The sadness of books and libraries

A few interesting posts on various book-related blogs.

John Baker discusses a course one of his colleagues is offering on the saddest books ever. I’ve only read one on the list (the Graham Greene), and as John points out, it contains only books written originally in English, which cuts out quite a few contenders. Well, the atmosphere in our house when we all finished Harry Potter 5 was "black" for days and days. Even more so when we finished HP6. Not "sad" books by the definition here, perhaps, but very powerful ones. I found "Cold Mountain" a very sad book. I have cried at many a book in my life, but I don’t think "End of the Affair" (the Greene in the list) had that effect. Of Greene’s books, I love "The Human Factor", which I remember sobbing over.

The Good Library Blog has been on a roll, with a run of truly excellent posts (I weep on reading them, for other reasons than them being sad literature). First, how to manage a library service, as done in Bloggington-on-Sea and, in a sane world, would be used as a template for the library service throughout the UK. Second, can we please have books and proper opening hours, not rock bands, in libraries?  Third, an opinion I am so relieved to read as I have always agreed secretly, the Dewey decimal system should be abolished! Please can libraries use an indexing system that users can understand and has some relation to how the rest of the world works? The DD system might have worked fine in the card-index era, but surely we have moved on?  Fourth, in an very un-English like initiative, a library has risen from the ashes. Others can take encouragement from the example of Bradwell. Even more radical, why bother with library fines?

Will someone please give Mr Coates a medal? Although he has to deal with the likes of Mrs Dumpling, I know who my money is on to sort out the UK’s mismanaged library system. And when Mr Coates has sorted out the libraries, I hope he’ll stand for prime minister (any party is fine by me so long as it isn’t the nationalists or whatever they call themselves these days).

Daily sudoku 30 May

Daily killer sudoku: 30 May. Rating easy. Downloadable, non-interactive.

Daily online sudoku: 30? May.  Interactive. (At time of posting, still showing 29 May. But may be updated at any moment! Rating easy).

Post your times in the comments section.

Update >> Having downloaded the "30 May" killer linked here, I see it is a repeat of 29 May. Although the puzzle’s date has changed, the puzzle itself has not. The site may update during the day, so if you are going to download today’s puzzle and have already downloaded the 29 May edition, check first. I assume this is a bank holiday glitch, and will provide a status report tomorrow.

The struggle to write

I wrote a couple of posts earlier this month that I want to clarify, as I think my meaning was not as clear as it could have been.

First, Garrison Keillor wrote what I thought was an interesting article about the lot of writers not being as bad as all that — compared with having to spend 25 years in a dull, repetitive job, for example. Some writers found this point of view irritating.  "A writer", in the shape of one H. David Sapp, has hit back in an article in the Duluth News Tribune. This quote pretty much sums up Mr Sapp’s point of view (echoed by the people who commented on my earlier posting): "Of course it’s easy for a hack like him [Keillor]. He is spoiled by his fame and success. His fawning fans love everything he does, so why should he bother to strive for perfection? Writing was not so easy for great writers like Proust and Henry James, whom he dismisses. He is not worthy of sharpening their pencils. Great writers take pains with their prose and poetry because they are attempting to create immortal art, not disposable and facile entertainment. Good writing, let along great writing, is hard work, and not always a labor of love." (Thanks to Dave Lull for sending me the link to the Tribune article.)

Second, I posted a couple of times about rules for detective stories (1929 vintage) in light of Bibliophile’s thoughts on their relevance to the genre today. Some of the commenters to my posting said that their books did not or should not need to fit into "rules". I completely agree, and I did not mean to imply that all books should follow any particular rules.

The detective rules were created for the highly stylised, circumscribed "locked room" mystery or Agatha Christie-type of novel. They apply to a genre without literary pretension, which people who like plot-driven stories read for straightforward enjoyment. They are not intended to apply to any type of fiction that includes an element of detection or crime. At the time of writing the rules, detective stories were written that presented a mystery which was "solved" by a death being caused by an unknown poison that left no trace. Or the murder was done by someone who had not previously appeared in the book. Presentation of a conundrum as the main point of a story, then not solving it, is the kind of thing that lets the reader down after 200 pages of not much else apart from setting up the mystery. The rules were an early attempt to set out some basic principles for the genre, to maximise reader enjoyment.

J K Rowling’s novels are fresh, original, non-genre, commercially successful, and all the rest of it. I do not think she breaks the core rules. Her books are very tightly plotted (I am not commenting on how loosely some of them are written, but about the actual plots). Ends are not left hanging, or if they are, they are relevant to themes explored in a future book. Hints are given in earlier books that are developed subsequently (eg in book 1, Hagrid’s first appearance on Sirius’s motorbike or Harry’s ability to understand and speak to the snake in the visit to the zoo). Plots that thread through several books, eg the life of Tom Riddle, all hang together within the universe created by the author. The plotting is one of the many reasons why I completely and utterly adore JKR’s books (even though I can’t remember how to spell Patronus, as Debra Hamel pointed out).

I am not suggesting that all books should neatly resolve everything on the last page. Or that authors should be in any way constrained from writing whatever it is they want to write. All I was saying, and I think the same applies to Bibliophile although I can’t speak for her with any sure knowledge, is that if a book is presented as a "genre" detective, mystery or crime story, I enjoy it a lot more if it does not "cheat" the reader. I think most other people who like this kind of fiction would agree, because the best-selling (or most read) authors in the genre do, by and large, stick to the rules (with exceptions as previously noted).

Pastors, newspapers and soccer

Taking advantage of a day’s holiday from work (half-term), and of the girls being busy at the moment, I thought I’d mention a few articles or links to sites that have caught my interest over the past few weeks.

On a weblog called Not Your Typical Pastor’s Wife, Amy describes herself thus: "it’s a weird existence. There’s no way to be the wife of the pastor without being The Pastor’s Wife. I make myself feel more important by thinking it’s a lot like being The First Lady—like, if your husband is the President of the United States, the chances of you enjoying a quiet, uninterrupted, private life are virtually nil." But although without the perks, there are compensations. The blog is one of those that gives you a very good picture of the author and her life as you read her posts, and I like it. One of the quirky touches is the "debt check" feature on the main page:  "We’ve been paying off $25,047.93 since 1.1.06. Click here to check our progress!" Wonder whether to follow suit and post the amount of my mortgage, in the hope of raising donations?

A new group project is Nightcap Syndication, an open-source, online newspaper. You can submit any blog posting for publication. "Anything cogent, well argued, interesting, different. Short stories, humour (yes, you can tell from that u that we started in the UK) news, opinion, editorial style pieces, travel, cartoons, crosswords: all of the normal things you would find in a newspaper unconstrained by space. We expect pieces to have already been published elsewhere, probably on the writer’s own blog." NS does not pay for the articles it publishes, but syndicates them. It seems to have impressive functionality, and a reader ranking system. More details on the NS site — well worth checking out. Incidentally, the link earlier in the paragraph is to the NS "what we are about" page (written by the ubiquitous Tim Worstall, editor of 2005:Blogged). The Nightcap Syndication home page is linked here.

Finally for this post, I suppose a few people may have noticed that a football tournament is about to start.  According to Google Operating System, Google will show the results live. I cannot bear to check this out further, but the link is here for anyone interested in this primaeval sport.