Petrona’s choice from the Internet (25 May)

What are the essential books of the last decade? Jackie of Farm Lane books entered and won a competition by Penguin Essentials which asked bloggers to suggest their own favourites. Jackie’s excellent selection is here. Her prize (pictured at post) is the entire Penguin Essentials series – but I am wondering whether I should read some of the books she’s chosen as I’ve only read a few of them. I would be quite hard-pressed to decide on a few essential books from the past decade as I haven’t read enough “good” (literary) ones, unlike previous decades. But I’ll think on it.

Some good book reviews I read recently: Work in Progress reviews Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, a book I enjoyed very much years ago; Georgina Phipps of Allison and Busby finishes her epic review/reading summary of War and Peace (Tolstoy), a marvellous series of posts that bought the book back to me (I read it when I was 18 and about to go to college); and there’s another old favourite reviewed (superbly) at A Penguin A Week, The Last Tresilians by J I M Stewart (which I read when I was about 11 and understood very little! My father had all the Michael Innes and J I M Stewarts on his shelf in the attic which I read my way through at that time).

There’s a lot of reaction to the announcement of an eventual buyer for Waterstone’s bookshops, a deal that includes James Daunt of the highly-regarded independent chain. See this Guardian article, for example. This piece provides links to Waterstone’s and Daunt’s current websites, and asks which is better. It’s a no-brainer, of course the Daunt one is much more appealing and reader-friendly. However, this isn’t the point. The books featured on the Daunt homepage, or in a newly “independent” Waterstone’s branch, are available on Amazon for half the price in some cases, and cheaper than the Waterstone’s/Daunt price in virtually all of them. This is what Waterstone’s has to compete with – however attractive a website or bookshop, most of the sales are going to be made by Amazon or the Book Depository or a few other sites. I don’t see how real-world bookshops can seriously compete, sadly (I like both forms of book buying but I am not going to pay twice as much for a book just because I like the shop).

Paul Wakely of the BBC explains why publishers like his and my own company have to be so careful about user-generated comments on their websites, even though the same comments are all over Twitter, people’s own blogs, et al. The England and Wales law is enough to make any company with a physical office in either country relocate to California or the Cayman Islands. (It isn’t the going to court that is so much of a worry as the vast costs of dealing with frivolous threats and preparing due diligence possible defences.) The England/Wales libel laws need to change, which won’t happen by users getting cross because their comments have been removed, but it might happen if the same users (if they live in the UK) lobby their MP to support the current bill (awaiting a reading) – see Sense About Science. On a related topic, it is heartening to read (Economist), assuming that more people will believe it, that alternative medicine is 95 per cent ineffective, compared with placebos which can “work” a lot more often. (Or, “easy ways to save your money”.)

Brief links.

Excellent post about why being quiet does not mean being “not smart”. (Female Science Professor)

Books (150,000 of them) from the sixteenth and seventeenth century can now be seen online in full colour, thanks to the partnership between Google Books and various national or leading libraries. They’ve also scanned 450,000 books from the eighteenth century. (Inside Google books).

Dinosaur feathers? No, kiwi DNA preserved in Maori cloaks reveals the origins and history of the revered textiles (Nature News).

Not in front of the children (Nicci French blog). You just have to read this – incredibly awful parenting and a great (book-related) punchline.

I had to laugh at the £3.50 Waitrose lettuce leaf, though this writer with an eating disorder did not find it so amusing, thinking it gives the wrong message to young women.

6 thoughts on “Petrona’s choice from the Internet (25 May)

  1. Thakyou so much for your kind comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the review. I wish I had another book by J.I.M. Stewart to move onto next, so I envy you that shelf of them while you were growing up.

    The link to the Economist’s story on alternative medicine is also interesting because of the figures they use. Any Statistician will tell you that even where there is absolutely no effect at all you will find an association simply by chance some proportion of the time. What that proportion is depends on the p-value used, but the typical level is 5%. I’m surprised they didn’t mention it. Those statistics suggest complementary medicines have no effect at all other than the placebo effect.

  2. And to think I was waiting in great anticipation for the new Exeter Waitrose to open in November? I have doubted all the nutritional advice since we sat in a fish and chip shop in Gosport and watched my dear mother-in-law [96 at the time] and a group of octogenarians and older smother their food in salt. “Salt cleans the blood” was her comment.

  3. I know Jackie´s excellent blog, but I think I´ll still go for Maxine´s essential crime fiction 😉

    And suddenly I am very happy that my father wasn´t famous. Aren´t there surprisingly many famous people who have been horrid parents? Perhaps ordinariness is not so bad after all.

  4. Maxine – Thanks for these links. I, too, am sad that Waterstone’s/Daunt have to contend with Amazon and the Book Depository. Like you, I don’t pay twice the price for a book because I like the shop. But I do love book shops and it’s hard to see them close or pull back. Oh, and the Waitrose story resonated – we’ve a chain here that offers a “low-carb” sandwich that comes wrapped in a lettuce leaf. It’s supposed to be a healthier option, but really, if one looks at the label, it’s not. It’s not any less expensive than the other offerings are, either…

  5. Thanks for all these comments, very much appreciated. I realise I am a bit of a magpie.

    Karyn, you are quite right and I don’t think all that much of the Economist science reporting usually, though it is a lot better than some non-technical media (eg the Daily Mail but that’s a bit cruel, it is a lot better than that). Very few people, scientists included, understand stats. (That’s part of the problem with people’s lack of understanding of climate change research but that is a whole other ball park!)

  6. I’ve only read a few of Jackie’s choices and a few of the actual Penguin Essentials–and I always think I’m reading so much. Oh well, it’s almost impossible with so many books to choose from! Interesting links–I think I might have to check the Stewart book out–didn’t realize Michael Innes was a pen name.

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