Monthly Archives: April 2015

Things I do when I should be doing something else


It’s been one of those weekends–delightfully holiday-filled, but somehow, despite the extra time off, not particularly productive–as the lack of postings from me will attest (and yes, I do know it’s Wednesday; it was a very long long-weekend). I don’t know about you, but I find that whenever I have a whole whack of time where I can get a bunch of things done (usually things I’ve been putting off for just such an occasion)…I do anything but. It’s at such times that my tendency to reread things comes very much to the fore.

The whole concept of rereading things is a fairly contentious point amongst book people: I have a few good friends who cannot stand to reread a book and find it quite bizarre that I do so; conversely, there are people such as myself, who reread things regularly and have been known to read the same book, cover-to-cover, again and again over a period of anywhere from 9 months to 10 years. I also tend to dip into books I know very well, in a habit I refer to as “magazine reading”: whereby I enjoy a snippet of the book, but don’t actually commit to properly reading it through again; this is something I do especially frequently when I’m between books, or, as I was this weekend, trying to avoid doing other things. I do believe in the value of rereading, however, and you can expect to see a post (or perhaps “polemic” would be more appropriate) about that in the near future.
At this point, I feel I must make a confession. Despite our earlier comments about numbered lists and the way they’re reductive and limiting and frustrating (all of which is true), one of us at least still has a disturbing fondness for them, and will, by her own admittance, read even the most pathetic and ridiculous articles if they have a number in the title (eg. “10 things you didn’t know about Disney ™”). *Hint: it’s not Freda*

As a result of that, and as a pleasing cap on my seriously lax long weekend, I bring you,

Seven Books I Re-Read Instead of Doing Something Productive*

1. Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Because reading Pratchett is always a good idea (and so is rereading).

2. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. I find this book endlessly entertaining and extremely inspiring; all of you who wish to live tidier, fuller lives, or who wish to delight in some of the finest English satire ever written, need to read this book several times.

3.. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. Another extremely formative book for me, I have never ceased to enjoy reading part or all of this brilliant “novel of suspense.”

4. The Truth by Terry Pratchett. See above.

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. See what I did there? It’s not just Pratchett this time!

6. The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell. Who knew it was possible to make tax law entertaining? Author of some of the finest, smartest, and wittiest, mysteries to ever grace the literary scene, Caudwell gets bonus points for leaving her readers guessing even after the murder  is solved: no one, to this day, can tell you whether her detective, Historian Hilary Tamar, is a woman or a man. Read her books. They’re amazing.

7. P.G. Wodehouse, anything. It’s like sinking into a hot bubble bath, or biting into a perfectly buttered piece of toast–as Stephen Fry has said of Wodehouse’s magnificent prose, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.

*For the record: I believe that reading is extremely productive, and that all these books are excellent. Just in case you hadn’t already gathered that.



Filed under Lists

What Colour Skirt Does Your Four Year Old Wear?

I work in a bookstore, and often, when someone comes in looking for a book for a child I find myself asking two questions: boy or girl? what age? These enquiries are disquieting of course, since I consider myself a feminist as well as someone who doesn’t believe that age defines interests or abilities. And, since the customer often refers to the child  by gender and age  I can justify my behaviour by suggesting that it is the customer who defines my approach.

But that’s just lazy on my part. And consciously self deluding. Because on days when I am a book lover before I am a book seller those are not the questions that I ask.

“What is your child like? What books have you read together, or have they read on their own, that they’ve truly loved? Does your child love reading, or like it, or are you trying to engage someone reluctant to pick up a book? What is your child curious about, what do they talk about, and who do they appear to admire?”

Personal, possibly presumptuous questions, but they need to be asked with care and genuine interest, because the right book at the right time can change your world. And the right book isn’t based on age or gender, or what everyone else is reading; it is particular, special, right for this person at this time. Often, the customer provides information of a sort; “he’s eleven, and he likes playing on the computer. Oh and he’s good in school and he plays soccer.” Or “She’s twelve and really social. A good student.” I hear that a lot. Apparently, there are an unending amount of kids who are good students(whatever that means) who are social, who play soccer, who like spending tons of time on the computer—clones with different coloured eyes and hair but identical interests, thoughts, abilities. However, the kids who frequent the book store aren’t nearly as easy to classify. Maybe that’s the problem. We don’t know what other classifications to use but the ones that have been handed to us, by schools by magazines, by whatever or whomever decides the cultural norms. Of course, we may not want to share the special or idiosyncratic or confusing aspects of our children with a stranger, a bookstore clerk(note here: books are important, so it’s worthwhile getting to know your librarians, and your booksellers, so that you can find the ones who resonate with you…..and avoid the ones who really don’t). Or perhaps we don’t know what to say, because we don’t know our children that well, and that makes us uncomfortable. That last possibility isn’t as troubling as it appears though, since most of us couldn’t tell anyone what we’re like either. Still, in searching out the right book for any individual there are clues, of a sort, to help the seeker find the book that will open the world at a different page, though it’s good to remember that they are seldom as banal as age and gender.

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