Booklists, highlights and awards

Frank is back! He’s spent the past week either on vacation, or reading Charles Darwin’s complete works online (hope your screen’s a good one, Frank), or both. Welcome back, Frank.

Clare in her blog Keeper of the Snails writes so many interesting and varied posts that it is hard to highlight one. Here she discusses The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language by David Crystal. Clare’s aside in that post about whether one has a compulsion to blog or check email if getting out of bed in the middle of the night has been picked up and chewed over in entertaining fashion at the deblog, but as well as that, read the meat of Clare’s post, about how the electronic medium has changed the nature of communication. Blogs are likened by this linguist to a kind of neo-Chaucerism, as the language evolves quickly without the stabilising moderation of publisher or editor. Another linguistic benefit of the internet is that it helps to keep threatened languages alive. Great stuff.

Have you ever wondered what a Pundy House is? Bill Liversidge (fondly known as Liversausage) tells us why he has named his blog by this moniker here. Bill posts on his blog in spurts. I’m always delighted to read him when he’s on the roll of writing as he’s so poignantly funny — and the comment sections have their own parties. Here, for example, is his formula for the projected publication date of his novel.

Ichabod is Itchy highlights a beautiful site called LIFE: a journey through time — a collection of photographs of Earth since its beginnings. Apparently the site also has useful links to various natural history resources.

Robert Barnard has won the 2006 CWA short story award, reports Eurocrime. Barnard is an excellent, and under-rated, novelist. His output is prodigious, and almost all his novels are readable (to those who like crime fiction). He rings the changes, writing some series, some stand-alones on a range of themes. He is also an active member of the Bronte society (which provides material for one or two of his books).

While I’m on awards, Rap Sheet announces "America’s top sleuths" (TV, that is). The winner? Magnum, P.I. Read the incredulity over at the link. Also at Rap Sheet and on awards, Robert Crais has won the 2006 Ross Macdonald award. Crais is not an under-rated novelist, but he’s jolly good and I am sure deserves this success. His books are certainly  in the same ball park as Ross Macdonald’s, so the prize seems particularly appropriate.

Rap Sheet also reports on Crime Scence Scotland’s second issue, by the way, for those who like their noir tartan.

Susan Hill announces that she is publishing two children’s books. Her editorial criteria exclude most of the books my children like or have liked (Rowling, Potter, Snicket, J. Wilson, Pullman, Julia Golding, Cornelia Funke, etc). They also exclude all those awful-sounding "horrible sharks with nits ate my underpants" type of books. I shall await news of the two titles with interest — as Jenny is now reading books like "Little Women" and "Ballet Shoes", and Cathy has been reading any level of book (adult or teen) for a while now, I suspect I may not see them being read by my own children, but I’ll watch out for them in the bookshops. But if you want a recommendation of good, solid children’s books, Susan Hill provides a list here (created with the help of Jeanette Winterson, who has herself recently written a children’s book.)

Finally, the winner of LabLit’s "best science book ever" exercise is The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. I am surprised. But one thing I can tell you, it is short.

Influential people who never lived

Amy on the web (link at foot of post) has drawn attention to a list of "The 101 most influential people who never lived", at USA Today. She highlights:

Santa Claus, Robin Hood, Archie Bunker, Alice In Wonderland, Bambi, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.

I began to make my own list, but before posting I checked out the USA Today site and found my nascent collection mostly on there: King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, etc. Plus a few that I woudn’t call "people" eg the Loch Ness monster and King Kong.

So who is missing? Rip van Winkle, Harry Potter, the man in the Moon, Sauron and Aphrodite would be my five suggestions for inclusion (assuming Aslan is disallowed despite Nessie and KK). I’m assuming that gods, prophets and other religious icons are excluded.

Link: Amy On The Web » Blog Archive » A List of Influential People.

Old protagonists, old and new books

Some book-related posts that have caught my interest over the past few days have been stacking up uncaptured.

Grumpy Old Bookman reviews an early John Baker, Poet in the Gutter, the first in the Sam Turner series. I have so far managed to read only one John Baker book, White Skin Man, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. GOB’s post is not only an excellent read and review, but epitomises why I love blogging and the internet. You would not get an "old" (1995) book reviewed in the newspapers. But if you come across an author who is well on in a series, you want to read the first book first.

Karen at Eurocrime features a non-crime book, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society by Christine Coleman, an author who visited Karen’s library to give a talk. The protagonist of the book is 75 years old. The publisher, Transita, only publishes books where the protagonist is over 45. How wonderful! Of course, people only begin to become interesting when they are over 45 😉 . Karen relates Christine’s interesting point about how few books are told from the point of view of an older person and not told in flashback, and challenges readers to come up with examples. I have read all of Mary Wesley’s books, an author who was only published after she was 70 I believe, but being an "over 45 person" myself, of course I can’t remember if any of them were not told in flashback — I do remember they tended to feature older protagonists and their concerns, eg "Jumping the Queue".

Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders praises Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xialong, again — the book has been ranked as "one of the best five political novels" by the Wall Street Journal, together with Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister, Charles McCarry’s Shelley’s Heart, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Henning Mankell’s The Man Who Smiled. I agree with his take: see here for my review of the same book. If you like Wallender novels, this is for you. If you haven’t read any yet, you have the opportunity to read them in sequence, unlike me and Glenn Harper and lots of other people who have been reading them in translation order rather than sequential order. (Same goes for the brilliant Lisa Marklund — at last she has caught up with herself with respect to her translations — all we have to do now for the next two is to wait or learn Swedish.)

Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus novel, The Naming of the Dead, was reviewed in the Times on Saturday (the link doesn’t work but I’ve left it in because they might fix it — it goes to where it should go to, the problem is at the Times’ end). According to that review, this is the penultimate Rebus book, because there are only two years to go before Rebus hits the compulsory Scottish retirement age of 60. The Rap Sheet carries more fascinating speculation on this topic. The book sounds great. I hope that this isn’t really the penultimate Rebus. John Harvey planned to write only ten Resnick novels and did. He then switched to a new series, about a retired policeman. But I’ve noticed that Resnick has begun sneaking into the new series. You can’t keep a good character down, it seems.

Unpretentious reading

Stephen King is the subject of a pull-out section of his own in the Times this weekend — additional online features are at the link, including a submission form for asking the author questions. King’s latest book, Lisey’s Story, is excerpted at the Times link and is reviewed by David Montgomery in the Chicago Sun-Times — I don’t suppose the article will be free access for long though, so I’ll note here that David liked it. From David’s review:

"The Mystery Writers of America announced recently that in 2007 they will be honoring King with their prestigious Grand Master Award, the highest distinction the MWA gives to recognize outstanding achievement in the mystery field."

I haven’t read a Stephen King book for ages. I think Misery was the last. My favourites were "The Stand", "’Salem’s Lot" and the short story "The Shawshank Redemption" (it had a slightly different title in the book). I was mildly thinking of reading the book he wrote in 10 parts once they are all collected into one. I was also mildly tempted by his last, The Cell. Lisey’s Story sounds good, too.

Stephen King is one of those authors, like J K Rowling, about whom people tend to be snobby and even despise. I have got no time for that sort of attitude. Authors like King and Rowling get thousands and millions of people reading. Of course their books are a matter of personal taste, as are anyone’s, but I really don’t like it when one reads articles (usually pretentious ones) in which the writer condescends to these authors.

As I probably say far too frequently and boringly, J K Rowling should win the Nobel prize for literature when her seventh book is published. Nobody in our lifetime has done what she has done for reading. She’s opened the world of reading to more children than any other author, probably ever. But she won’t win the prize, though, because the world isn’t like that. However, far more people read authors like Rowling and King than read their detractors, so they will have the last laugh.

Multiple wordplay

We’ve had the Alien "Quadrilogy" — a quartet of "Alien" movies sold as a boxed set.

Apparently there are five "Omen" movies– so not content with boxing them up as a quintet, they are being sold as a "Pentology".

I wonder what the new word for a sextet will be? And when they get to ten, will we have a "Decameron" or something else?