Hearing the canary’s song

I very much like this post from Nige (of Nigeness):

"One of those nice short sellers who have been working tirelessly to save the economy from itself explained last night that he and his fellow shorters are 'like canaries in a coal mine'. Except (he didn't add) that instead of keeling over and dying like canaries, they trouser the money and scarper. An important difference, I think."

Update from the FriendFeed crime fiction room

As well as the blogs that already feed into the FriendFeed crime & mystery fiction room, here are some links that have recently (yesterdayish) been featured:
Early review of The Likeness by Tara French (first novel: In the Woods).
Stieg again! More on that girl with that tattoo.
An odd prize decision.
Olen Steinhauer is the guest blogger next week.
via Dave Lull
Anyone is welcome to join the FriendFeed crime & mystery fiction room for regular updates from a selection of blogs; breaking news on the topic from everywhere else; and a very easy user interface for conversation about the highlighted articles. Once you've joined, you can import your own blog (and other online services such as Flickr, Twitter, etc), as well as post your own links and messages when you want to share and discuss ideas and articles. It is a pleasant conversation space.

Sergey Brin starts Googol Too

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, has started a blog, called Too. The first post reads: "Welcome to my personal blog. While Google is a play on googol, too is a play on the much smaller number – two. It also means "in addition", as this blog reflects my life outside of work."

The second post is a description of his mother's diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, and Sergey's decision to have a genetic test for his own risk of suffering from the condition. Genetic testing is at a very early stage, and many specialists believe that it can't tell you much. But it is a moving post, and perhaps an indication of the way things are going (not least because the owner of Google is writing it).

I hope that Sergey continues with his blog and posts more regularly than another web-eminent blogger, Tim Berners-Lee.

At the Science Blogging 2008 conference, a competition was announced: a challenge to the audience to persuade an eminent scientist to blog. Although Sergey Brin isn't a scientist these days, his first (proper) post is scientific. Will he continue along these lines? I wonder if someone will be entering Too in the contest? Time will tell.

Thanks to Pierre for sharing the news of Too.

What I like in a book

I've been thinking a bit recently about why I enjoy "crime fiction". This probably sounds ludicrous for someone who has been writing reviews and posts about this "genre" for so long, but I realize that I am not interested in criminals or details of crimes. Novels that focus on the criminal act, the mind and the motivations of people who commit crimes are of little interest to me. (I also have no interest in "true crime".)

What I find absorbing and rewarding as a reader is the perturbation of a status quo that a crisis, such as a crime, creates. The books I like best are not about the criminals or why they commit crimes, but are about the effect of the crisis on people's lives. Sometimes these people have some professional reason to be involved in the crime: police, detectives, lawyers and so on. Sometimes books are about people who are affected by the crime, as victims, witnesses or other reasons. That's all fine by me, I'll read it.

This explains to me why I don't like films that others rave about, such as The Godfather and many other examples of revered and commercially successful movies that feature gangs, criminals, heists and dastardly deeds of various kinds. It also explains why I am, in general terms (there are exceptions) not a fan of "noir" fiction and other types of novel that depict life seen from the mean side. It is also why I am not keen on books, including several by current bestselling authors,  whose main appeal is "lovingly dwelled upon autopsy details and/or physiological gore".

More to the point, I realise that the books I most like are books that have two key features: (1) a character study or studies on the effect of a dramatic act which puts those characters outside the rules of their normal existence and presents them with a challenge, often a tragic, extreme one; and (2) a puzzle. The second feature is less important but it is fun, an aide memoire and keeps one awake. How the characters react to the crisis, how they solve the puzzle despite obstacles, is what interests me.

The last three books I have read (reverse chronological order) are Punishment by Anne Holt; Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason; and The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer. They are all excellent books, for the reasons described here. (I'm not putting any links into this post because my USB ports have gone wonky so I can't use my mouse, and I am hopelessly inadequate at this clicky thing that is on the front of my keyboard. But I am sure these titles aren't hard to find if you haven't read them and are interested in doing so. For my part, they are a highly recommended trio.)

That crazy little word called Web

A few crazy links.

Dilbert survey of economists. (I wish there were more of them like him.)

For those who don't mind watching videos: Hockey moms against Sarah Palin.

Read David Hewson's first Nic Costa novel for free (until 15 October).

Print copies more popular than e-downloads for the Female Science Professor's book.

Facebook – the movie, from Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing and other series. 

Weakness or strength of Wikipedia: same data, different conclusion.

The LHC will not recreate the Big Bang. "This statement is not only slightly inaccurate, it is simply plainly wrong by at least 19 orders of magnitude. The world will not end tomorrow. Please do me the favour and do not ask questions without having read the above mentioned posts, because I am really tired of repeating the same points over and over again. It is really not that hard to understand, just give it a try. It is quite ironic that I spoke about these two examples in my talk yesterday to explain how difficult communication between scientists and the public can be." Hear, hear.

What you have been doing when you haven't been writing for 4 months (and therefore haven't updated the '101 reasons to stop writing' blog).

Escape POD part deux: Ernest Scribbler and Prairie Mary meet.

Mean Fifteen, blog post by Chelsea Cain: "My daughter thinks that I sign books for a living, because this is all she ever gets to see me do – I don't let her come to readings – if you've ever read one of my thrillers, you know why.  My husband reviews movies for The Oregonian, and our daughter thinks he watches TV for a living. 
I fear that her impression of work is a little biased, and that she'll be sorely disappointed when she shows up for her first job and learns what work actually entails."

OK, that's enough craziness for one night.

Putting your bodkins in one basket

Hamlettennant460 As Lyn Gardner points out in The Guardian theatre blog (an aside: all the Guardian blogs have just moved to a new platform and been redesigned – but where's the permalink in amid all this "book this restaurant" buttons?), some people book their holidays years in advance, others make sure their theatre tickets are in the bag in very good time. I can't say I do either, but have made an exception for David Tennant's Hamlet. We are going to see it in the upcoming October half-term, and I booked the tickets last July (that's 2007). A first for me – I'm a "call in at the National at 10 am and get a day ticket for £10 in second row of stalls for Anthony Hopkins as Lear" person myself. However, I am told by my daughters that this David Tennant chap is rather good, and as one of them is studying Hamlet at school I conquered my fear of hubris about the future and my aversion to Barty Crouch, Jr, and booked the darn things. Of course, as at that stage I had no clue about what would be happening over the summer vacation, I plumped for the October date. From all accounts, the production is excellent and I will not be pining for my lovely 1940s blond Laurence Olivier version. But unlike Lyn, I will not be repeating the exercise for Jude Law in 2009.

Among other points, Lyn wonders what will happen if Mr Tennant calls in sick on 27 December and she and her party have to watch the understudy. I remember when this once happened to me. It was while I was living in Manchester and I was very excited that the then very new National Theatre planned a tour to those northern wastes (as then were). I booked a ticket for whatever the show was, I forget now. But something happened, the show was cancelled. They had to put on a substitute. What? The Merchant of Venice, with Olivier as Shylock and Joan Plowright as Portia. Those few of us who held tickets for the cancelled production enjoyed a wonderful treat, without having to pay the greatly inflated prices charged by the touts who immediately snapped up the 80 per cent of tickets that hadn't been sold for the advertised show. It was my only opportunity to see Olivier in the flesh, probably for the cost of about a fiver or less. Just "goes to show".

Twiller on Twitter

It had either passed me by, or I knew but had forgotten, that Matt Richtel has for the past two months been using Twitter to write a real-time thriller called, inevitably, Twiller. The author writes: "It’s about a man who wakes up in the mountains of Colorado, suffering from amnesia, with a haunting feeling he is a murderer. In possession of only a cellphone that lets him Twitter, he uses the phone to tell his story of self-discovery, 140 characters at a time. Think “Memento” on a mobile phone, with the occasional emoticon." If you can't face reading the novel in 140-character chunks including spaces, here's a slightly longer plot summary at Matt Richtel's blog, to allow "new followers" as he calls them, to catch up.

I don't know if this is supposed to be the actual novel, but here is Mr Richtel's Twitter account. The most recent entry reads:

 "as u no, im drivin deadmans bmw 2 dc. in glove cmpt: pink slip in name Dave Ito of DC; &, photo of Lev Kind (ME) but 10yr ago, in fatigues"

Maybe he should try FriendFeed, they give you more space per post over there.

Matt Richtel is a journalist with the New York Times and author of the previously published novel Hooked, half of which I read (in ink-on-paper, conventional bound form) a year ago but could not finish. It wasn't bad, just not my cup of tea.

Sunday Salon: Book Depository and Man Booker

TSSbadge3 My small contribution this week is an interview of me by Mark Thwaite over at The Book Depository, in which I say a little bit about blogging and recommend some excellent books. None of them, of course, on the Man Booker prize shortlist, which was announced earlier in the week.

Declan Burke pointed out the relationship between readers' choice and judges' selection from the longlist. The books in red below were shortlisted, the ones in black were not. The numbers at the end of each title are the numbers of copies sold in the UK by the end of July. The clothes on their backs sold 13 copies in the week ending 26 July and 144 in the following week (the longlist was announced on 29 July). Or, to look at it another way, by the end of July all the shortlisted titles combined had not sold as many as the top-selling two books, by a long way. Yet the top-selling two books - not mass-market titles but books that had been considered worthy of longlisting - were not shortlisted.

1. The Enchantress of Florence 15,433
2. Child 44 8,278
3. Sea of Poppies 5,034
4. Netherland 4,023
5. The Clothes on Their Backs 3,592
6. The White Tiger 1,852
7. The Secret Scripture 1,568
8. A Case of Exploding Mangoes 1,000
9. The Northern Clemency 916
10. A Fraction of the Whole 392
11. The Lost Dog 363

These figures allow the literati to have a good old preach at the expense of the great unwashed reading public, for example, The Independent: "In the five weeks after the long-list announcement on 29 July, the 13 titles of the “Booker dozen” sold fewer than 14,000 UK copies; on average, barely 1,000 each. This is, frankly, pathetic." I beg to disagree with this snobbish assessment. Perhaps readers buy books because they are (or look as if they might be) good, and not if they aren't. Perhaps the judges might have factored into their selection that more than 15,000 discerning readers had stumped up hard-earned cash to read Salman Rushdie, therefore the book might be considered rather good by quite a lot of readers. I cannot see a single one of the Man Booker shortlist on the top 50 sellers in the UK last week (week ending 6 September), in which 26,755 people paid up for no. 1 (still Linwood Barclay), ranging down to 5,080 for no. 50 (Clarissa Dickson Wright edged into last place by Bill Bryson). Similarly, none of the shortlist appears in the top 10 sales at independent bookstores in the past week. It is a long time since I gave up reading the Booker shortlist each year, as was my wont, because I found it to be such an unreliable indicator of the quality of a book. Clearly, things haven't changed: what people actually like reading is not partially but totally irrelevant to this top literary prize.

Indridason’s Jar City on screen

I've just finished Arctic Chill, the fifth novel by Arnaldur Indridason, CWA Gold Dagger winner and crime-fiction writer extraodinaire. My review of this fantastic book is to come, but to those who are unfamiliar with this author, the film of the first novel in the series, Jar City * (also known as Tainted Blood), is now finally out in England. Hooray: I'd read about this film a year or so ago when it was released in Iceland, then more recently on its Irish premiere, so I eagerly await its sojourn at my local Odeon. (At the moment my only option is Covent Garden.) In some ways, Jar City is not the best introduction to this fantastic series, because the solution to the crime rests on a scientific impossibility. Even so, the rest of the book is pretty ace.  From the Times review:

"….Detective Erlendur (a tremendous, glowering turn from Ingvar E. Sigurðsson) has to contend with the local criminal element flaunting their knowledge of his own unravelling family life – his daughter is a pregnant, heroin-addicted former prostitute.

The story starts with the discovery of the body of an elderly man in a malodorous basement. Meanwhile, Örn (Atli Rafn Sigurðsson), mourns the four-year-old daughter he lost to a rare congenital disease with a fierceness that borders on obsession. These seemingly disparate story lines gradually weave together with a slow, deliberate precision – although so entirely unrelated are the two strands that it’s obvious that Örn must have some link to the dead man.

It’s a terrific piece of direction from Kormákur. Everything, from the look of the film (a frosted half-light that lends a chilly beauty to the bleak, often rather sordid, locations) to the brilliantly unsettling use of food as a recurring motif (the image of Erlendur prising the eyeball out of his sheep’s head supper is one that will stay with me far longer than I would like it to) is judged perfectly….."

* I am prepared to be corrected, but I believe that Arnaldur Indridason is relatively unusual among Scandinavian authors in that his series novels have been translated into English in order, starting with the first.

Great presentations and meetings

Via Jen Dodd, one of those top ten lists that actually seems interesting is Best Presentations Ever , with links to the videos, on KnowHR blog. Highlights include Martin Luther's I Have a Dream speech, Steve Jobs introducing the Macintosh in 1984, Malcolm Gladwell, Larry Lessig and Seth Goldin. KnowHR's readers responded; their top 10 presentations list is here. They include J F Kennedy in Berlin, Al Gore on global warming, Steve Jobs again, in 1997 this time, and someone called Ze Frank on what makes a website popular (2004 vintage). Quite a gamut.

In a complete coincidence, Nature has just started an Essay series covering "six scientific meetings that had such a great impact, they can be said to have changed the world. Each piece is written by an expert who attended the conference in question. The authors recall what it was like to live through these momentous occasions, and reflect upon the events' broad and lasting legacies." The first Essay (Nature 455, 174–175; 11 September 2008), published to coincide with this week's attempt to circulate a beam through the world's most powerful particle accelerator, is "Paris 1951: The birth of CERN", in which François de Rose, who chaired the meeting that founded Europe's premier facility for experimental nuclear and particle research, relives the five days of drama that changed the world of physics.