Ten good things– well, four

View From The Pundy House: Ten good things.

Pundy writes: "I am, as you may have noticed, a gloomy old bastard. You probably think I sit here all day in the Pundy House muttering to myself about how awful life is. Well, I do actually." So as an antidote, he has tried to list ten good things that have happened to him in the past 12 months.

I was impressed that he got up to seven. I’m going to have a go now and see how far I get (excluding vicarious pleasure at various children-related things).

1. Learnt blogging: encountered some nice bloggers and "delightful cross pollinators"

2. Got rid of ill-fitting wallpaper and had walls painted. (Not sure if this counts as Malcolm actually sorted it all — I just enjoy the result.)

3. Read some good books.

4. Lost weight.

I’m a bit stuck now. Anybody care to have a go?

Promises, promises

The day after I started blogging, unknown to me, the warm and generous Jenny Davidson of the admirable blog Light Reading wrote this post:

Link: Light reading: Things I really must do before I die.

In this post, she firmly comments that she is not going to run a marathon because she does not like running.

Less than a year later, she has just run a half-marathon. Congratulations to Jenny, a most lovely, interesting, literate and erudite blogger. Jenny will always be held in the highest esteem on this blog as she was the first person ever to comment on it.

OK, as she has gently reminded me, "lipstick, anyone?"

Reverse book club, cont.

Longstanding readers of Petrona may dimly recollect that back in April I posted about Book Aid International and its reverse book club.  The slogan of this wonderful organisation  is "4 books for £5 and you never receive any of them!" Instead, your monthly subscription buys books for communities where people cannot afford to buy them — not publishers’ remainders, but current titles.

Book Aid International’s December newsletter is written by Millicent Mlanga, the community librarian for Kilifi, south-east Kenya. She writes about the new library there, started in 2002, and how children love coming to the visit, particularly enjoying the "big books" supplied by Book Aid International. She also explains how books about the sustainable management of land are helping people in families devastated by famine or AIDS to learn agricultural knowledge that their parents could not pass on to them.

So, my fellow book lovers, I urge you to support this worthy organisation, to help provide books for communities like this. You can make a regular donation, send "reverse" book tokens or buy your own books through a website that will donate part of each purchase. Please find out more about Book Aid International at the organisation’s website. Thank you.

Book bloggers rule OK

I know we are all bored with the "book reviews on blogs vs publications" argument that has been rolling round everywhere for the past few days. To my mind, the argument is a straw man probably initiated to get a few names better known and/or to sell a few papers (or more accurately these days, adverts).

But in case you have missed one particular contribution, I thought I’d note that Alan Bissett has taken apart each point made by Rachel Cooke in her poorly researched anti-blogger Observer/Guardian piece (link below). On the Guardian book blog, naturally — keeping it all in the family.

Link: Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – books: In defence of the blogerati.

Postscript. Norman Geras has written a truly excellent analysis of the issues on his blog normblog (which unfortunately does not allow comments). He writes:

"The ‘end of civilization as we know it’ comes across as a comical theme often enough. But at least where it involves an imagined catastrophe of world-historical scope, it can possess dramatic charm. In the present case, however? A snooty fear of the imminent collapse of reviewing standards? My God, my God, now that truly is belly-laugh stuff."

A sense of humour

Peter of Detectives Beyond Borders alerts us to a discussion in the Australasian Crime Fiction forum in which Karen C asks us which crime fiction authors we find funny and why. There are some interesting selections there, including mine — but unfortunately I realise now that I’ve probably broken Forum rule 101 — "read the title of the forum", as mine involve non-Australasian authors. Sorry, guys! (But I bet you travel, Debi ;-). ) Bill James is mentioned, and I’m hoping to get some of his for Christmas. (It would be a digression to say why here, so maybe I’ll post about that another time.)

My reaction to Karen’s question is that I don’t usually like books that set out to be funny, crime fiction or no. I love it when I read something that makes me laugh "in passing", as it were: the joy of discovery is part of the pleasure of it. But books that promote themselves as "crime caper with a dash of chick lit", or whatever, are not generally to my taste.

So what does make one laugh? Rest assured, I am not going to attempt to answer that philosophical question here; rather I ask it to segue into this lovely post by Scott Adams of the Dilbert Blog on "nearly funny things". Scott writes:

"The key to finding good humor fodder is that the story must be NEARLY funny without being completely funny on its own. For example, if I see a story about some spatially challenged burglar who got his head stuck in a chimney, and a stork built a nest in his ass, that’s already completely funny. There’s nothing for me to add.

What I’m looking for is a story that makes me giggle before I even know why – the potential is there but it needs some magic humor dust to make it all that it can be."

And I think that explains very well why I am not too keen on "funny books", but love it when I uncover some slightly quirky passage that makes me burst out laughing. (Scott describes how he writes humour in the rest of that post at the Dilbert blog — well worth a read.) 

The Ruby in the Smoke

Link: Euro Crime: The Ruby in the Smoke.

Karen M of the highly esteemed blog Eurocrime highlights an eagerly awaited double event chez Petrona.

Philip Pullman’s "Ruby in the Smoke" has been adapted for TV and will be shown on the BBC over Christmas. The Sally Lockhart quartet is a huge favourite of Cathy’s, she has eagerly read all the books twice, to my knowledge. I have not read them  myself, but from what Cathy has said, they involve a young woman (maybe even a teenager?)  in Victorian times whose fiance dies near the start. She is pregnant, so becomes a single mother as well as a detective.  How powerful a theme is that?

But the second excitement is that Sally is being played by Billie Piper, the top favourite of Jenny, and probably equal top (with Keira Knightley) of Cathy. Billie Piper, of course, is "Rose", Dr Who’s companion, Dr Who long having grown out of the female "assistants" that I can dimly remember from previous lives.

Jenny (11) is currently reading Pullman’s "Northern Lights" trilogy and enjoying it immensely. She’s almost at the end of book 2, "The Subtle Knife", so I need to catch up, as has long been my intention. Malcolm and Cathy are already longstanding fans: indeed,  Malcolm has long maintained the heretical position that "Northern Lights" is vastly superior to Harry Potter. I really must get around to finding out if this is actually possible.

Christmas in our house is going to be sublime — lots of peace and quiet for reading and blogging; our established tradition of watching all three extended editions of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy; and now this.   

Library legacy at This Space

I have just read an inspiring post about the power of reading, over at This Space blog. Dave Lull sent me the link (thank you, Dave), but I would have got there eventually myself as I have recently added this blog to my blogroll, and hence Bloglines subscriptions.

If you want to know why public libraries are a good thing, please read Steve’s (This Space) post. Here is a part of it:

"This is why I am so bitter about people who blithely refer to "elitist"literature and tell us that we should all read trash because that’s really what we want to read isn’t it and to deny otherwise is pretentious. Rather than appealing to democratic accessibility, this smacks of the elitism it claims to resist. It was my good fortune that Portsmouth library chiefs stocked books by writers these inverted snobs refuse to read, discuss and learn from for fear of opening minds and actually changing anything. But it wasn’t only my good fortune."

How true. If you haven’t been there before, I also recommend a visit to Tim Coates’ Good Library Blog. It is depressing reading — a kind of catalogue of cutbacks — but Tim is vigorously campaigning on behalf of books and readers in the UK in the face of a depressing mountain of smug red tape and jobsworths. Well done to him. (He will be the next Prime Minister, incidentally — or should be.)

Internet addiction

According to this story in Information World, an IBM employee fired for visiting Internet chat rooms during working hours, is now suing the company. He claims that his behaviour was the result of an Internet addiction, and that the company should have offered him counselling rather than sacking him.

There are a few additional elements to the story which you can read at the link if you are interested, but I was struck by the last paragraph:

"In a study released last month, the Stanford University School of Medicine found that one in eight Americans exhibited signs of possible Internet addiction. Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, the study’s lead author, said in a statement, "We need to consider the fact that [the Internet] creates real problems for a subset of people."  "

Sand Storm’s useful advice

My version of Bryan Appleyard’s version of Iain Dale’s meme "ten things I’d never do" has been satisfyingly picked up all over the place. But one set of answers is buried in the comments to my earlier post — I’d love to share them with a wider readership.

Step forward Steve of Sand Storm, whose list has the strong hint of variant "ten things I’d never do again". I am more than happy to take all of his advice. Thanks for the laugh, Steve, you are one of a kind. Have a chocolate on me.

"1 Yell "Hey look at that" when my brother in law is driving.
2 Let my brother in law drive.
3 Tell the 7’1" bouncer at Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas "ya you and what army".That arm is still sore.
4 Stick my tongue on the frost of a metal clothesline pole.
5 Paddle across a lake on an air mattress to see Tommy James and the Shondells.
6 Watch John Mellencamp in concert when he is so blitzed he couldn’t sing.
7 Put my face up to a cage that houses a Mandrill.
8 Slap the ol’ mare on the ass as we start riding downhill.
9 Tell the Mexican lady at the taco stand in L.A. that "I like it as hot as you can make it."
10 Drive the zodiac that close to a pod of Killer whales."

Steve’s list reminds me of the time when Nicky Hilton, one-time husband to Liz Taylor and of the Hilton hotel empire, was asked by an interviewer if he had any advice or words of wisdom to impart to the world. "Don’t hang the shower curtain outside the bath" came the response.

Human captcha filler

Link: Bloggers Blog: Third World Job: Human Captcha Filler.

Oh no! According to the above post at Bloggers Blog, captcha (those squiggly characters in comments) can be got around by spammers. In our blogs at work, we don’t use captcha because it is not "accessible". Someone has finally persuaded someone else that the amount of spam you get when you don’t have captcha is compromising the mental health of the poor bloggers (you would not believe how many spam emails I get a day — to the point where I can’t bear to check it all to see if there is an odd "real" comment in there). Captcha is en route, we are now promised.

So I am gutted to read that captcha is vulnerable. Even more gutted to read of the method. Employ lots of poor Nigerians to spam manually. Sad world. Sad times.