Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Monday, 21 November 2011
There are now more pound shops than book shops in the UK, according to the Local Data Company:
"In the year to the end of October, there was a 14.2pc increase in pound shops taking the total to 3,005, according to research for The Daily Telegraph undertaken by Local Data Company, which tracks shop numbers in 487 town centres.
This is in contrast to the 2,705 book shops in the same area. Book shops have suffered from a decade of unrelenting competition from supermarkets and the internet. This year Waterstone’s has trimmed the number of stores it operates."
I'd love to see some other stats - surely there can't be more bookmakers than book shops?
All the more reason to support your local book shop!
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Monday, 26 September 2011
Some reviews from Good Reads
The Wikipedia page, including plot summary and more
1. What do you think made Ed pick up the gun and go after the bank robber?
2. What would you do if you suddenly started receiving cryptic messages like Ed did? Would you tell anyone? Would you try to figure them out and do what they said?
3. How does Ed's life change after becoming the Messenger?
4. Who did you think was sending Ed the cards?
5. Why were the messages written on playing cards instead of regular paper? Why the aces and joker?
6. Why didn't Ed go to the police?
7. Do you think Ed would have ever felt inspired to change his life if he had never received the cards? If not, would his life still have been as purposeful?
8. What does Ed do to help Father O'Reilly?
9. Do you think that each of Ed's tasks are equally important, or are some more important than others?
10. What was the point of Ed's second mission for the Ace of Spades?
11. Do you think that the sender was right to put Ed in dangerous situations?
12. What does Ed's mother mean when she says "It takes a lot of love to hate you like this"? Do you think she did the right thing to treat him the way she did?
13. Imagine you were in Ed's position. Which of these would have been the hardest to do? Which would have been your favorite?
14. Who is the Messenger? Why did he do all of this?
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
"The concept of presenteeism is interesting. This is where people spend hours at their desks not achieving anything because they are too tired, stressed, under-stimulated, distracted or depressed to be productive.
Workaholics Anonymous is a new movement based on AA principles. In an extreme paradox, earning more simply increases discontentment.
If you don’t know what ‘enough’ is, you are not free.
Corporate Stockholm Syndrome makes people believe that their overwork habits are driven by irresistible external forces. They then frown on normal timekeepers and make their lives a misery.
“All the gear but no idea” applies to fair-weather sports enthusiasts but could equally be applied to many who cannot stop stockpiling possessions.
We have too many options – a torture of choice. 60% of adults only use half of the functions on their devices. Only 1 in 6 reads the manual.
WILFing is a pointless form of shopping: What Was I Looking For?
We always think things will be better in the future. Present quality of life is deemed to be 6.9 out of 10 (and guessed at 8.2 in 5 years time). But when the time comes, it’s still 6.9."
"The chapter that I probably found most useful was the chapter relating to information overload - this chapter definitely resonated with me. I did also find some of the psychological research quoted and described in the book interesting and informative and it was these sections of the book that gave me the most food for thought. On the whole though I found the book a little preachy (something the author ironically talks about not wanting to come across as towards the end of the book) and unoriginal. I think some good points are raised about our cultures and communities - particularly in relation to the vast differences that are evident in western developed nations and developing nations - but overall the book the did not grab me. Maybe I was expecting too much - was the book not "enough"? Maybe I need to reflect on what "enough" means for me in my own way? Maybe I'm just not in the right mindset at the moment to accept the message being delivered? Questions to ponder..."
"The only trouble I had with the book was in the closing pages where he confronted the unsustainability of our capitalist culture. Naish claims that growth cannot continue. Maybe I read too much into it but it started to sound a bit too much like nouveau-Marxism and made me uncomfortable. However, I take the point that at the rate we’re going, we’re going to use up all of the world’s resources on disposable gadgets before little NH finishes college. There’s just too much crap in the landfills to keep this up. He’s right, something has to give.
All in all it’s an interesting book if only to make you consider the profound idea that less is more. Naish’s writing style is engaging, witty and even humorous and that gives his arguments an easy-going, conversational twist. Reading Enough was more akin to dinner conversation than preaching and for that reason is highly recommended."
"What both Naish and [Oliver] James have in common is a deeply degraded view of human beings. Admittedly, Naish sees himself as defending people against the scourge of consumerism, and James would claim that he is trying to protect individuals from mental illness. But both see humans as fundamentally feeble creates who find it hard to cope with the demands of contemporary society.
In particular, both of them see the human desire to improve our lot and obtain more as deeply distasteful. Both of them, in their different ways, argue that humans should curb their desires. For Naish, it is primarily a question of finding techniques for people to develop their ‘inner ration book’. For James, it is about modifying the structure of capitalism to make people less acquisitive and about providing widespread therapy."
"Like other critics, he has no doubt that evolution shaped the human brain. How could it be otherwise, when evolution has shaped every other human organ? But evo psych's claims that human behavior is constrained by mental modules that calcified in the Stone Age make sense "only if the environmental challenges remain static enough to sculpt an instinct over evolutionary time," Pigliucci points out. If the environment, including the social environment, is instead dynamic rather than static—which all evidence suggests—then the only kind of mind that makes humans evolutionarily fit is one that is flexible and responsive, able to figure out a way to make trade-offs, survive, thrive and reproduce in whatever social and physical environment it finds itself in. In some environments it might indeed be adaptive for women to seek sugar daddies. In some, it might be adaptive for stepfathers to kill their stepchildren. In some, it might be adaptive for men to be promiscuous. But not in all. And if that's the case, then there is no universal human nature as evo psych defines it."
Sunday, 21 August 2011
There was an extract in The Guardian yesterday:
"Simon's mother, now dead, taught him maths, up to quadratic equations. Astounding, for a British housewife in the 1950s – no one in the family can explain it. Simon says he's a fluke of genetics. Every birth is a gamble by nature, a throwing in the air of infinite possibilities. In Simon's case, "The molecules settled in my favour. Neither of my brothers is particularly intelligent."
Francis Norton, Simon's middle brother, works in a shop called SJ Phillips, the oldest family-run antique jewellery business in the world. It's because Francis keeps the family firm alive and profitable that Simon has never had to have a job or a mortgage and, despite using 17 different variants of bus, train and visitor-attraction discount cards, doesn't actually need a single one of them.
Francis lives on the other side of Hampstead from Simon's oldest brother, Michael. Every year Francis or Michael invites Simon to their house for Passover; and every year Simon arrives with his shoelaces flapping, his bus timetables and his smells, and eats all the parsley.
Simon's first ever mathematical memory is of sitting on his parents' sofa, working out the value of two to the power of 30. One moment he was fidgeting quietly on the cushions; the next he was soaring into the stratosphere of the thousands, and lo! "My life as a mathematician had begun.""
Thursday, 18 August 2011
Sunday, 14 August 2011
There was a great article on the BBC website last week, updating Down and Out in Paris and London:
"When I meet Modi from Mali, he looks as if he might drop down dead with fatigue. Like Orwell, Modi is a plongeur, a washer-upper in a big restaurant and he works six days a week, 12 hours a day cleaning pots and pans.
When we talk in the bar of a neighbouring restaurant, his head keeps drooping onto his folded arms and it seems to be such an effort for him to articulate his words that he either slurs them all together in a gluey, glottal jumble, or shoots out small phrases in tiny bursts of energy that fizzle out before the last word has been formed.
Orwell complained that when working as a plongeur he felt as if his back were broken and his head "filled with hot cinders". Modi agrees that he aches all over and at the end of the day he cannot feel his feet.
Because rent in Paris is too expensive, he lives an hour's train ride outside the city. Although after midnight the trains are slower so it takes two hours for Modi to get home. He gets up at 0700 and gets to bed at 0200. Most plongeurs in Paris these days are either Pakistani or West African. I stop asking myself why that is, when Modi tells me how much he is paid - just under 4 euros (£3.50) an hour. He's working, of course, "on the black".
"The last time I had a night out," he says flicking through a virtual diary in his brain, "was... last year.""
Well worth a read, if you read the book.
Friday, 1 July 2011
An ambivalent 1995 review from the Observer
"Welsh's second novel switches, with the aid of some nifty typography, between three connected worlds. Brought up in an Edinburgh 'scheme' ('a concentration camp for the poor'), its narrator Roy Strang now lies in a deep coma. The novel shuffles his past in a 'genetic disaster' of a family with a blurred present of visits from nurses and relatives quest through an imaginary Africa, hunting the titular bird. This 'despicable beast' comes to stand for all the cruelty Roy has soaked up and dished out in his time."
...and a librarian's take on it
"On a technical level this is really brilliant work. It surfs between the heavy Scottish accent and the more refined speech of Roy and Sandy, which is comically precise in it’s elocution and very much The Queen’s English. Roy is not by any means stupid, or an oaf, or unaware of what he himself is doing and that only serves to drive the point home.
This is overall a very interesting read, consistent and true to the narrative parameters it sets up. It’s not for the shiny, happy crowd, but if you like your stories dark, gothic, smart and intriguing – then this is a good choice."
Plus - for further reading on one aspect - a review of a book on Hibs Casuals:
"I grew up in Leith and as a Hibby on the very outer fringes of the cashie scene, I was keen to read this. A great book in my opinion that I believe captures the essence of what went on back then. I don't believe the book is distorted to 'big up' the CCS and the authors have done well to keep it balanced - detailing the highs as well as the lows. I know people -honest people - intimately involved in several of the events detailed within this book and they correlate with DD's account.This book was a welcomed trip back down memory lane and brought back some good, if not rose-tinted, memories."
Friday, 24 June 2011
Flipbacks are a new format in publishing - books you read with the spine horizontal.
There are a few titles planned for the launch next Thursday, including One Day, Cloud Atlas and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier spy. Each costs £9.99.
Can't wait to see one in the flesh!
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Background, plot details and glossary of jargon on Wikipedia
IMDB entry for the original TV series, with Alec Guinness as Smiley
IMDB entry for this year's film remake with - um - Gary Oldman in the same role
A 5 star review on Amazon:
"This is quite simply the best spy novel ever written. Le Carre writes beautifully, and skilfully builds up the tension. The plot is elegantly conceived and superbly unravelled. If you only ever read one Le Carre, read this one - but I have to say the others are pretty good as well!"
(There are no 1 star reviews. The lowest it goes down to is 3 stars, and that is for the intrusive piano music on the audiobook version..)
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
The site for the book, including this diagram of the layout of the room, & 12 questions (see below)
Click to enlarge
A Q&A with Emma Donoghue
A review in The Observer
"Donoghue has not been so crass as to make light of their plight: at times it's almost impossible not to turn away in horror. When Ma's kidnapper comes to the room in the evening, she makes Jack hide in the wardrobe, where he listens as they get into bed: "I always have to count till he makes that gaspy sound and stops." Ma has days where she is "gone" to blank-eyed depression and Jack, left to his own devices, reveals: "Mostly I just sit." But the grotesque is consistently balanced with the uplifting and there is a moment, halfway through the novel, where you feel you would fight anyone who tried to wrestle it from your grasp with the same ferocity that Ma fights for Jack, such is the author's power to make out of the most vile circumstances something absorbing, truthful and beautiful."
A review (with lots of comments) from someone who liked the first half but not the second:
(Too many spoilers to include an extract)
Plus - the 12 questions from the official site:
Why do you think the entire book is told in Jack’s voice? Do you think it is effective?
What are some of the ways in which Jack’s development has been stunted by growing up in Room? How has he benefited?
If you were Ma, what would you miss most about the outside world?
What would you do differently if you were Jack’s parent? Would you tell Jack about the outside world from the start?
If Ma had never given birth to Jack, what would her situation in Room be like?
What would you ask for, for Sundaytreat, if you were Jack? If you were Ma?
Describe the dynamic between Old Nick and Ma. Why does the author choose not to tell us Old Nick’s story?
What does joining the outside world do to Jack? To Ma?
What role do you think the media play in the novel?
In a similar situation, how would you teach a child the difference between the real world and what they watch on television?
Why are we so fascinated by stories of long-term confinement?
What were you most affected by in the novel?
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Penguin Threads is a sumptuous new set of 3 books, with covers hand embroidered.
The three titles are The Secret Garden, Emma, and Black Beauty.
See more at the artist Jillian Tamaki's website. As you can see, both the front and back are embroidered, although from what I can see, the books you can actually buy will be embossed rather than hand embroidered (because that would be pretty impractical). They're available to buy from October.
Thanks to Beth for the link!
Monday, 11 April 2011
There's some good inspiration in this list of 50 books that would be ideal for kids starting secondary school, compiled by The Independent.
Selected by Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Kary Guest, John Walsh and Michael Rosen, there is lots to induce nostalgia, or spark the curiosity, for example:
Emil and the Detectives
A Hundred Million Francs
The Phantom Tollbooth
The Elephant Child
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
The London Eye Mystery
Lots to think about for our next 'Classics We Should Have Read' month.
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Penguin Essentials is a new collection from Penguin. Essential books, with specially commissioned covers, capturing the feel of the book, and the time in which they were published.
We've read several of the books (we're so damn essential), including The Great Gatsby, On The Road, Lolita, and A Confederacy of Dunces.
I think I like the Confederacy of Dunces cover best (by Gary Taxali)
Great books, great covers, would make great presents!
Thursday, 31 March 2011
Monday, 28 March 2011
Links on Rebecca Skloot's own site, including videos and audio
Adam Curtis' blog on the BBC site, which has the full length 1990s documentary that is referred to a lot in the book
The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, set up by Rebecca Skloot to help the descendants of Henrietta Lacks through education and healthcare payments.
(Or, donate directly to the family here)
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating book for people interested in scientific or medical research, but its real achievement lies in it’s humane – and deeply human – look at both Mrs. Lacks and her descendants. It’s a wake up call to the medical community to remember that while they may be working with highly advanced technology and science, there’s a human being – a suffering human being, with people who love him or her – at the bottom of it all."
A review in The Guardian
"It would have been better to trust the story and tell it in as straightforward a way as possible. Skloot's final discussion of the ethics of the use of human tissue is followed by nine pages of acknowledgments that are more than usually fatuous and self-regarding, and the author's determination to write herself into the story distracts the reader from the dense factual background. But The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks succeeds despite itself: it is a fascinating, harrowing and necessary book, marred only slightly by the fact that the author wishes to be considered a heroine for writing it."
Plus, a bit off topic, David Simon's article about a contemporary woman living in Baltimore, the actress Felicia 'Snoop' Pearson
"In an essay published two years ago in Time magazine, the writers of The Wire made the argument that we believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral. And we said then that if asked to serve on any jury considering a non-violent drug offense, we would move to nullify that jury's verdict and vote to acquit. Regardless of the defendant, I still believe such a course of action would be just in any case in which drug offenses—absent proof of violent acts—are alleged."
Thursday, 10 March 2011
The Ministry of Stories is a reading & writing centre for young people, based in Hoxton.
Modelled on Dave Eggers' Pirate Supplies Store in San Francisco, it "provides a free space for fresh writing by young people. Here in Hoxton we provide workshops and one-to-one mentoring. The services are provided by volunteers: local writers, artists and teachers, all giving their time and talent for free.
The MoS is inspired by young people, and aims to inspire them to transform their lives through writing. We work closely with schools, supporting the work of teachers, but our great benefit is that we provide one-to-one mentoring for young people to enjoy imaginative stories, improve language skills, increase abilities in communication, add to social and educational confidence."
To donate money through Just giving, visit this page and donate the amount that your favourite book costs. Stephen Fry picked one of our previous reads, The Confederacy of Dunces as his favourite, so presumably donated £8.99.
Donate - it could change someone's life.
Monday, 7 March 2011
On Saturday 3 of us went to Waterstones in Piccadilly to take part in the book quiz for World Book Day, sponsored by Grazia. (Grazia run their own book club in the magazine).
It was interesting to see so many other book groups in one place, and it was great to see so much free booze on the table!
The quiz was about 7 rounds (characters, pictures, first lines, missing vowels etc) and was great fun.
David Nicholls was there, and we managed to ask a couple of quick questions about the film of One Day. ;-)
We didn't win, but we didn't come last either, and in our defence there were only 3 of us...
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Tuesday, 22 February 2011
The site for the book:
(Including Emma's mix tape for Dexter, for anyone who has Spotify)
A reader's guide from the American website
"3. In his unsent letter Dexter writes, “I think you’re scared of being happy. . . . that you actually get a kick out of being disappointed and under-achieving, because it’s easier. . . .”[p. 42]. How do Dexter’s insights into Emma compare to her own? Is he more perceptive about her than he is about himself? Does Emma underestimate her talents and potential? Despite its carefree tone, does Dexter’s letter betray certain doubts or misgivings about himself?"
A review from The Guardian, at the time of publication:
"But the most noticeable feature of these protagonists and their friendship is their extraordinarily high laughs-per-page ratio. Nicholls's first novel, Starter for Ten, was gagtastic and, in a couple of its setpieces, successfully invited comparison with Lucky Jim. His second, The Understudy, was very, very funny. But One Day is funnier still: the headmaster's beard that becomes a balaclava, Dexter's bubbly co-presenter who talks in capitals and who "would start a letter of condolence with the word 'Wahey!'", Ian's "tracky botts", Ian's ring-in-the-calamari proposal, Ian's relentless patter - indeed, just about every sentence involving Ian."
A 5 Star review on Amazon:
"One of the best novels I`ve ever read. The characters are likeable and you can`t help yourself willing them to get together. The concept is fantastic; You never really know what happens immediately after the end of each chapter, as the next one takes place exactly one year later. I`m not entirely sure whether this should be classed as a romantic comedy; It`s a novel about relationships that should appeal to both men and women. Sure, Emma Mayhew comes out with a lot of amusing one-liners, but that`s not really what One Day is about. There`s no sloppy romanticism here either, no sex scenes described in elaborate euphemisms. This book is about realistic characters feeling the sort of emotions we have all felt. All human life is here in this novel and it`s utterly compelling.
I`m not usually one to get emotional over books and films, but I found myself close to tears at some points in One Day. One page in particular, I had to go back and re-read several times, it affected me so much."
A 1 Star review on Amazon
"I'm flabbergasted by the glowing reviews - the book is not that good. The main strength of the book is its stucture - truly innovative whereby the characters are revisited on the same date every year. However, that's the most interesting/exciting thing about the book. The characters themselves are two-dimensional bores. Emma is snippy and wet, while Dexter is a caricature of arrogance and privilege. And they don't even have very exciting lives to sustain any reader interest. My main objection to the book is the idleness of the writer. Once he had the structure in place, he appeared to just spew out lazy scenes and put very little effort into developing tension or character. At times, the writing was very sloppy and I nearly threw the book across the room at several things that a good editor should have spotted: eg, who wears a moleskin suit in July? Why on July 15 would Dexter be catching up on the latest news from Wimbledon, when the tournament usually ends at least a week earlier? And why the constant references to Mayhem plc - if the company had been a plc (ie a listed company), then Dexter would have been considerably richer and certainly wouldn't have been able to just wind up the company on a whim without a nasty backlash from shareholders (which is what a plc has). No doubt the author is a fine scriptwriter, but the limits of his craft show time and again on the printed page. I'm sure the story will make an amusing mini-series/film, but I suspect the main enjoyment will be derived from the visuals of the transformation from late 80s to present day rather than any engagement in the story."
& finally - the cast for the film, coming out later this year.
Anne Hathaway as Emma? Jim Sturgess as Dexter? Rafe Spall as Ian?
Wednesday, 9 February 2011
The covers of books say so much (for example the 'Dragon Tattoo' books, or 'One Day', which we're reading this month, but more and more books seem to be using similar pictures and themes on the covers - for example these two, which use the same stock photo, but cropped and coloured differently:
Monday, 24 January 2011
A few notes on the books for the next meeting:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Wikipedia
"Another influence lay in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books. Although Baum found their plots incoherent, he identified their source of popularity as Alice herself, a child with whom the child readers could identify; this influenced his choice of a protagonist. Baum was also influenced by Carroll's belief that children's books should have many pictures and be pleasurable reads. Carroll rejected the Victorian-era ideology that children's books should be saturated with morals, instead believing that children should be allowed to be children. Building on Carroll's style of numerous images accompanying the text, Baum amalgamated the conventional features of a fairy tale (witches and wizards) with the well-known things in his readers' lives (scarecrows and cornfields)."
Plus - quite a strange site for everything Oz
Gulliver's Travels in Wikipedia
"Published seven years after Daniel Defoe's wildly successful Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels may be read as a systematic rebuttal of Defoe's optimistic account of human capability. In The Unthinkable Swift: The Spontaneous Philosophy of a Church of England Man Warren Montag argues that Swift was concerned to refute the notion that the individual precedes society, as Defoe's novel seems to suggest. Swift regarded such thought as a dangerous endorsement of Thomas Hobbes' radical political philosophy and for this reason Gulliver repeatedly encounters established societies rather than desolate islands. The captain who invites Gulliver to serve as a surgeon aboard his ship on the disastrous third voyage is named Robinson.
Possibly one of the reasons for the book's classic status is that it can be seen as many things to many different people. Broadly, the book has three themes:
- a satirical view of the state of European government, and of petty differences between religions.
- an inquiry into whether men are inherently corrupt or whether they become corrupted.
- a restatement of the older "ancients versus moderns" controversy previously addressed by Swift in The Battle of the Books."
Watership Down in Wikipedia
Comparisons with Greek mythology
"The book explores the themes of exile, survival, heroism, political responsibility, and the "making of a hero and a community". Joan Bridgman's analysis of Adams's works in The Contemporary Review identifies the community and hero motifs: "[T]he hero's journey into a realm of terrors to bring back some boon to save himself and his people" is a powerful element in Adams's tale. This theme derives from the author's exposure to the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell, especially his study of comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), and in particular, Campbell's "monomyth" theory, also based on Carl Jung's view of the unconscious mind, that "all the stories in the world are really one story.".
The concept of the hero has invited comparisons between Watership Down's characters and those in Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid. Hazel's courage, Bigwig's strength, Blackberry's ingenuity and craftiness, and Dandelion's and Bluebell's poetry and storytelling all have parallels in the epic poem Odyssey. Kenneth Kitchell declared, "Hazel stands in the tradition of Odysseus, Aeneas, and others". Tolkien scholar John Rateliff calls Adams's novel an Aeneid "what-if" book: what if the seer Cassandra (Fiver) had been believed and she and a company had fled Troy (Sandleford Warren) before its destruction? What if Hazel and his companions, like Aeneas, encounter a seductive home at Cowslip's Warren (Land of the Lotus Eaters)? Rateliff goes on to compare the rabbits' battle with Woundwort's Efrafans to Aeneas's fight with Turnus's Latins. "By basing his story on one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Adams taps into a very old myth: the flight from disaster, the heroic refugee in search of a new home, a story that was already over a thousand years old when Vergil told it in 19 BC.""
A very old Watership Down site, explaining the significance of the different warrens:
"The religion of this warren was the Lapine religion. According to the Lapine religion, Lord Frith, the Sun God, created the Earth and all the stars from his droppings. El-ahrairah was the prince of rabbits. The stories of El-ahrairah teach the rabbits why certain things in the world are the way they are, such as why rabbits have strong hind legs and cottony tail"
Found on the net - an interview with Roald Dahl from 1988, when RD was 71.
"HOW DO YOU GET THE IDEAS FOR YOUR STORIES?
It starts always with a tiny little seed of an idea, a little germ, and that even doesn’t come very easily. You can be mooching around for a year or so before you get a good one. When I do get a good one, mind you, I quickly write it down so that I won’t forget it, because it disappears otherwise rather like a dream. But when I get it, I don’t dash up here and start to write it. I’m very careful. I walk around it and look at it and sniff it and then see if I think it will go. Because once you start, you’re embarked on a year’s work and so it’s a big decision."