A tall, skinny paperback to go

I regularly spend £2.30 on a coffee. It’s my little treat. I don’t smoke, I regularly deny myself cake, drink moderately, etc, etc. So my little frothy caffeine fix is something I don’t think twice about – even if it is a relatively expensive gift to oneself. What’s £2.30 here and there? Well, it’s actually £358.50 a year. (That’s if I’m treating myself three times a week, which I frequently do.) That’s, um, quite a lot.

Do I care that I spend over £350 a year on coffee? I should but I don’t. It’s a mini-perk, a little ray of sunshine in an average working or non-working day. And as an ex-smoker, I take pleasure in reminding myself how much I could be spending on something far more nonsensical.

On the other hand, if I want to buy a new paperback, I don’t feel as flippant about the £7.99 price tag. Often, I’ll end up buying three books just so that I can “save” money on a 3-for2 deal. I know this paperback-price tag wariness doesn’t make sense. A paperback is something you can treasure for years, whereas a coffee – as my husband delicately put it – gets pissed out in minutes. So why do I compartmentalise these costs? I can’t be the only one.

As an author, I know exactly how much hard work goes into a novel, and having self-published in paperback originally, I’m also aware of the production costs (cover design, editing, proofreading, printing, distribution, marketing – oh and um, creative writing plays quite a large part and an author has to earn a living somehow). So it’s not that a paperback doesn’t merit its price tag – £7.99 is fair enough. I don’t know what the mark-up is on a cappuccino, but I’m guessing it takes pence to make and there’s a far wider profit margin than that of a paperback.

So, what do I spend on paperbacks a year? A hell of a lot less than I spend on coffee, I should imagine. At this point, I should mention I’m not the speediest reader, generally plodding through a book every three to four weeks (the pace of the book usually dictating the speed at which I get through it, ie Gone Girl, read it in under two weeks, whereas I’m currently reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and making as much progress as Harold himself). But I digress.

I usually get given a few books for my birthday. I also buy a few from charity shops, and a few from Waterstones. (My nearest independent bookshop isn’t as local as I’d like, unfortunately.) I download an e-book now and again when I can wrestle the Kindle from my husband. The library is a little bit out of my way, and it’s usually closed at the time I’m most likely to visit – straight after the morning school run – so I rarely borrow books. All in all, I reckon I spend about £50 on paperback novels per year.

Wow. That’s nothing compared to my coffee habit. Hmm… This has been a revelation. I think it’s time to reduce my caffeine intake and increase my paperback consumption. If only there was an independent bookshop on my doorstep selling cappuccinos, they’d make a killing out of me one way or another. Well, potentially they could make £408.80 out of me every year…

Five Beg For Mercy

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Whenever I try to read a book that I loved as a child to my own children, I’m often met with cries of protest. Never more so than when I force-read Enid Blyton’s Five Go to Smuggler’s Top to them.

‘You’re gonna LOVE it!’ I told them.

‘No we’re not!’ they cried.

But I was certain they’d change their minds once we’d got a few pages in. I was wrong. The moaning – or rather outright begging for mercy – continued for a good five chapters. And perhaps not surprisingly: some of the language was so old-fashioned, I found myself adopting an Enid Blytonesque accent to read it. (Or at least how I imagined she must have sounded when reading out lines such as: “It will be nice to see your mother again, George, she’s an awfully good sort.” )

After chapter 5, my eldest (who was 8 at the time of reading it last year) started to get into it. Victory! But not for long. Towards the end, her interest waned. We made it to the finish line after about three weeks, with my eldest grumbling, ‘Thank God that’s over.’ Since then I’ve avoided forcing my old favourites upon them, although they both love Roald Dahl. (Well, who doesn’t?)

Today, as my eldest is off school with a sore throat, I decided to compare some of her favourite books with some of my childhood favourite books. (Scroll down for our Top Tens.) I also interviewed her to find out why she liked what she did.

Me: Which is your favourite book out of the ones you’ve listed?’

Her: Ottoline Goes to Sea.

Me: Why?

Her: Just is.

Me: But why?

Her: It’s really cool.

Me: And it’s cool because…?

Her: It’s just great.

Me: Would you still love it as much without the illustrations?

Her: No.

Me: I’m just going to make a cup of tea. When I get back, I’m going to extract some real answers out of you, so get thinking!

Me: Right, why do you love Ottoline so much?

Her: Because it came with a pair of bog-goggles that helps you see the hidden things that only Mr Munroe can see.

Me: I see. I think what you really love about Ottoline is the illustrations.

Her: Yes.

Me: So which book on your list is the one you kept thinking about the most after you’d finished reading it?

Her: Esio Trot.

Me: Why?

Her: (She proceeds to give me a long explanation of the story because she read this one to herself and I’ve never read it.)

Me: So why did you keep thinking about it?

Her: I was thinking about the fact that Mr Hoppy lied to get someone to like him.

Me: Was he wrong to do that?

Her: Sort of.

Me: But did he do anyone any harm?

Her: No.

Her: Now ask me why I’ve chosen two David Walliams books.

Me: Why have you chosen two David Walliams books?

Her: He’s my favourite author and some of his books make me laugh and some of them make me sad. I really like Raj who runs the newsagents. He’s really funny and he’s in all the David Walliams books.

Me: And why do you like Mr Stink the best?

Her: Because you wouldn’t know what a tramp’s past was just by looking at them.

Me: Why didn’t you like The Famous Five?

Her: Cos I didn’t understand the language.

Me: But I explained the language as we went along.

Her: It was still boring. I don’t like old-fashioned books. I like new comedy books.

Me: I’m not holding out much hope for The Wind in the Willows then.

Her: Well I might like it.

Me: Good, stay open-minded.

Her: Can I play on your computer now?

Me: No, I’m using it. Thank you for your time. Go and do some reading.

Her: Do I get extra pocket money for helping you write your blogpost?

Me: Only if you pay me next time I help you with your homework.

Ten of my favourite books from when I was a child:

  1. Grinny by Nicholas Fisk
  2. The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
  3. Five Go to Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  5. Stig of the Dump by Clive King
  6. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
  8. Sleeping Beauty (Ladybird version 1965. I loved the illustrations by Eric Winter.)
  9. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  10. Father Christmas goes on Holiday by Raymond Briggs

Ten of my 9-year-old daughter’s favourite books:

  1. Mr Stink by David Walliams
  2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
  3. Ottoline Goes to Sea by Chris Riddell
  4. Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
  5. Esio Trot by Roald Dahl
  6. I will not ever Never eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
  7. My Brother’s Famous Hot Cross Bottom by Jeremy Strong
  8. Judy Moody gets Famous by Megan McDonald
  9. Billionaire Boy by David Walliams
  10. Totally Winnie by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul