Morning routines

Link: Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover: Morning cuppa.

This lovely post by Elaine made me smile. She gets up at 6 am, catches the 7.15 train to London and then kills an hour in a local cafe until starting work at 9.15.

What made me smile is that I also get up at 6 am, catch the 7.19 train to London — but then don’t kill an hour in a local cafe before starting work. (However, I do read the paper and do my 2 Sudokus, crossword and Polygon anagram puzzle on the train, mentally cursing the Ipodders, train announcers and mobilers the while for destroying my peace.)  When I reach my destination (King’s Cross), I buy a take-out coffee from a lovely Italian cafe/deli round the corner and drink it at my desk while my computer groans into life.

Maybe I should take a leaf out of Elaine’s book and relax more. Unlikely. But I did like the fact that I can "meet" someone over the Internet and discover that our life patterns are so similar. Thank you, Elaine, for this small but convincing addition to my conviction that the Internet, and blogging in particular, is a humanising experience.

Old books, odd books

Steve at Sand Storm asks me about "Old books, odd books" — what’s under your stairs?

A few years ago, my father was going to throw out half a dozen books that belonged to his father. Because we have very little "history" in my family — no heirlooms or other items passed down the generations — I took the books home with me. Most of them are early Penguins, hard back in format. I’ve been looking at one of them recently with Jenny, who has been re-enacting the Battle of Hastings and had to drum up support for Harald Hadrada in school projects. (The latter being rather a difficult task– could you persuade your peers to vote for someone whose idea of fun was to set a chicken tail alight and send the chicken into your house, to make you run out so he could kill you while your house burnt down? Poor Jenny certainly drew the short straw there.) But I digress: this book is called The Bayeux Tapestry, being a history and a collection of colour illustrations of this beautiful work.

Other books in the small collection are The Microcosm of London by John Summerson, deputy director of the National Buildings Record; Elizabethan Miniatures by Carl Winter; English Book Illustration 1800-1900 by Philip James; and A Book of Ships by Charles Mitchell. All these books are published in the 1940s and contain colour as well as black and white illustrations.

The oldest book from my father’s collection is a tiny volume called "History of Christ". My grandfather was called Charles Clarke — his name is in this book but so is "Joseph Clarke", written in a very old and trembling hand.This book is really old, and has a woodcut flyleaf which among other things states: "London: Printed for H. Tracy, at the Three Bibles on London Bridge. 1721." I would like to believe the book is actually that old, and that it isn’t a later edition.

Do you have any old books, odd books under your stairs?

Grauniad at the grammar blog

Link: my grammar could hit the target from that distance: Glass house, throwing stones.

"As our dear leader Robbie has said previously, finding mistakes in the Guardian is like finding a rosary on the Pope, but this one nearly burst my irony gland.

From a piece in the Media pullout entitled In praise of the subeditor*:

Newspapers have often found it difficulty to recruit subeditors "

Quite. Only last week a subeditor saved a certain leading science journal from reporting that HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, cause of AIDS) is present in chimpanzees. Said subeditor had to be pretty tenacious to substitute the crucial "S" (simian) for the "H".

*Copyeditor, to our US friends.

The future of voting

There is a good proposal in The Dilbert Blog: The Future of Voting.

"What we need is a new way to help voters make decisions. If that ever happens, I’ll start voting. I don’t vote now because my vote would be uninformed and random. But I’d like to vote. It’s a good concept. I just need better tools.

In concept, it wouldn’t be that hard to provide voters with the right information, thanks to the Internet. All it would require is a website that displays both sides of every argument, point by point, within its proper context. And for every point, the opposition could register their counterpoint. So if one side said, “This will save $1 billion dollars” the opposition could tag it with their counterpoint, and the counterpoint could itself be tagged, etc. Perhaps the web site would also benefit from some sort of argument ranking system so that the best points and counterpoints floated to the top.

And I’d want to see links to research supporting any point being made. The current method of political debate involves one side making a claim and the other saying “that’s not true.” That does nothing for me. I want to click once to see the source."

Scott Adams’ Dilbert blog always attracts enormous numbers of comments, so if you have a spare hour, take a look at what people think of his suggestion.  Of course, I’d be delighted to receive any comments here, in this somewhat more restful setting.

A dearth of American women novelists?

The New York Inquirer has belatedly picked up the story of the New York Times article that attempted to identify the best of American (sic– they mean US) fiction of the past 25 years. There was a much controversy about the Times article because although the winner happened to be by a woman (Toni Morrison’s Beloved), only one of the 21 runners-up was also by a woman (Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping). Many bloggers created their own lists, and one of them, Mapletree7 of Book of the Day, ran her own poll back in May and posted her results here, in June. (I mentioned that the NY Inq. is a bit late to this particular party!)

Here’s the nub of the NY Inq. piece: "From Jane Austen to the Brontes to George Eliot to Virginia Woolf to Doris Lessing, Britain’s women have produced extraordinary novels that have stood the test of time. They’re still read, studied, and loved today.

"Regarding novels written by American women, the pickings are slim. I could only find Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Carson McCullers as possible examples of great American women novelists from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and while each author might be beloved, it’s a stretch to mention any of them in the same breath as the British women listed above.Today, the greatness of Toni Morrison is indisputable. Marilynne Robinson’s majestic prose and Joyce Carol Oates’ prolific observations of American society rank them among the best American novelists. Glimmers of greatness can also be seen in the works of Kathy Acker, the radical authoress, poet and performance artist; Mary Gaitskill, with her dark and precise incisions into female sexuality; experimental Carole Maso; Andrea Barrett, Maxine Hong Kingston and other women authors. Whether any of them (besides Morrison) can rise to the upper echelon of truly great novelists remains to be seen."

Ruiyan Xu, author of the NY Inq. article, asks for feedback about her contention — she says she would like to be proved wrong. Amazingly, there are no comments yet to her article.

Frank Wilson of Books, Inq. has picked up on the NY Inq story: "What think you readers?", asks Frank. And just take a look at the unholy row going on in the comments to the Books, Inq. post! As Peter writes there: "This is probably the most vigorous discussion I’ve seen on a blog since David J. Montgomery got called on the carpet for posting a Ten Greatest Detective Novels list that had no female writers on it." (Yes, that carpet hauler was me, I admit it.)

Please do contribute your own views on the women novelists’ question , either to the Books, Inq. comments or in the comments here. Great women "American" novelists of the past 25 years, anybody? ("American" is in brackets because Canadians seem to be excluded, which lets out Margaret Atwood — not a favourite of mine but I know she is widely respected.) My vote is for Carol Shields, somewhat hesitantly as I have read only one of her books. It was excellent, however, and I have more on my shelf to read.

Link: The New York Inquirer: A Dearth of American Women Novelists?.