The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'books'
The Oxford English Dictionary is appealing to the public for help with tracing down a mysterious (and possibly pornographic) 19th-century book, from which a number of quotations used in the dictionary derive. The book, Meanderings of Memory, attributed to one “Nightlark”, is dated to 1851 and cited in 51 dictionary entries for words including “couchward” and “revirginize” (“Where that cosmetic … Shall e'er revirginize that brow's abuse”), though no copies nor any evidence of it having existed have been found:
Hurst was contacted; she expected to track the book down within 10 minutes. "That turned into half an hour, and I was no further along the line to solving it – I looked on Google Books, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, in short I looked everywhere I could think of and couldn't come up with anything," said Hurst. "We're not usually completely floored, but this time we're stumped."
The only evidence for the book's existence the OED could find was an entry in a bookseller's catalogue, which includes the description: "Written and published by a well-known connoisseur with the epigraph 'Cur potius lacrimae tibi mi Philomela placebant?'" "We naturally thought the Latin quotation would be a huge clue [but] it's not a quote from anything," said Hurst. "It means, roughly, 'why did my tears please you more, my Philomel?', and Philomela is another name for a nightingale." The book's author, meanwhile, is "Nightlark", she pointed out.
Design consultancy IDEO have posted a video presenting three concepts for the future of electronic books. The concepts are: "Nelson", a critical reader intended for politically and culturally influential books, which charts the influence of points within books, links to debates and discussions arising from them presents links validating or repudiating supporting facts and presents books mentioning and mentioned by a book; "Coupland", an enterprise-oriented social reader, which allows books to be recommended within an enterprise, and "Alice", an entertainment-oriented reader which relies on ebooks branching out from the stream-of-linear-text model that they inherited from paper books; by participating in various games, you can unlock hidden chapters of a book.
Want your kids to turn out smart? Don't worry about sending them to the most expensive intensive-cramming preschools, but do make sure they grow up in a house full of books. A study has found that the amount of books in a household is correlated with how many years of schooling the children in that household complete. Of course, correlation is not causation (it could be, for example, that people inclined to academic achievement for some other, immutable, reason are inclined to own books); however, another study found that giving low-income children 12 books of their own choice on the first day of summer vacation is successful in arresting the process by which they would otherwise fall behind their more privileged peers.
Of course, you don't have to buy a book to read it, but the act of giving someone a book of his or her own has an undeniable, totemic power. As much as we love libraries, there is something in possessing a book that's significantly different from borrowing it, especially for a child. You can write your name in it and keep it always. It transforms you into the kind of person who owns books, a member of the club, as well as part of a family that has them around the house. You're no longer just a visitor to the realm of the written word: You've got a passport.Meanwhile, another study has shown that the children of lesbian couples do better than average in schools.
Scifi author and blogger Charlie Stross has written a five-part series on how the publishing industry actually works: The structure of the publishing industry, how books are made from manuscripts, a dissection of a book contract (with digressions on the implications of clauses, and why it's in an author's interests to get an agent), the logistics and economics of territories and translations, an exposition of the economic forces responsible for books being the length they are, with speculation on possible future trends, and a piece on who comes up with book titles, blurbs and cover artwork (hint: it's not the author). As with all of Charlie's writing, it's keenly insightful and highly readable.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics, have a sequel coming out next week; titled, naturally, Superfreakonomics, it looks like the same winning blend of insights, economic detective stories and at times glib reductionism:
Thus in the new book we learn, for example, that more deaths are caused per mile, in America at least, from drunk walking than drunk driving – so when you drive to a party and get plastered, it's not necessarily a wise decision to leave the car and walk home. We discover that female emergency-room doctors are slightly better at keeping their patients alive than male ones, and that Hezbollah suicide bombers, far from being the poorest of the poor, with nothing to lose, tend to be wealthier and better-educated than the average Lebanese person. There's an artful takedown of the fashionable "locavore" movement: transportation, Levitt and Dubner argue, accounts for such a small part of food's carbon footprint that buying all-local can make matters worse, because small farms use energy less efficiently than big ones.
Their mission to explain the world through numbers alone can give Superfreakonomics an oddly detached feel: major social issues are addressed, then instantly reduced to a statistical parlour game. An interesting section on the transactions between pimps and prostitutes, for example, shows that working with a pimp confers great financial advantages: they're much more helpful to prostitutes than estate agents are to house-sellers, for a start. But it neglects to consider the notion that there might, just possibly, be some negative aspects to the pimp-prostitute relationship. (The authors, apparently aware that they have made it look as if selling sex is the business plan to beat all others, add a helpful clarification: "Certainly, prostitution isn't for every woman.")
The Seattle Stranger has an article by an independent bookseller about the battle against book thieves:
There's an underground economy of boosted books. These values are commonly understood and roundly agreed upon through word of mouth, and the values always seem to be true. Once, a scruffy, large man approached me, holding a folded-up piece of paper. "Do you have any Buck?" He paused and looked at the piece of paper. "Any books by Buckorsick?" I suspected that he meant Bukowski, but I played dumb, and asked to see the piece of paper he was holding. It was written in crisp handwriting that clearly didn't belong to him, and it read:
This is pretty much the authoritative top five, the New York Times best-seller list of stolen books. Its origins still mystify me. It might have belonged to an unscrupulous used bookseller who sent the homeless out, Fagin-like, to do his bidding, or it might have been another book thief helping a semi-illiterate friend identify the valuable merchandise.
- Charles Bukowski
- Jim Thompson
- Philip K. Dick
- William S. Burroughs
- Any Graphic Novel
Most used bookstores try to avoid buying unread-looking books from the list above, but they do always sell, and so any crook who figures out how to roll a spine can turn a profit pretty easily. The list of popular books is surprisingly static, although newer artists have earned their place in the pantheon with Hunter S. Thompson and the Beats: Palahniuk, Murakami, and Danielewski have become hugely popular antisellers in the last five years. I've had hundreds of dollars of graphic novels—Sandman, Preacher, The Dark Knight Returns—lifted from right under my nose all at once. Science fiction and fantasy are high in demand, too: The coin of the realm is now, and has always been, the fiction that young white men read, and self-satisfied young white men, the kind who love to stick it to the man, are the majority of book shoplifters.
(via Boing Boing)
Books I didn't know existed until now (an occasional series):The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats.
I just read Christopher Brookmyre's most recently published novel, A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil. It took me a while to get around to it, because I found his previous book, All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye, somewhat disappointing; it seemed almost as if someone replaced the wickedly dark satirist who wrote Quite Ugly One Morning and A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away (whom some have called the Bill Hicks of Scottish crime fiction) with a committee of Hollywood script-doctoring hacks; virtually all the bite was gone (with the exception of a few token bampots and numpties and a dash of rote Old Firm sectarianism), and replaced with a schmaltzy wish-fulfilment story. This was centre-of-goodness plotting at its most formulaic and uninspired. As such, I only picked this book up when it was half-price from Amazon and I needed to pad out an order.
I am pleased to report, then, that A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil is a return to form. The plot involves various people who went to school in the early 1980s in (you guessed it) greater Glasgow, and their lives in the present day; more specifically, one of them has apparently been murdered, and two others look like the suspects. The characters' school days, in all their petty viciousness, brutality and moments of levity, are fleshed out quite realistically (one can empathise with the children in their schoolyard conflicts as much as with their grown-up selves), and the way the characters grow, gaining perspective and no small amount of regret. Needless to say, dark secrets are revealed and some people turn out to not be what they initially seem, in various ways. And Brookmyre, perhaps acknowledging the shortcomings of his previous book, sets up an obvious wish-fulfilment plot line, and then proceeds to swerve well wide of it.
I have just read Hallgrímur Helgason's 101 Reykjavík, of which I found a copy (in English) recently. This novel is probably best known for having been adapted into a film (one of the best-known Icelandic films of recent years in the English-speaking world, partly undoubtedly due to Damon Albarn having done part of the score).
101 Reykjavík is the story of Hlynur, a thirtysomething slacker who lives with his exceedingly indulgent mother in the central postal district the title is taken from. However, beyond that, the book and the film are quite different; the film is much lighter, fluffier, more stylised and cooler, almost like a tourist ad for hip young people, whereas the book goes into darker territory; where the movie is Human Traffic, the book is Trainspotting.
The movie Hlynur is a lovable hipster doofus, a comical flightless bird, an adorably bumbling geek-chic Everyman plucked out of a Jarvis Cocker impersonation contest at Kaffibarinn. The book's Hlynur, however, is a much darker figure; a pathetic, sociopathic nihilist, destructive and self-destructive. In both, he ends up possibly fathering his mother's lesbian lover Lolla's child, and angsting considerably about it and his relationship to the lover and the child. In the book, he does a number of un-cuddly things like sexually molesting the mother of a girl he picked up, stealing one of his sister's birth control pills (and causing her to fall pregnant), and deliberately attempting to contract AIDS in a fit of self-pity, in between the numerous somewhat unflattering observations in his narration. The narrative voice of the book goes into long, poetic monologues (perhaps this is typical of Icelandic literature?) expounding jaded views of the human condition and contemporary Icelandic society, and (with one exception) betraying no empathy with any person other than the narrator. The Hlynur in the book is not a likeable or sympathetic character.
The book also doesn't have the redemptory ending of the movie; the tragic narrator of the novel does not magically find his feet, experience personal growth and come out a better person like the once cynical hero of an American romantic comedy, but continues much as he has ever done. A number of other elements (Hlynur's Hungarian penpal, a trip to Amsterdam and Paris, and the whacked-out barfly mystic who follows the teachings of white limousine-riding guru "Waldorf") were inevitably cut along the way from book to movie. And, in case you were wondering, making Lolla Spanish (so that she could be played by Victoria Abril) was the filmmaker's invention.
The book is interesting, though those who have been to Reykjavík, or are familiar with Icelandic society, would probably get the most out of it. (If a trip to Iceland is out of the question, at least read The Xenophobe's Guide to the Icelanders).
A few days ago, I was at Fopp near Covent Garden, where I found an interesting-looking book titled Lost Cosmonaut, by one Daniel Kalder. I picked up this book, along with a handful of others, and over the next few days, read it, finding it fascinating.
Lost Cosmonaut is a travelogue around various far-flung parts of Russia, with a difference. For one, in the spirit of what he calls "anti-tourism", the author eschews the exotic, beautiful or spectacular, instead seeking out the mundane, boring and depressing. The book starts with an anti-tourist manifesto, titled the "Shymkent Declarations", declaring the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China and Pyramids of Egypt to be "as banal as the face of a Cornflakes packet", and that the true unknown frontiers lie in the "wastelands, black holes and grim urban blackspots" of the world. The book itself follows in this vein, as the author (a somewhat sardonic Scotsman) visits four parts of Russia's ethnic republics where no tourists normally go, and describes them and the people with great wit and some embellishment. At times it verges on a sort of Borat-esque poverty porn, finding humour in the grimness of it all (and one of the people he talks to, an Udmurtian actress, actually accuses him of this), though the book transcends this, casting a more philosophical eye at the world: in many places, Kalder speculates on the myriad of small secrets in the various distant corners of the world, the minor triumphs and lesser geniuses whose works will be lost to obscurity, the languages and cultures dying out and falling out of living memory, and comes close to funding a sense of wonder in the mundane and bleak. Such flights are usually followed by wry illustrations of the general shittiness of the particular place he is currently visiting.
In the book, he visits four places, all of which are technically within the European part of Russia, though are, to varying extents, culturally alien to most Westerners' idea of Europe (glass buildings and Ikea furniture, as he puts it). He visits Kazan, once the glorious capital of the Tatars, since destroyed several times over and now rebuilt as a typically grim Soviet provincial city (and at the end speculates that perhaps the original Kazan is better off razed, because that way it can never decline into a tawdry tourist cliché), the Kalmykian republic (which is run by an eccentric despot who is obsessed with chess, and quite possibly murderously corrupt), Mari El (centre of the mail-order bride industry, in whose forests an ancient pagan faith still flourishes, or at least several half-complete reconstructions of one do), and finally Udmurtia, whose population has been so thoroughly assimilated into Russia that nobody knows exactly what the indigenous culture was like.
UnSuggester is a book recommendation engine in reverse; enter a book you liked, and it'll give you a list of books you probably won't like. Apparently, fans of William Gibson's Neuromancer and Michael Moore's Stupid White Men would least want to read books on theology, the opposites of Marx & Engels' Communist Manifesto look like erotica novels, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is the least like an array of romance novels, Star Wars novelisations and theological texts, and the opposites of Design Patterns are mostly chick-lit, whereas The Little Prince finds itself to be the antithesis of thrillers and scifi novels. Meanwhile, people who read Illuminatus! are unlikely to read Freakonomics, and the opposite of The Da Vinci Code, with its simplistic structure and grand revelations, appears to be, naturally enough, French postmodernist philosophy.
Charlie Stross has posted a collection of Amazon reviews of classic books that miss the point spectacularly:
1984 by George Orwell:
Caitlyn from Atlanta, GA, wrote: "1984 is the worst book I have ever read. I would advise anyone who is thinking about reading this book to reconcider! George Orwell is not a bad writer, however, this book he does not do evry well on, as some of his others. Prehaps he was getting old and lost his touch. Animal Farm was okay, but 1984 was horrible. It took him forever, it seemed like, to get into the accual book. If someone were to take out all of the useless part of 1984, it would be half as long. Why would he wirte so much about nothing? I havent ever meet someone who could wirte such a boring book about the goverment. I have meet many people who have loved this book, but i dispised it. I am not at all intrested in the goverment. This may be part of the reason that I didnt like it. I would advise you not to read this book."
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:
R. Vanderhoof wrote: "I spent several weeks slogging through this book and found it to be very repetitive and tedious in the extreme. Keeping track of the family tree is a constant effort. At best, Marquez reveals an egalitarian attitude that seems to pervade the Americas south of the Rio Grande (no wonder those countries are in constant economic trouble). Marquez should study supply side economics as described by Milton Friedman, another Nobel Prize winner, in order to give his book better balance."
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
A reader wrote: "I found this book difficult to follow and hard to hold my interest. I am an English teacher so I don't think it's me. I was revved about the book and started it immediately unpon receipt. I didn't even finish it--which is something I can say about few books..."
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:
Son of Sammy wrote: "i just read this book. everybody like always talks about how great it is and everything. but i don't think so. like, it's been done before, right?? soooo cliched. omg."
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:It has been said that when the finger points at the moon, the idiot stares at the finger. There seems to be a lot of staring at fingers going on in the above book reviews.
M. Landis wrote: "This book was 600 pages written purly about a bunch of hicks from Oklahoma starving. Thanks, but no thanks."
BBC News has some excerpts from Richard Dawkins' new book, "The God Delusion":
When I interviewed for television the Reverend Michael Bray, a prominent American anti-abortion activist, I asked him why evangelical Christians were so obsessed with private sexual inclinations such as homosexuality, which didn't interfere with anybody else's life. His reply invoked something like self-defence. Innocent citizens are at risk of becoming collateral damage when God chooses to strike a town with a natural disaster because it houses sinners. In 2005, the fine city of New Orleans was catastrophically flooded in the aftermath of a hurricane, Katrina. The Reverend Pat Robertson, one of America's best-known televangelists and a former presidential candidate, was reported as blaming the hurricane on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans.* You'd think an omnipotent God would adopt a slightly more targeted approach to zapping sinners: a judicious heart attack, perhaps, rather than the wholesale destruction of an entire city just because it happened to be the domicile of one lesbian comedian.
As politicians and wowsers decry the evil, corrupting influence of video games, Tom Standage (author of The Victorian Internet) looks at the moral panics created by previous new technologies and media:
"The free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge. Parents take care to feed their children with wholesome diet; and yet how unconcerned about the provision for the mind, whether they are furnished with salutary food, or with trash, chaff, or poison?"
- Reverend Enos Hitchcock, Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family, 1790
"Many adults think that the crimes described in comic books are so far removed from the child's life that for children they are merely something imaginative or fantastic. But we have found this to be a great error. Comic books and life are connected. A bank robbery is easily translated into the rifling of a candy store. Delinquencies formerly restricted to adults are increasingly committed by young people and children ... All child drug addicts, and all children drawn into the narcotics traffic as messengers, with whom we have had contact, were inveterate comic-book readers This kind of thing is not good mental nourishment for children!"
- Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, 1954
"The effect of rock and roll on young people, is to turn them into devil worshippers; to stimulate self-expression through sex; to provoke lawlessness; impair nervous stability and destroy the sanctity of marriage. It is an evil influence on the youth of our country."
- Minister Albert Carter, 1956
(via Boing Boing)
Commuters in Stockholm will soon have access to library book dispensers on the city's subway:
The idea is that residents will be able to stick their library card into the 'bookomatic' and choose from up to 700 titles. It was inspired by a similar machine in Lidingö library, which, since its launch a year ago, has been happily loaning out around 500 books a month.Sweden already has the ubiquitous free commuter papers, full of wire news stories and lifestyle articles listing the latest fashions/gadgets/DVDs/holiday destinations; the book idea sounds like a more Scandinavian socialist take on the concept, less concerned with keeping the reader running hard on the hedonic treadmill and more with an idea of civilised communal amenity and supporting public culture. (Of course, it could well be that the books are sponsored and carry ads and/or product placement.)
Meanwhile, The Times' Caitlin Moran deconstructs the very idea of commuter reading material and its true purpose, from a characteristically English point of view:
Library book dispensers on trains are nothing to do with books. Sweden isn't, as a result of all this, going to become more literate, and start quoting bits of The Brothers Karamazov during trade meetings at the UN. No one actually reads when they commute. "Reading" s all about avoiding eye-contact with anyone in your carriage. You are, after all, travelling at 80mph, in a sealed pod, with a great many people — any one of whom could try to talk to you about secret codes in the Bible, or George Galloway.
As anyone who uses the London Underground will confirm, the Evening Standard, circulation 350,000, isn't a newspaper at all. No one pays the slightest attention to the articles inside. It's merely a disposable, 40p screen that one erects for privacy between Goodge Street and Archway. But this screen is vital. Without it, the only option, on being approached by a nutter, is to pretend to have seen something fascinating out of the window — even though you are, at the time, in a 12-mile-long pitch-black tunnel under Camden Town. Halfway through such an exercise — maybe when staring intently at a brick all covered in black sticky fluff — one can start to wonder just who the nutter is here, after all.Moran then goes on to suggest, in Swiftean fashion, that this mass social avoidance is a wasted opportunity to discover the resources offered by one's fellow commuters:
For instance, we'd all love to have a wide selection of friends, spanning all ages, cultures, professions and sexual persuasions. Well — here they all are! Pressing into your back! Within these airless walls is a human Google — practically everything you could ever need in one lifetime. The number of a good plumber. The address of the best mojitos in Barcelona. A phenomenal one-night stand. Someone who knows Julie Elliman, with whom you lost contact in 1990. A guy you can pretend is your friend for the next ten years, sporadically tapping up for free legal advice. Someone who knows how to falsify a breathalyser test. A nun. If only we could all get talking, commuting would be transformed from a semi- unendurable hell into the biggest, most egalitarian networking mechanism known to man.Her modest proposal is to pump laughing gas into peak-hour Underground carriages, breaking down those awkward social barriers and getting everyone talking and having a great time. I'm not sure about laughing gas, though I imagine it may be an ideal test environment for aerosolised oxytocin.
This book looks potentially quite interesting:
It was Mr. Levitt who nailed a bunch of Chicago public-school teachers for artificially inflating their students' standardized test scores. I'm dying to tell you exactly how he did it, but I don't want to spoil any surprises. His account of the affair in "Freakonomics" reads like a detective novel.
The evidence is right there in front of you: Mr. Levitt actually reproduces all the answer sheets from two Chicago classrooms and challenges you to spot the cheater. Then he shows you how it's done. He points to suspicious patterns that you almost surely overlooked. Suspicious, yes, but not conclusive--maybe there is some legitimate explanation. Except that Mr. Levitt slowly piles pattern on pattern, ruling out one explanation after another until only the most insidious one remains. The resulting tour de force is so convincing that it eventually cost 12 Chicago schoolteachers their jobs.
Then it's on to another question, and another and another. Were lynchings, as their malevolent perpetrators hoped, an effective way to keep Southern blacks "in their place"? Do real-estate agents really represent their clients' interests? Why do so many drug dealers live with their mothers? Which parenting strategies work and which don't? Does a good first name contribute to success in life?
Back in 1999, Mr. Levitt was trying to figure out why crime rates had fallen so dramatically in the previous decade. He was struck by the fact that crime began falling nationwide just 18 years after the Supreme Court effectively legalized abortion. He was struck harder by the fact that in five states crime began falling three years earlier than it did everywhere else. These were exactly the five states that had legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade.
Mind Hacks, the new O'Reilly book of cool tricks and experiments in applied neurology, is out now; the O'Reilly page includes some sample chapters in PDF format. If that's not enough, there is a Mind Hacks blog, constantly publishing new material on similar topics.
This book looks interesting. (via bOING bOING)
Looks like there's a new Christopher Brookmyre novel out; titled Be My Enemy, which apparently brings back incisive social satire, buckets of blood and Jack Parlabane. Not sure whether it's out in Australia yet though. (via Charlie's Diary)
Also: Bampot Central, a short story published on Brookmyre's website.
Today I picked up Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet by Patrick Neate. It's pretty interesting, exploring how the phenomenon of hip-hop has spread across the world and how it has mutated and interacted in contact with other cultures (and with corporate money). A quote which struck me from page 11:
Maybe it's memories of Biggie and Pac because, in spite of myself, I find my thoughts wandering over news footage from Columbine High School after the infamous 'massacre' in 1999. On the slideshow of my mind's eye, my attention is grabbed not by the images of the two gunmen, nor by stereotypes of the 'trenchcoat mafia', but by the snapshots of their fellow students. Whatever alienation motivated the killers to attack the mainstream, there's one association I can't excape. The mainstream was wearing Hilfiger. And listening to hip hop, I'm sure. All this from Herc's first breakbeat.
I'm up to the third chapter so far, and it's a pretty interesting book.
I recently picked up a book titled Jennifer Government, by a local author named Max Barry, after seeing it mentioned on bOING bOING. It's ostensibly a satire of globalisation, in which the world has become corporate-America-as-seen-from-Australia (complete with everyone speaking with Californian accents), everything is privatised, and the government's only remaining role is to prevent crime (for those who can pay the bills, anyway). Which sounds like an interesting premise; pity that the book didn't make the most of it.
The book is let down by a lack of psychological realism. Had the author populated the universe with plausibly rendered people, rather than cartoonish stereotypes, these premises could have been a very good springboard for an exploration of the human condition in the age of corporate hegemony, of extrapolating globalisation to its dystopian conclusion and exploring the myriad consequences of the way things are going. However, Jennifer Government has all the psychological realism of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Characters have next to no inner life, and are guided by the most one-dimensional motivations (greed, for example, or parental responsibility; all these things one can assign a short name to and employ by the book).
IMHO, a better treatment of the same idea is K.W. Jeter's Noir. Curiously enough, while Jeter's premises (the dead being reanimated to work off their debts) are more outlandish than Barry's (people's surnames being changed to their corporate employers' names), Noir requires less suspension of disbelief, because the scenarios and events therein have plausible psychological motivations, as opposed to happening by fiat of the author.
Not that Jennifer Government isn't entertaining, in a throwaway sort of way, just that it takes an interesting idea and squanders it, using it as little more than a McGuffin and/or a comedic prop. An amusing thriller it may be, though it falls short of being the sort of speculative fiction I expected.
I just finished reading Iain Banks' The Crow Road. An excellent book; at once profoundly moving, wryly humorous and deeply philosophical, saying a great deal about the human condition. It's one of the best books I've read in recent memory.
Two books by Charles Fort (after whom the term "Fortean phenomena" was coined), Book of the Damned and New Lands, are now online, in HTML format. (Btw, anybody know whether there's a way to convert HTML to PalmReader documents with formatting?) (via New World Disorder)
Score! I recently managed to find a copy of Colin MacInnes' Absolute Beginners, for a pittance, in a certain bookshop in Northcote. (It was a mid-80s edition, with cover artwork that looks like a promo still from the supposedly dire film and day-glo lettering in DTP clip-art fonts, making it look more like a cheap romance novel than the cult classic it is acclaimed as.) I had been keeping an eye out for it since reading excerpts or references to it in various other books. So far, I'm enjoying it; it seems to capture the zeitgeist of London in the late 1950s, and the rise of what would become Modernism (and indeed the roots of much of youth culture since), quite vividly.
Once I'm finished with that, I'll probably go onto the PDB file of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
Researchers in Wales have found that the types of books you read affect your dreams. Adults who read fiction have stranger dreams than those who don't, and are more likely to remember them; meanwhile, fantasy readers have more nightmares and lucid dreams, while those who prefer fantasy novels have more emotionally intense dreams.
In Cuba, where the government aims to control every aspect of the flow of information, one needs special permission to borrow most books from libraries. As such, speakeasy libraries are the latest form of dissent, and seen as the latest threat to socialism:
"I can't just walk into a public library and ask for books on Afro-Cuban religion," said Luis Antonio Bonito Lara, a retired engineer and avid reader. "I can't even ask for copies of Granma from two years ago without special permission. It's enormously frustrating."
(Remember, this is the Another World that the people protesting outside the Nike store will tell you Is Possible.) (via Reenhead)
Killer applications for the web: A map of library cats residing in libraries and bookshops around the world. Well, so far, mostly in North America and Australia. Hmmm... wasn't there at one stage a cat in residence at PolyEster Books?
Meanwhile, while we're on the subject of prematurely dead cool people and the meaning of life, the universe and everything, there may be a sixth Hitchhikers Guide novel, to be titled The Salmon of Doubt, and assembled from files found on Douglas Adams' Macintosh. Assuming that they can put something together from all the motley files and edits. (via Slashdot)
Harry Potter wins the Hugo award? Whilst the Potter books aren't bad (they're certainly enjoyable), they're definitely not sci-fi. Though I suppose they could be lumped in as "genre" (a euphemism for "fanboy interest" or "spotty people in black trenchcoats and ponytails like this", or something like that). Which ties in with Graham's rant about the "sci-fi" shelves in bookshops being full of naff fantasy novels.
Though it's reassuring to see that Greg Egan won something. (link via Slashdot)
There's a review on Slashdot of Neil Gaiman's upcoming book American Gods, which does sound rather Gaimanesque. And whilst we're on Slashdot, their next interview is not with a Linux developer, nor a sci-fi legend, but with visionary philanthropist Alex Chiu. That's right, Alex "Eternal Life Foot Braces" Chiu.
Bad vibes/paranoia/rant: I've been reading K. W. Jeter's Noir recently. It's engrossing; sort of like early William Gibson meets Neal Stephenson, only much darker and more nihilistic. It's quite a good read, though by no means a comfortable one, as the corporate-ruled, monetised dystopia of the book is a little too close to the world we are moving towards, as wealth and power are increasingly concentrated with every multinational corporate merger, bought legislators sign away chunks of sovereignty to multinational treaties, aided by the fact that most people care more about the latest reality TV show than the more boring things happening around them. (Also, the rationales for making copyright violation a capital crime, presented in the book, are a small leap from the arguments of Microsoft and the RIAA. As for reanimating condemned convicts into eternally-suffering trophies: if George W. Bush's America had the technology, how else would they use it?) Sometimes it seems as if the age of liberal democracy (as flawed as it was) is slowly but inexorably coming to an end, to be replaced by a new global feudalism. And while a lot of the technology in the book may be far-fetched, the trends behind it are a bit too ominously familiar.
There is now a new French edition of the Codex Seraphinianus, that much sought-after classic which has been commanding second-hand prices typically reserved for old Roland drum machines. It will still cost you EU$217.24 (apparently US$250 or so), and you need to know some French to order it.
Yesterday I had occasion to be in PolyEster Books, and picked up a volume titled The Sharper Word: A Mod Anthology. This is a series of essays about the origins, evolution and decline of the original Mod subculture in the early 1960s. I've read most of it, and it has gotten me thinking about the memetics of subcultures, and the principles by which they evolve, recombine and mutate. (Mod is a very good example of memetics at work, having evolved out of a variety of different memes and favourable social conditions, and subsequently mutated into more virulent strains, the most recent of which being 90s britpop; it may also be argued that a lot of component memes of Mod ultimately found their ways into things such as the rave culture (possibly via Northern Soul).) Hmmm; I think there may be a PhD thesis in here somewhere...