Reading quiz

Quizzes are being used to encourage children to read. There are 67,000 schools in the world using the Accelerated Reader programme invented in 1986 by "an American mother". According to Cyril Taylor, chairman of a schools trust in the UK, 150,000 children a year are going into secondary schools (at age 11) unable to read. Now, 1500 schools in the UK have signed up to the programme "Renaissance Learning", which has a library of 8000 quizzes and writes 400 new ones a month.

I read a story about this in today’s Times and had a look at the Renaissance Learning site to see what these quizzes are like. Unfortunately, you can’t see any, you have to buy them. Also you can only see about 4 book titles (Including one called "When Mum Threw Out the Telly"). Disappointing, as I quite liked the idea of picking a few books and doing the quizzes (the Times article mentioned Harry Potter and Shakespeare), but not enough to buy the software (or whatever format they are in), sight unseen. Surely to get customers RL could have a sample quiz on their website?

Lost in translation again

Last month I wrote a post about a couple who did not like Thailand so booked a trip to Tenerife yet ended up in Tel Aviv.

Well, it has happened again. From today’s Times: "Jennifer Edwards, 24, arrived in Calcutta in the early hours to find that Thomas Cook had booked her a hotel room in Calicut, 1200 miles away in southern India."

Must make a note not to end up in Lincolnshire next time I try to go to Boston. Or perhaps a more accurate analogy, must check that I’m not going to Beijing next time I want to travel to Berlin.

Principles and apostrophes (corrected)*

Micro Persuasion: The Four P’s of Blog Marketing

Good post (as usual) by Steve Rubel:

"The Four P’s of Blog Marketing
Anyone who has spent any time around marketers has probably heard about the profession’s "Four P’s." These are the core elements of marketing – product, price, place and promotion. Well, the more I think about it, blog marketing needs its own version of the four P’s. How about these?
The Four P’s of Blog Marketing
Passionate – Write about issues that are near and dear to your heart
Purposeful – Make sure you keep the end in mind; why are you blogging?
Present – Keep an eye on what’s topical today
Positional – Take a stand on an issue and follow it."

Applies just as much to people who don’t want to (or don’t know how to) market their blog. It makes good sense whatever the "product".

Ps does not need an apostrophe*, though, as it is a plural not a possessive. But I’m an editor not a marketing person. I can get into whole debates about hyphens. and commas, in blogs, in the office, on my daughter’s homework and anywhere. Sad? Maybe not. Lynn Truss made a heap of money writing a book (Eats, Shoots, and Leaves) about, basically, greengrocers putting up signs saying "potatoe’s 50 p per pound". She must have instinctively applied the four Ps, and good luck to her. (Anyone into this kind of topic will love her couple of pages about subeditors removing and replacing each others’ commas.)

*Thank you to Dave Lull who has pointed out in a most thoughtful way that I spelt "apostrophe" wrong. Twice. (No excuse.) I have now corrected the spelling in the original post.

Irony squared

How ironic, after writing the previous post (and some others previously in similar vein) I have got my first nasty comment. Books, Inq. linked to my "Sunday Papers" posting, calling it a "review", and someone posted a comment saying what a crap review it was.

Well, it wasn’t a review, it was an ironic (that word again) comment on motivation for purchasing a newspaper — does it matter what is in it if they give away a good DVD? Acutally the answer must be "yes", because there was another mildly good DVD being given away in the "News of the World" which I saw next to the pile of Sunday Timeses, but I would not buy NotW even if they were giving away a Viggo Mortensen DVD and that’s saying something. (I’d go out and buy the DVD though!)

I find the nasty comment strangely hurtful, but why should I care? I know that I dislike the Sunday Times for its dishonest and cruel reporting on HIV in the 1980s. It is not a very "serious" newspaper, but nor is any daily newspaper in the UK except the FT (and that’s too stodgy for me). The UK media doesn’t have very high standards of accuracy, and tends to have it in for people on principle. (Glenda Slag in Private Eye summed it all up: a column starting "Don’t you just love….." followed immediately by a column "Don’t you just hate…." the same person.) This is tolerable, one just factors it in and doesn’t take it seriously. Apart from occasions when a baseless and dangerous campaign is run week-in-week-out, for no better reason than to gain notoriety (and sell papers), and certainly not in the pursuit of journalistic truth.

I still smart from the mean comment, though. I think it is because life is tough enough, and I have found blogging so far to be a civilised and amusing haven. Jenny Davidson posted a negative review the other day on Light Reading, she very sensitively did not mention the author or the book, but linked to it on Amazon instead. I agree with her sentiments.

More on the meaning of blogs

Grumpy Old Bookman: The impact of blogs

"Auntie: How do you fill up your time now that you’re retired?
Me: Well, I do quite a lot of writing. I run a thing called a blog, on the internet.
Auntie: Oh. And is that very remunerative?
Me: No. I’ve never earned a penny from it.
Auntie: Oh. Well in that case it doesn’t count."

Says it all, really. The post (linked to above) is pertinent: a few stats about how many people read blogs, and why on earth one would want to write one.

One thinks of the Internet as an unbelivably huge mass of information, which it is. Only two blogs (out of an Internet total of 27.2 million) get over 1 million readers a day (wonder which? The FT article discussed by GOB and linked to on Petrona 2 at the time of publication, presumably containing the info, is now behind a subscription wall) . The 1oooth most popular blog has under 600 readers a day.

But the amazing thing I have learned since starting blogging a mere 3 months ago is not the number of readers, but how quick and easy it is to target one’s blog readership to those on topics that interest you. In my case, incredibly "niche". But I have enjoyed so much in such a brief time from reading GOB, Books, Inq., Collected Miscellany, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Contemporary Nomad, Light Reading, Another 52 Books, Book of the Day, and quite a few others. (91 bloglines feeds currently: I had to delete the really manic sites like Delicious, coming in at 200 new items an hour).

"Prioritise and focus" takes on a new meaning in the blogging context. What an amazing combination, blogs and rss readers. How lucky we are to be living in such times, where wherever you live in the world you can so easily find just the very thing that you always wanted to read about did you but know it. And participate. And all for free.

Stroke of luck

mediabistro: GalleyCat

Sarah Weinman links to a profile of Mark Gimenez. I like the quote she provides on how Gimenez got his book published.

"Right place at the right time
This profile of debut legal thriller writer Mark Giminez is fairly straightforward, but one seemingly throwaway line probably bears the most repeating:
His agent didn’t offer the book to Doubleday at first because they have John Grisham. But, it turned out that Grisham was working on a non-fiction book.
"That was my stroke of luck," Gimenez said.
And with Grisham still working on said non-fiction book, Giminez can — in theory — be Doubleday’s legal thriller guy for a good long while. It’s a strategy his UK publisher, Time Warner, is employing, as the book will be published there with a sticker that says, "As good as Grisham." The brochure says, "With no new Grisham novel in 2006, this will be the undisputed legal thriller of the year."
As it happens, Giminez has recently changed agents, switching from Liv Blumer to Larry Kirshbaum (who’s now in the process of shopping the next book.)"

I’ve added "The Colour of Law" to my Amazon basket (destined not to stop groaning for long after yesterday’s purchase). It is not published in p/b in the UK yet, but sounds promising (even without the Grisham sticker!).

Waterstone’s tries to make friends

Grumpy Old Bookman: Waterstone’s tries to make friends

Michael Allen aka Grumpy Old Bookman, has an interesting post (link above) about Waterstone’s current "charm offensive" (so that’s what that article in the Times, mentioned in a post below, was all about).

In the post, Allen says that Waterstones and W H Smith operate their "book of the month" system via being paid by the publisher. I’m crushed. Naively, I believed that an independent person or panel chose these books.

I wonder if Amazon does the same thing for its "book of the week"? Every week, Amazon chooses three (or fewer) newly published hardbacks and offers them at half-price, for one week only. Is this paid-for or for real?

I don’t know. But I do know that Amazon often has a huge selection of new paperbacks for 3.99 (pounds) each. I have just bought a few. (Yes, yes, I looked at my basket and fell, I admit it.) I much prefer this to Waterstone’s and Borders’ "Three for two" offers, as the W/B system seems far more limited in the number of books to choose from. I am so often in the situation of finding two good books in the "3 for 2" category and failing to find a third, or finding a third that isn’t in the category. So I either don’t take advantage of the offer, or I throw in a third book that I don’t really want to make up the deal. Amazon, on the other hand, just sells loads of paperbacks at 3.99 which is just the same as "3 for 2", given that the standard price for a UK paperback is now 5.99 or 6.99 (more for larger format). Sadly we don’t have the much-admired (by me) US mass-market category over here. Except via Amazon of course.

What was in my today’s "Amazon bespoke 3 for 2" delivery? "The Field of Blood" by Denise Mina, "Grip" by David McKeowen and "Dead Simple" by Peter James. And "Let’s get Lost" by Sara Manning (for Cathy). But that’s 4 books not 3. The beauty of Amazon is that you don’t have to limit yourself to multiples of 3 to get the deal either.

Sunday papers, for once.

I bought a copy of the Sunday Times today for the first time in years, as they are offering a free DVD of a movie that is around 154 on my Amazon DVD rental list, Donnie Darko (director’s cut). All the trendy Time-Outers and other London cool people rave about this movie so I suppose I should see it, or at least Cathy may like it. (A few months ago in the Times, their media columnist opined that it is DVDs that sell papers now. Seems like he’s right.)

So I shelled out one pound sixty and got about 10 kilos of newspaper round the cardboard DVD sleeve. Malcolm read the sports pages so I guess it was not a total waste. I looked at one of the sections called "Culture", with large picture of Dolly Parton on front. (But remembering Jordan on Times book-review supplement the other week, suppressed irritation).

The culture section was predictably rubbish until near the end, after every other possible medium had been reviewed to death, there was quite a reasonable books section. Highlights for me were Brenda Maddox on a new biography of the scientist J C Bernal, a review of a life of Edward III (I usually enjoy reviews of history books without feeling much urge to read the books themselves), and an essay by Brian Appleyard on a Johnathan Glover book about ethics of genetic manipulation. Plenty more (and very varied) to choose from though, but with a more parochial perspective than the Times proper I feel. (The two are quite distinct newspapers.)

I don’t think I’ll be buying the Sunday Times again, though, unless they give away any more good DVDs. It isn’t that good a paper, and I still haven’t forgiven it for its wickedly irresponsible anti-HIV campaign of the 1980s, under the editorship of Andrew Neil.

Microsoft ads

Don’t you just hate those Microsoft ads? They are all over the Nature website, train stations, etc, and drive me to distraction.

To anyone on this planet who hasn’t seen them, they consist of people with dinosaurs’ heads going round making "IT 101" errors, the tagline telling us that with the new MS Office, this wouldn’t happen. Well, I should think not! The level I am talking about is an outbox facility for sending email, or an office intranet so you can find documents "for that vital meeting"….I ask you. The ads will be meaningless to anyone who doesn’t know enough IT to have heard of the features being advertised, most of which came in 10 years ago, or hilarious to everyone else who has long since moved on.

The dinosaur "joke" is on MS, methinks.

Grading books – Review of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea

I have been taking a look at the Brothers’ Judd website today, an excellent book-review website.

The brothers have grades of review, from A-plus to F. Below F, they have a "to be determined" category, a "toilet paper" category and one "F-minus" category, which is below everything else. As there is only one book in each of these sub-F categories I had to take a look — they are a hoot. The F-minus is Wide Sargasso Sea (on my daughter’s GCSE English reading list).

Here’s the review in full:

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (94)
Author Info:
Jean Rhys1890-1979
A prequel to Jane Eyre, it tells the story of how Rochester’s first wife went mad. This book sucked. I can not imagine how it made the Top 100. Maybe it’s just such a chick book that it’s inexplicable to men.
If you liked Wide Sargasso Sea, please leave this website.(Reviewed:)
Grade: (F-)

The "toilet paper" book review is pretty good too (a Susan Sontag book). And the TBD (to be determined) is a buisness book where the grading awaits whether the scheme outlined in said book actually works.

Go, brothers!

I have linked to some of the brothers’ reviews on Connotea Detective, now coming along nicely in terms of subcategories (tags), and even, I see, picked up by Timo Hannay, inventor of Connotea. (I know this becuase of following Chicken Yoghurt’s advice as discussed in my post "Blog stats for dummies" and setting up home-made blog tracking for Petrona, so I saw that he has linked to the area himself.)

I think I’m going to start a "Detective recommends" category on Connotea Detective too, inspired by the brothers.