Annabel Crabb’s BooKwiz, Saturday 5 May, 4.30pm
Of the three sessions I attended, this was the best attended (at my venue), and probably the least “worthy” but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. It was engaging, witty, and even informative every now and then – how could it not be with this panel! The topic was all things bookish, all those things readers like to ask each other, such as:
Which section do you gravitate to in a bookshop?
What would you answer? Our panel said:
- Zemiro: Self-help, none of that Scandi-noir for her, she said. (She may or may not have been serious about this!)
- Minchin: Self-help and Diet, because he likes to see what scam-artists are selling this time.
- Crabb: The Sale Bin because she has a special talent for finding gold in sales bins!
- Sales: New Release Fiction. She thinks about death, and the decreasing time left, so has decided to let go of all those past books she hasn’t read, and try to keep up with the new stuff! (Love it. I once calculated how many books I was likely to read in the rest of my life – and it was very depressing, even though I gave myself a reasonably long life!)
Does there come a point where you decide there are some authors/books you’ll just never read? Are you guilty about them?
(Yes, I would have said if she’d asked me! In fact, coincidentally, a few hours before the session, I “decluttered” some unread books to donate to Lifeline. They included William Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom.)
- Fidler has tried many times to read Conrad’s Heart of darkness, but just can’t get into his style. This and other worthy books, such as Herodotus, glare at him he said from his bookshelves.
- Minchin says he aims to read 50:50 Fiction-Nonfiction, but he’s learnt that he just needs to read the first third of nonfiction to get the thesis because the “rest is just firming up the argument”. (I’m thinking of following this theory in future!) His guilty book is Hawking’s A brief history of time. He’d like a briefer history of time! Also, he’s managed 70 years of 100 years of solitude two or three times!
- Zemiro thinks she should read the Bible. She can’t read Lolita or Elena Ferrante’s novels. She, in fact, had brought these books with her, and set up her own street library on the stage.
- Crabb said she didn’t love Lincoln in the Bardo (which led to a brief discussion about reading prize-winners.)
Do you have favourite books that are guilty pleasures, that you feel secretly ashamed about?
From the guilt of what they haven’t read, we moved to guilt about what they do read!
- Sales: spy thrillers, because she wants to be a spy and/or write a spy thriller!
- Minchin: Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, which are formulaic though every now and then you think “wow, this is proper”. He commented that he reads more non-fiction as gets older “because you panic you don’t know enough.” (Hmmm … I commented to my friend that, then again, the older you get maybe the less you need to know!)
- Fidler: reads way more nonfiction, but the most memorable books he’s read are the novels. Oh, and he’s never read a good active politician’s memoir. (Crabb rejoined that the Alan Clark diaries are excellent).
- Zemiro: any book about wanting to live in France because they are fake. (The only good one is Sarah Turnbull’s because it’s honest). Fidler rejoined here that he avoids these books too, but out of envy because he’s always wanted to live there.
- Fidler: superhero comics.
How do you treat and shelve books?
At this point, Crabb said she has some ethical questions too. Good, I thought – and then had to laugh at myself because the question was “is it ever 0k to fold down the corner of a page”. Fidler, a self-confessed book-fetishist, said no, while Michin said yes, because used-looking books are the best. He proceeded to start Fidler’s therapy there and then by forcing him to fold a page corner in one of Zemiro’s street library books!
Sales admitted to not being sentimental about books, either.
As for shelving, Fidler carefully classifies his – the Penguin classics he said look particularly nice – while Crabb shelved hers in the order that she read and acquired them (until a friend kindly tidied up her books for her. She said that where she is when she reads a book affects her reading/appreciation of a book.)
What (if anything) do you reread?
You all know my answer to this question, but what did the panel say:
- Zemiro: The handmaid’s tale. Atwood is a genius, particularly because of the final chapter which explores how we report on history.
- Fidler: Wuthering Heights, because it is such a “perfectly strange masterpiece” about twisted humanity; and Anna Karenina, because he reads it differently every time he comes to it again. (The mark of a great book I think is one that engenders different readings depending on our stage in/experience of life.) Minchin said that Anna Karenina is on his guilty unread list. Fidler commented that Tolstoy had planned to write about an immoral woman, but ended up writing something sympathetic.
- Minchin finds it hard to reread books because of all those he hasn’t read. He has, though, read Vonnegut’s Cat’s cradle and Lee’s To kill a mockingbird more than once. However, he returned to his anxiety about increasing his knowledge and that his most recent favourite book is Sapiens.
- Sales reminded me of Daughter Gums when she said she was a bigger re-reader when she was a child. Favourites were Anne of Geen Gables (which caused her to make a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island) and Enid Blyton. This engendered a big discussion about Enid Blyton. Minchin talked about reading The Famous Five to his children, and about all the “teachable moments” in it.
Are there any adaptations you love?
- Sales: a television adaptation of, yes, Anne of Green Gables, the one with Megan Follows, and Minchin’s adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda
- Zemiro: the play adaptation of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet
- Fidler: the BBC TV series of Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, starring Alec Guinness
I know this hasn’t captured the fun, quick-witted, good-natured repartee of the session, but hopefully you’ve got some sense of it? It was all a bit of light-hearted fun from serious booklovers. And we can do with a bit of that every now and then.
I’d love you to answer some of these questions in the comments – if you’d like to!