Thursday Dec 31, 2009

Book Buying And Reading Statistics For 2009

My book buying habits over the last 2-3 years have been changing. I'm hardly buying any new books and have dramatically cut down on the number of books I've bought from second hand book stores. Mostly now I buy books from library book sales and for new releases, I'll read them through the local county library (which is excellent).

Here are my stats for 2009:

                            # books      $ Cost
Fiction:  New                  2          32.39
          Second-hand          1           4.36
          Library sales      103          76.50
          Free (gifts)        31            -
Total                        137         113.25

                            # books      $ Cost
Non-      New                  1          14.18
Fiction   Second-hand          0            -
          Library sales       23          41.00
          Free (gifts)         2            -
Total                         26          55.18

Grand Total                  163         168.43

The years book reading breaks down as follows:

Fiction novels                75
Non-Fiction books              6
Graphic novels                 5
SF & Fantasy magazines        35
Total                        116

New authors (for me) this year and ones I'd like to read again are:

  • Alice Sebold
  • David Drake
  • David Michell
  • Geoff Nicholson
  • Iris Murdoch
  • John Barth
  • Khaled Hosseini
  • Mark Helprin
  • Neal Asher
  • Patrick O'Brian
  • Penelope Lively
  • Peter Lefcourt
  • Roald Dahl
  • Sara Gruen

For 2010 I plan to finish some of those books I started and then put down (like Godel, Escher and Bach) and start some of those books I've been promising myself for years that I'd read (like Gravity's Rainbow).



Saturday Feb 21, 2009

Another Book Meme

Geoff mentioned on his blog about another book meme, this one originating from the BBC. Nobody has tagged me, but I thought I'd give it a go.

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. It's a weird ecclectic list.

1) Look at the list and put an ‘X’ after those you have read ENTIRELY
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (\*) those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total at the bottom. 

For me, '+' will mean that I not only intend to read the book, I actually already have a copy of it. I'm also going to add another entry: '-' will mean that I HATED it.

  1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen X
  2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien X+
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling X+
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee X+
  6. The Bible
  7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell X+
  9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman \*
  10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller X+
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
  15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier \*
  16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien X
  17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
  18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger X+
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger X+
  20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell X
  22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald X
  23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams X+
  26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh X
  27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck \*
  29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll X+
  30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame X
  31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
  34. Emma - Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis X
  37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres \*
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden \*
  40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne X
  41. Animal Farm - George Orwell X+
  42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown X+
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving \*
  45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood X
  49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding X-
  50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel \*
  52. Dune - Frank Herbert X+
  53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley X+
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon X+
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck X
  62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov X
  63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold \*
  65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac \*
  67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie \*
  70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville X-
  71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson X+
  75. Ulysses - James Joyce
  76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal - Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray \*
  80. Possession - AS Byatt \*
  81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
  82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker X
  84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro X
  85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert X
  86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry \*
  87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Alborn
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X+
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad \*
  92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks X+
  94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole X-
  96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas \*
  98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare X
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

If I've counted correctly that's 35 that I've read and 15 (17 really as one is a three book series) that I own and want to read. I need to start working on that. So many books, so little time.

Some people may ask why read a book if you are hating it. Well one of them (Moby Dick) was a class assignment. Why they force that kind of book done the throats of kids who are barely into their teens, I don't know. For others, I take the Magnus Magnusson (Mastermind) approach: "I've started so I'll finish". The undying hope that the book can only get better. It rarely does.



Monday Jan 05, 2009

Sir Terry Pratchett

And well deserved too.

'There are times when the phrase “Absolutely, totally, gobsmackingly, mindbogglingly amazed” just doesn’t cover it.'
'This means that fans, while not calling me Sir, must now refrain from throwing things. Regrettably, no sword is included in the box :)'

And for anybody who hasn't discovered his work yet, start with The Color of Magic and continue until you get to Nation.



Monday Sep 08, 2008

Amazon Reviewer Reliability

Over the weekend I finished the book I was reading and was looking around for something new to start. I have a copy I am Charlotte Simmons and as I liked Tom Wolfe's other two novels (The Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full), I thought I'd give his "latest" one a try.

So I went to Amazon to see how it reviewed. 3 and 1/2 stars after 598 customer reviewers. What was disappointing was that the top review only gave it one star. 361 of 596 people "found the review helpful", which I usually take to mean that they agreed with the reviewer.

When this sort of negative review happens for an author I like, I usually then go and look through the other reviews by that reviewer to see how they have reacted to something I've already read. I came across a review from Laurel962 for A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, and a book that I loved. This is a book that has 4 and 1/2 stars after 207 reviews. Again she gave it 1 star. 8 out of 38 people found it helpful. From reading the review, and I'm not convinced she got past the cover. Lines like:

"Obviously the many positive reviews here (which mostly sound as if written by one person, using different psuedonyms, and undoubtedly in the employ of Ms. Bujold's publicist ..."

make me sincerely doubt the reliability of anything she's reviewed.

At this point I decided to total up the number of stars that she gave for all of her reviews. There are 115 of them:

   5 stars - 6 books
   4 stars - 6 books
   3 stars - 6 books
   2 stars - 41 books
   1 stars - 56 books

Wow! 97 of 115 books have rated 1 or 2 stars according to Laurel962. Somebody should recommend something good for her, although I suspect she'd even give that a negative review. What's disturbing is that her helpfulness is rated at 50% (1,955 of 3,970 votes), which I personally think is rather inflated, and yet this isn't obvious to anyone reading her reviews unless you dig into it.

What I'd like to see is Amazon actually put the reviewers helpfulness percentage beside their reviews so it's clear how useful other people find this reviewer. Maybe even the total number of reviews they've done as well. These are probably simple things to do.

How about it Amazon?



Wednesday Aug 27, 2008

Four Book Lists Updated

I noticed that four of the book lists that I have near the top left corner of my main blog page, have acquired bit-rot. Most of the images of the book covers were no longer being found.

Now I don't know whether this is a result of Amazon changing their API's earlier this year, or the cache URL's are just no longer valid, but I thought I'd fix them up. Rather than taking the URL that Amazon supplies when you search for a particular ISBN programmatically, I'm now using the "standard" medium size image URL that seems to nicely work with most books at Amazon with a recent publication date.

The four lists are:

I'm one of those people that finds it easier to remember an unfamiliar book by its cover than its title. That doesn't always help as they seem to need to change the art-work for the same book with each new release. It did enable me to find a few of them at the Los Altos library book sale last Friday evening.

I also highly recommend the Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors. The list only gives the suggested book to start with for each of the authors, but the actual book goes much further than that with mini biographies and bibliographies plus various essays and digressions under a multitude of topics.



Thursday Jul 31, 2008

J K Rowling Working On Her Next Billion

I got "spammed" by Amazon today, telling me that there will be a new book by Rowling coming out in December, and that it was written to supplement the Harry Potter series.

It's titled The Tales of Beedle the Bard and comes in two flavors:

  • The Standard Edition. Looks like a regular hardcover. Okay, it is a regular hardcover. Something you child can safely read and not cause you conniptions every time they roughly turn the page.

  • The Collectors Editon. This is the special version, offered exclusively by Amazon, that you will keep in your book safe (you do have one of those don't you?), and where you put on the special gloves to gently turn the pages when reading it in your special climate controlled reading room.

And yes, like lemmings off a cliff, I'm sure we'll be ordering it (the common or garden variety), so the Amazon marketing machine is working just fine.



Wednesday Jun 11, 2008

Recently Read - 12th June 2008

Here's a list of the books I've recently read, with an Amazon-style star rating and a few comments.

  • The Best Man To Die - Ruth Rendell
    Another Chief Inspector Wexford novel. Not here best.

  • Fables of Aesop - Trans: S. A. Handford
    I never read these when I was a kid. I wish I had. Some good lessons to live by, though they got a tad repetitious near the end. Too many variations on a theme.

  • Florence of Arabia - Christopher Buckley
  • No Way To Treat A First Lady - Christopher Buckley
    One more to go, then I've read all of Buckley's novels so far. Great political satire. I particularly enjoyed No Way..., the "Trial of the Millenium":

    "There are few spectacles more pathetic than a roomful of otherwise responsible people trying to squirm out of a civic duty enshrined in Magna Carta as one of the signal boons of democracy. On the other hand, who in their right mind wants to serve on a jury?"

    One of the best aspects of his novels is the names he uses. Also lots of pot slots at Clinton, O.J. and numerous others.

Three more from the list:

  • The Street Lawyer - John Grisham
    My first Grisham novel. There was no doubt that it was a page-turner, but I don't think I'll be reading another of his for a while. There are too many other new authors I want to try first.

  • Story of my Life - Jay McInerney
    More white punks on dope. Very funny in places but it was hard to give a damn about any of the characters.

  • Moonraker - Ian Fleming
    The books are nothing like the films. The plots are simpler (and in this case dated - it was written in 1955). Bond gets hurt a lot more and doesn't always get the girl at the end. For this one, I actually watched the film (with Roger Moore) after I'd finished the book, just to see what, if anything, was the same. Virtually nothing. The villians name, and an oblique reference by M to having played bridge against Drax.

    The film does have that classic innuendo from Q at the end though, which partly makes up for the rest of it.

And finally four more books of famous plays:

  • Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - Tennessee Williams
    The original film version of this is superb.

  • After The Fall - Arthur Miller
    I've never seen it, but this play must have been a bitch to put on in a theater, in it's original form. Of course, you can always just totally change it.

  • The Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw
    The book also provides notes on the meaning of the more obscure words and phrases, plus a "what happens next" section.

    It looks like there's going to be a remake of My Fair Lady, the musical version of this play, and guess who is rumored to be wanting to play Eliza?

  • The Comedy of Neil Simon - Neil Simon
    Seven of his plays. I loved The Star-Spangled Girl. Laugh out loud funny. It was also good to read the original play of The Odd Couple (as opposed to the TV series), and confirm that it would be impossible for a slob and a neat-freak to continue living together in harmony.


Monday May 19, 2008

Rating Your Book Collection

Now that I've nicely got my book collection under tellico, I thought it would be interesting to see how well each book rated, and what were the ones that garnered the most stars and number of reviews on Amazon.

This Python script will read in my book collection data on standard input, extract out a list of ISBN's, and for each one will look up the average Amazon customer star rating and the number of reviews. It then sorts the data (by star rating and then by customer reviews) and prints out the results to standard output.

The script processed 2604 books. I have more books then that, but it had problems reading the ISBN numbers for some of them (see notes below). Of those 2604 books, the star ratings break down as follows:

    Number of stars  |  Number of books
       5             |        370
     4.5             |        644
       4             |        629
     3.5             |        241
       3             |        104
     2.5             |         14
       2             |         12
     1.5             |          2
       1             |          6
       0  (unrated)  |        582

Nice to know I haven't got too many low star rating books in my collection.

Here are the top ten entries with a 5 star rating:

      Title                       |   Number of reviews
'Lonesome Dove'                   |    374 
'The Complete Calvin and Hobbes'  |    305 
'Truman'                          |    271
'Boy's Life'                      |    254
'The Code Book'                   |    248 
'The Simpsons'                    |    210 
'Cosmos'                          |    150 
'Black Holes and Time Warps'      |     82 
'A Pattern Language'              |     76
'My Family and Other Animals'     |     72 

Here are the top ten entries with a 4.5 star rating:

      Title                       |   Number of reviews
'Harry Potter (Book 7)'           |   3102
'Ender's Game'                    |   2475
'Memoirs of a Geisha'             |   2462
'To Kill a Mockingbird'           |   1736
'The Golden Compass (Book 1)'     |   1435
'Animal Farm'                     |   1137
'A Prayer for Owen Meany'         |   1055 
'Dune'                            |   1024
'The Lord of the Rings'           |   1000
'Pride and Prejudice'             |    870

And here are the top ten entries with a 4.0 star rating:

      Title                                         | Number of reviews
'The Catcher in the Rye'                            |     2742
'The Time Traveler's Wife'                          |     1610
'Freakonomics'                                      |     1520
'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' |     1400
'The Poisonwood Bible'                              |     1395
'The Road'                                          |     1392
'Fahrenheit 451'                                    |     1242
'The World Is Flat'                                 |     1118
'The Great Gatsby'                                  |     1111
'Guns, Germs, and Steel'                            |     1045

Note that I've already read most of these. My tellico data doesn't (yet) differentiate between read and unread books.

For those interested in taking this script, and munging it to do something with similar book data, here are a few more details:

It uses PyAWS, a Python wrapper for the latest Amazon Web Service by Kun Xi, to get the average star rating and the number of reviews for each book. Thanks to Xun Xi for not only writing this, but also for helping me out with a problem on my script over the weekend.

Note that you will need to adjust:


to your own Amazon Access License key.

tellico allows me to export my book collection data in XML format. I wanted to extract out all the ISBN's. When I initially tried this with BeautifulSoup (BeautifulStoneSoup to be exact), it didn't like processing the XML file. Here's what I tried:

#!/usr/bin/env python

from BeautifulSoup import BeautifulStoneSoup
import sys

if __name__ == "__main__":
    xml = sys.stdin.readlines()
    soup = BeautifulStoneSoup(xml)

and here's the traceback I got:

$ python 
    soup = BeautifulStoneSoup(xml)
  File "/tmp/", line 1058, in __init__
  File "/tmp/", line 1082, in _feed
  File "/tmp/", line 1705, in __init__
    u = self._convertFrom(proposed_encoding)
  File "/tmp/", line 1735, in _convertFrom
TypeError: expected string or buffer

I'm not sure if it's a bug in tellico or in BeautifulStoneSoup.

In the end I decided to just roll my own getISBNs() routine, that looked for any lines in the tellico XML data that start with "<isbn>" (after stripping off leading and trailing white space), and then extracting out the ISBN number in between and adding it to a list.

Even then, there were lots of malformed ISBN numbers in the tellico data. I suspect they are all for books that pre-date when ISBN numbers were introduced, but it still seems wrong that this bad data is there.

I suspect I'm never going to read all the books I've got. There's always new good ones coming out and I'm discovering other already published ones that are good (especially when I find a new great author). I'm not quite at the point yet where I'm no longer buying green bananas, but with these rating results, I'll now know which books I should consider reading next. For a while, I'm going to focus on the ones that many others found enjoyable (i.e. the ones that are near the top of the list when you take the number of reviews and multiply it by the number of stars, or some other similar formula).




Monday May 12, 2008

Recently Read - 12th May 2008

Here's a list of the books I've recently read, with an Amazon-style star rating and a few comments.

  • Florentine Finish - Cornelius Hirschberg

    Won the Edgar for best first mystery in 1964

  • The Drowning Pool - Ross Macdonald

    The second Lew Archer novel from 1950. Another hard-boiled P.I. story.

  • Ripley's Curioddities - Ripley Publishing

    See a previous post on this one.

  • Shake Hands For Ever - Ruth Rendell
  • Speaker of Mandarin - Ruth Rendell
  • A Guilty Thing Surprised - Ruth Rendell

    Three more Inspector Wexford novels. I'm usually pretty good at following all the clues and having a fair idea who the villain is by the end of the book, but I totally missed the ending for Shake Hands For Ever.

  • The Atlantic Abomination - John Brunner
  • Entry To Elsewhen - John Brunner

    Two minor works by John Brunner.

  • Playback - Raymond Chandler
  • The High Window - Raymond Chandler

    Two more novels by Chandler. I just have one left to read now. Playback was his last (if you don't count Poodle Springs that Parker finished). Both Marlowe and Chandler were just going through the paces at the end. Weary. Burned out.

  • Dead Famous - Ben Elton

    "One house, ten contestants, thirty cameras, forty microphones, one murder...and no evidence."

    This was a real page-turner. I lost a lot of sleep on it. If you can get past the continual swearing and the too-hip language then you are going to love the classic murder mystery "you're probably wondering why I invited you all here" ending.

  • The Full Catastrophe - David Carkeet

    What happens when a linguist moved in with a married couple to help them with their troubled marriage. Very funny at times and unerringly accurate.

  • Rumpole of the Bailey - John Mortimer

    You've probably heard of the Six Degrees of Separation. Well there are only two degrees between me and this author. My step-mother's first husband taught art to the daughter of John Mortimer. How about that! Almost like family.

    I loved the old TV series with Leo McKern. Time to read the books as well.

  • Armageddon In Retrospect - Kurt Vonnegut

    I see the Vonnegut Estate has swung into action and released a thin expensive hardcover of some of Kurt Vonnegut's previously unpublished work. These are stories about war and peace and are mostly fiction.

  • Down And Out In The Year 2000 - Kim Stanley Robinson

    I find Robinson hard to read. There's no doubt he's an excellent writer (and some of the stories in this collection, like The Blind Geometer really show that), but because I struggle with him, I still haven't read his Mars trilogy. I was hoping that I could ease myself back into his style with this book. It didn't work. Red Mars has been shelved again.


Friday May 02, 2008

Children's Book Suggestions

In the evening my wife and I take turns reading to Duncan for 30 minutes each night just before he goes to bed. He's almost ten now. His preferred choice of reading material for us would be Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield if we let him choose, but instead we try to stick with chapter books.

We've had mixed success with this, so we are now going to try working off the list of Newbury Award winners and honor books (the honor books are the "o" indented ones for each year).

What I'm looking for are recommendations of books you think he might like. Either from this list or other junior page-turners. Not only for us to read to him, but for him to then continue reading on his own, because the story is exciting. To give you some idea of his reaction to three of the recently read books, he liked The Tale of Despereaux, really liked The Phantom Toll Booth and initially liked The Wrinkle in Time but didn't want us to finish it (it started to get "to scary").

Growing up in England about forty years ago, I had the Famous Five and Biggles books inflicted on me. It wasn't until I discovered the juvenille Clarke, Heinlein and Asimov books, that I really started wanting to read for myself. We are trying to find the modern day books that will make Duncan do the same thing.

Recommendations greatly appreciated.



Thursday Apr 10, 2008

Revised: Another Python Library Script

See a previous post for the background on this one.

As mentioned yesterday and the day before, pyamazon no longer works, so the script in this post had to be rewritten to use pyAWS.

Here's the new version of If you want to use this, you'll need to adjust the amazonAccessKey, amazonWishListIDs and libraryURL variables for your specific values.

That's all my Amazon Python scripts converted now. Onto other things (maybe even checking out BeautifulSoup).





Wednesday Apr 09, 2008

Revised: Be Informed When Used Amazon Books Are Available At Your Price

See a previous post for the background on this one.

pyamazon no longer works, so the scripts had to be rewritten to use pyAWS.

Here are the new versions of and If you want to use this, you'll need to adjust the amazonAccessKey, amazonWishListID and emailAddr variables for your specific values.




Tuesday Apr 08, 2008

Revised: Finding Out When Your Library Has New Books You Are Interested In

See a previous post for the background to this one.

As I previously suspected, all my simple Python scripts that used pyamazon, stopped working on April 1st.

Time to fix them. Gene Kim at Tripwire contacted me last week, and gave me some great pointers on how to use pyAWS, the replacement for pyamazon that Kun Xi is working on. Thank you!

Last Sunday, I sat down and started converting my old script. In short, I found a bug with pyAWS and reported it. Kun Xi has fixed it and given my permission to included the modified version of with this blog post. Thank you too! You should also check back to the pyAWS web site, to get the fix in the official 0.3 release coming soon.

Here's the new version of the script. If you want to use this, you'll need to adjust the amazonAccessKey, amazonWishListID, emailAddr and libraryURL variables for your specific values.

I note that it doesn't always seem to have an Author attribute for some of the book Item's that are returned after a specific ASIN search. I need to investigate this some more. For now I just catch the AttributeError and move on.

I'll hopefully soon post revised versions of the other Python Amazon scripts I've created.





Monday Mar 31, 2008

Ripley's Curioddities

This was a $5 buy in the remainder bargain area at the local Borders store in Sunnyvale a couple weeks ago.

It's a huge collection of interesting facts (some of them are indeed seriously weird). It contains extraordinary feats accomplished by many committed people (and in some cases, by people who should be committed). I initially bought it thinking in might be of interest to Duncan, but there are a few things in there that I reckon might give him nightmares so I ended up reading it myself and then pointed out all the safe ones I thought we would be interested in.

Running at over 500 pages, there is a lot of stuff here. Typically each double page has between 1-3 pictures and a short story to go with them. The rest of each page is filled up with other facts but with no pictures. I initially found this frustrating, but by googling around, it's possible in a lot of cases, to find images and a much more complete story, to go with the ones that really fascinated me.

Here's a sample of three; all related to blind people.

  • Russian Michail Lasjuv learned to read braille using his lips after losing his hands, vision and hearing during world war II.

  • Mike Newman of England became the fastest blind driver of a car in the world when his Jaguar XJR averaged 144.7 mph (232.8 km/h) over two runs at an abandoned airfield in 2003. The 42 year old bank official, who has been blind since he was eight, was guided via a radio link with his stepfather who was travelling in a vehicle four car lengths behind. [link]

  • British artist Gary Sargeant lost his sight -- but still manages to paint. He visits the scene of the picture and with the help of his wife, measures dimensions, either with his blind stick that is marked in finger-length notches and walking out distances between objects, or feeling textures by touch. By measuring and using masking tape, he builds up the canvas and then starts work. As the paint builds up he "reads" it, and from his many years of experience painting as a sighted person interprets what the picture should look like. [link]



Monday Mar 24, 2008

Recently Read - 24th March 2008

Here's a list of the books I've recently read, with an Amazon-style star rating and a few comments.

First a load more graphic novels:

And the rest.

  • The Goon Show Scripts - Spike Milligan
  • More Goon Show Scripts - Spike Milligan

    These two books have been sitting on my bookshelves unread for over 30 years. It was about time I read them.

    The Goon Show was a radio comedy program from the 1950's that was way ahead of its time. Checkout their web site for lots of goodies. If you've never heard of them before, spend 2-3 minutes watching listening to this clip. Don't look at it. Just imagine you were listening to it in front of the wireless radio over 50 years ago. It helps to know that the character of Eccles (played by Spike Milligan) is an idiot and Bluebottle (played by Peter Sellers) is another idiot (with a cardboard fetish).

    From there, (and assuming you find it funny), go to The Last Goon Show Of All - 1972 [1] [2] [3] [4] [5].

  • Bones Of The Moon - Jonathan Carroll
    An early Carroll novel and slightly disappointing. I guess he was still honing his writing skills.

  • Gideon's Fire - J. J. Marric
    J.J. Marric is really John Creasey. Won an Edgar for best novel in 1962.

  • Sleeping Dog - Dick Lochte
    This has to be one of the best mystery books I've read in a long time. Great plot, very funny and told alternatively by the two main characters in the first person. It doesn't hurt that it's set in California with a lot of places where I've been. As the Library Journal says:

    Lochte's novel snagged the Nero Wolfe Award and was nominated for an Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Award when it debuted in 1985. Not bad for a first novel.

  • Free Fall - Robert Crais
    The last of the Elvis Cole books that I hadn't read.

  • Looking For Rachel Wallace - Robert B. Parker
    If you haven't read any of Parker's Spenser novels, this is a great one to start with.

  • The Iceman Cometh - Eugene O'Neill
    Another classic play. At a 4-1/2 hour running time, I'd prefer to read this rather than watch it. If it's still too much, then there's always The Gasman Cometh by Flanders and Swann, superbly recreated in LEGO.

  • Absolution Gap - Alastair Reynolds
    This was a slog. I put it down many times, but kept coming back to it so I could get closure. I ended up reading it in short bursts. I loved the first two books in the series, but this one was a struggle. The ending is very disappointing too. It just fizzles out. Maybe Reynolds got fed up with it. I certain did.





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