Welcome to The Digitalist

A relatively new blog at the company where I work is called The Digitalist. This blog was an internal forum for Pan Macmillan to think about a range of digital-publishing issues, that is, how technology meets books, reading, publishing, and how they are all changing each other. It still has that function, but now it’s open for everyone to "join the debate about books, publishing, the web, and the future".

Amid quite technical posts about e-publishing and how to build Facebook applications, I enjoy reading articles such as this one, by James Long, about his thoughts on reading the printed version of Jeff Gomez’s "book of the blog", Print is Dead. ( 😉 ) James discusses memory, forgetting and reading:

"Sometimes, to help ourselves remember what we liked most in a book, or what was most relevant in it, we make notes in the margin or write short references in the back cover or underline words and lines. This makes the book searchable, enabling you to return to it when your memory of its content has faded a bit and still find what was important to you. If you no longer had the book, you’d lose that memory.So the perception is: print persists; digital disappears. At least, digital remains less tangible – both during reading and after. Therefore, for some, books in print on shelves are paramount; books in digital formats and online are not totemic enough to support our labouring organic memory systems.The truth, though, is that digital books are (potentially) more efficient repositories of our memory of the book than the print version: the metadata that you can create, store and report on as to what books you read, when you read them, etc. is a more reliable form of recall; also, books that are indexed (in the search engine sense) are more immediately and effectively searchable than ones that have been annotated in print. The irony is that, once you are outside of the reading experience, the more you have annotated a book the less readable it becomes…."

A thought-provoking post, and I think this is a blog worth following.

Periodic table printmaking project

Periodictable_2 Via The Great Beyond:

This lovely montage is part of the 2007 periodic table of the elements printmaking project — where science meets art. "Ninety-six printmakers of all experience levels, have joined together to produce 118 prints in any medium; woodcut, linocut, monotype, etching, lithograph, silkscreen, or any combination. The end result is a periodic table of elements intended to promote both science and the arts." I strongly  recommend a visit to see the display in all its glory: it really is gorgeous. Every element is displayed as a print, and you can click on any of the images on the site to read the artists’ statements. See here for the rules and guidelines given to the artists. The project also has a Flickr group.

The Coffin Trail, The Return and more

This week’s reviews on Euro Crime were delayed a bit , and then even more, by the fact that I went offline early last night. So, a day late, my latest efforts are my takes on The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards, the first in a police-procedural series set in the wonderful Lake District, and very well worth reading (the author’s blog has the lovely title Do You Write Under Your Own Name?); and the readable but slightly disappointing The Return by Hakan Nesser, the follow-up to Borkmann’s Point (Karen of Euro Crime’s review of The Return is here, if you want another perspective).

Some serious temptations in the rest of the week’s reviews. Karen, again, thoroughly enjoys What Was Lost, by Catherine O’Flynn, the winner of the 2007 Costa first novel award. Karen writes: "It’s a long while since I’ve read a book so well regarded by the literary critics, as, after all, I mostly read crime fiction, a genre unloved by the mainstream award givers. WHAT WAS LOST has perhaps sneaked under the judges’ radar as the mystery is pushed to the background for the major section of the novel and is mostly the catalyst for the other elements: the social commentary and the romance. It is a compelling novel and extremely readable." The book is definitely on my list: even though I am always well disposed towards books by people called Catherine, I’d read this one in any case.

Euro Crime and everyone’s Italian expert, Norman Price, has done it again — his review of Death’s Dark Abyss by Massimo Carlotto has provided me with yet another author I simply must read. From the review: "This story of two men linked by a terrible crime is a disturbing read and it is meant to be as it faces up to the problems of victim support, and the lack of rehabilitation facilities in the prison system. Carlotto himself served years in jail for a crime he did not commit and must be an expert on the failures and idiosyncrasies of the Italian judicial system."

The final review in the Euro Crime week is Geoff Jones’s take on "simple and clean-cut" Peter Conway’s Deserving Death.

Sunday Salon: end of January

Sunday_salon_4 I’ve very much enjoyed the books I’ve read in my week of reading, 21-27 January.

First, I finished The Butterfly Effect by Pernille Rygg, a lean, mean and excellent example of Norwegian noir, with the added bonus (for me) of a female detective/main character. The book is so good that I immediately ordered the second (and so far as I know, only other title) in the series. Review to come.

After that, I read the second Simon Serrailler book by Susan Hill, The Risk Of Darkness, about a child abduction. I was slightly put off reading this by the awful event at the end of book one. But the sequel was so exciting, tense and chilling that I immediately had to read the next Serrailler book, The Pure in Heart (already on my shelf), which was even better — and if there was another one I would have started that, too.

Unfortunately there isn’t another Serrailler book quite yet, so this morning I’ve begun Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid, which is (as expected) good so far. This title is one of her Tony Hill (psychological profiler) stories, so I recommend the earlier ones in that series before starting on this one, based on what I have read so far, as Beneath the Bleeding will work better if you know the main characters.

The total number of books I’ve bought or had delivered this week remains classified information, but if anyone is looking for an exciting adventure series to recommend to an almost-teenage or teenage reader, I am observing reading obsession currently being applied to the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore. There are ten of these exciting books out so far, with more on the way.

Biggest movies of 2008

Link: The 50 Biggest Movies of 2008 | 2008 Movies Guide – Times Online.

This link has been sitting in my draft posts for ages, as I’ve been too busy to check out the actual article to see which movies the Times thinks will be biggest (in the UK) in 2008. For 2009, one assumes there won’t be many or any US movies because of the writers’ strike, so we will have to make the most of these. My favourite was the idea of Will Smith as Tony Hancock but a second glance made me realise I’d got the wrong end of the stick. Here are a few highlights (not many of which I’ll be actually going to see, but they look possible DVD rental material). If you go to the Times link above, you can click through to trailers and other info about each movie [descriptions below are from the Times site, not mine!]:

29: The Time Traveller’s Wife

After having been derailed by the Pitt/Aniston divorce Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘sci-fi for women’ finally reaches the big screen with Eric Bana as the man who can’t control his progress through time and Rachel McAdams as the girl who grows to love him anyway.

23: Burn After Reading

Clooney turns up again as part of an incredible cast assembled by the Coen Brothers for this tale of two losers who find a disk containing CIA secrets. As if that could ever happen.

22: Be Kind, Rewind

Michel Gondry’s next movie has the most original plot of the year, guaranteed. Jack Black’s magnetised brain erases every tape in his local video shop which leads to him re-making the classic films he has inadvertently destroyed.

15: Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The second most popular instalment in CS Lewis’ Lion, Witch and Wardrobe series of fantasy novels, Prince Caspian will be the children’s movie most likely to please accompanying adults in 2008.

7: Hancock

Superhero comedies can be as knowingly funny as Mystery Men or as plain silly as Condorman. Hancocks’s secret weapon will be the perennially likeable Will Smith in the title role as a super-powered crime fighter who creates almost as many problems as he solves. 

6: Sweeney Todd

Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Helena Bohnham Carter conspire in a dark plot of pies and hairdressing. Spectacular somgs from Steven Sondheim are the icing on a wonderful, sinister, cake. [Already open in the UK, rave reviews (on the whole) and seems to be doing well.]

5: Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Transformers star Shia LaBeouf pops up as the son of the world’s hardest-working archeologist in what must surely be the final Indy adventure.

3: Bond 22: Quantum of Solace

After a shooting schedule more secretive than the ageless super-spy, Bond 22’s title has finally been revealed.That doesn’t offer too many clues as to the storyline, but it looks as if the adversary from Casino Royale, Mr. White, is going to be replaced by a no less sinister Mr.Greene. The suggestion that it continues almost immediately from the end of Casino Royale, and in much the same vein, is all the advertising most movie fans will need.

2: Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince

The vast regiment of Potter fans will already know what they’re getting. Despite Guillermo del Toro’s pleas this instalment of the boy wizard franchise will be directed by David Yates, who everyone except Guillermo seems to agree made a decent fist of Order of the Phoenix. 

1: The Dark Knight

The hype machine is almost up to full speed now for The Caped Crusader’s next outing. Great notices for director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and an irresistible trailer make The Bat the boy to beat in 2008. [Written before the sad news about Heath Ledger, another reason why the film will be a success. This is the first of the 30-plus online reader comments to the Times piece [also written before the event]: "The Dark Knight is without doubt gonna blow a lot of us away, not only will we have a darker and angrier Bale as Batman but Heath Ledger looks absolutely phenomenal as The Joker……". Even so, I doubt I’ll be seeing this one.]

Kindle kindles

Amazon’s Kindle Recalled Due to ‘Small Risk of Fire’.


I don’t know if the story at the link above is a send-up or if it is true. If it is true, then Jeff Bezos of Amazon has announced that the company is recalling its e-book reader:

“The Kindle has so far been a blazing success,” said Bezos at a hastily-arranged press conference, “which has sparked people’s imaginations and re-ignited interest in reading books. Unfortunately, we have learned that for a very small number of users, the Kindle itself may actually burst into flames.”

How they must be regretting giving it that name.

Blog Doctor, Guido and Peter Hain

From NHS Blog Doctor (aka Dr Crippen), yesterday (24 Jan):

"Most serious British bloggers are tonight acknowledging eighteen months of investigative journalism carried out by Guido Fawkes. You may think that it was the Electoral Commission that brought down Peter Hain. That was but the final straw. The background work was done by Guido………..what Guido Fawkes has done is of national importance. He is the first British blogger to expose and bring down a Cabinet minister. You thought Peter Hain was merely absent minded? Read Guido and you may change your mind. (Full story here)

At 10.30 pm tonight, Guido is appearing on Newsnight. Last time he did that he was savaged by the MSM [mainstream media] journalists. Tonight, Dr Crippen predicts, it will be different."

If you would like to know what happened, please see NHS blog doctor post for update and further links. And you can find out about Dr Crippen’s role in exposing fatal flaws in the medical training application system, while you are about it.

Some thoughtful posts

"Proper people in interesting situations", writes Jenny Geras, in a post about the books she likes, and why she likes them. From the post: "The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Cardboard cut-out people in undoubtedly interesting, but utterly ridiculous, situation. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Proper person in really quite boring situation."

Uriah Robinson writes about hate crimes and the case against care in the community. "Disability Now, the magazine covering disability issues, has put together a dossier of what it believes are disability hate crimes."

In "Crime writing series for celebrities" Karen writes about a new TV reality show in which celebrities are taught to become crime writers. "Best-selling author Minette Walters has signed up to be a mentor on the show and will have the power to oust a celebrity at the end of each day."

"Does the news matter to anyone any more?" asks David Montgomery. "It’s strange to imagine a world in which the daily newspaper is an anachronism, but we’re fast heading in that direction." Well, "WSJ.com opens access to previously restricted articles" "In addition to every editorial, the site features daily columnists and video clips from the weekly WSJ TV show on Fox News Channel, plus original video. An editorial in Thursday’s Journal, said the Web site is “as close as we’ll get to conceding there is such a thing as a free lunch.” "

Here is my favourite post of recent days: "Real Life", a beautiful little essay by Susan Hill. "So much of my own real life is spent alone. Is this bad for me ? How bad ? I like my own company better than anyone else`s apart from members of my family and that is that. I can`t help it. I neither like nor dislike the people in my head. They are just there, telling me about themselves until I write it all down and then they go away."

Guess what? Some reviews

Tom Cain’s The Accident Man is reviewed with a twist on Crime Always Pays: the twist is that you can win a copy of the book, if you can answer one of Declan Burke’s fiendishly difficult questions. You have been warned. (For my review of this book, see Euro Crime.)

Kimbofo of Reading Matters reviews Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn’s new, well-received historical crime caper. Or, as Kim puts it: "The effortless writing style, which has a touch of the Jane Austens about it, is littered with cracking one-liners, too, so that I found myself tittering all the way through the book."

Magnificent Octopus has an unusual take on Oliver Twist. Shorten a book, and the reader will only ask for "more".

The Adversary by Michael Walters is just about out in paperback. I highly recommend this excellent book set "at the edge of the world" (aka Mongolia): read The Shadow Walker first, then you will be compelled to go straight to the even better sequel (The Adversary). You’ll thank me for it.

There’s a lovely review of Girls of Tender Age by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, at Material Witness. "As a slice of family life in the ’50s this is incredibly evocative and warm and frames well the attitudes and ethics that dominated the day. But there is a dark heart at the centre of the book…"

Glenn Harper of the superb International Noir Fiction gets to grips with Maxim Jakubowski’s Paris Noir. Should a book entitled Paris Noir contain stories by Parisians or by people who aren’t French but who write about Paris?

I haven’t got around to The Cell yet, but at Crime Fiction Dossier, David Montogmery points to his review of a new Stephen King, Duma Key, which makes me think this is another King "back on form" title.

Stephen Lang reviews Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Great review. I re-read this short but mesmerising book the summer before last, and am glad I did. Not so sure about the Will Smith remake, though.

If these reviews aren’t enough and you’d like some lists, the loveliest I have seen recently is this one, by Equiano. Or if you prefer crime, you would do well to check out a new (to me) blog, Mack Pitches Up, and check out this list of recent reading.

Frank and Books, Inq. in the news

Sir Galahad of the Blogosphere, aka Frank Wilson, book review editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, has just received not one but two well-deserved accolades. Peter Stothard is Editor of the TLS (and was Editor of The Times). He wrote this on his blog on 20 Jan:
"Numerous calls and emails have accused me of being old-fashioned in resisting the fashion for ‘best this and best that’ lists in newspapers and websites.
So, just to show how courant I really am.
One. The Sunday Times this morning highlights my favourite blog – Books, Inq – as Number Three in its list of ‘websites that will feed your mind rather than your credit-card bill’.
Two. Frank Wilson, main author of Books, Inq at the Philadelphia Inquirer, draws attention to a rather different list – Top Ten Drunk American Writers – on the website ‘Alternative Reel – Quietly Redefining the Internet’."
I heartily concur with the assessment of Peter and Louis Wise of the Sunday Times (and also see Bryan Appleyard’s Thought Experiments blog). Books, Inq. and Light Reading were the first two "blogs about books" that I discovered, before I started Petrona in 2005. They remain among my very favourites, both for their content and for the "impossible to define in one word" character of their delightful authors. As well as my enjoyment of their blogs, both these people have a special place in Petrona’s heart: Jenny Davidson of Light Reading was the first person to comment on Petrona, which was the start of my own personal experience of the interactive, social web (and I have since even met her in person! Of course, at the British Library); and Frank Wilson has encouraged my own writing and built my confidence in that direction, not least by commissioning me to write book reviews for his paper. Wonderful, what can happen with that old Internet.