story of the patchwork elephant who just wants to be like all the other elephants: the jungle illustrations are fabulous and I especially love the message that ultimately you can never hide your true colours. Another was Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola phenomenon – to be fair, I came to that through the TV series, not the books, but both are wonderful, hugely imaginative and beautifully observed stories about a young brother and sister. Lola’s unique way of expressing herself has meant that phrases such as “I haven’t got time to do stopping” (instead of “I haven’t got time to stop”) have entered my own vocabulary, while strawberry milkshake is no longer strawberry milkshake in our family but will forever be “pink milk”.

Happy birthday, Russell Hoban!

As The Times admirably notes, today is author Russell Hoban’s 84th birthday. (The interview the Times piece quotes from is here.) As Thoughtcat readers will already know, 4th February is SA4QE day, when fans of Russ leave their favourite quotes from his books in public places – usually, but not always, on sheets of A4 paper. SA4QE stands for the Slickman A4 Quotation Event, named after Neo-Futurist Chicago actor Diana Slickman, who started the whole thing off back in 2002.

I should be leaving my own yellow paper quote somewhere today, if I can (a) make up my mind which of the many great quotes to use from Russ’s 50+ books, and (b) dig myself out of the snow.

Posted via email from thoughtcat’s posterous

Reading: could do better

As a lapsed gamer, references on the YakYak forum to ‘leaderboards’ have generally gone over my head, but today I found the term used in a context I could relate to. Adding the ‘Visual Bookshelf’ application to my Facebook profile I got up to a total of 57 titles before starting to struggle (and if it hadn’t been for the marvellous Russell Hoban I doubt I could even have reached 50 so quickly). To be fair, I’m sure there are more. At least I hope there are, as the application (somewhat fatuously) has a leaderboard, at the top of which is some bloke called Mark Woodland who looks like a member of Deep Purple and claims to have read 4,291 books. I suppose when you think about it, it’s not that amazing really. He looks to be in his early forties, if Facebook profile pics are anything to go by, which they aren’t, so even if he’s been reading for a total of 40 years, that’s an average of two books a week – a fair number, but not, I hear, impossible. I’ve never been a promiscuous kind of bloke in any sense, choosing and reading books like most reasonable people have personal relationships – waiting for a good one to come along rather than blindly jumping into them, enjoying their company, learning from them, giving them time to see what they have to say, savouring their secrets. Certainly I’ve re-read several books many times. Still, 57 does look a bit feeble for someone who’s been reading for 30 years. As Woody Allen (bless ‘im) said in the wonderful Love and Death, ‘It’s the quality, not the quantity, of your sexual relations that counts. Then again, if the quantity falls below once every two and half years, I would definitely look into it.’

All that jazz

A plank (and a guitar)Spotted while out walking in Richmond today. Click here for more info about the Association of British Jazz’s campaign against Tony Blair’s licensing bill.

It was an appropriate spotting on the day that Mark Lawson wrote an excellent review in the Guardian of The Last Party, a new book by John Harris about the uneasy and short-lived cosying-up between “Britpop” and New Labour when the latter (and the former, come to that) was still trendy. The print version of the review features a cringing photo of Noel Gallagher having a laugh and a glass of champas with Blair back in 1997 – a time when we were all that much more innocent and Tone’s hair was still brown. (NB: Amazon is offering the £15 book at £10.50.)

Talking of Noel, I wonder what Tone’s four-noun autobiography title would be? Suggestions please.

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And talking of Tony, Matthew Parris writes in today’s Times about “the evidence that millions of ordinary people are not amnesiacs, do remember why Mr Blair said Britain must attack [Iraq] and do still care whether that was true.” Along the way, old Tory Parris unnecessarily compares Margaret Thatcher favourably to Blair to back up his argument, but it’s otherwise an excellent piece.

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Also superb in today’s Guardian Review is this essay by E.L. Doctorow about how he started writing, concluding with this interesting thought: “I believe nothing of any beauty or truth comes of a piece of writing without the author’s thinking he has sinned against something – propriety, custom, faith, privacy, tradition, political orthodoxy, historical fact, literary convention, or indeed, all the prevailing community standards together. And that the work will not be realised without the liberation that comes to the writer from his feeling of having transgressed, broken the rules, played a forbidden game without his understanding or even fearing his work as a possibly unforgivable transgression.”

Prince William says Picasso is good, so it must be true (and other stuff)

Week 94: the housemates are on day 62 of their pedalo task. They’ve only three hours to go and then they’ll be given their next task – painting the house. That’s right – tune into Big Brother tomorrow night and watch paint dry…

Big Brother. The very words strike fear into the soul: someone watching you 24 hours a day, telling you what to do, what to think, what to believe. If it’s not George W. Bush and Tony Blair, it’s Enema Productions or whatever they’re called. Oh, that’s a nice kitchen. Mm, she’s pretty. God, he’s boring. In fact, it’s all boring. Why am I watching this crap? Why don’t these people just GET A LIFE???

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Jilly Cooper (no relation) and Joanna Trollope have descended on the Guardian Hay Festival to defend the honour of their “bonkbusters” and “Aga sagas”. Cooper claims: “There are two categories of writers. Jeffrey Archer and me who long and long for a kind word in the Guardian and the others who get all the kind words and long to be able to do what Jeffrey and I do.” One for Private Eye’s Modesty Corner, I should think. What can she possibly care what the Guardian says about her books when Telegraph and Mail readers lap them up wholesale? She then goes on to say, “My new book has got paedophilia, September 11 and lots of black people in it. I’m moving on, we’ve got to progress.” If that isn’t the most desperate, sad cry for literary credibility I don’t know what is.

Trollope meanwhile pours scorn on the “grim lit” popular with critics “that makes you want to slash your wrists”. Sounds a bit like the old argument about Leonard Cohen’s records being “music to slash your wrists to” – always levelled by people who’d never listened to them, of course. And as LC himself once said, “My feeling about music I don’t like is that I keep my mouth shut about it.” A lesson for us all, maybe, Joanna?

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Thoughtcat’s spy in West Drayton highlights a very good article on ZNet today by Ian Hislop’s favourite “left-wing comedian” and scourge of the Iraq war, Mark Steele, entitled Truth, Lies and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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And finally today, in an exclusive to all newspapers, Prince William, a.k.a. Ordinary Geezer Bill Windser, talks about life as a student at the University of St Andrews, where he’s reading history of art. Commenting on the subject, he describes his father’s watercolours as “brilliant” and Picasso as “revolutionary”. “His blue period,” he ruminates: “I do like that.”

Degrees of Bacon

Thoughtcat’s Vermont representative points me to the excellent Oracle of Bacon. Enter the name of any actor or actress and the program consults the IMDB and tells you how many degrees they are separated, filmically speaking, from the actor Kevin Bacon, who appears to have been in every film ever made. Most attempts return a factor of 1 (i.e. Bacon was in the same film as the actor in question) or 2 (Bacon wasn’t in the same film as said actor but they’ve both been in another film which featured a common third actor, thus linking the two). Apparently there are only 11 actors in the entire universe who have a maximum Bacon number of 8. But what’s even more fun is Star Links, another program on the same University of Virginia Computer Science site, which allows you to link any two actors to each other. This reports, for example, that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a Harold Pinter number of 2, since Schwarzenegger was in End of Days with Mark Margolis, while Margolis was in The Tailor of Panama with Harold Pinter.

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A short interview with Don Delillo in The Times today, in which the author of the epic Underworld says that the Great American Novel is just so yesterday, and what we’re waiting for now is for someone to write the Great Global Novel. Well, it won’t be me – the novel I’m writing is set on the Isle of Skye… who says I set my sights too low?

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Sad to read today of the demise of Noel Redding, the great bass player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. This obituary quotes an interview he gave years ago (for, I believe, the excellent South Bank Show TV documentary on Hendrix) in which he recalled hearing about the great man’s death: “All these women came to my room and wanted to commit suicide, to throw themselves out of the window. I’m not religious but I went with all these women to church. Then we went to a cocktail bar and we got rotten.” Ah, the seventies, eh!

Stuff in the news

The Guardian reports that Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen has topped a poll by Orange, the sponsors of the female-only Orange Prize for Fiction, as women’s best-loved women’s book. The news put me in mind of Bob Dylan’s song 1997 song Highlands, which contains the following exchange between the narrator and a waitress:

Then she says,”you don’t read women authors, do you?”

Least that’s what I think I hear her say,

“Well”, I say, “how would you know and what would it matter anyway?”

“Well”, she says, “you just don’t seem like you do!”

I said, “you’re way wrong.”

She says, “which ones have you read then?”

I say, “I read Erica Jong!”

Speaking for myself, one of the few “women authors” I have read is Jane Rogers, whose 1987 novel The Ice is Singing I found inspirational and very moving.

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There’s a lovely story in the Guardian too today about an amateur movie of John Lennon dicking about in New York in 1974 being put up for auction. The private footage, shot by a student who simply went up to Lennon and asked him if she could follow him around the city filming him all day, apparently includes shots of him taking over a New York ice-cream van and imitating baboons for startled children. Sounds like early Trigger-Happy TV.

Honour among thieves

I loved this story about some proof copies of the new Harry Potter book turning up in a field and a “shady character” offering them exclusively to The Sun for £25 grand. The tabloid turned the cash down to “keep alive the excitement of legions of youngsters across the globe”. The book is due to be published next month, er, in case you’ve been living on Mars recently.

Talking shop

An interesting story in the Grauniad about a new bookshop opened near the British Museum by Alan Bennett and the board of the London Review of Books. Called the London Review Bookshop, it claims to cater for the discerning book-buyer, who is apparently neglected by the vulgar “pile ’em high” shops like Books etc, Borders and Waterstones. Bennett says, “Just as the supermarket takes the pleasure out of shopping, so it does out of buying books.” I really like Alan Bennett, and I’m sure the bookshop is a good one – I mean, any bookshop has got to be a good one at the end of the day – but I have to disagree with this comment about supermarkets. Most supermarkets, I agree, are nasty places, especially the cheap and nasty ones, but I have to confess to a longstanding love affair with my local branch of Waitrose. The lighting is subtle, the products are well-chosen, the prices aren’t the cheapest but the quality is really high, the staff are excellent, and I know where everything is. In any case, the pleasure or otherwise of shopping always depends for me on who I’m shopping with. In other words, unless I’m on my own, it’s a pain in the arse.

Adrian vs Harry

Sue Townsend, the author most famous for her Adrian Mole books, is questioned by Independent readers. She was kind of a heroine of mine when I was 12 and the first of the Mole books came out. I was talking about this the other day with someone and we were comparing Mole, something of a crucial eighties figure, with the fictional boy of the moment, Harry Potter. Mole was a total anti-hero, and rarely succeeded in anything – indeed, most of his triumphs were internal and psychological – but you loved him anyway. I liked the first of JK Rowling’s books and I’m eternally grateful to her publisher Bloomsbury for subsidising my favourite living author Russell Hoban, but I feel I could relate to Mole much better. Potter is meant to be real, but you know he isn’t, while Moles exist everywhere you go: you know Potter is going to win through, destroy the evildoers and (eventually, one presumes) get the girl, but there was never any such certainty with Adrian. Among some of the lovely things Townsend says in the interview is that her blindness – a late-onset condition brought about by diabetes – if nothing else “does get you out of the ironing, and reading other people’s manuscripts”. She also makes a fascinating comparison of the sexual (self-) identity of Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein: the latter “drips” with testosterone, while the “androgynous” Blair is much less self-assured about himself in this department. Obviously, dripping with testosterone is hardly any better, but Blair androgynous! Brilliant.