The favourite books of the famous and influential

Wednesday, 15 October, 2014

It occurs to me I’m not reading enough books at the moment. Therefore I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” last week, and am about to start “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson, after I’ve read “Life in Half a Second”, by Matthew Michalewicz, a tome I think I need to read. And absorb.

I’ve had to cut back on the movies I watch to do achieve though, but I’ve probably been a little over-weight films these last few years anyway.

Long story short, I’m often on the look out for reading ideas, so this list of the favourite books of people such as Bill Murray, Michelle Obama, Robin Williams, Olivia Munn, Hillary Rodham Clinton, James Franco, and forty-four other “cultural icons”, might have come along at just the right time.

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The smartwatch, based on the codex rotundus… or bookwatch?

Tuesday, 14 October, 2014

Codex rotundus

The arrival of what is effectively a smartphone you wear on your wrist, in watch style, caused a splash a month or so ago, but how about the codex rotundus, a circle shaped book, about nine centimetres across, that almost looks like it could be worn as a watch, as wearable technology.

And dating from the late fifteenth century, on top of that. How old hat does this make that smartwatch look then?

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Is there a way to accrue more life points so there’s more time to read?

Wednesday, 8 October, 2014

This is why we struggle to make it through our reading lists… books, articles, websites, social media, what have you. If time to take in all this material is broken down into “life points”, then we are possessed of a maximum of forty million of these units as of age five.

Given how much there is to potentially read though, likely many trillions of life points worth, if not much more, it quickly becomes clear that care must be taken in how this all too limited supply of points is allotted.

If you live in a developed nation, your average life span is about 80 years. Most children learn to read at 5 years-old, so we only have about 39.5 million life points to invest in consuming content. Of course, this presumes you do not sleep, and instead lay in bed for eight hours each night, flicking through shit on your phone.

Via Hypnophant.

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The autobiographical story behind classic works of fiction

Tuesday, 7 October, 2014

Harper Lee’s 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a book that I am finally reading now, may not be strictly autobiographical, but it appears to be based in part on Lee’s life. I wonder though, what work of fiction is not, in some way, autobiographical?

Not too many, it could be.

She wrote the book in the years following the death of her mother in 1951, and in the story Scout too has lost her mother. And even the character of Dill, who lives next door to the Finch family during the summer, is modelled on her childhood friend Truman Capote, who would spend the summer with his aunt in Alabama while his mother visited New York.

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How reading the “Harry Potter” books made me a better person

Thursday, 18 September, 2014

Not only will you be treated to a gripping yarn when you read the “Harry Potter” books, you may also emerge a better person, says a study that found readers of the saga tended to become more empathic by the time they had read through the series:

For decades it’s been known that an effective means of improving negative attitudes and prejudices between differing groups of people is through intergroup contact – particularly through contact between “in-groups,” or a social group to which someone identifies, and “out-groups,” or a group they don’t identify with or perceive as threatening. Even reading short stories about friendship between in- and out-group characters is enough to improve attitudes toward stigmatized groups in children.

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Authors are earning less, but books are getting longer, how so?

Friday, 1 August, 2014

Even though authors today are earning less than they did in the past, the length of books – in terms of number of pages – has increased. Books published last year, for instance, were, on average, more than twice the size of those written in 1904.

So what accounts for this trend? One thought is that ebooks do not impose the same cost restraints on writers, and accordingly there isn’t a great deal of difference in a book that is one hundred pages long, compared to one that is one thousand pages.

Obviously part of this experiment meant finding average book lengths for a cross-section of time long enough to mean anything. So I went 110 years back to 1904, and did some research for every 10 years. So I Googled “Best Books of… 1904… 1914… 1924… etc.” and Google’s wizardry helped me out quite a bit, because the search results display an immediate gallery of books. It ends up being a combination of prize winners, best sellers, and attention garners. Perfect.

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An author’s salary… going up, or going down, what do you think?

Monday, 21 July, 2014

The median income of British authors last year was £11,000. That’s about $20,000 in Australian currency. The two main points. One, and this is no surprise, that’s not enough to live, and two, the figure is down by almost a third since a similar survey of writers was conducted in 2005.

As shown by a survey last week of almost 2,500 professional writers, there are no cushy careers in fiction now. Figures from the Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society show the median income of a working author last year was only £11,000, lower than the amount needed to live on, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and down 29% since the last survey in 2005. It is more telling still that in literary quarters the surprise was that the figure was so high. Many writers privately admit they earn half that in a year, although this discrepancy could be because the survey offers a typical income rather than a mean average.

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Taking a second look at “Catcher in the Rye”

Thursday, 10 July, 2014

I read “Catcher in the Rye” at high school, but don’t recall being all that focused for some reason. Perhaps it is time for a re-read, something US economist Tyler Cowen did recently, an exercise that brought forth some new insights into both the story itself, and its writer, J. D. Salinger.

Salinger took part in the D-Day invasion with part of the manuscript in his backpack. Salinger also fought in some of the toughest battles of WWII and later in his life sought extreme withdrawal. It all supports the notion of WWII as the major event in his life and one which he never got over. It is no accident that the deceased younger brother is named Allie.

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An illustrated version of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”

Tuesday, 8 July, 2014

Brazilian film director Walter Salles’ 2012 adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel “On The Road” didn’t exactly collect the most glowing of accolades.

I suspect US illustrator Paul Rogers, who is producing a drawing based on each page of Kerouac’s book, will however be accorded a warmer reception.

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Should books also carry content warning labels as films do?

Tuesday, 27 May, 2014

Movies and video games feature warnings that alert us to the possibly forceful nature of its content and language, so should books do likewise? I can see how such a system would have its applications, but I’m really not sure it’s that great an idea.

Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism – like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” – have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?

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