Saturday, 19 December 2009

I’d forgotten how much I loved reading, back in those distant days before t’internets. I’m not getting on my PC much in the evening at the moment for a wide range of reasons. As well as ruining my Bejeweled Blitz record on Facebook, this has reconnected me to reading in a way I realise now I’d neglected for far too long.

I’m ploughing through the to be read pile (that’s not even up to date as LibraryThing is nigh impossible to use on an iPhone). Since finishing Mrs de Winter I’ve also read Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts just to see why her formula works, started The Writer’s Tale by RTD and Benjamin Cook, and got halfway through Mister Toppit by Charles Elton. That may not seem much, but compared to my previous reading rate, I’m flying.

Are friends electric?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

I did an interview the other week. Clearly, my geeky side is too well known as Julio asked me not merely about web 2.0 stuff but also about e-books.

E-books, read via the Kindle or other devices, are gaining some popularity in the States but haven’t really caught on over here. Aside from the lack of the actual hardware, I can see problems with the DRM, price per book, etc etc. But really, what I struggle to see is why a reader would trade the flexibility of a paperback book for the inflexibility and additional running costs of an e-book. So you can carry several hundred books around at the same time? You’ll still be screwed if there’s a power FAIL.

I spend 8+ hours a day looking at a screen, so I want a different experience if I then have a 3 hour train journey. An e-book reader emits light in order to create the words, the printed page absorbs it.

There’s a reason WHSmiths and the penguincubator set themselves up at stations, you know. After a long day at work, you want the soft magnolia page and the near-black print. And that’s as true now as it was in 1848 when Smiths opened their first branch in Euston station.

Ah, you might say, but what about portable music? You don’t cart around your vinyl Beatles LPs, do you? And you’ve been playing with your iPhone all week. I have, it’s true.

But music is a different sensual experience to reading. Music uses one sense only. If you’re like me, you might occassionally look out the train window and get a lovely audio-visual montage but primarily you’re just using your hearing. And the music itself drowns out the external noise. With reading, you’re not just using your eyes to take in the words. You can feel the type of paper beneath your fingers and you have to tune out the ambient noise. You can sometimes still smell the faintest suggestion of ink.

Giles: Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a, a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences… long forgotten. Books smell. Musty and, and, and, and rich.
The knowledge gained from a computer, is, uh, it… it has no, no texture, no, no context. It’s, it’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then, then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um… smelly.

If I think of a book, I often get an all-senses memory. The Also People makes me think of being on a local train into Waterloo, pausing to look out at the passing estates and marvel at what I’d just read. Crime and Punishment makes me think of waiting at a countryside station in Cheshire, after a friend’s wedding, with insects buzzing in the wavering heat and Raskolnikov buzzing with vodka and guilt. Pride and Prejudice evokes the English landing at Exeter College, where I sat in an orange plastic bucket chair with some friends and developed a crush on my very own Mr Wickham. My copy of Jamaica Inn is my mother’s, and has too many associations to recount. Music is the same, of course. I wrote as much the other day. But with music it is the song that evokes the memory, not the physical object. Picking up my iPod doesn’t bring back anything very much at all.

I struggle to see e-books delivering the same overall experience as books, at least unless/until they do something so revolutionary with the form of writing that they deliver something uniquely new.

This suspense is terrible: I do hope it will last

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Does it count as a spoiler if the text is over a century old?

When we went to see the current RSC production of Hamlet, the chap was reading the programme and suddenly muttered “spoiler alert”. I was surprised he didn’t know the end but it turned out he just didn’t know the details and the programme had given it away. Oddly enough, I don’t count the end of Shakespeare plays as something to keep secret. They’ve been around for a lot longer than, say, the Mousetrap (and does anyone not know the end of that these days?). When I was raving about the RSC production, I did keep some details of how they do certain scenes back as I know several friends who had yet to see it in its Stratford run or who have tickets for the London run and I didn’t want to spoil it for them. There are some bits of stagecraft that took my breath away – and I don’t just mean the very delicious sight of Tennant’s bare midriff.

Sorry, where was I?

Years ago, when the BBC ran their adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I was amused to watch newly converted fans rushing to buy the video in order to find out the end sooner (the video being released a few days before the airing of the final episode). I wanted to point out they could have got the book for a couple of quid. I also once resisted the urge to turn around in Rymans and tell someone how The Lord of the Rings ended to stop her wittering on about how she had to wait a year to see the ending. The book’s been around for fifty years: if it matters to you that much, go and read it.

On Thursday night, I used wikipedia to find out the end of Little Dorrit. I am so ashamed. I have spoilered myself because I was impatient to find out what happens between Arthur and Amy. And now I know, and wish that I didn’t because I won’t be held on the same tenterhooks for the rest of the adaptation. I briefly looked at the text on Project Gutenburg but, guilty, I popped into Waterstones on the way home on Friday and bought the book. The edition has an introduction which starts with the note “new readers are advised that this Introduction makes the details of the plot explicit”. So spoiler warnings now appear at the start of Penguin classic editions.

I am very annoyed with myself.


Tangent: I wonder what the second half of Hamlet was like on the night Tennant resigned from Who live on air during the interval? And the insanity of seeing a Doctor resign live on ITV1 via a link from the Royal Albert Hall (where there was wailing) and the stage door of the RSC (“I’ve got to go and kill Patrick Stewart”) made me wonder what world I am living in. I’m a fan, and I never expected things to become this big…


Monday, 18 August 2008

I have successfully reorganised my video shelves and sorted my infamous to be read pile.  That was a fun two hours spent dodging actual writing this weekend.

The to be read pile shed about four books, and gained a nifty new shelf for “you’ve started so you must finish” books. The shelf – current contents around 8 – was my very original to be read pile, which I think illustrates the ways in which living near an Oxfam Books branch* is hazardous to your reading lists. I always think, whilst weighing up a book under the watchful gaze of the young bloke who mans the shop on Saturday afternoons, “do I want to read this someday?”. Then “do I already have this on the pile?” (The Lovely Bones is the one that often causes confusion). Then I think “well, it’s only two quid and if I have got it, or I hate it, I can always donate it back and the charity gets four quid from the one book”.

Which is how I find myself with a large selection of contemporary “grumpy feminist” fiction (the Chap’s description, on noticing me piling up some Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson and Fay Weldon), and an entire unread subsection dedicated to Will Self. On Saturday I went in to buy some coffee and have a browse, and came out with three books, including The West End Horror which I suspect I already have.

*technically, an Oxfam Music but its books section is the best in the neighbourhood.

Say hello, wave goodbye…

Monday, 4 August 2008

So, here we are on a shiny new wordpress installation on my own domain. At last. The hard coding work and design decisions have been done, and now I just need to tidy up the back catalogue of writing. I’m being a bit random about it right now, and will have to set myself a time limit so I don’t spend the whole week on it instead of writing.

I’ve intergrated the reading blog, which tended to be forgotten and am making a swift pass through it. Far too many typos. My favourite post so far is the guilty pile from 2005, where I admit to feeling bad if I don’t finish a book. I also describe Cranford (then a gleam in a BBC producer’s eye) as

a mid-Victorian version of Desperate Housewives. Obviously, there is rather less sex with gardeners/plumbers/hookers and so far no one has murdered anyone…

Now for a late lunch and switching off the internet so I can focus on writing for the afternoon!

Don’t. Blink.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Stone Angel It is Stephen Moffat’s fault that I have taken to scouting out cemeteries when travelling. Or, indeed, when at home. Not directly, obviously. But someone on flickr started a group called Don’t Blink, with the remit that the photos had to be scary human sculptures. This is a fine flickr tradition: I already belong to Dalek!, Battersea Power Station[1] and Dalek Cakes and other (Doctor Who) monsters. That’s before we get onto the many, many London groups[2], or the many, stupid, cat groups[3]. Geeks, social networking and Doctor Who: truly, these things are made for each other.

The result of joining Don’t Blink is a new interest in wandering about graveyards, the spookier the better. I got told off by the chap for cheerfully nipping into my local churchyard at 2am in order to get a night shot of an angel which is never sufficiently spooky by day. Today, with a few hours spare, I decided the afternoon walk would be around Highgate East cememtery (official site / unofficial site), which was indeed wonderfully spooky even on a bright summer’s day with many other people wandering around. We’re now planning to go back for the tour of the West cemetery.

Despite this new urge, I may not have suggested the trip if I’d not recently read Falling Angels, by Tracy Chevalier. It’s the first of her novels I’ve read which does not include, in some way, a romantic love element, but it does revolve around the inner lives of women and is rather good. She plays with the use of voice very well, and creates a natural framework around the notion of death. It opens with the death of Queen Victoria, closes with the death of Edward and is centred upon two households in Dartmouth Park and their relationships with each other (symbolised in the closeness of their familial plots in Highgate cemetery). As with Girl With a Pearl Earring, it was a novel I had to finish. And, just like Girl with a Pearl…, I found myself rereading it within weeks. Recommended.

Over the last fortnight I have also read Wetworld, by floral shirt wearer Mark Michalowski. It has hand-holding otters and the tenth Doctor in spectacles.

[1] “There’s Battersea Power Station! But three of its chimneys are missing…” (Ian Chesterton, Dalek Invasion of Earth)

[2]Guess Where London, London Lettering, A London Beastiary, Finisterre (and Geoffrey Fletcher’s London) and London After Midnight to name a few.

[3] Cats in Bags/Boxes, Your Cat Nose, Somebody Else’s Cat and Solar Powered Cats are just a fraction of the cat fun to be had on flickr.

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