A few bits of blogs

Sixty years of images from the Cannes film festival, via Open Culture Blog.

Theatres must develop new material for children, says Lyn Gardner, instead of relying on book adaptations. She is a children’s reviewer who knows what she’s talking about, as she takes children along to the plays she is reviewing for the Guardian.

These years, I look forward to seeing about two films a year at the cinema. Anything with Viggo Mortensten in it (however bad the film, he will deliver — even without a beard I can’t think of anyone else I would rather look at on a movie screen for a couple of hours) and a few others. Atonement is one. I’m pleased, but not surprised, to read that it looks good "mightily impressive", even.

Good meme here from Stephen Lang, in case anyone wants to pick it up.

Tom of Random Thinking has the most lovely review of Murder, She Wrote — the worst TV series ever?

Agricola of Close Reading reviews Notes on a Scandal, a movie starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and based on the book by Zoe Heller, which is on my DVD rental list.

Another review of Jed Rubenfeld’s Interpretation of Murder, this one by De Scribe of Bookends. And Becky of A Book A Week reviews Clare Dudman’s readable and engaging One Day the Ice will Reveal All Its Dead (aka Wegener’s Jigsaw).

If you don’t know what a wiki is and what it can do for you, look here — a post by the experts over at O’Reilly Radar.

For about a year before I started blogging, I tracked website updates and journal tables of contents via Bloglines, a RSS reader. RSS is the most wonderful way to manage the information you want to know but don’t want to know about it until it suits you. Since starting blogging, I use it for all my blog reading, too. A few months ago I switched from Bloglines, the well-established market leader, to Google Reader. Google Reader has been steadily adding new features since then, and now I see from a Problogger post that it has far and away the biggest market share. Interesting times, especially as, as John Battelle and numerous others have reported, Google has now acquired Feedburner, the best web management and distribution tool out there (that I’ve found) .

Many blogs have reported that Amazon is about to provide a "lightening" POD service: here is the Booksellers’ Association blog take.  And here’s a post from Joe Wikert about the Times Emit publishing blog.

OK, off to read a good book now.

(update: the Cannes festival link has been fixed, thanks Dave Lull for p0inting it out.)

Book review prize news from Revish

From this month’s Revish newsletter:

* Review of the month results

Boy was this hard. An average of nearly 2 reviews a day were posted in May, and choosing the best 3 was too difficult, so we’ve chosen the best 5 instead. Our favourite review will receive $40 of Amazon gift vouchers, and the four runners-up will receive Revish t-shirts or $20 of Amazon vouchers.

Our pick for top review was Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut, reviewed by A. Bowdoin Van Riper.

This betrays the geekiness of the panel a little, but more than that it shows that the best reviews aren’t necessarily of the best books.

Runners-up are:

+ Echo, reviewed by Amanda.

+ The Man Who Was Thursday, reviewed by Chinsmith.

+ Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story, reviewed by deargreenplace.

+ Ice Moon, reviewed by Maxine Clarke.

Further Revish news:

We’ll be running another review of the month competition in the summer, and hope to have a full voting system ready for the autumn, making the whole thing much more democratic.

* Book explorers: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. camelrc has started a book group on Revish under the banner "Book explorers": a capital idea. The first book the group will be discussing, starting at the end of June, is Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. I’m signed up for it, you should too (says Dan Champion, aka Mr Revish).

Lovell and his telescopic vision

This will be my last post about the Saturday Times books supplement, mainly because Jenny wants to play Sims, for which she needs my computer as the DVD player doesn’t work on hers. (Yes, I could use hers to continue posting, but I’ve got bored for the moment and want to go and read my book in a snatched Sunday moment of peace). So although there are a couple of other things I have to write, I’ll content myself with one only, an excellent article by Giles Whittell about Sir Bernard Lovell, inventor (is that the word?) of the Jodrell Bank radiotelescope among many other achievements.

In 1957 the project was behind schedule and over budget. At that time, everyone was obsessed with Sputnik, which was thought might be able to carry an intercontinental ballistic missile. Hence came the famous call from Whitehall. "Lovell and his team worked nonstop for 48 hours turning their giant listening device into something that could also transmit. ‘A few days after the launch we got this marvellous echo from the carrier rocket. In fact I think I have it here.’ He [the 94-year old Lovell] pulls an old photograph from the pile on his desk — a photograph of a man and a line across the screen. ‘There’s me pointing to the echo, which no man had yet seen. I had a camera photographing the cathode ray tube and this was shown to the press about an hour later. This was the ICBM moving over Cumbria at 17,000 mph. It was dramatic.’  "

Wonderful stuff. The article is in support of a new First Move literary festival , from 15 to 17 June, celebrating the first time the Lovell telescope (at Jodrell Bank) moved under power.

Ghost authors for children

I’m shocked! Lucy Daniels, author of the Animal Ark series of children’s books, doesn’t exist. Nor does Daisy Meadows, author of the currently popular Rainbow Magic series.

I already knew that Francine Pascal did not really write the Sweet Valley High books, and that Carolyn Keane did not write Nancy Drew. Mills and Boon is also well known for its pseudonymous authors. But now I learn (via The Times Saturday books supplement again) that there is a company called Working Partners that is responsible for a huge number of series "single author" books. Examples provided (never heard of them) are the Lady Grace mysteries, Warriors and Beast Quest (in development).

"I am surprised that they are the only company of their kind in Britain" says Penny Morris, a director of Orchard, the company that publishes the Rainbow Magic series. "They now cover all the bases with their ideas." Oh, that’s OK then.

Columns and fonts

The editor of the Times books supplement is obviously a reader of Petrona, because in the "hot type" industry column this week are two stories you read here first: the woman who was rude about bloggers as book reviewers while her publicist was asking them to review her latest book; and the Harry Potter bookshelf poetry competition. (I myself have the Grumpy Old Bookman to thank for the former, and Dave Lull for the latter.)

I mention this because another entry in the column, about which naturally I’d already read about on various blogs, is about writers’ favourite fonts — a question being asked of them at Hay. Apparently the inelegant (in my opinion) Courier is a hot favourite, said to be a reassuring reminder of the old typewriter. Nicholson Baker is quoted as stating: "You need the sentences to look their worst until the dress rehearsal of the galleys, when all the serifs come out dancing".

I rather like Garamond, myself, but you don’t see it much these Minion days.

In the dark by Deborah Moggach

Maybe it is a bit early to be thinking about holiday reads, but the weather is nice and it is June now. So a mini-review in the Times caught my eye. The book is In the Dark by the reliable Deborah Moggach (though maybe she should stay away from adapting Jane Austen for the screen). From the brief review:

"The Moggach miracle continues  — here’s another vivid, gripping yarn from the author of Tulip Fever. The place is South London, the time is the First World War…….Eithne, a pretty widow with a young son, runs a boarding house  filled with eccentric characters, including a blind communist and a man suffering from shell shock. Oh Eithne, please don’t marry that sinister butcher! Deckchair-book of the month, with a plot as twisty as a mountain road."

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon (UK site). I’ve read half a dozen of Moggach’s previous books and, in the main, enjoyed them immensely.

Too much tragic realism?

Reading the (Saturday) Times book supplement today (Sunday), I found much to catch my interest. Sometimes there is very little, or one article, but this week, for me, is a good one.

The children’s book review round-up (by Amanda Craig) included the title Fearless by Tim Lott, for readers aged 11, and the author’s first children’s book. According to the review, Little Fearless’s mother is taken away by armed guards, but not before she has given her daughter three gifts. The girl is a laundress slave in an institute and helps the other girls by telling them stories. She escapes to tell the girls’ families what is happening to them but they won’t listen. Unwilling to let her friends down, Fearless returns  to them three times, on each occasion giving them one of her mother’s gifts. Eventually she is imprisoned in an underground room and dies in the arms of her best friend and betrayer. 

The review admiringly states: "This may sound grim, but it is gripping and one of the most original children’s books I have read for some time. The awfulness of many English children’s lives is insufficiently recognised….." and how much better is Fearless than "the fluff that pretends that childhood suffering doesn’t exist".

I disagree with this view. I don’t think the book sounds at all suitable for an 11 year old of any sensitivity or imagination; many popular children’s books contain quite awful tragedies; and in what sense does the plot summary provided by the reviewer apply to "many English children"? The opposite, by and large, I would think. There is much tragedy and drama in the books that children of this age love, most notably in the very popular Harry Potter series, which reduces them to tears at various junctures. Harry Potter is fantasy that meets tragedy head-on, but in the mind of the young reader, provides various ways to deal with the worst things that can happen to you. Jenny has just finished a newly published book (translated from the French) called "The Princess and the Captain" which ends sadly — but the book tells an explorer’s adventure and that is what stuck in her mind when she was telling me about it. Matilda, Tracy Beaker, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and many other popular 11-year-oldish children’s favourites deal with life’s tragedies, but not at relentless, miserable and frightening length.

I recently saw a film called Pan’s Labyrinth which sounds rather like Fearless. The film tells of the fantasy world a girl constructs to escape the awfulness of her daily life in Spain during the Second World War. It was a grim film, and in one sense ended tragically — but it was not classified as suitable for 11 year olds, even though the film was mainly about one.

Children can learn about the existence of tragedies and discover ways to deal with them by reading stories. The Times reviewer did not say whether she had found out what any 11 year olds thought of Fearless: the review was based on her own, adult reading. Maybe there are plenty of 11 year olds who would like this book, but based on the ones I know, I somehow doubt that it will become a classic among that age-group.