Links I found interesting for 30-01-2015

summer

Thursday reading

books
Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro
I Don't Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson
β4

Last books finished
The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided The Battle Of Waterloo, by Brendan Simms
ψ3
The Blood of Azrael, by Scott Gray, Michael Collins, Adrian Salmon and David A. Roach
ω3
α4

Last week's audios
Welcome to Night Vale eps 58-60
Mistfall, by Andrew Smith

Next books
Het Achterhuis, by Anne Frank
Tree and Leaf, by J R R Tolkien

Books acquired in last week
Martial Power and Elizabethan Political Culture, by Rory Rapple

What is the best known book set in Scotland?

summer
See note on methodology

Thanks to all for a brilliant discussion of well-known books set in England. Now I am moving north...

Scotland is a case where the answers are somewhat confusing.

First off, I will ruthlessly ignore the seven Harry Potter novels, even though Hogwarts is supposedly in Scotland. Apologies to Scottish Potterfans, but I think that for most readers they would faile the test of "If you were asked to name five books set in Scotland, would any of the Harry Potter books have been one of them?"

The most popular book on GoodReads which is set in Scotland is also the second most popular on LibraryThing set in Scotland. It's also one I happen to know quite well. It's not a novel, nor a non-fiction work. It's set 450 years before it was written and bears very little resemblance to the historical events it supposedly describes. But it certainly passes the "think of a story set in Scotland" test. It is:

you've guessedCollapse )

However, more popular on LibraryThing, and almost as popular on GoodReads - and crucially, by far the most frequently tagged with the keyword "Scotland" on both systems - is a book that I, frankly, had not heard of:

the winner isCollapse )

Published in 1991, it is the first of a long and successful series of time-travel romance novels, which were adapted for television in 2014. I welcome views from you as to whether or not I should remedy my ignorance of this work which is so close in popularity to the other work named above.

Three classics of different genresCollapse ) are some way behind.

Links I found interesting for 28-01-2015

summer

What is the best known book set in England?

diplomacy
A note on methodology

I was very interested by this list of the most famous books set in each US state which I saw last week, to the extent of thinking about how I might measure the best known book set in neach European country. As ever in these matters, I have turned to my trusty friends LibraryThing and GoodReads, each of which allows users to record the books that they own and also to tag (LT) or shelve (GR) by key words such as setting. I did a quick response on Twitter using those figures for the four main divisions of the British Isles.

But in fact that only records how often people reading a particular book thoguht to tag it as set in a particular country. They may be wrong about its setting; the book itself may be have a universal appeal that transcends its location. With a little more effort, one can dig into the numbers and find which books that are (sometimes) tagged as being set in a particular country are also the most widely owned among users of both websites.

The results have been interesting. In more than half of all cases that I have looked at so far, LibraryThing and GoodReads users agree on a particular book that has Country X as a setting and is particularly well-known. In a couple of cases - three Shakespeare plays, to take a convenient example - the actual presentation of country X in the work is rather different from the reality; it's as if the author had never been there but just chose to write a story that was set there. In those cases I shall also strive to present an alternative book more firmly grounded in that country's setting than you might get if you were adapting an obscure sixteenth-century novella or historical chronicle for the stage.

I hope you will find the results interesting.

So, what is the best known book set in England?

I'm breaking the rules with my very first post, or course; in general I shall be running through Europe's sovereign states as they are in 2015, but for the UK I shall take each bit separately. (If you are lucky I'll get on to the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.)

The top seven books by popularity which have been tagged "England" by LibraryThing users and shelvedas "England" by GoodReads users are identical. They are:

You've probably guessedCollapse )

I have to say that although a lot of readers clearly consider these books to be very English, they are quite deliberately not set in any version of England that we know. The same criticism applies to the eighth book on both systems:

A classic work of science fictionCollapse )

Of course it is ostensibly set in England, but a future England from the writer's perspective that has not come to pass from the perspective of the reader thirty years after the book was set, and seventy after the book was written. If you were asked to name five books set in England, would this have been one of them?

The book most frequently tagged "England" on Librarything is the same as the book most frequently "shelved" as "England" on GoodReads, and it is ninth in popularity among those books on both systems after those identified above. It is:

Not very surprisingCollapse )

And this makes perfect sense. If we reframe the question slightly as "name the best known book that people in the wider English-speaking world think of as being set in England", it's obvious that this is a very good candidate and not surprising that the on-line catalogues bear that out.

And anyway, Hogwarts is in Scotland. Which is where we will go next.

Links I found interesting for 27-01-2015

summer

Links I found interesting for 26-01-2015

summer

Links I found interesting for 25-01-2015

summer

Links I found interesting for 24-01-2015

summer

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Links I found interesting for 23-01-2015

summer

Thursday Reading

books
Blogging has been a bit light around here of late - my priority is finishing the books submitted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and I'm now at the stage where, even if I decide in the first hundred pages of a particular novel that I'm not going to push it for the shortlist (let alone the top spot), I usually still want to know how the story ends - it's rare for a book to leave me so unmoved (or annoyed) that I can comfortably forego the resolution. I suspect this is going to lead to some late (or, rather, even later) reading nights as our internal deadlines approach.

Anyway, the tally of books that I am reading, have read, intend to read, and have acquired in the last week is reported below. (Some of the last category was acquired as a result of this event, especially the part of the discussion that starts around 58:48.)

Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
The Blood of Azrael, by Scott Gray, Michael Collins, Adrian Salmon and David A. Roach
ψ3

Last books finished
τ3
υ3
φ3
Oh No It Isn't!, by Paul Cornell
Een geschiedenis van België voor intelligente kinderen (en hun ouders), by Benno Barnard and Geert van Istendael
Getting the Buggers to Behave, by Sue Cowley
χ3
Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults, by Ambrose Bierce

Last week's audios
Welcome to Night Vale Eps 52-57, also 2 bonus episodes
An Ordinary Life, by Matt Fitton

Next books
Het Achterhuis, by Anne Frank
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro

Books acquired in last week
The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided The Battle Of Waterloo, by Brendan Simms
Sharpe's Waterloo, by Bernard Cornwell
The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal
Discipline or Corruption, by Constantin Stanislavsky, George Martin, Anna Darl, Karen Cooper, Susan Harris and Jennifer Harris
Rauf Denktaş: A Private Portrait, by Yvonne Çerkez

Georgian food in London tomorrow?

khinkali
Anyone fancy Georgian food in London tomorrow night? Thinking of the Iberia - http://iberiarestaurant.co.uk - on Csledonian Road.

Links I found interesting for 18-01-2015

summer

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Links I found interesting for 17-01-2015

summer

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Thursday reading

books
Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Een geschiedenis van België voor intelligente kinderen (en hun ouders), by Benno Barnard and Geert van Istendael
Getting the Buggers to Behave, by Sue Cowley
τ3

Last books finished
ο3
Turner's Taoisigh, by Martin Turner
π3
Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel
ρ3
σ3 - did not finish
Domino Effect, by David Bishop

Last week's audios
Welcome to Night Vale Eps 49B-51

Next books
Het Achterhuis, by Anne Frank
Oh No It Isn't!, by Paul Cornell

Books acquired in last week
Boerke Bijbel: Het Oude Testament, by Pieter de Poortere

Links I found interesting for 15-01-2015

summer

More on the inking of Edward Heath

1915
A kind friend with access to newspaper archives has supplied me with four more clippings, three from the Times and one from the Guardian, about the incident in which British Prime Minister Edward Heath was covered with ink on his arrival to sign Britain's treaty of accession to the European Communities.

clippingsCollapse )Mr Martin's reported remarks in January seem extremely disingenuous. Having equipped the two women with faked press passes, did he imagine that they were just going to pull the Prime Minister aside in Strasbourg or Brussels, for a quick and friendly chat about Covent Garden, as a result of which he would see the error of his ways? I can't quite see it; in fact, I bet he bought the ink as well.

Google doesn't bring me very far, but does at least take me to three published books.
  • Discipline or Corruption, mentioned by the Times columnist, is generally catalogued identifying Stanislavsky as the primary author (somewhat implausibly, given that he had been dead for three decades), and George Martin, Anna Darl, Karen Cooper, Susan Harris, and Jennifer Harris listed as contributors.
  • Anna Darl is also the author of a 1969 work published by the Institute for Personal Development, with the resounding title System of Personal Development: Activium [sic] for the Exercise of the Brain and Development of the Mind.
  • And in 1964, the Covent Garden Centre Ltd published a pamphlet with the title Covent Garden Centre: An Economic Project in the Public Interest.
One does get a sense of a small group of highly motivated people (or, if you like, a mini-cult) who were fixated on their plan for the redevelopment of Covent Garden as the vector for the future civilisational progress of humanity. Perhaps we should be glad that the ink-throwing incident was the height of their activism. (There is no evidence that I Challenged Ted Heath was ever published.)

I have ordered Discipline or Corruption, which sounds rather intriguing, and will report back. Thanks again to the person who supplied the clippings.

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Links I found interesting for 14-01-2015

summer
ni
I have no immediate plans to return to electoral politics (full disclosure: Cambridge City Council, 1990; North Belfast, 1996). However, I deal on a daily basis with people who are personally very much involved with elections, and occasionally they even ask my advice, so it was useful to return to basics with this handbook - not so much 101 different ways to win, as 101 steps that must be taken by a decently run election campaign, skewed very much to a particular part of the British environment (no massive campaign spending as in the USA, no compulsory voting as there is here; I also miss anything substantial on engaging with minority communities).

But a lot of it is of universal value, not just for election campaigns but for any public policy campaign, and I think the division into five main themes is sound: 1) getting a good message; 2) building a good team; 3) managing resources (money, time, and especially voter data); 4) communicating (leaflets, media, internet); 5) leadership. Some of the points transfer well beyond public affairs to any position of responsibility.

I think what struck me most was the early emphasis on message development. Back when I was a political neophyte in the early 1990s, this wasn't something we were told to worry about very much - the emphasis was on the mechanics of communicating with voters and hoping to get votes as the person best at doing that, and developing a local message beyond fixing the pot-holes looked a wee bit dodgy. But when I got involved with international democracy development in the mid-1990s, it became clear to me just how important message development is. This was (and is) a serious lacuna for all Northern Irish political parties: most of them are unable to give an elevator pitch statement as to why anyone should vote for them (see one recent example).

I commended this book to some Northern Irish activists the other day, and I commend it also not just to people who are themselves campaigning or thinking of campaigning, but anyone who is interested in how politics actually works in real life, as opposed to in the newspapers.

Links I found interesting for 13-01-2015

summer
buzz
Baxter is best known for his SF writing, but here he turns his hand to history of science, specifically James Hutton, the Scottish eighteenth-century intellectual who boldly stated that the earth must be much older than the date of 4004 BC given by Archbishop Ussher the previous century.

As an undergraduate at Cambridge, I did the first-year NatSci Geology course which included a field trip to the Isle of Arran, led by the up-and-coming Simon Conway Morris. (I can date it to the last week of March 1987, because I remember hearing the news that Patrick Troughton had died.) It was great fun, clambering over rocks in the daytime, drinking with fellow students in the evening, but it failed to make me into a geologist. (Where I really failed was on palæontology. I cannot tell different types of fossil apart. I have the same problem with types of car.)

On one particular day, I was with a group that did a long coastal walk to Lochranza at the northern end of the island, including not only the spectacular footprints of Arthropleura, the largest land invertebrate of all time, but also Hutton's Unconformity. Here, we were told, Hutton had identified the difference in dip (the angle of the strata) between the Precambrian and Carboniferous rocks, and had realised that a very long time - more than 200 million years by modern reckoning - would have been needed for the Cambrian rocks to be laid down, thrust up on their sides, and then eroded down to the point that the Carboniferous sediments would start to settle on them. We take it for granted now, but the time periods involved are pretty mind-boggling.

We were slightly misled, of course. Hutton's trip to Arran wasn't as decisive for his thinking as a subsequent trip to Jedburgh in the Borders, where the real Hutton's Unconformity is located. Baxter's book also makes clear that Hutton's struggle to get acceptance for his ideas of the true timescale of the history of the earth was in part due to his own inability to express himself clearly, and his lack of time due to his own economic commitments as a failing farmer.

Baxter is very good on the social environment of Hutton's world - the 1745 conflict (when Edinburgh fell to the Jacobites with hardly a shot fired, and loyalist forces were routed at nearby Prestonpans, before the humiliations of Derby and Culloden), and then the slow reconstruction of Scotland as a polity, particularly via the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where Hutton was close to David Hume and Adam Smith. Baxter also observes of the sexual politics of the time - Hutton had at least one illegitimate child, who was provided for but sent to London. I feel he misses a bit the economic impact of Hutton's work - Wikipedia has more about his work on the Forth and Cyde canal than Baxter does.

The whole is as usual in Baxter's calm and lucid style, and if the point is to establish Hutton as a real human being grappling with the Enlightenment as it played out in Scotland, rather than as a heroic scientist deliberately intending to change humanity's view of the age of our planet, he has succeeded.

Links I found interesting for 12-01-2015

summer
asquith
b050525au
The new President of Croatia (left) and me (right) at a conference in Sweden in 2005.

The Grass is Singing, by Doris May Lessing

manga-me
A short but rather depressing book by Nobel laureate Lessing, about a disastrous marriage between two white colonists in the future Zimbabwe; a vivid pair of psychological portraits, though the motivation for the crime that starts and ends the book seemed a bit obscure to me and rather played into rather than against racist stereotypes.
earthsea
A fantasy take on the worlds of Jane Austen and the Brontes, which I have to admit has faded in my memory since I read it several weeks back. I remember finding the period language a bit off-key in places. It's a better idea than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anway.

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