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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

Alfons och soldatpappan

Alfons och soldatpappan - Gunilla Bergström The early Gunilla Bergströms are among the best children's books ever... but her lightness of touch has, alas, deserted her, and now it's just preach, preach, preach. OK, they aren't bad sermons, but I'm pretty sure that if I tried to read this one to my four year old nephew Samuel he would have scrambled off my lap long before we got to the end. It's simply not interesting enough.

So, the story. Alfons, 6, has a new friend, Hamdi, whose father is a refugee from some Middle Eastern country, most likely Iran or Iraq. Hamdi's dad used to be a soldier, and fought in some war: Alfons is fascinated. Not only that, he does soccer coaching for the local kids, and has even built them a proper goal, with a net and everything. As a considerably less perfect parent, I admit that I'm already sick with envy.

One evening, when Alfons is visiting Hamdi's extended family, he tries as usual to get Hamdi's Dad to tell him about What The War Was Like. For once, Dad's willing to say something. First, he explains to them that War Is Hell (he doesn't put it in exactly those words). It's not at all like the fun cartoon stuff you see on TV. And then, we get into the sermon proper. He was in this town, that had already been more or less destroyed by bombing... he could hear the planes coming back... he was scared... he took cover. And, while he was waiting to see what would happen, he saw this ant, walking along carrying something. Just then, some bombs fall quite nearby. He freezes, the ant freezes, and then the planes go off again. And the ant just picks up its its bit of whatever, and continues on its business.

You see, explains Hamdi's Dad, some people drop bombs, and some people build things. A recurrent theme in Alfons, which used to be handled more wittily, is how much fun it is to build things: for example, take a look at Aja baja Alfons Åberg or Alfons och Milla. But here, you never actually see anyone build anything; they just talk about it. Sure, they talk about it in a moderately inspiring way, but still. And at the end, did she really have to underline the moral quite that heavily? Some vandals have wrecked the kids' new soccer goal. What does Hamdi's Dad do? Get out his AK-47 and waste the punks? No, he fetches his toolbox, and they all go to mend it together, like good little ants. Consider her ways, as it were.

Reading through what I've just written, I admit that it's not such a bad book. I guess my main reason for feeling disappointed is that I know she can do so much better. Perhaps I also marked her down because I kept thinking of Squatter and the Ant from Derek and Clive Live. Is that my fault or hers? I guess I should have been paying more attention. But, if the congregation is sitting there replaying old Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketches in their heads and not listening, I think the preacher has to accept some of the blame.