I finished reading Edward Eager's The Time Garden to Maddy a couple of days ago. She was interested in learning more about Queen Elizabeth, so I showed her the "Bob" episode of Blackadder (she became hooked on Blackadder, and I'm now doling the episodes out very slowly). She was very ready for more Edward Eager, but somehow I wasn't, and I'm not sure I could explain why -- I liked him well enough as a kid, and enjoyed reading the books to Maddy, but they seemed a bit, well, structurally so similar, and so much of what he does feels somehow quoted -- the kids are always quoting, in exactly the same way that real kids don't, and so many of the adventures feel like Nesbit Lite. He's probably more accessible to a modern reader than E. Nesbit, but either way, I didn't feel like spending another two weeks right now reading Half Magic and Knight's Castle (I will, in a month or so. Just not right now.)
So I went and prowled the bookshelves in the basement, looking for my old books from when I was a boy, feeling like something odd and funny and stylish.
I found my battered-but-beloved copy of Grimble and Grimble at Christmas, Clement Freud's marvellous story of a boy who is about ten (his parents are a bit vague) notes and telegrams and cookery, a book I've probably not read since I was thirteen, and read Maddy the first two chapters. She laughed a lot. I was surprised how much of the gentle deadpan of Grimble had crept into Coraline.
And it was one of those books just as good as you remember, from the first page on, in which we learn that Grimble did not have his birthday on a fixed day like other children: every now and then his father and mother would buy a cake, put some candles on top of it and say, 'Congratulations Grimble. Today you are about seven', or, "Yesterday you were about eight and a half but the cake shop was closed'. Of course there were disadvantages to having parents like that -- like being called Grimble which made everyone say 'What is your real name?' and he had to say 'My real name is Grimble.'
It's sadly out of print (although there are a few copies out there). I did a Google search to see if it was mentioned anywhere and discovered it was one of J.K. Rowling's favourite books, which left me very puzzled that someone hadn't recently brought it back into print with "GRIMBLE is one of funniest books I've ever read" J. K. Rowling author of HARRY POTTER on it and thus sell, I hope, many truckloads.
(When I first met Emma Freud, many years ago, in the Comic Relief offices, I said "Your Dad wrote Grimble!" and she glowed. She later married my friend Richard Curtis, who wrote Blackadder, and thus provides the illusion that this was somehow a thematically consistent journal entry.)
American Gods in mass market paperback is, to everyone's joy and astonishment, selling more copies with each week right now, and it continues to climb the various paperback charts, and to stay at the top of the ones it's already climbed to the top of. This is really fun. In the past I've only ever had books slowly drift down lists.
I think if I had any commercial sense at all I'd be following it up with More American Gods, rather than a strange little book for kids of all ages about a little girl and her terrifying other mother. Ah well. I'd rather have written Coraline than pretty much anything else, anyway.