All 5 entries tagged Literature

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April 30, 2009

2666 reasons to read 2666

2666Not really, that would take forever. Instead, here’s just five reasons to read Roberto Bolano’s book, 2666.

  1. It’s like The Wire. Endlessly complex, multiple sides to every story, characters that are rarely good or bad but usually a bit of both. It’s also in five parts, one of which is about the death of journalism.
  2. It’s not like The Wire. It’s tougher. If you thought the crime rate in Baltimore was bad, wait until you read Part Four of this book. It also makes less sense than The Wire, but if you’re prepared to read a 900-page book, that’s probably not going to bother you much.
  3. It’s unfinished. Roberto Bolano died before he completed the book, so any fault you might find in the book isn’t really his fault.
  4. You’ll struggle to find a critical review.
  5. In fifty years time, people might well ask you if you’ve read this book yet. You might as well get it out of the way while you’re young.

September 25, 2007

The Booker Prize con?

I’ve noticed that charity shops’ bookshelves are disproportionately littered with former winners and nominees of the Booker Prize.

Is this because people are conned into buying them and then realise they’re a bit too ‘wordy’ and convoluted?

Or maybe dead people like Booker Prize winners. They die, the possessions go to Oxfam.

I’d wonder if there’s an unusual amount of CDs being sold second-hand which were nominated for the Mercury Prize. How many Nitin Sawnhey albums have you got that you don’t want?


May 16, 2007

Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote - In Cold Blood Obsessive is the only way to describe Truman Capote’s study of what drives a murderer to kill. In Cold Blood, follows the story of Dick Hickock, Perry Smith, and the family of four that they murdered one night in Kansas.

It’s an incredible read. The pages read like a more convincing, more psychologically accurate version of a Patricia Cornwell novel. And there’s a reason for this feeling of realism. The events Capote describes were real.

Capote apparently decided to chase the story after reading a 300-word piece in the New York Times that started:

A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged … There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.

There was little more for Alvin Dewey, the detective sent to Holcomb, Kansas, or Capote to go on. The killers were only found because one had foolishly bragged to a fellow inmate that he intended to rob and kill the Clutter family.

Once the killers are identified, the book becomes a dissection of the relationship between the two killers, but also the relationship they had with their parents. Their plan is to escape to Mexico and search for gold. The first bit of the plan works well, the second less so. Their short cash reserves are quickly spent on prostitutes and only a dangerous return to the United States can resolve their financial difficulties.

What makes the book so incredible is the accounts that Capote manages to grasp from the key players in the story. Hickock and Smith seem to reveal every detail to him while they await execution, and even the hurt family members tell him quite personal details. All this becomes more surprising when you find that Capote infuriated the people of Holcomb, who detested the forensic examination of their already bruised community.

In Cold Blood is a brilliant book. Dripping with Capote’s obsessive streak, it becomes as much a book about the author as it does about the murder itself, but is no worse off for it.


January 21, 2007

Google's is the only model for digitising books

Have you ever tried converting vinyl or tapes to CD? Ever tried transferring video tapes to DVD? It’s a nightmare. Imagine doing this on an industrial scale. It would cost millions.

So I’m surprised whenever I hear opposition to the Google Books Library project. The project’s aim is to scan (mostly out-of-copyright) books and make them searchable online. So as if scanning the books wasn’t hard enough, you then have to use optical character recognition so the words can be ‘read’ by a computer.

It costs millions and takes decades.

But publishers are so upset by the plans they have set up their own ‘Open Content Alliance’ which is a not-for-profit organisation. They’re annoyed that Google might make a profit from the system by placing adverts alongside online books.

These publishers are probably worried that Google will eventually charge for content. In which case they don’t get Google’s business model. Google makes billions of dollars from its tailored advertising, which props up many of its not-for-profit businesses (like the consumer versions of Google Earth, Google Desktop, GMail). It’s unlikely that Book Search will ever directly make Google any money, let alone cover its costs.

Adverts alongside the books seems to me the least intrusive and most cost-effective way of getting these books online. The alternative is to hope for donations from big-money philanthropists, who may not have a huge interest in paying for the conversion of foreign-language or niche books.

Monopolies aren’t a good thing. But Google is leading the way in this technology, as with many others. And book publishers should get on board.


October 15, 2006

A Novel… in 90 seconds.

I’ve always fancied the idea of writing a book, just so long as I can take the credit without doing any of the work. So here’s my first – and probably last – novel, which I’ve condensed into a couple of hundred words to save you and me the bother of writing/reading it. Do let me know if I’ve inadvertantly stolen it from someone else.

Act 1
Man, aged about 30, living in London, 1997. Everything’s fine and rosy, but some things jar slightly. Traffic lights don’t look quite the same. People have mobile phone implants. You know, the usual. Reader suspects that this is some parallel version of 1997 (mammoth hints are dropped when Charles and Diana celebrate their anniversary together). Man gets himself into something he shouldn’t be in (walking in on some lame-ass drug deal or football bung). Reader is very sympathetic (following several chapters which have portrayed him as a thoroughly decent bloke who they’d quite like as a husband/son/father). Something-he-shouldn’t-be-in gets played out for 50-60 pages before he is summarily executed at the hands of some thoroughly unpleasant people. End of Act One.

Act 2
Man, aged about 30, living in Scarborough, 2032. Man has been playing an online-based ‘virtual life’ for the past three years and his death in the ‘game’ means he is booted out and returned to the real, offline world. Things have – you guessed it – changed significantly for the worse in those three years, with family members dying, North Korea finally having blown up the Eastern Hemisphere and climate change having progressed so quickly that it’s now on the downward-side of the curve, quickly approaching 57 degrees below zero. Majority of act chronicles his attempts to deal with this new world he inhabits. Act closes with him stealing someone else’s identity in order to be able to start again as a new player in his online game.

Act 3
Man, aged about 27, living in London, 1994. Said man finds that virtual world is unfortunately realistic and while he was happy in Act 1, his new life turns out to be thoroughly shite. Spends 20-30 pages pondering the fact that what life deals you is pretty much down to luck and realises that he has to choose between dying again (and going back to real world full of ‘real’ problems) or making the most of what his virtual self has. I’ve not quite decided which he should do yet.

Pile of toss, eh? Glad I didn’t waste a year turning it into a 500-page tome of crap.

P.S. If I turn out to have a rubbish sense of whether this is any good or not, I’m claiming full copyright on it. Don’t even try it!


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