Friday, 17 January 2014

The trouble is, I just really hate Edmund

A's godfather bought her a beautiful set of the Narnia series for her first communion a couple of years back.  Now that MrM has finished reading Harry Potter to A (of which more at some point in the future!), they are going to work their way through CS Lewis's series.  We think that C would probably enjoy them too, and since A has already read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe at school, I am reading it to C as a catch-up, whilst MrM reads The Tales of Beedle the Bard as an interim measure.

Anyway, the books themselves which are in a rather lovely slipcase, and are reproductions of the first editions, are an absolute joy to read.  The paper just feels right, and it's really pleasant to turn the pages.  They are printed in a beautiful typescript, reminiscent of the longer Enid Blyton books, which I really love.  I sometimes read an extra page, just because I like the way it is set out.

C was unsure at first, but is now hooked. I am always heartened to see that a book can capture the imagination of many generations of children.

It's a gripping tale, and, truly, an iconic story.  And I *know* Edmund is not meant to be a sympathetic character.  I have so far resisted saying to C "What I want to know is, why don't they all just wrestle Edmund to the ground and give him a Chinese burn and a killer pinch?" That's what I would have done, if he'd been my brother.  Except, I probably wouldn't have done, in the world of CS Lewis.  I probably would have known my place, and bitten my tongue, and made him a sandwich, whilst looking downcast.

Hopefully I will be able to temper my extreme hatred of Edmund enough to actually enjoy the story...

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Busy Toes by C. W. Bowie

I am sure by the time A was the age BabyM is now, I was reading several books a day to her.  I am also fairly sure that by the time A was the age BabyM is now, I knew her exact age in weeks, days, and potentially minutes.  I know that BabyM was born some time in the latter half of last year, and is about four months old, but the size of a rather larger baby.

Anyway, I was having a moment of maternal guilt yesterday, which coincided with the others being out and BabyM and I being at a loose end.

I picked up Busy Toes by C.W. Bowie, which was a favourite of A's when she was small.  One of the good things about loving beautiful books, is that BabyM has a rather lovely library of his very own, as I kept all of the really special baby books. 

This one is particularly beautiful.  It has an unusual colour palette for a baby book - oranges and purples rather than the boring selection of pastels some books employ. It appealed to me at the time, because I found lots of books of baby faces which were on offer were very white-dominated. This book has faces and, more importantly for the subject matter, toes, of many different hues.

It has rhyming text which is easy to learn, and plenty of opportunities for tickling baby toes, or pretending to eat them if that takes your fancy (one of the great pleasures in life, in my opinion).

BabyM was somewhat underwhelmed.  In fact, he was rather more interested in listening in to his brother's bedtime story last night.  Perhaps he is a genius. Or perhaps he was actually working on his grand plan to flick my glasses of my face and make me pick them back up and put them on.  Again.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

Another week, another teen dystopian trilogy.  One, I would say, much more obviously and unabashedly teen. The Hunger Games is less self-conscious in its audience.

I read this because I saw a trailer for the film at the cinema, and thought it looked good.  My friend, who pretty much likes all of the same books I do, said that she had read it already, and enjoyed it.  It's so reassuring to get a good recommendation from someone with similar taste. I sometimes find choosing a book to be a bit of a gamble, and I hate not to finish a book I've started.  This can sometimes lead to the Middlemarch effect - I end up fighting my way through a book which I don't enjoy very much at all, with the sort of grim determination I really ought to reserve for running, where the pain is actually worth something in the end, rather than just the feeling of "well, that book was crap, and I'll never get those hours back again." I remember my Mum struggling through War and Peace for a really long time.  She was about two-thirds in when she finally admitted defeat, saying "they all had really similar Russian names, and I didn't have a clue which character was which." That's an awful lot of book to read without knowing who was doing what, or why!

Anyway, I digress, as the Divergent Trilogy is gripping from the off.  The two central characters are well-drawn, and the reader does care about them. The female lead is strong, and one senses that the woman playing her will need more than just the one facial expression that Whatsername wears in Twilight. The idea for the Dystopian society is interesting and well thought out. Teenagers must, at 16, pick from one of five Factions. This community is the most important setting for the people in the society (Faction before Family). They pick according to their nature: Abnegation are selfless, Dauntless - brave, Candor - honest, Erudite - knowledgeable and Amity - peace-loving. Those who fail the initiation into their chosen Faction become Factionless - a fate which some commit suicide to avoid. I can imagine that as a teen my friends and I would have spent some time analysing which Faction we would have joined (I think I would have plumped for Amity, where they eat lots of fruit, and drug the bread to make everyone happy).

There is tension within the tightly-knit community from the start of this book.  The reader quickly realises (with the help of a quick visit to Wikipedia if you're not familiar with US geography) that the book is set in a future Chicago.  One gets the impression that the characters' world is not the whole world, and Roth creates a feeling of them being watched extremely cleverly, and drops subtle hints that reminded me of M Knight Shyamalan's film The Village.

The first book was by far the best, for me, and promised a great deal. The second two books were almost a little rushed.  I felt like there should perhaps have been less characters and a slightly more streamlined plot - there were bits that seemed a little extraneous.

I won't give too much of the plot away, as that's the beauty of the book.  However, if I had read it as a teen, I would have been EXTREMELY upset by the ending of the final book.  Those with sensitive teens might want to tread carefully, or at least get ready for being cried on, copiously.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

I bought this book many years ago to try to explain to A why I had days where looking at a bag of chestnuts in the supermarket could make me cry. Why I might always have to turn my face away from mums and daughters sharing a cuppa on a Christmas shopping trip.  Why I always, always ran to change the channel when the advert for Cancer Research with the girl in the wedding dress came on.

Today marks the ten year anniversary of my Mum's death.  Ten years is a long time.  In ten years I have become a mother, become a wife, had several jobs, made many friends. There are many important people in my world that my Mum never knew, including three of the most important people I will ever know.  Mum has never seen how my daughter has her eyes that crinkle deeply when she smiles.  Mum will never see how her eldest grandson loves to fold clothes, and likes to make sure things are arranged just so for the morning before he goes to bed, just like she did.  Mum will never get to chuck her youngest grandson under the chin, or carry him about on her chest as he falls asleep.

I am very, very lucky in my life, and have far more materially and spiritually than I deserve, or could have hoped for.  But every day there lurks the deep sense of having been cruelly and forcibly robbed of someone I should have had for longer than I did. 

When the person that loved you first and always dies, there is a swift adaptation to be made. There is a lot of growing up to do.  A bit of the playfulness inside me died too, forever.  Up to that point, I had blindly trusted life to eventually work out OK in the end.  I don't trust life as much any more.

Although, of course, life has worked out OK in the end.  Because I have survived; as have the others who were left behind.

It has not been easy.  Not for my Dad, who lost the person he had shared most of his life with, and who had never lived on his own. Not for my brother. We should have been nearing old-age ourselves before having to deal with the family dwindling away. Not for my husband, who had to deal with my grief.  Not for my daughter, who had to live without a Nanny, and with a mother of her own who was shell-shocked with grief at her birth, which is not how things should be.  Not for my mother-in-law who had to be two grandmothers (a job she excelled at) and also look after a very needy 24 year-old extra child of her own. My Mum's death robbed us all of valuable time and forced upon us heavy responsibilities.

I have become someone who answers questions like "Will your Mum and Dad be coming to see the play?" with "oh well, Dad might come, but my Mum's dead, but it's OK!", keen to protect the feelings of the person who asked the question.  And it *is* almost always OK.  Except it never actually is, really. 

This book sums up these feelings so very well.  It's never really OK.  But it kind of has to be, because that's how it is.

Two things have upset me over the years.  One, that people have said "Oh, I couldn't cope without my Mum!" I know people didn't mean to imply that she died because I didn't need her enough, but that's how it felt.  I couldn't cope without my Mum, and yet I have.  Death doesn't really give you a choice.  Also "she's there in spirit".  This is such a common thing to say.  Heck, I've said it myself.  But really, being "there in spirit" is a hopelessly awful version of actually being there, isn't it? "There in spirit"doesn't get to kiss a sleeping grandchild.  "There in spirit" can't make mince pies. "There in spirit" doesn't smell of a lovely mixture of Youth Dew, Elnett hairspray and furniture polish. "There in spirit" doesn't get to see her grandchildren's excited faces when she picks them up from school.  She deserved that.  She deserved to grow old.

When I got into university, my Mum said "Oooooh, you'll be able to get married in the college chapel!" I responded with something along the lines of "ohmygodyou'resosadasifI'dgetmarriedinthecollegechapellikeamassivesaddo".

Well, I did get married in the college chapel, to my soul mate, eight months after Mum died. "There in spirit" couldn't help me choose my dress and veil, help me put it on, tell me I looked beautiful.  My cousin and Auntie did that instead.  They were wonderful.  We all cried.  "There in spirit" couldn't comfort us. I didn't want my mum "there in spirit", just "there".

Little things will always upset me on sad days.  Many, many people over the years have comforted me, and I thank you. You are the candles in the dark, in the picture on the last page of this book, which never fails to make me cry.