Category Archives: books

Is it just me, or is this compelling?

BookDepository

Someone in Singapore bought The Jolly Postman

Whilst following Black Friday deals I came across The Book Depository (it ran quite an interesting sale).  But what really got me interest was this..Book Depository Live.

It shows you which books are being bought by its customers on a world map

Someone in the UK bought Illywacker

Is it just me?  I love seeing which books are being bought.  Little stories go through my head as to who is buying and why.  It’s also great to see books in active selling.  Like being in a bookshop and seeing what people buy.  This is a worldwide customer base, so you get some curve balls in there, not just the latest top seller.

This might be a great way to choose/not choose a BIB.

Someone in Switzerland bought On Becoming Fearless

I think I should point out that I am not a Book Depository employee.

 

 

I give up!

I’ve agonised over this, but I’m just not enjoying this book!  So I’m giving up on it.  In my earlier life I would never have done this, I used to have to read a book to the end no matter what.  Now, for some reason, it seems unnecessary to put myself through something I’m just not enjoying (I’ve got the dentist and performance related pay for that kind of thing).

100man

How did I arrive at this decision?  It’s not a bad book, it’s a bit quirky and interesting.  It seems to be going somewhere in a meandering kind of way.  If I continued, and this is what kept me going this long, it might be a great book, but I don’t hold out much hope.  The final reason, and probably the single most common reason why I give up reading a book, is I just don’t like any of the characters.  Which is surprising, because I will quite happily read novels about murders and terrible acts by one person to another, but the author normally includes one person who you like, or have sympathy for, or identify with.  I wonder if you have to like at least one character in a book to enjoy it?  In this book I’m not sure I found the characters particularly believable and certainly not likeable.  I didn’t dislike them, I am just indifferent to them.   Or perhaps you don’t have to like them but you have to feel strongly about them, like or dislike, you want to see them win or lose, to get a reward or their comeuppance.

“So what?” I found myself thinking as I was trying to concentrate and failing.

I’d describe the book as Forest Gump meets Thelma and Louise meets The Old Devils.  That sounds quite interesting but  it’s told in a kind of Grimms Fairy Tale style.

Other books I can remember bailing out on for this reason are Before They Are HangedJoe Abercrombie, and Catch 22Joseph Heller.  Both are well regarded books, but not for me.  There are others, but I’ve forgotten them.

Catch-22

Catch-22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "Before They are Hanged (First L...

Cover of Before They are Hanged (First Law)

Anyway, I’m off now to read Gone GirlGillian Flynn, which I am assured is fantastic.  Not a BIB I’m afraid, I chose it.  But so far I seem to be enjoying BIBs more than my chosen books.

I’m also considering treating myself to the entire current list from Richard and Judy’s Book Club, as a Christmas present as I have found some fantastic books on there in the past, in preparation as BIBs I’m avoiding them in book shops!

Does reading fiction make you a better person?

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I instinctively answer yes to this question and that got me thinking!  Do I have any basis for this view?

I thought it was obvious.  The biggy for me is

Empathy: if I think of how many people’s heads I’ve been in and how many eyes I’ve looked at the world through; that must mean I am more tolerant and empathic?

Knowledge:  I must have learnt some things from reading as long as the authors did their research properly and haven’t just made it up.  Even if they have, they must have got some of the experiential stuff right (what it feels like to gut a fish, riding a motor bike, first love etc).

Tolerance:  Seeing things from a wide range of viewpoints must make you tolerant.

But what about reading books that underline your prejudices and give justification to the unjustifiable.  I have read a few things that I fundamentally disagreed with but which because they are written down and well structured almost had me convinced.  Print carries weight.

I was prompted by an article on the BBC which stated that people who read books are better learners.  So I thought I’d have a quick look around at what evidence based findings were available.  Studies I could find focussed on measuring the impact of reading on intelligence and educational outcomes.  Tolerance and empathy are harder to measure.  It’s not like we have a world of history where all the percieved baddies are illiterate.  Far from it in fact.  It would appear that very few world leaders have had little education, irrespective of whether they were good or bad!

The study What Reading Does for the Mind showed two main findings of the benefits of reading in children.

  1. Early acquisition of reading opened doors to further learning (positive feedback and building the ability to think)
  2. All children benefit from reading, whatever their level of achievement.

This article The Powers of Reading is quite interesting, if a little politically motivated!

So, there’s a library of stuff out there, which lean towards the positive benefits on the individual but I would say a there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn’t a guarantee that it will make you good.  (Good is a hard concept to tie down too).  I would like to think that I am far better for the books I’ve read and I think BIBs in particular must be even better for you, because you aren’t reinforcing your viewpoint with books you have chosen.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

100man

I’m 19% of the way through this book that I chose in complete awareness.

I chose it because I thought it sounded unusual, with my recent interest in older people, it’s certainly unique to find a main character who is a centenarian.  It was also a bestseller and I like the quirky cover.  The blurb seemed promising.

At this point however I am a bit indifferent to the book, I’d give it a rating of 50%.  The style of the narrative is a bit sing-song and as yet I am constantly asking myself “Why?”  I’m hoping that the author, Jonas Jonasson, has something up their sleeves.

This is the first book I’ve chosen and read since starting this blog, and having greatly enjoyed the BIBs, I don’t want to find out that my ability to choose a book is pants!

Looking this up on Amazon, I’m very intrigued by this book! 100 Facts about the 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared That Even the CIA Doesn’t Know – Christian Hacker.  Perhaps there is more to this book after all, or a new genre of pseudo conspiracy theory books about popular fiction a ploy to gain a wider audience.  What next?  Pride & Prejudice and the plot to Assassinate Kennedy, A Tale of Two Cities and the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Da Vinci Code and… oh no that is one isn’t it?  It’s a spoof about reviews of this book apparently, how disappointing.

I Am Pilgrim – completed.

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I’ve finished this excellent book.  I highly recommend it.  Either as a BIB or go and read all about it, but read it anyway.

I would have finished this sooner, but life got in the way.  I had hit my tipping point (about 80% of the way through) about a week ago, but there were things that needed doing and I just couldn’t get back to the book.  I knew that if I found some time it would have to be significant enough for me to finish it.  It was there in the back of my mind ticking away, building up my anticipation, and prolonging the agony and ecstacy of finishing a good book.

Pilgrim061113

Did it live up to all my expectations.  I would say yes mostly.  As you can see from the Bibliograph, it took a little dive at the end, but then it’s difficult to maintain a book this good.  In no way was the end disappointing, just not as great as the rest.  The story was so well thought out that most of the trail of breadcrumbs were gathered in, and even though the book is 700 dead tree pages long, it had the feel of a very well edited book.  Not much is wasted in there.

Interestingly I like the main character.  Which given surprises me as I haven’t normally found this kind of character sympathetic.  He has the feeling of being a whole person (even if not with your average life story).  His protagonist too (as I have mentioned before) has depth and I found myself having some sympathy with him too.

Where does this book belong in my top 10?  Definitely in there.  I’m not sure if I’m damning this book with this but..  I’d put it alongside and above “The Da Vinci Code”.  Definitely better because it’s more relevant.  It was very believable (mostly) and topical.  I’d almost be able to find a news story a day that was relevant to it.

You can also see from the bibliograph that my enjoyment of the book was high all the way through, and the pace of progress was pretty constant.  I think Terry Hayes will have a hard job coming up with a follow up to the same standard, but I for one am a convert and will eagerly await his next novel.  (I hope he’s going to write one, I’ll have to go and look him up now).

I almost missed my stop!

 

 

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It’s been a long time since I nearly missed my bus stop because of a book!  But it happened today with I Am Pilgrim.  And yesterday, on the way home, I got off a stop later because I had to know the outcome.  It was very exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read on the bus, with my head down and being partially sighted I need to pay attention to what I’m reading.  You would think that this causes me to nearly miss my stop a lot.  However, I have learnt that I have a subconscious awareness of where I am on the journey.  I expect I am monitoring the turns subconscously and, when I look up I know where we are before I’ve seen.  It works very well.  Except on a few notable occassions where I have been so engrossed in my book that only a fortuitous glance, moments before the stop, has prevented me from missing it entirely.  I think if I did I’d just carry on reading and have a day out!

 

English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AH...

English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AHL 694), a 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1/1 single-decker with Barnaby bodywork. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

But this morning was one of those mornings.  This is a special book indeed.  It is very well paced, with the author dropping breadcrumbs, leaving you to gather them up at a satisfying pace.  None of your Agatha Christie “I want everyone in the library where I shall reveal the murderer” here, where all the breadcrumbs are gathered in an overwhelming handful.  If I had any criticism, and I think this is an anti-criticism (like “My only fault is I’m too hard working”) it would be that everything, although chaotic, is a bit too perfect.  Our hero’s hunches pay off.  But perhaps I’m being a bit harsh and just caught up in the story and not noticing the blind alleys he runs up.

 

 

 

The other great thing about this great book is that it’s long and well paced.  So you can keep reading in great swathes without worrying about running out of story.  Like your favourite biscuits coming in a big enough packet that you can’t eat them in one sitting.

So read it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Readability of the web?

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My wife came across this in the The Times (Oct 19, 2013) under the headline Beowuluf? It’s not as epic as Google’s rules.

Apparently researchers at the University of Nottingham have incorporated a standard literacy level test used by teachers (using only word and sentence length) into a browser plug in called Literatin and compare internet texts to established literary works.

Then using this tool to look at terms and conditions of various websites they found…

Google’s are more complex than Beowulf!

Facebook’s are worse and similar in complexity to The Prince by Machiavelli!

Scottish Power tops the list with its comparable to Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche!

No wonder we just whizz through them and click accept.

It amazes me that we tolerate this given that so much of the development effort put into these web services and sites is around usability and the user experience, Google is popular because it’s got one box and knows what you are thinking, and yet they can’t put their terms and conditions into plain English. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I think I know why.
Update: I wonder if their new customer pages have the same readability as 50 Shades of Grey?

 

Pilgrim201013

“This is an excellent book” – I couldn’t stop myself saying it out loud. You have to read it, it’s great as just a book or a Blissfully Ignorant Book (BIB). It has the feeling of being extremely well constructed and worked on, so either Terry Hayes is a genius or is a very good editor of his own work. Just read it. I am Pilgrim

Do we need a new genre?

mobile phone download Dec 2011 025

I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to my Nan.  She’s 95 you know?  And still going strong, even if she doesn’t think she is.  I’ve been working hard trying to get her to remember what she’s achieved in her life and and to help us youngsters to understand ours.  I’ve also been trying to get her to be more outward looking.

My Nan was born in 1918.  When she was growing up she learnt the Charleston.  She worked in a munitions factory during WWII.  She was one of the first to enjoy package holidays to Spain and Italy.  She travelled on steam trains and had siblings die in their infancy from things that today wouldn’t even warrant hospitalisation.  When young all her clothes were hand made and she spent an entire day having her hair permed.  Perhaps she should write her own book!

She reads historical fiction and things like Barbara Taylor Bradford.  But it did get me thinking.  As we are living in an ever ageing population do we need a  new genre?  We have children’s books, teen books, young adult books, coming of age books… do we have old age books?  Is there such a thing?  I’m talking about fiction here.

If there was, what would distinguish it?  What would it be about?  If I ask my Nan she’d just talk in terms of existing genres.  I don’t want to be patronising but from my experience what would make a good book for my Nan would be.. happy, uplifting, life affirming, about her generation but in a realistic way that presents old age as a valued thing where individuals value themselves, look for what they can do and act on it.  (I’m trying really hard to be positive here as I have quite strong views about the poisonous attitude to old age that we have in the UK and other western countries).

Are there any books that fall into this category?  I can only think of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books which have this positive attitude, but having not read any I can only attest to what I’ve seen on television.

Age UK have some great resources if you’re interested in supporting an older friend or relative.  I thought this article on Growing Old in the 21st Century was very interesting.

Friends gone to Iceland?

Gígjökull, an outlet glacier extending from Ey...

Gígjökull, an outlet glacier extending from Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland. Lónið is the lake visible in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bjork (I just thought I’d get the obligatory mention out of the way in anything you read about Iceland. It was hard to find a picture without her in it!)

This is interesting Iceland: Where one in 10 people will publish a book on the BBC website.  What an amazing statistic,   I originally thought they’d all be reading each other’s, as naively I imagine everyone in Iceland knows each other (it practically says that in the article too so I am not alone in this).

So I thought if this ratio was applied to my friends how many books would I be obliged to read (being polite).  I think I’m pretty average so I discovered that there is a figure called Dunbar’s number which is the number of stable relationships the human brain can maintain, about 150.  So that would be 15 books.  (I don’t think I have anywhere near 150 stable relationships).

With all these books coming out of Iceland I wondered if I’d read any.  I did a search and found a whole genre I knew nothing about.   Icelandic Crime Fiction looks worth perusing.  I might have to acquire one and read it as a BIB.  Any recommendations welcome.   I think the nearest I got was Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – Peter Hoeg.  Which was a book I can recommend and made me think I should find out some of his other works.  He’s Danish though I think.

Why Iceland though?  Is it really as cultural as it appears?  Does the seismic energy of the place infuse the inhabitants?  Mind you there’s a lot of murder and crime in the books, so what does that tell us?  I must admit to just really thinking there isn’t too much to do in Iceland when the winter sets in and the light levels are low so do they get depressed and plan how to kill each other?  I feel like I’ve trooped out a whole psychiatrist’s sessions worth prejudices and misconceptions there!

Is this a case of quantity not quality?  I think I’m going to have to find out.

Pilgrim171013I am Pilgrim is still continuing to knock my socks off as a BIB, I keep yoyo-ing around as to what I think the books is really about.  Still lots of questions, and the promise of answers.  I strongly recommend it.

 

Does the e in ebook stand for error?

The Pitt Building, headquarters of the Cambrid...

The Pitt Building, headquarters of the Cambridge University Press, on Trumpington Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is not a whinge, really it’s not.

I’ve had my beloved ereader for several years now and am having to stop myself upgrading (there’s nothing wrong with mine, I just need…)  So I am keen on ebooks.  I’ve read quite a few…(I’ll have to work that out sometime).  And it seems to me that they are prone to errors.  Is it just me?

This post Just How Bad Is It? doesn’t think so, but it is quite old, so I’m not sure if things have improved.

Here is a page that details how to report an issue, it does suggest that you’ll get a refund (but you have to return the book) but isn’t hopeful on you getting a corrected replacement.

I do know a little about publishing processes (and the rest I can guess convincingly).  So I am very surprised at this, if indeed errors are more prevalent in ebooks.  Imagine the following scenarios.

In A Perfect Book Publishing World

Author writes book, this ends up in computer file of some type.

Publisher receives file.

Publisher edits, proof reads and corrects file.

Publisher sends file to printer   and…

Publisher sends file to be converted (tarted up a bit) to an ebook.

Books and ebooks are distributed.  They come from the same source so should be the same.

Book lover buys book in a lovely book shop.  Oh dear perfect world is ruined by formatting/spelling or use of the wrong “their”.

Book lover writes letter of complaint to publisher.

Publisher can do nothing about the 1000s of books out in the lovely book shops, but can correct the original file and run through the publishing process again,  Then the next run of print copies would be correct too.

IBM 305 RAMAC

IBM 305 RAMAC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In An Imperfect Book Publishing World

Author writes book, this ends up in computer file of some type.

Publisher receives file.

Publisher edits file.

Publisher sends file to printer for proofs

Publisher sends file to be converted (tarted up a bit) to an ebook.

Publisher proof reads proof and sends printer corrections.

Printer prints books

Publisher ignores ebook.

Books and ebooks are distributed.  They now come from different sources and are not the same.

Book lover downloads lovely ebook online.  Oh dear imperfect world is shown to continue to be imperfect by formatting/spelling or use of the wrong “their”.

Book lover sends email report of error to publisher.

Book lover loses book and is refunded.

Publisher can do nothing about the 1000s of books out in the lovely book shops, but can correct the original file and run through the publishing process again, but they don’t always it seems,  Then the next ebook sold would  be correct too.

So which is it?  I expect, like most things in life, it’s somewhere between the two and some publishing houses value their ebooks and others don’t.  I expect as well that some publishing houses have more stringent requirements for the files supplied that have to adhere to properly structured books so that they can be converted correctly (e.g. Titles and headings are correctly marked up as such and not just achieved by changing the font size, interestingly WordPress enables you to produce very shoddily structured content, whereby you can pick any level of heading because it looks nice – I might have done this here as I’ve used heading2, but I’m hoping the post title is heading1.  Picky I know, if you want to know more about it you need to understand semantic structure of documents – fancy term for structure implying meaning.  That all sounds a bit technical, don’t worry I won’t do it again).

I’d be interested to know if anyone has any examples of ebook errors, and also whether these same errors are present in the printed form.

Pilgrim091013– It just keeps getting better and better.  Yes rating of 100%.