Saturday, February 28, 2009

The addictive nature of Twitter

i started Twitter in earnest a couple of weeks ago - name is insidebooks on there as well - and am finding it addictive. The main reason is that not only does it provoke you to condense your thoughts but it is also more socialble and interactive than blogging.

As a result my attitude towards blogging is becoming more strained and that is something to keep an eye on. Micro blogging might be seen by some as a cop out, because of the 140 character limit. But in fact I am communicating more often and more widely on that medium.

Still for the foreseable future both this and Twitter will be kept going to offer a best (or worst) of both worlds.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Human Factor - post II

There are lots of references to James Bond and although the point is made that in real life spying is nowhere near as glamorous or interesting the threat of death is real.

The two men believed to have the makings of a double agent are Castle and his colleague and it is Davis that the authorities make their target. He has the tip-off from Castle that a leak has probably happened and they are trying to turn the pressure up but he seems to take it all as a joke.

In parallel the pressure is also being put on Castle, who constantly dreams of retirement, with the ghosts of his past in South Africa coming back to haunt him in his own home.

The upshot of it is that at the top of the tree those running the department have a complete disconnect with those they are in charge of giving rise to both humour and tragedy.

More Monday...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Human Factor - post I

Taking a slight break from 2666 between parts 2 and 3 and squeezing in something slightly easier on the eye and brain.

Graham Greene is always an interesting author not just because of his plot construction but also because he has an uncanny ability to dissect people and get to the heart of the matter (pardon the pun).

He is on form again with this story that mixes humour, great characterisation and an acutely observed world of secret agents and government bureaucrats.

The world of Maurice Castle is opened up with the 30-years in the job agent struggling to maintain an interest in his job following African affairs. He is on the brink of retirement and would quite happily slope off home to the wife he loves and the adopted son he has made his own.

But duty calls and when a new boss arrives and a leak in the department is identified the humdrum world of Castle and his colleagues looks like being severely disrupted.

More tomorrow…

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2666 - post II

Having taken the characters from the first part to a god forsaken town in Mexico the second part expands on one of the minor characters who lives there.

I use the expression minor because in the first part the Chilean philosophy professor Amalfitano is described in more detail. The academic is also plagued by dreams and starts hearing voices. Like the others he is also trapped not by his obsession with a reclusive author, but by his inability to leave somewhere he hates living in.

In one sense you see the second part a bit like a spoke on a bike wheel, adding more of the picture before it moves into the middle. Because in terms of story development it is hard to see where this is now going.

More when I have read the third part...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

2666 - post I

There is a dream like quality to this story with dreams being described, shared and things to fear.

Three critics of a long forgotten german author meet and become friends as they share their work and talk at conferences around the world. A spaniard, german and italian are then joined by a female from London. the first part of the book then develops around the idea of their relationship with the English woman having affairs with them all as well as their search for the reclusive author they all study.

At the start it is enough for them to share an interest in the author but then an obsession starts to grow that they should try to find him. There are warnings of what that might involve with the parallel case of a lost artist they discover and the dreams are also there to warn them off.

But the journey proves to be too tempting after an obscure sighting in Mexico but rather than find anything they risk losing themselves in a dreamlike state of stagnation.

More tomorrow...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Having the right attitude

When it comes to reading a large book or a series you need the right mental preparation. I am not sure that the right attitude has been taken with Roberto Bolano's 2666.

The problem is not made easier by the note at the start that reveals that this should have been five seperate books. This possibly might have been a better way of doing it or at least put those comments at the end. Maybe that is too much of an excuse but with the weight, the odd storyline and the reputation of brilliance I should have perhaps prepared better for the 2666 journey.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The dilemma of choice

There is always that moment of excitement when you finish one book and get ready to start another. My problem is that given a spare couple of minutes I will happily pick up something and as a result there are several books i have started to make in roads into but not yet really got stuck into:

2666 by Roberto Bolano

Headlong by Michael Frayn

Spring on the Oder by Kazakevich

Don Quixote by Cervantes

Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light by Ivan Klima

Might just number them 1 to 6 and roll the dice and start to get through them. Otherwise there is always the problem this list of half first chapters might be added to making it completely unmanageable.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Interrogation - post IV

With the story being told from the basis of notebooks it is clear a turning point has happened.

That change comes as a result of Adam's desperate Pershing of Michele and his demands for money. He lists the things he needs for a simple life but most depend on money. So he goes after it. but that brings the police, the owners of the house he is squatting in as well as an assualt charge against Michele.

After a break he reappears and launches into an impromptu speech that lands him in a mental home. Once there the interrogation begins.

Without giving the ending away it is possible to say that the reader is provoked onto considering just what is madness and whether it is possible to escape from the world by escaping into yourself.

A review will come soon...

Friday, February 20, 2009

The joy of reading aloud

I have to confess to being a bit of an inconsistent reader to my children but when I do get round to it the magic is in the air and almost touchable. I have just finished the first Famous Five book and by the end the kids were clapping hands, perched on the end of their beds and wide eyed as the story reached its conclusion.

I wish my commute was slightly shorter so I could build in reading as a core component of the evening routine but alas it is ad hoc and dependent on tiredness and the time I get back.

But if you have not read to your kids then start now and for those looking for some adventure and good old-fashioned high jinks then Enid Blyton deserves to be tried.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Interrogation - post III

There is a slight shift in the narrative with the story of Adam being told through hiS abandoned notebooks.

It probably helps to get some distance from Adam because he has become more and more miopic and a trouble to his girlfriend michele.

For the reader it also works using notebooks because it condenses down days worth of activity. before that he was following the dog round the town and brooding on a life of complete isolation.

You know that he is not going to be able to maintain this life for much longer.

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2666 - post I

This is such a mammoth book not just in terms of the actual word count but also the font and leading on the page make it a dense reading experience.

A collection of characters are introduced all with the interest and passion for studying a reclusive German author in common. The academics from Germany, Spain, Italy and England meet regularly at conferences and start to investigate the possibility of tracking down the man they have dedicated so much of their lives to studying.

In terms of style it is clearly determined to make the reader think and some of the terms used to describe the academic world of obtuse literary conferences is something that from the start you have to work to stick with.

But the hope is that a story perhaps more interesting than trying to track down a reclusive author will emerge with the quartet of main characters.

More when I finish section one...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Interrogation - post II

Having established that Adam is stuck in a house all alone and prone to odd behaviour it comes a little surprise he decides to build into his routine the chance to follow a dog.

He trots after the dog through the town and then returns to find a big white rat sitting near the billiard table. He destroys the rat with the two swapping personalities during the battle.

Although that sounds odd but simple those moments are accompanied by heavy description with not just the wind blowing through the reeds but the heat of the summer coming across in the words he chooses to put down on the page.

Adam is so anti-social that it is almost beyond him to try and figure out ways he could avoid people if he was ever evicted from the house he is squatting in. he even admits that he hasn’t got the ability to fill 24 hours a day of peace. That is his major problem living alone with that much time eventually becoming more and more strange.

More tomorrow…

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Interrogation - post I

This book is almost like watching a film stood right up next to the screen with the wider picture reduced to small details that end up being concentrated on by the main character Adam Pollo.

Pollo appears to have done a bunk from national service, he is French, and found a home on the coast that is deserted. He has moved in and leads a relatively lonely and quiet life. The result is that he becomes obsessional about things and when he does talk to other people the lack of exposure to normal conversation causes him to sound abrupt, rude and odd.

There is a girl friend of sorts but they play games, which seem to involve some sort of rape that it is not clear whether it is part of the game or if it happened. That relationship reminds you a bit of Les Enfants Terribles but the coastal beach setting has echoes of Camus’s Stranger.

But the less that Adam does the more uncomfortable it becomes to read. His introspection heightens and he starts to focus on things that most of us would not notice. That creates a growing sense of unease that this odd character will say and do the wrong thing and offend the general sensibilities of the local community.

Okay, so its only 50 odd pages in, but already this feels like it is going to be the sort of story that gnaws away at the imagination for quite some time to come.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Crabwalk - post IV

If this book was part of some sort of literature course then possibly it could provoke you to fill pages and pages commenting on the questions it raises.

But as this is a blog and written by someone of only moderate intelligence the response will not be quite as grand.

The main takeaway here is the fact that history, even a corrupted version of it, continues to influence future generations. Even when that history seems to be best left gathering dust – something connected with the Nazi era – it still has the power to capture the imagination and push people into extreme positions.

Is the son guilty because he tries to act out some historical based fantasy of killing a Jew to revenge the Nazi martyr he idolizes? Is the grandmother wrong for filling her grandson’s head with historical biased nonsense? Is the father guilty for never being there to address these issues until faster too late when he decides to put them down as some sort of writing exercise?

Or is there a larger finger being pointed here at the German state for failing to face up to its past and as a result allowing misinterpretations to take hold among amateur historians?

Of course the answer is a mixture of all of the above. The problem is that it is almost impossible to identify and sympathize with any of the characters. Even the murdered boy turns out to be a liar and a fantasist disowned by his parents. There are no rights in this story. Even those who played their parts at the time ended up fading from glory.

A challenging book and one that is attacking a wide number of targets, not least of all is the power of the internet to disseminate false information and spread racial hatred, but it is not that easy to read and as a result is a frustrating experience.

A review will follow shortly…

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Future of the Book - post II

This is starting to become challenging not just in terms of keeping up with the arguments but keeping track of the references, which are coming thick and fast.

Chapter 2: The Pragmatics of the new: Trithemius, McLuhan, Cassiodorus by James O’Donnell.

By looking at several critics of change the point is made that resistance to change is not a new phenomenon. Neither of course is trying to predict how the future will impact books and publishing.

If anything the prophets of doom (McLuhan) have turned out to have been wrong. Others (Trithemius) have been more concerned with protecting the status quo. But there is a questioning about the whole obsession with books.

“It is not strange that we take the spoken word, the most insubstantial of human creations, and try through textuality to freeze it forever; and again, try to give the frozen words of those who are dead and gone, or at least far absent, control over our own experience of the lived here and now?” pg 54

“Books are only secondary bearers of culture.” Pg 54 making the point that western civilisation is as much to be examined as its physical output.

Chapter 3: Material Matters: The past and futurology of the book by Paul Duguid

Technology often fails to deliver what it promises and so the question of leaping too quickly to sweeping generalisations about the future is difficult.

(This probably explains why so many publishers ignored the ebook threat for so long).

“Liberationalists hold, as another much-quoted aphorism has it, that ‘information wants to be free’ and that new technology is going to free it. The book, by contrast, appears never to have shaken off its restrictive medieval chains”. Pg 65

You have to understand the social and material complexity posed by books. Before technology can replace the book its 360 degree position in society has to be understood.

You cannot dismiss the past because if you do so it would be at the risk of losing heritage, learning and intelligence.

The book was the authority when it was read and produced in isolated rural environments but then became something to enjoy more casually as the gentry started to emerge in towns.

“In all then, I suggest it’s important to resist announcements of the death of the book or the more general insistence that the present has swept away the past or that new technologies have superseded the old. To refuse to accept such claims is not, however, to deny that we are living through important cultural; or technological changes.” Pg 72.

Books and information are interdependent and the idea of liberating information from the book is one that he challenges. He warns that it is easy to praise information and demonise the book.

Things then go off slightly with some stuff on hypertext with the argument that hypertext has existed for donkey's years in the form of footnotes and as a result those expecting some sort of reading revolution might well be dissapointed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Future of the Book - post I

This is one of those books that makes you realise that the moment between casual interest and something more dedicated has been crossed.

This is a weighty text book type collection of papers given at a conference looking into the future of the book. In some respects the immediate problem is the way they have dated with technology moving a great deal quicker than most of the contributors here expected.

But aside from that there are some interesting points that are worth drawing out from the different chapters.

Introduction by Geoffrey Nunberg

Some like to say we are at a crossroads of post modernism driven there by technology. As a result there is plenty of conjecture whether or not the book is going through its death throes.

There are some books that benefit from a swift move to digital – encyclopaedias, reference books and travel guides. As a result the role of the library changes.

With hypertext going beyond the book how does that work? How can the reader be guided?

Chapter one: Books in Time by Carla Hesse

The history of the book needs to be understood: The medium is not the mode.

A modern literary system emerges in the late 18th century and authors became entities that are similar to those today. But books were never the most prevalent form of printed matter.

“…books have never been the exclusive, or even the most prevalent form of printed matter, though they have been the most privileged and most protected.” Pg 23

Books have also been debunked before being cast as a repository of falsehoods according to Locke and it fixes knowledge and pins down authors in ways that are seen as a constraint according to Condorcet.

Technology is helping to remake the literary system with the question of authorship again something debated. There is a reinvention of the intellectual community.

“The introduction of these new technologies has radically destabilised and transformed the legal, economic, political and institutional infrastructure of modern knowledge exchange…”pg 29

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Giving the joy of reading

It has been my son's birthday today and for the first time there have been genuine squeals of excitement as he tore the wrapping off some books. I'm hoping it is a sign of a growing interest in books that will be with him for life.

The only downside is that as a result I have not had a chance to do any really constructive reading/thinking and this is probably all i will blog tonight.

Still aim to make up for it tomorrow...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Crabwalk - post III

Here is a question posed by Gunter Grass: Can those drowned on the losing side in a war be classed as victims?

Of course it is not as simple as that but one of the main aims of this book does seem to be to make you question your own attitude to who deserves pity and who is worthy of damnation.

On top of that conundrum there is the ongoing battle between the extreme right wing and those prepared to engage in a debate representing the Jewish side of that argument.

In the middle Grass describes a man trying to make sense of his own life by writing about his past. Instead his life continues to fall apart and the one constant in it, his mother, seems to be the cause of the majority of his problems.

Last chunk tomorrow…

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

book review - The Boy in Darkness

This book is described as being a stand alone off shoot to the Gormenghast trilogy with Mervyn Peake writing in his introduction that after suggestions he decided to put it out as a volume in its own right.

The problem is of course that unless you are familiar with the strange world of Gormenghast and the character of Titus Groan a great deal of the beginning of this story will mean very little. Titus starts off struggling to suppress his desire to rebel against the responsibilities that come with his position as the heir to the House of Groan.

As a result of his yearning for change he decides to act on his impulse and escape and head beyond the boundaries of his former existence and discover something new and encounter a world where he is no longer Titus Groan with all that comes with that surname.

He escapes while the festivities for his 14th birthday continue and after walking and stumbling through the landscape comes to a wide river he has never seen before. A boat lies by the bank with an island on the other side the tempting destination. But no sooner has he gone near the boat than the Peake imagination fires up and a pack of wild dogs joins him in the water and pushed the boat to its destination.

Once on the other side Titus collapses under the dual strain of hunger and tiredness and then when he wakes the real adventure begins.

Using a very Spartan collection of characters - a goat, hyena and a lamb – Titus is guided slowly through to a point where it becomes a question of life and death. On his way to meet the lamb he learns from overhearing the goat and the hyena that they were once men and that the lamb had the ability to pull out of them some sort of animal nature that allowed them to become the creatures that resemble animals but with some lingering human traits.

The lamb has watched all of his creations die away as he sits in the centre of an underground network of mines and the thought of fresh blood is something that forces him to slightly lose control. Lose it enough to allow Titus to sow the seeds of doubt in the goat and the hyena and then critically delaying his attack against the boy long enough to let Titus cleave his skull with a sword.

This is all made rather stranger by the positioning of this story, which ends with the dogs taking Titus back leaving two old men on the other side of the bank, as a tale suitable for children.

This is dark, not just the sense of the title but dark in its imagination. If I read this to my children there would be a lot of questions afterwards and then nightmares. This doesn't sit comfortably with the usual Famous Five stories. That is not to say it doesn't have its merit but really this doesn't quite work as a stand alone book.

This does need a background knowledge of the Gormenghast trilogy to work and certainly a child would not have that along with a fair proportion of the readership. The imagination is rich but perhaps this episode should have been squeezed into the trilogy rather than left to be scrutinised on its own merits in the way that printing it as a single volume forces you to do.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Burying the battle to improve reading

Watching Michael Rosen’s programme , which was shown on BBC 4 last night. The children’s laureate heads to Cardiff to try and revolutionise the attitude towards reading in a primary school.

I like Rosen, he clearly loves reading, writing and diving into a sea of words to bask in the joy of language. But why has this programme been buried on BBC 4 and not given the sort of prominence that Jamie Oliver’s campaign to get people eating better get?

Maybe it’s because Rosen isn’t some sort of cheeky cockney prone to swearing in large doses.

A very interesting programme and one that raises some big issues. The problem is that it does so in a calm and adult way when these days what people want is a ranting, swearing celebrity wandering through the streets of Rotherham offending as many people as possible.

Crabwalk - post II

As the battle between the father and son – moderate and Nazi - starts to come to the fore the narrator is sidelined. His ex-wife seems unconcerned by their son’s behaviour and the mother is proud that her grandson is defending her own views.

As a result the narrator turns up at memorials to the sunken ship, surfs the web to catch the latest propaganda put out by his son and then turns his hand towards his own research.

If this is a book that is partly making a veiled attack on the web and the power of the internet to disseminate not just racist propaganda but factually incorrect history then it is successful.

But in terms of it charting the personal journey the writer makes as he delves into his past and pulls on his material for a novel it is harder going. Although his story is taking shape sadly no one around him seems interested and as a result you sense he is writing for a selected audience of one.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Crabwalk - post I

This is a classic Grass story told at different levels all inter connected and all being slowly peeled back like an onion. When they collide you hit the centre.

A washed up journalist born in a war time disaster is pushed by his mother and some sort of creative writing teacher into putting down his experiences on paper. They focus on his arrival into the world which coincided with the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

His mother was on board the ship and the sinking, as a result of a Russian submarine torpedo, ended a vessel that had started life as a Strength Through Joy holiday ship.

The ship is sunk when it is carrying refugees, injured soldiers and the ships crew. That is one strand of the story telling the story of that night.

But there is also the historical context with the ship being named after the leading Nazi agitator in Switzerland who becomes a martyr after being shot at close range by a Jew determined to settle some scores for the abuse of his people in Germany. That story along with the added history of the Russian submarine captain is the second strand.

Then the third strand is the conflict between father and son after the narrator discovers that under the influence of his mother his son is spouting off pro-Nazi views about the ship.

The battle is being fought in cyberspace and there is a comment there from Grass about the contest online for the hearts and souls.

The book flits back and forth between the strands but they are all being peeled back and the sense of a showdown between the ships hull and the torpedo, father and son and truth and lies is always hovering over the narrative.

More tomorrow…

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Borrowed in droves but far from classics

The list of the top 100 books borro from British libraries has been published in amongst other papers and in the top 100 the oldest book was published in 2003.

Now by all means call me a literary snob but why nothing older? Sure there are some good books in the last few years but what about the classics? Does nobody read anything unless it’s endorsed by Punch & Judy?

Here is an idea for the book loving duo, why not set up a Classic literature books of the year list and spark some interest in some of the greats? That way more people might feel brave enough to venture down well trodden paths with well known rewards waiting for them.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and six other stories - post III

This has been a great collection of short stories and the final three leave you in awe of his talent as a writer and storyteller.

May Day
In particular this story, the longest in the collection, is weaved together with a number of different characters coming in contact each other at a ball. One is almost destitute and has lost pride, employment and almost all hope, another is a wealthy young man who has avoided the same mistakes and the final element is a former girlfriend of the first.

They meet and fail to help each other leaving the stricken destitute former Yale man to take the ultimate step.

What it tells you is that in the world of all night parties, champagne and hotels those without the necessary funds were finished and locked out of that world. Equally they had nothing to offer other social groups so they end up alienated and isolated.

For those looking in, in this case two soldiers, they might be invited into the ball to have a drink by a drunk but once things have sobered up they are firmly back on the other side of the class divide and reminded of it.

This reminds me in places of the Great Gatsby because the same vacuous existence is being played out here by characters that with one slip could so easily fall from their life of luxury.

Oh Russet Witch
A strange story that doesn’t really fall into place until the very end. A young man working in a bookstore falls in love from a distance with a woman he sees from his room. They speak three or four times over a span of 40 years and it is only at the end, when he is decrepit and in his 60s that he discovers who she is.

The opportunity to get involved with a dancer who lived life to the full only becomes a prospect he realises he missed out on after he is told her identity. The irony is of course that everyone around him knew, including his wife, and never once filled him in.

Morale of the story seems to be to wake up and not only grab life by the lapels but do some basic research if you get the chance to escape the mundane.

Crazy Sunday
An odd story that ends this collection with another reminder of the fragility of those at the pinnacle of power in the Jazz Age. A young screenwriter becomes embroiled in the lives of a director and his actress wife. The director has the odd combination of affairs but an amazingly strong steak of jealousy. He even starts to suspect the screenwriter of being a threat.

That causes him to consider missing the attendance of a ball game. While he is on his way (or is he?) the telegrams charting his progress start piling up to be concluded with one telling of his death in an air crash. The wife clings to the idea it is just part of his jealous games and the screenwriter leaves with the intention of returning perhaps when is can exploit the situation more.

It shows that even those who have it all are constantly scared of losing it and that fear is the cause of their own worst nightmares being realised. A shallow world.

A review will follow soon...

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and six other stories - post II

This collection continues to get slightly darker mixing a commentary of the upwardly mobile with some old fashioned curses.

The Cut-Glass Bowl

A woman who has been given a cut-glass bowl by a former lover because it describes her as being cold, see through and beautiful to look at starts to suffer ill fortune. The bowl is always involved and as her fortunes dip the curse seems to stretch to her family and they are maimed by the bowl and the news of their death via telegram is inevitably put in the bowl for safe keeping.

This is dark and the element of the supernatural slightly disturbing. Of course Benjamin Button is hardly based on fact but this is the darkest tale so far in this collection. Add some more macabre details about the house, heavy blood red curtains etc and some howling wind and it wouldn’t sit too uncomfortably in a Poe collection.

The Four Fists
A clever story about the way a man’s destiny was shaped by four punches in the face. Each time he over steps the mark he is thumped and each time it almost immediately brings him to his senses. As a result he become caring, compassionate and is able to empathise with others.

As the fists fly so the character improves. Not medicine I suspect that would benefit all of us.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and six other stories - post I

You end up reading this and come to the conclusion that if you can have a really strong idea it is possible to write about it s long as you do as brilliantly as Scott Fitzgerald.

The Strange Case of Benjamin Button

In one sense this is quite a straightforward story of a man who lives his life in reverse. Starting as a 70 plus and ending as a babe in arms he leads a live often clouded by frustration and rejection. He falls in love with a younger woman but as their ages move apart he leaves her and eventually he is back in the cot in his son’s home.

Fitzgerald skips whole decades of Benjamin’s life as he sticks to the main flash points of marriage, war, work and love. That obviously provides a great opportunity for script writers to fill the gaps for the likes of Brad Pitt but for the reader it keeps the story focused.

Rather than indulging the one idea until it loses its power by showing a life in selected highlights you never forget that Button is living backwards. At times he highlights the conflict between youth and adulthood as well as questions of discrimination because of age. One very powerful idea that he carries off brilliantly.

Head & Shoulders

Again another story where the title hints at the twist. A very clever but socially isolated academic is introduced to a chorus girl and he falls head over heels for her. They get married and describe their relationship as him being the head and her being the shoulders.

But down on their luck with her expecting he decides to try some trampoline stunts and becomes famous for his death defying jumps. She meanwhile writes a bestseller. Their roles are reversed and in the final scenes it becomes clear that jealousy and the resentment over failed ambitions could well be more powerful emotions than love.

Blowing my trumpet

I know this is both self promotional and a little bit sad (after all it’s taken two and half years) but I have finally hit the 50,000 hits milestone. Never going to challenge anyone serious online with those numbers but it makes me feel warm inside.

Thanks everyone for reading and hopefully you will stick with me in the future.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas - post III

The ending of this book is a shock because it is set up for a number of potential endings. The one that sis chosen is one of the most horrific once you have taken it in. But in a way it needs to be. Not just for the sake of getting the message home but because the book lacks that little bit have pace.

It seems to plod along with you always wanting the gears to change. When they finally do it is with just a few pages left. The only negative about this book is that question of pace. Things come to a head only at the very end and the comments I had from other readers has always been about the pace.

Some found the gap filling style also annoying but that didn’t bother me. In some ways this was a holocaust take with a twist and although the twist does start to get stretched the story is one that is so important to stick with that you do go to the end.

A review will follow soon…

Charing Cross road

There are a couple of slides and videos on The Guardian about the state of Charing Cross road in London, the street for booksellers and book buyers. With the move of Murder One the state of the street is up for debate.

I have always thought that if anything was going to turn the screw on the existing second hand specialists apart from the obvious rent rises it would be the internet.

The days of browsing in a bookshop on a weekend or lunch hour are becoming increasingly rare sadly and now that shelf surfing is done online. Add to that the fact most of these booksellers are using things like Abe Books themselves and it explains why Murder One is going to try and crank up its business virtually.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

book review - Print is Dead

There is clearly one school of thought, and you can understand its magnetism, that looks at the iPod and argues the same is going to happen for books.

There are chapters in this book by Jeff Gomez that do just that and then add in examples of changing consumption and viewing habits with television and newspapers to back up the fundamental arguments that not only is change coming, but it is already here.

In that argument he is persuasive peeling back the behaviour of the digital generations and commenting on just how much data I sent and read across the internet. Unlike most of the other books on this subject, written before the internet became quite the force it is today, he is not looking to a future time when digital reading starts but acknowledging that it has started.

That then raises the next obvious question about whether or not the publishing industry has learnt anything from their musical counterparts. Are they ready to embrace change and update business models that have not been radically tinkered with since the introduction of the paperback?

Gomez is not so sure that they are. Most seem to have resisted making any moves quite happy to believe that the initial e-reader products have been failures and therefore so is the whole concept. But their audience has embraced change.

Also there are warnings for authors that fail to move with the times and understand that what they need to do is increase their interactivity. If they opt for the reclusive life then they may well end up with no visibility and as a result turn away a potential readership.

But all is not lost and Gomez believes that many will make the transition and the future of the book – if you view that to mean a collection of words rather than an object – remains strong.

In terms of adding to an existing canon of works on the subject Gomez is clearly the most up to date because this was only published last year and because of technology he is able to maintain a running dialogue on his web site.

Easy to read but there are some big things to digest here and not all of them will have you nodding in agreement. A book is different from a compact disc and parallels between the two can only go so far.

The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas - post II

The way the book is written there are gaps all over the place that you are expected to fill in. For some reason this reminds me a bit of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole but it has been years since I read that so I might be wrong.

Although the style is akin to the Mole Diary the content is nowhere near it as Bruno makes a friend across the other side of the wire and starts to get a slight understanding of the treatment that some of the Jews are being given by the Germans around them.

But he is still light years away from understanding everything around him and his innocence, often portrayed as arrogance in his replies to others, reveals his lack of knowledge.

In some respects he is a victim but of course nowhere near those on the other side of the wire and the purpose of telling the story through the eyes of a child is clearly not just to appeal to a younger readership but also to unfold the concentration camp world in a much more innocent and simple way.

Last chunk tomorrow…

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - post I

I was encouraged to pick this up by someone who had read it in one sitting with memories of a trip to Auschwitz still fresh in his mind. As my Jewish friend remarked “Although this is a book for children it is something that you can get through quickly but really hits you.”

So it was with a mixture of expectations I started this and from the very beginning it was heading in a direction that was clearly designed to make you think.

You follow the story of Bruno and his family being forced to leave Berlin and you assume they are Jewish but it turns out to be the exact opposite and with that trick delivered so brilliantly you are hooked. Of course the Enid Blyton type cliffhanger endings to each chapter help but this is designed to let the reader wander some way in front and guess the story but can you guess the ending? Not yet.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Boy in Darkness - post II

Although this is a story that doesn’t really go anywhere, nor adds a great deal to Gormenghast it will live long in the memory. It is one of those stories that acts as a perfect companion piece to the Gormenghast trilogy because you need that prior knowledge for the story to really work. Titus Groan is never really explained or is the setting of his location.

But understanding from the trilogy just how determined the teenager is to change his life it is no surprise that he encounters and survives the meeting with the lamb. With just the goat and hyena left of the many that have been transformed from men to beasts at the hand of the lamb Titus is clearly a candidate to join them.

But he resists and with the sweep of a sword ends not just a reign of terror but an entire finish to the kingdom of the mines. Titus then returns back to the castle with his determination for escape clearly not broken.

At the end of the book there is a page advertising more Children’s books from the same publisher. I would be frightened to read this to my children let alone encourage them to pick it up for themselves.

A review will follow soon…