Sunday, 30 November 2008

A very short post

Wandering through Blackwell's Bookshop the other day a rather large display caught my eye. On two large bookcases were laid out almost every volume in the OUP's 'A Very Short Introduction' series, in alphabetical order.

This produced some wonderful juxtapositions: The Quakers and Quantum Theory; Game Theory and Gandhi; The Crusades and Cryptography. It also brought our attention to gaps in our knowledge base: what, for example, is Pre-Socratic Philosophy? Do we know enough about Choice Theory?

I quite like the Very Short Introductions: for one thing they're very pleasing physically, with nice thick covers which pretend to be dust jackets, and lovely white paper. For another they're full of serendiptiously interesting topics.

Competing for my money available for ridiculously short books, however, are Penguin's 'Great Ideas' series, released in three 'issues' each of twenty volumes, each of which contains an extract from a longer, famous work, like Clauseowitz's On War, or a complete work in itself, like Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, or a selection of essays by someone famous like George Orwell. The charm of these books is that while they are all small and palely green, they have the most fantastic raised designs on their front covers, which are terribly terribly tactile. Their inner pages are not as pleasing as the Very Short Introductions, being less sharply white, and more fuzzily beige. But still worthwhile - especially in introducing you to some of the world's greatest writers and thinkers.

So not strictly an English post - more of a share. And it did start in a bookshop, at least...

Sunday, 19 October 2008

What makes a heavy reader?

Too much to eat, of course.

No, sorry, bad joke, couldn't resist. I read somewhere this week that the British book industry defines a heavy reader as someone who buys eight books a year. Naturally, when I went back to find the reference, I couldn't. This academic article does, however, cite a European study which used 8 books a year as the definition of a 'keen reader'. It also cites a number of other studies which tend to use 20 to 30 books a year as the measure of a 'heavy reader'. This seems more like it to me.

Eight books a year is one book every month and a half. That's not a whole lot of books. Especially if they're thin books. Although, having said that, I am very aware of some people among my own acquaintance who would be struggling with that. I think Gareth has been attempting to read The Stand by Stephen King since about Easter. I'm pleased to say that Emily, having managed to read a book a month in 2007 has already exceeded that target as of last week, and has in fact lost count. Twenty to thirty books is approximately a book every two weeks, which seems like it would be more of a challenge.

I think I can safely claim to read that number though. In the last week, I have read: Wicked by Gregory Maguire; The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor and The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge. And I have to say I've been feeling a little light on the reading lately. So, assuming that I read at least two books a week, that's a minimum of 100 books a year, and I think that's exceedingly conservative. So what kind of gradation can we decide on for the heaviness of readers?

I like heaviness because it gives us more scope for an inventive scale of measurement. I present to you, Miss Elliott's fascinating scale for the heaviness of readers.

30 books per year = 'overweight'
50 books per year = 'obese'
75 books per year = 'morbidly obese'
100 books per year = 'sumo'
150 books per year = 'Great White Shark'
200 books per year = 'Volvo estate'
300 books per year = 'elephant'
400 books per year = 'double decker'
500 books per year = 'blue whale'

Frankly, if you're over that, you're too keen a reader even for me! So what are you? As I said, I'm somewhere between 'sumo' and 'elephant', which is quite an achievement. In my prime (gapy year working in Oxfam books) I almost certainly did reach the dizzy heights of 'blue whale'; now such heftiness is beyond me.

And a little factoid to finish: 500 books is about a quarter of a tonne. Which is easily light enough for the 150 tonne blue whale to slip into its pocket.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Has the world gone mad? I'm so angry I'm willing to sound like Richard Littlejohn.

AQA have removed Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy from the syllabus. Because someone complained that it promoted knife crime. Which it doesn't, if you actually read it.

Much has been written about this so I'm not going to rehash it all here. But I just wanted to be able to say that I object to this blatant censorship - prompted by a complaint from someone who told The Guardian ( that she thought all of CAD's poetry was a bit 'weird'. Glad to know it's coming from an informed, eloquent, well-reasoned view point. And I wanted to say that CAD herself, as we should have expected, has said it better than anyone else, with her response:
Mrs Schofield's GCSE

And frankly, the idea that the GCSE poetry is going to inspire anyone to murder, commit acts of terrorism, etc, apart from the teachers who have to teach it, year in, year out, is ludicrous. Like when they wanted to ban video games in the early nineties. Which let's face it, are far more violent than the AQA anthology, but don't have the articulate expression.