Monday, June 26th, 2017 01:42 pm

10 Famous Book Hoarders

(I think we may contest the term 'hoarders' for people with lotsaboox, hmmmm?)

In most of those cases I think we do see a real love of books, though I'm not sure about Hearst and whether 'ostentation' was not on his mind rather than use?

In some cases those appear to be the personal libraries that have fetched up in public collections, and one wonders whether there was a certain amount of weeding and selection at the point of accession. (I'm not saying that Houdini or Arendt also had vast collections of pulp westerns or school stories or whatever, but I'm not ruling out that choices were made at some point.)

And indeed, while calling your private collection 'the Library of the History of Human Imagination' is indeed quite a long way along the pretentiousness scale, I look at that picture: 'It has three levels, a glass bridge, floating platforms' and feel a certain covetousness.

And even if it's ponceyness turned up to 11, it's not as cringe-making as this, which crossed my radar pretty much on the same day: Meet The App That Revolutionized Book Reading For 2 Million People

We sort through the approximately 2,200,000 books published worldwide to find the best nonfiction books out there. Then, our subject specialists, writers, and editors identify the key ideas from each of these hand-selected books and transform them into smart, useful summaries of insights we lovingly polish and refine until they are nothing but the absolute most essential elements of the writer’s main ideas. We do the filtering for you, then we share those ideas with you the way your dream-friend would.
Tonstant Weader called for a stiff drink.

*'Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his [Gordian II's] inclinations; and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than for ostentation.' Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol I.

Monday, June 26th, 2017 09:24 am
Perhaps I should make some attempt to describe this campus. Toukyou Joshi Dai isn't a big university by the standards of the UK (it has about 3,000 students to Cardiff's 30,000, for example). It takes up what in American terms would be a block (if you're from Bristol, think of the zoo). That space has quite a few older buildings dotted around, like the one in which I'm living, some of which were apparently designed by a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright with a taste for inverted dishes, as well as a few plate-glass jobs with offices and teaching rooms.

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This turns out to be purely decorative, and not after all a way of communicating with extra-terrestials

There's also a rather grand main building, with the Latin motto "QUAECUNQUE SUNT VERA" inscribed on the front. For this is a Christian foundation, as its English name (Tokyo Woman's Christian University) makes clear, even though the "Christian" bit is dropped in Japanese translation.

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There are trees (木), groves (林) and woods (森) (who said that kanji were hard to learn?), and although these come with matching mosquitoes I think it's well worth it. It certainly doesn't feel like the middle of one of the world's great metropoles. In some ways it resembles my idea of an American liberal arts college, although before you use this as a reliable reference you should remember that my ideas of American liberal arts colleges derive entirely from having read The Secret History and Tam Lin. Unlike a typical liberal arts college, this university appears (as far as I can tell) not to be a hub for ritual murder, whether inspired by Dionysian frenzy or the need to pay a tithe to hell, and as far as I'm concerned this is a plus. On the contrary, they take rather paternalistic care of their students, locking the gates at 11pm each evening (though nothing as extreme as the broken glass and razor wire I saw surrounding the female dorms in a Christian university in Taiwan a few years ago). Even I, when I leave the campus, have to hand my key over the guards (there are usually at least two) and pick it up again on my return - perhaps five minutes later, after a dash to the combini. I'm not sure what purpose is served by this requirement, but the guards are always very cheerful and polite, so I can't resent it.

The area is neither central Tokyo nor the suburbs, but a sweet spot somewhere in between. Turning left from the main gate the streets are quiet, with houses, family restaurants, antique and bookshops. There are people milling about, but no sense of city hustle, and more bicycles than cars. Here it is at about 7pm on my first evening, with dusk already falling in the abrupt Asian manner:

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In the other direction is fashionable Kichijouji, a far more bustling place, for shopping by day or eating by night. Here's where you need to go if you want to eat a curry doughnut, which I intend to do as soon as may be:

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On my first full day in Japan, though, I contented myself with buying a yukata and all the trimmings - something I've wanted for a long time. I placed myself in the hands of a very friendly department store assistant, and luckily it was one of those days when my Japanese was flowing pretty well (it varies greatly). She walked me through the process of putting on the underdress, the yukata itself, the obi, the geta (alas! my feet are so large that I had to get men's ones), and then set me up with accessories - a flower for the hair, and of course one of those terribly useful baskets.

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I hesitate to say how much all that cost, but suffice it to say that it sated my desire to shop for at least a day.

"They order these things better in Japan" Dept. A useful feature of Japanese supermarkets is that, rather than put the food into your shopping bags at the checkout, potentially holding up other customers as you do so, they provide tables where you can take your shopping basket/trolley after you've paid, and put things in bags at your leisure - rather like the tables in airport security where you can sort out your possessions after they've been through the scanner. A simple idea, but a good one - which I noticed only having held everyone up at the checkout putting things in bags, of course.

On the other hand, here at Toukyou Joshi Dai I seem to be a celebrity:

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Let's hope I live up to the billing.
Sunday, June 25th, 2017 08:47 pm

During the week, baked a loaf of the Shipton Mill 3 Malts and Sunflower Organic Brown Flour.

Friday supper: Gujerati khichchari - absentmindedly used ground cumin rather than cumin seed but I don't think the effect was disastrous.

Saturday breakfast rolls: the adaptable soft rolls recipe, 2:2:1 strong white/wholemeal/dark rye flours with maple sugar and sour cherries.

Today's lunch: redfish fillets rubbed with Cajun seasoning, brushed with milk and egg and coated in panko crumbs, panfried in olive oil, served with steamed samphire tossed in butter and baby leeks healthy-grilled in avocado oil and splashed with gooseberry vinegar.

Sunday, June 25th, 2017 06:37 pm
My brother lives in the US. He & his family coming over to the UK, and the children will stay with my mother for some quality granny time while he and his wife bugger off to Paris for a week.

Tomorrow I am going up to Scotland to stay with my mother and be her chief assistant child-wrangler. I volunteered for this, I wanted to do it, but now I am really panicky about it.

It's partly child-related anxieties (small people! what do I do! aargh!) and partly just the prospect of my mother for a week unleavened by any other adult.

She will want to talk about politics. To give you a flavour, she's against wind-farms, believes that nationalisation improved the railways and thinks that Corbyn is the Anti-Christ.

I am also having packing panic, and trying to decide what I want to wear next week. It's Scotland. It will be cold. It will rain at some point. I want all the clothes and then some more.
Sunday, June 25th, 2017 12:34 pm
Happy birthday, [personal profile] shana!
Saturday, June 24th, 2017 02:57 pm

I am fairly hmmmm about this piece on empaths, and wonder if some of those consultant empaths are employing the cold-reading tricks attributed to psychics, but buried in it is actually an interrogation of how useful quivering responsiveness to emotion is and the suggestion that 'empathy alone is not a reliable way of coming to a moral decision', and

Empathy is not action. It’s much more useful to be knowledgable about what’s happening so you can effect structural change. If everybody’s swimming in a sea of feelings, it’s an impediment to action.

And possibly somehow related to this, on the advantages of scheduling over spontaneity.

See also, review here of Selfie by Will Storr: 'This engaging book links the ‘self-esteem’ industry to Ayn Rand and neoliberalism. But is the selfie-taking generation unusually narcissistic?'. And is there not something problematic about making a big deal out of a single young woman who takes a lot of selfies? (shoutout here to Carol Dyhouse's Girl Trouble and the constant motif of young women's behaviour epitomising what is supposedly wrong with These Here Modern Times.)

And in Dept of, Countering National Stereotypes, the French minister who wants sexual harassment fines and is annoyed by the cultural myths about Frenchwomen.

Born in 1799, Anna Atkins captured plants, shells and algae in ghostly wisps and ravishing blues. Why isn’t she famous? - how long have you got to listen to my answer?

A book on hares which is, it sounds like, more about hares than the writer's journey and epiphany from their encounter with nature

Saturday, June 24th, 2017 08:48 am
On the 21st the sun rose early (as one would expect on the solstice), but not as early as me, nor many other Bristolians, who were making pre-dawn departures in various directions. Some, I've no doubt, were heading east to Stonehenge, but a large contingent was going south to Glastonbury, and I encountered a good wodge of them in Bristol bus station, where special coaches were being laid on at regular intervals.

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As for me, I was off to Heathrow, though I did get to see the solstice sun rise in Wiltshire, admittedly over the M4 rather than the heel stone:

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The journey all went very smoothly. After some hairy experiences at Schiphol two years ago I'd been worried by the fact that I only had an hour to make my connection at Frankfurt, especially as it involved two different airlines (Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways), but the combination of German efficiency and, er, Japanese efficiency, meant that I needn't have worried.

On the plane from Frankfurt to Tokyo I found myself sitting between two middle-aged Japanese women, both of whom spent much of the next 11 hours in face masks, but who were to play a significant role in my journey.

I'd secretly been a little annoyed by the woman sitting to my right, because she closed the window just before take-off, depriving me of a view I always enjoy. Also, I remembered that you're meant to leave the windows open on take-off and landing, for the grisly reason that it helps recovery workers count the bodies in the event of a crash. I composed a Japanese sentence to this effect in my head, but hesitated to speak it, considering that it would be kind of snotty, however perfect the grammar, and that we were after all destined to be companions for quite a while.

She rose considerably in my estimation when I woke from a nap to find her absent from her seat. How had she escaped without waking me or my equally slumberous companion to the left? A minute later I had my answer, when she returned, removed her shoes, and clambered over both arm rests with the considerate dexterity of a service-industry ninja.

Then, about half hour from arrival, she became a friend for life by positively shaking me to point out a beautiful view of Mount Fuji.

Apart from one very distant blurry glimpse from a Tokyo high-rise last year, it was my first Fuji sighting, and it looked marvellous in the clear early-morning sun (for it was now 6am the next day, thanks to the magic of time zones), brown with an icing-sugar sprinkle of snow. Of course, I tried to take a picture with my crappy mobile phone, but captured nothing but a blur. Then I remembered that I'd bought a camera especially for the trip, and dug that out. Unfortunately I hadn't yet taught myself to use it, and my attempts were really no better than before. Eventually my kind companion suggested I photograph the picture she'd just taken with her iPhone. So here it is, my photograph of the next-door passenger's iPhone's photograph of Mount Fuji:

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Just like being there, isn't it? Hokusai would be proud.

As for my left-hand companion, she chatted politely with me, asking why I was coming to Japan, and so on, which was a good chance to give my Japanese a light workout. When I explained about the lectures I'd be giving in Tokyo she promised to tell her daughter, who was interested in anime - but added that her cousin (who was travelling on the same plane) happened to live in Kichijouji, near the university where I'd be staying, and would be happy to show me there when we landed.

So it was that I spent my first hour in Tokyo with left-hand companion and her cousin, the latter seeing me through the Tokyo tube in the rush-hour crush (no joke when you have two sizeable cases), all the way to the door of the university. She'd made a couple of remarks about looking forward to getting back to her Japanese life after her stay in Germany (her younger sister had married a German and even taken citizenship), so I thanked her for her "authentic Japanese hospitality" (本物の日本のおもてなし) - which I think pleased her, but was sincerely meant.

I spent the rest of that day meeting people, paying rent, registering at the library and getting online, and so on - more or less in a daze, for it was 24 hours since I'd had any sleep worth the name. I'll leave that aside for the moment - we will meet these actors again - and just give you a quick tour of my dwelling, the Foreign Faculty House, where I am sole resident. The outside I've already posted, but here it is again, in glorious colour:

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So far, the rainy season has consisted of bright sunshine and 29-degree heat, and my little patch of garden is alive with butterflies and dragonflies. A murder of crows has taken up lugubrious residence in a nearby grove.

Inside, I have a spacious and comfortable apartment, though rather oddly appointed. The building, being almost 100 years old, is in any case ancient by Japanese standards, with polished wooden floors on the landings to facilitate the swish of kimonos (not that kimonos do swish, but this is the obligatory word to use with female clothing of yore) and, I suppose, the clatter of geta. There is an ominous stairwell that leads up into a void, but from which, so far, nothing has issued. Anyway, here are a few shots of the inside, to give you a feel:

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Some of the facilities, though not quite coaeval with the house, have a distinctly retro vibe - but this makes me feel quite at home, my heart spending much of its time in the 1970s in any case.

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Japanese error in most urgent need of correction? Why, that would be my habit of pronouncing "Toukyou Joshi Dai" (the abbreviation everyone round here uses for the name of this university) as "Toukyou Dai Joshi", which translates rather unfortunately as "Tokyo Big Girls".

This must end.
Friday, June 23rd, 2017 12:29 pm
Home late last night after a lovely, lovely train journey up the coast to Portland, and then east to Minneapolis. Once I got there, I bumbled my way to the delicious breakfast place my daughter and I found last year (The Buttered Tin) and after that, in perfect weather--low seventies, cloudy, tiny drops of rain--made my way to the hotel for Fourth Street Fantasy.

Other than a somewhat jolting experience at the opening ceremonies, which made it clear yet again that many of those who have always assumed their perfect safety in any circumstance (and who thus find argument entertaining) simply do not comprehend the paradigm for those who have always had to be wary, to at least some degree, while maneuvering in public spaces. I trust that learning happened.

After that, things went so very well. So many great conversations, over delicious food. Interesting panels, lovely weather. Another thing occurred to me: I so seldom get that quick-back-and-forth of conversation, as my social life is about 95% online, that I found myself frequently behind a couple steps. At least, I think it's due to that and not (I hope) to me dulling with age.

The con was splendid right to the last moments: my return train was to leave Mpls. at ten-ten that night, and I did not particularly look forward to sitting at the Amtrak station for six hours, but I didn't have the discretionary cash for adventuring about. However after delicious ice cream sundaes (yum, yum, yum!) [personal profile] carbonel generously offered to take me home, then drop me at the station, though it was not even remotely in her way.

My six hours passed so pleasantly it was emblematic of the entire weekend for me: after the fast pace it was so nice to sit quietly, watch some BBC animal planet documentaries . . . and, to my utter delight, the resident kitting--after doing considerable showing off by leaping to wall and ceiling beams and down again--curled up in my lap to purr. When you realize that I rarely get to see cats except in youtube vids when the news is too fraught, you will understand how that was the perfect close to an excellent weekend.

Thence an equally lovely train trip back, much reading and some writing achieved.

And this morning, I hauled my aged bod to yoga, for a much-needed session. This last couple weeks has been all about the head. Exhilarating, but not good for the bod. I used to be so active, until the arthritis turned all my joints into a constant ache; now exercise is something I have to do, so I've some tricks to keep my lazy ass in gear.

Anyway, it occurred to me as I sweated and stretched that the fundamental good of yoga is to strengthen all those muscles we otherwise do not notice that hold the body upright. Especially someone like me with rotten posture (I've had the child-abuse shoulder hunch all my life, and when young fought against it in dance, constantly hearing, "Shoulders down, Smith!" The only time I didn't have it was in fencing, oddly enough) it's easy to turtle. But I feel much better and stronger overall when I keep up with the yoga.

So--that, and to my desk to catch up!

A bit of writerly stuff to pass on: an indie writer I met through a fantasy bundle project last summer, C.J. Brightley, has put out a call for fantasy stories of the uplifting sort, and asked me to pass it on. Submission data here.
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Friday, June 23rd, 2017 08:45 pm
1) It has stopped being hot. This is good. It is so good. There is a cool breeze and I have had to go and shut windows and put on a jumper. I work from home, my house is cool (old, high ceilings, inadequate insulation) so I can cope with a heatwave, but oh, 30oC is a very bad temperature.

2) I have started coding an update for an open-source project on github. Also good. I have been meaning to this for a very long time. Today it was my displacement activity; I have another (big horrible) project which I really didn't feel up to, so it's my equivalent of scrubbing the floor under the fridge instead of revising for exams.

3) My period has started. Not so good. Pain and exhaustion. I feel as if I have been hit over the back of the head with a cartoon brick.

4) And now... I am going to have a hot bath, and then I am going to have some good whisky, and then I am going to bed with a book.
Friday, June 23rd, 2017 07:57 pm

Well, not literally.

But I have finally managed to have a discussion with the editor at the Very Estimable and Well-Reputed Academic Press whom I had hoped to get together with during the Massive Triennial Conference the other week, which did not happen for, reasons.

And they are very keen about a book I have been thinking about for ages, which is not the Major Research Project of the moment, though somewhat tangentially related, and I'm hmmmmmm about it.

Because it's a book where I haven't done more than research rather a small part of one angle of the bigger picture, but on the other hand, I do know what has to be in there and where to look.

And unlike the Major Research Project, which is large and contains multitudes, this would be a discrete project that wouldn't (I hope) keep starting yet more hares for me to go baying after.

*Wibble*

Friday, June 23rd, 2017 10:32 am
Happy birthday, [personal profile] bessemerprocess and [personal profile] libskrat!
Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 10:18 am
[R]ed tape also means regulations that protect citizens, at a certain cost to companies that otherwise have little incentive to sacrifice some profit to mitigate risk. It is because of red tape that you cannot buy a flammable sofa, and that you are very unlikely to die in an air crash.

Much red tape, indeed, is the frozen memory of past disaster. Modern regulatory regimes as a whole came into being in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because of public outrage at the dangerous practices of unrestrained industry.

This is perhaps partly similar to the phenomenon that having effective infrastructure and ongoing regular maintenance of same is not as dramatic a story as horrendous accidents.

It's possibly also analogous to people becoming anti-vaxxers, because vaccination programmes have been so successful that there is no notion of the risks there used to be from common diseases of childhood.

For the first few years of 'there were no new cases of polio in the last twelve months' this is news. And then that becomes the default setting.

For those who decry 'Elf and Safety, I recommend a salutary reading of the London Medical Officer of Health reports from the C19th, freely available digitised and searchable online.

There are some Victorian values one can get behind, and the rise of public health is one of them.

On other Victorian values, however, and those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it, this person seems unaware that providing tied housing contingent upon working for a particular employer is nothing like a 'welfare state':

it was recently reported that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is spending is around $30m to provide short-term, prefab housing for 300 of its employees because Silicon Valley housing is in such short supply. Tech giants helped cause a housing crisis in Silicon Valley, now it seems they are becoming landlords. It’s feudalism 2.0.
Not so much feudalism as C19th model towns, e.g. Saltaire, founded by businessmen to keep their workers contented and (I hypothesise) spurning the trades union movement (having had to do with a late C19th enterprise with some of the same elements of benevolent paternalism towards the workforce).

And, looking at that article, was New Lanark really quite the same thing? Enlightened capitalism not quite the same as utopian socialism.

Also had the thought that people who are 'regulation BAD' seem to reverse this opinion when it comes to panic measures against terrorism that are often symbolic rather than proven efficacious.

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 09:40 am
Happy birthday, [personal profile] woldy!
Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 09:34 am
And because I haven't posted in ages, I keep on thinking that I need to do a great statement of All The Things, and give my (portentous) thoughts on The Election, The State of the Nation, The Fire and why we are living in the end times.

Can't cope with that. Really can't cope with that.

Instead here is a picture of my cat. He really has gone to sleep with his feet in the air. He's an ungainly beast.
Read more... )
Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 10:58 am

What I read

Finished Binti. Reminded me a bit of other things I have read over my sff reading life, but well-done, may well go for the next one.

Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth (2017). Okay, everybody mentions the hippos, but isn't it, underneath that, a combination western/caper tale where an unlikely team is brought together and has its own tensions besides the issues with what it has to do? (not that that isn't a good armature). Enjoyable, but ended abruptly and cliffhangingly, and is the new thing (see Binti above) of issuing novellas which are only the beginning of a longer story arc the new allotrope of serialised fiction? (but hey, it worked for Middlemarch, though at least Ms Evans indicated that it was an ongoing story.)

Dana Stabenow, Bad Blood (2013). Not quite as good as the last one I read, I think, but ended with A Thing that makes me want to go on to the next quite shortly to see how that pans out for Kate Shugak.

Two short pieces of Barbara Hambly's 'Further Adventures': Hazard (2017) (Sunwolf and Starhawk) and Elsewhere (2017) (Darwath).

Picked up in booksale, Arthur Ransome, Missee Lee (1941). I remembered very little about this, even though I later discovered I already had a copy on my shelves. I don't think it was ever among my favourites of the Swallows and Amazons books; but I've found, on re-reads of these books, that somehow they do not do for me what they did in youth - something about the style? I don't know. Also, early C20th rendering of Chinglish, sigh.

On the go

Elizabeth George, A Banquet of Consequences (2015). I was considerably off these when they were turning Lynley's Epic Manpain up to 11, but this one was very cheap in a charity shop and promised mostly Havers. And really, do we not want more of the scruffy maverick with constant disciplinary issues who is also a woman? - the 'top brass not pleased' is massive at the beginning of this one. Okay, it's got a standard E George riff on 'all unhappy families are different in baroquely complicated ways, and there are no happy families' (the misery handed on is not so much a coastal shelf as the Mariana Trench), but I have stuck with it, though have just been irked that over 500 pages into the narrative they are only just looking into how anyone might have got hold of the somewhat unusual toxic substance involved.

Also, on the ereader, because I don't want to tote around a damn great fat paperback, from the romance bundle, Ivory Lei, How to Wed an Earl (2013) - not got very far, but seems as, 'be betrothed in infancy by respective parents' is how...

Up next

Well, in another charity shop found the preceding volume by Elizabeth George, Just One Evil Act (2013), which, I daresay, will reveal what got Havers into the deepest of disgrace and quite possibly the depths of depression, but I'm not sure I really want to commit to going straight on to another of these. Or maybe the next Stabenow in the series.

Or I could look through my tbr piles, actual and virtual.

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 10:09 am
Happy birthday, [personal profile] adrian_turtle!
Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 12:55 am
I saw Wonder Woman yesterday, and I enjoyed it a lot. One of my favorite superhero movies so far, though I can't say how much of that is because of how wonderful it felt to watch a movie about a female superhero. Spoilers )

Usually I would go back and read many reaction posts/reviews of the movie by other people now, but I work full-time now and there are fewer hours in the day and it's very annoying. Still no time machine. (Though to be fair if I had a time machine there would be more important things to do than go back a few hours every day just so I have more free time.)
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Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 07:18 pm
My daughter suggested I get highlights, and, intrigued by the process (all those bits of foil arranged elegrantly round one's head, as if one were a fashion-conscious conspiracy theorist!) I took her advice. It made much more difference than I was expecting: at first I was pleased with the change, then doubt began to creep in, and now I'm more or less back to liking it again.

Anyway, here is me bidding a lingering au revoir to Jessie's paws, while Ganesh looks on in the background:

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Next time I post it should be from Tokyo!
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Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 12:34 pm

I was responding to someone else's post and saying that I'm actually quite hesitant about recommending some of the writers/works that I love, because I can see that they have very individual and distinctive styles and that these may not work for everybody.

Some while ago (but failed to save the link) read a post somewhere pointing out that if you write a book or make a movie or [whatever], that people really really LOVE it is pretty much certain that there will be some people who really really HATE it; and that people who are aiming to make something that will appeal to everybody end up with a bland mush* that nobody HATES perhaps but nobody goes raving enthusiastically about either.

For some people, and maybe in some genres, this is a feature and not a bug: I have lately been reading various romance authors and a lot of them seem fairly interchangeable to me, i.e. I would not pick up a work and immediately know it was by YX rather than XY. See also some of the comments I have made about the reissued 'Golden Age' mysteries I have been sent as freebies and made myself read. Sometimes e.g. Allingham may irritate me intensely, but you know that you're reading a book by her and not Any Old Person.

Me myself I am a sucker for a distinctive voice provided that it is fresh rather than derivative (suspect this may account for why I like the Flashman books but not the various works that have tried to do the same thing, without, I depose, anything like GMF's abilities).

Though I am also generally twitchy about people who proselytise for authors/works/movies; possibly the flipside of that is people who diss on something you're reading or have on your shelves, which is rude. (Plus, if you a person who reads ALOT, you are going to have books about that are not favourites of your heart or indeed anything but something you are reading, because reading is what you do, they are at least a step up from the back of the cereal packet.)

As I have heretofore remarked, there is no book that everybody SHOULD read.

*Though is there not a proverb about porridge and no danger of world shortage of oatmeal?

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 09:40 am
Happy birthday, [personal profile] bzeep and [personal profile] tournevis!