In the first couple of years of this blog, I regularly posted "round ups" of various bits and bobs I came across, usually articles on the Internet. About a year ago I more or less stopped doing this, mainly because I can post links to the relevant Friend Feed group if I come across articles of interest, and also because I share my Google Reader selections so anyone can follow those. In addition, of course there is always Twitter, where if you follow me you won't find out what I'm having for tea or think about the price of fish, but you will get links to various items that I find stimulating for one reason or another. (Typepad has a similar "following" service but it is pretty nascent.)
However, a couple of articles and sites came to my attention recently so I thought I'd share them here. First, I received an email from someone called Mike Norman about his website, ungrammatically called Thrillers4u. Despite the offputting title, this site is pretty ace, providing cover pictures and blurbs of recently published crime novels, "a showcase for exciting and engaging thriller fiction. Ignore the siren call of 'best seller' authors. Forget the publisher's hype. These are stories you may have overlooked or never even been aware of." Yes, it is true, there are some good selections on there, and no sign of James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell and others with huge marketing budgets behind them (though there are some of the better top-sellers, eg Harlan Coben). There is a welcome accent on translated fiction, and fiction from smaller publishers. So this is a site to which I shall be returning, not least for their tagline, "you'll find none of the usual suspects here".
On the more technical side, is this the end for RSS? I was not too sad when I read that Bloglines will soon close – this is an RSS reader that I used a long time ago (before I started a blog, in fact). Although it changed my world at the time, it is a sad fact that Google Reader, when it came along, was even better (and "up" a lot more!), so I switched. Ask.com bought up Bloglines, somewhat behind the curve, but it seems it has not thrived. I was not too bothered about Bloglines until I learned from a colleague that Google Reader use has declined massively too – by 27 per cent last year – it seems that RSS readers have been superceded by the echo chamber that is Twitter. How annoying, I much prefer an RSS reader than having to follow people or hashtags or lists on Twitter as there is too much noise that needs filtering out. Still, there may be life in the young dog yet, according to the source itself.
If you are one of those considering an e-reader, there's a useful comparison between the latest versions of the market leaders, Sony's reader touch and Amazon's Kindle 3, at The Inquirer. My Kindle 3 arrived 2 days ago, and so far I am very impressed. I set it up and (wirelessly) downloaded a book within minutes of opening the packaging. (A book that has been on my Amazon wishlist for 2 years or so, but has never come out in paperback — but is available in an affordable e-reader format.) I note that there is a "read aloud" option (where it reads the book to you rather than your eyes doing it); I also note that you can download audiobooks via the Audible website, and you can download your music files in mp3 format if you like to listen while you read, using the built-in stereo speakers and earplug jack. Thankfully, however, it isn't a phone. I haven't actually started reading the book yet ;-), but the screen and print looks good, so the omens are promising. The choice of books on Amazon is brilliant; the selection of magazines, newspapers and blogs less so — but it is early days. As ever with Amazon, I'm very impressed with the thought they've put into the customer interfaces and interactions between the device and the website.
Finally, for this post, returning to "proper" books – Robert McCrum in the Guardian totally misses the point in his widely reported article Waterstone's has forgotten what bookselling is about. (Incidentally, along with the present tense in novels, a pet hate of mine is assertions in titles. A better one here would have been Has Waterstone's forgotten what bookselling is about?) In the Guardian piece, the author confounds two issues – that of Waterstone's being unable to deal effectively or well with a journalist's enquiry; and whether or not they are a decent bookseller. Dealing with media enquiries is not easy for anyone, but even the most silly journalist should realise that a company's policy on who can or cannot speak to the media is not relevant at all to what it stocks in its shops. I despise these petty attacks not only because they are prejudiced, unaware of the economics of bookselling and illogical, but because for many of us, Waterstone's is the only bookshop anywhere near where we live. Would not having a bookshop at all, or having to rely on WHSmith, be better? No. And, so far as my own local branch of Waterstone's is concerned, it is quite a nice place to browse and even buy books. Not as good as the old days before the Internet and when the National Net Book Agreement ruled, maybe, but still, not bad.