This is the blogging equivalent of me standing in the middle of the street dressed as a book and/or holding a big sign with BOOK SALE and an arrow on it.

Anyway, I have some books I no longer have the space for which I’m selling. Some of them are on eBay, some of them will be on eBay in the future when I’m allowed more than ten items on there at a time. Some of you may want to buy some, none, or all of these books (click on the image for a more details view):

If you do, just click on this eBay link to see if they’re up for sale there, and make a bid if they are. If they’re not, just get in touch with me and they can be yours for a very reasonable price. For a fuller list, look below the cut.

Read the rest of this entry

chaos walkingIt’s been a while since I’ve found a fictional series that’s grabbed me so well I’ve sped through the entirety of it in a short time, but Chaos Walking reawakened that desire in me. I’ve got that feeling where I want to find everyone I know who’s already read it so I can demand to know why they didn’t urge me to read it earlier, while also thrusting copies of it on everyone who hasn’t. I read each of the three books (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) in a day each over the last week, which is a testament to the strength of both the story and Ness’s writing.

It all starts quite small, in a little place called Prentisstown, which seems to be the last remaining settlement on a world where a war with the natives has led to the deaths of all the women and the infection of the remaining men and animals with Noise, which causes them to psychically broadcast all their thoughts to everyone around them. We see all this through the eyes (and Noise) of Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown, still a month away from officially becoming a man. When his adoptive fathers send him away from there, he discovers that the world has a lot more in it than he was told and as he discovers more of the world, it becomes more and more dangerous as the history he knows isn’t as simple, or as dead, as he thought.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot because these are books that thrive on the power of revelation as Todd (and the reader) gets to see a bigger and bigger picture. The revelations aren’t plot twists, more plot straightenings, unlocking a clearer picture of what went before which then drives forward the next part of the story. These aren’t shocks and sudden twists just to create temporary suspense, but part of the way the story unfolds and reveals itself.

Noise is a great concept, and one that’s woven into the story not just a gimmick on top of it. Ness has clearly thought about what it would mean to live in a world where your thoughts and secrets are potentially on show to everyone, and how there’d be a range of different ways to approach it. That’s especially true in the way someone like Todd (who’s never lived in a world without Noise) differs from his elders, who had it thrust upon them. Like the daemons of His Dark Materials, it makes the reader wonder what their Noise would be like and how we’d react to losing that privacy: do you change yourself to accept it, or try and change society to avoid it?

One question that does occur to me after reading it is wondering whether Patrick Ness had read Raccoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution” before writing it as there’s a definite thematic similarity between the two of them even if the way the story uses those themes is different. A quick Googling suggests Ness hasn’t discussed this in any interview or articles, so I’ll throw it out there for any enterprising writer who does speak to him to ask.

Anyway, I heartily recommend the series, especially worth reading before the inevitable film adaptation messes it all up.

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hdmThere was good news from the BBC yesterday with an announcement that they’ve commissioned a TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for BBC One. It’s not the first time it’s been adapted to the screen but the film adaptation spluttered at the box office and never got past adapting (most of) the first book. Indeed, the fact that it missed out the crucial scene at the end of it might be one of the reason the filmed failed, as all the events leading up to it didn’t make sense on their own. The BBC plan to adapt the books as a miniseries will hopefully get around that issue, and also give the story a bit more time to evolve and develop. It was interesting to me that the National Theatre’s stage adaptation of the books managed to do a better job of transitioning between set-pieces than the film managed, making them feel like a coherent story rather than merely a series of events.

Of course, the BBC announcing an adaptation has been commissioned doesn’t mean it’ll be on our screens soon, or if it does make it, that it’ll be on the BBC. The BBC announced they were adapting The Man In The High Castle – five years later, it’s about to be released on Amazon with a completely different team behind it, so nothing is certain until casting happens and the cameras start rolling.

Even with that caveat, the BBC’s production partners for this are very interesting. As well as New Line Cinema (who own the adaptation rights, so may well be just a silent partner in it) the series is being produced by Bad Wolf Productions, a new company founded by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, former executive producers of Doctor Who. The name Bad Wolf coupled with Gardner and Tranter, and no writer being announced in the press release does fill me with hope that they’re trying to get Russell T Davies on board to do it.

For me, RTD would be the perfect choice to adapt the books as he comes from the same mindset as Philip Pullman – an atheist who’s interested in religion, and how it affects people and their decisions. I wrote about this a while ago, looking at how questions of what faith and religion mean to people are a common theme in Davies’s work and it’s this perspective of his that makes me really want to see him writing the script for an adaptation of His Dark Materials. His perspective isn’t to mock someone for believing in something but to see what effects that belief has on a person, but also what effects it would have on the world if that belief turned out to be real. That’s at the heart of His Dark Materials, and Davies is the sort of writer who understands how to bring those themes into drama without them overwhelming the story.

The other talent he has is for creating worlds in the mind of the viewer. A lot of the important organisations that fill Pullman’s worlds are only seen for a glance, or through the lens of Lyra or Will overhearing someone talking about them. There’s a minimum of exposition, but a huge amount of subtle detail slipped in as things go on. This is something Davies did brilliantly during his time on Doctor Who, making references to the War or the Medusa Cascade and the Nightmare Child, but letting the audience fill in the details. His version of the Time War as something vast and essentially unknowable in detail is the sort of approach that could bring the world of the Authority and the Magisterium to life.

Of course, I may just be adding two and two together to make fifteen but I can’t help thinking that Davies would be such a good scriptwriter for this project that I’ll be disappointed if someone else gets the job.


Bookblogging: Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Having more time to both read and blog right now, I thought I’d start writing about some of the books I’ve been reading. I’m probably not going to go back to the days when I tried to write about everything I’ve read, just the more interesting ones.

Team of Rivals is often billed as the inspiration for Spielberg’s Lincoln (my copy has a big photo of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln rather than the man himself), but the events covered by the film are only a very small part of a long book. As the title – and it’s subtitle The political genius of Abraham Lincoln – implies this is much more than a biography of Lincoln, being more of a political biography of Lincoln’s administration rather than the man himself. He sits at the centre of it, as the President, but the book is much more concerned with how he managed the interplay of the various strong characters who populated his administration than it is with the details of his life. Doris Kearns Goodwin begins with explaining the remarkable circumstances that led to Lincoln’s Presidency, and then explores how such an unlikely President and his team earned their places in history.

What becomes clear from the book is that Lincoln was a master politician by the time he was President but that was not an innate talent. Like almost everything else about him, it was something he’d taught himself to be, and there were plenty of early disappointments before he finally found himself as the right person at the right time in the tumultuous 1850s and 1860s. We see how a prairie lawyer managed to play off his vastly more experienced rivals to get the Republican nomination for President in 1860, and then how he brought his rivals into the fold to face the challenge that lay ahead.

It’s a fascinating account of a different political era, but it also shows how much Lincoln’s style has affected the American Presidency ever since even if few of his successors have had the political skills to go with the style. At times, Lincoln feels like an alien amidst the politicians, or a man playing a vastly different and much more complex game to everyone else, who only realise it when they discover they’ve lost. Goodwin is attempting to describe a style of political leadership quite unlike anyone else, with Lincoln sometimes seeming only to nudge his team to eventually get them where he wants, while at others he’s a master of leading and assessing public opinion, knowing that the war had driven the change in opinion that allowed for the abolition of slavery.

Although it’s a long read, and Goodwin sometimes seems determined to show every bot of her research, this book is definitely worth reading, both as an illustration of the Lincoln administration and how it won the American Civil War, and as an exploration of successful political leadership. Now, can anyone recommend to me a similarly interesting book about Franklin Roosevelt?

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Ridiculously out-of-date book reviews: The Clegg Coup

gerardcleggMy Masters dissertation is on the role and strategy of the Liberal Democrats in the British party system, so as part of that I’ve been looking at various academic and non-academic texts for background information. Today I plunged into Jasper Gerard’s The Clegg Coup, which may well be one of the worst books ever written about British politics.

It fails on multiple levels: for a start, Gerard’s writing style is rambling and unfocused with chapters, paragraphs and even sentences ending up in miles away from where they started. The book doesn’t have any focus, jumping between biography of Clegg, discussion of the Coalition and attempts at political analysis willy-nilly, though one overriding theme is that Gerard clearly likes Nick Clegg and distrusts anyone who doesn’t. The ‘coup’ of the title appears to be one that Gerard is fully in support of, happily denigrating anyone who disapproved of the direction Clegg wanted to take the Liberal Democrats.

Beyond that, though, it’s shockingly badly researched and edited. At some points, Gerard appears determined to crowbar in every piece of trivia he’s learned about people, but on the big points, there’s a shocking lack of knowledge. I’m not talking about obscure points of political history here but simple facts that could be checked with thirty seconds on Wikipedia. A lengthy section talks about how Clegg was working for Leon Brittan at the European Commission while Miriam Gonzalez Durantez was working there for Chris Patten, completely failing to notice that Patten replaced Brittan on the Commission and was Governor of Hong Kong at the time Gerard asserts Gonzalez was advising him on Middle East policy. The book’s littered with errors like that, including mention of Labour’s first leader, Kier Hardy.

The brakes/breaks confusion there is one of several homophone errors in the book, and at points it feels like there’s been a decision to have an error of fact or editing on every page.

The only truly interesting part of it is what it unintentionally reveals. There’s some interesting bits about how Clegg chose not to run an aggressively ‘Orange Book’ campaign for the party leadership, and there’s an interesting omission of any detailed look at his selection for Sheffield Hallam. However, beyond all that, it’s clear that Gerard sees party politics as very much an elite activity. There’s lots of discussion of people within the Westminster bubble, wealthy donors and think tanks, but almost no mention of party members or even voters. It presents politics as a rather consequence-free activity with little connection to the real world, where an eager hagiographer like Gerard can go far through knowing the right people and writing positively about them.

If I hadn’t been reading the book for any useful nuggets of information, however inadvertently revealed, I’d likely have thrown it to one side once the error count reached the dozens, but if you’re a fellow connoisseur of bad political writing, you may well find something to enjoy in it.


The 2015 Why Vote books

After discovering that the University library had Biteback’s ‘Why Vote 2015’ books on the shelves, I thought they might be interesting to read to get an idea of the parties’ policies and presentation before the official manifestos come out. This plan was somewhat scuppered by the library not having a copy of the Green book (which seems to have been produced after the others, possibly when they started rising in the polls), and the UKIP book having already been checked out for the Easter vacation by someone else. Still, that left me with three books to look at, and the probability of UKIP’s policy remaining the same between the manifesto launch and election day, let alone between the book and the manifesto, being rather slim.

However, even amongst those three, there’s a question as to how much two of them actually represent the policy of the party they’re ostensibly about and how much they’re just about the author pushing his own agenda and settling some scores. This is the problem with entrusting a book like this to a single author: how much are they going to let their own views eclipse those of their party?

whyvotelabThe one that doesn’t fall into this trap is Why Vote Labour, where Dan Jarvis has written the introduction and conclusion, but in between has got various Labour people, including several Shadow Cabinet members, to contribute chapters on their areas of interest. This makes both for a longer book than the other two, and a more interesting one as it can actually go into more detail in some areas, and you’re confident that what’s being discussed actually is Labour policy.

Some sections are more interesting than others, but I suspect each reader would have their own opinion on that. Personally, I found Stella Creasy’s chapter on people power and Steve Houghton on localism an interesting insight into the broader directions Labour might go in the future, while Rachel Reeves’ chapter on work was of her usual tenor in that one could imagine Iain Duncan Smith contributing a near-identical chapter in a Tory version of the book. The chapter titles – ‘An economy for all”, “Supporting modern families” and “Aspirational Britain: Empowering young people” amongst them – show the sort of studied slogan neutrality that mean they could just as easily be plastered on a podium from which David Cameron is speaking or a Lib Dem policy paper without change. There’s little in the book that’s too radical (assuming the claim that ‘Under Labour, our classrooms will be at the centre of a cultural revolution’ (p75) is a sign of someone not being up on their history of China) but it at least gives the reader an idea of Labour policy.

whyvotetoryBy contrast, Nick Herbert’s Why Vote Conservative is much more one person’s vision of what Tory policy should be. Herbert has been a Government minister during this Parliament – he was responsible for steering through Police and Crime Commissioners, amongst other things – but is now a backbencher, apparently because David Cameron didn’t share his view that he should be promoted to the Cabinet. According to Tim Montgomerie’s quote on the cover, it’s ‘a compelling reminder that the facts of economic, social and cultural life remain Conservative’ which only goes to show how easy it is to persuade him of anything. I found it more of a compelling reminder that for all Tories might talk about responsibility, they’re masters of whinging and blaming the problems of life on anything but themselves. Everything is either the fault of the previous Labour Government or occasionally, if the present one hasn’t achieved something, the Liberal Democrats, and it seems the Conservative Party only needs to take responsibility for good things.

The book is so dominated by blaming Labour for everything that you almost feel glad when he gets to a policy, except that policy is often just defined as ‘whatever Labour don’t do’ or appears to have been cut-and-pasted from a report by the Reform think tank Herbert used to run. What policy there is appears to be privatising anything that’s not nailed down then putting out a lucrative nail-removal tender before getting to the rest while stripping rights from everyone. Now, that may well turn out to be the Tory manifesto, but I suspect they’ll at least make a better job of presenting it than Herbert does here.

whyvoteldWhile Herbert is offering a slightly idiosyncratic take on Tory policy, his book at least bears some resemblance to the party’s actual policies. The same can’t be said for Jeremy Browne’s Why Vote Liberal Democrat. As Alex Marsh points out in his more detailed review of the book, Browne appears to be more interested in putting forward Coalition policies than Liberal Democrat ones, and the book feels more like an advocacy of voting National Liberal, but unfortunately published in a world where they no longer exist.

I’ve previously written about Browne’s Race Plan, and this is a better book than that but that’s mainly because it is – in the words of the old quote – both good and original. The parts that are good are pretty much Lib Dem boilerplate and could have been taken from hundreds of manifestos and party documents over the year, while the original parts are little more than Browne making the same points he does in Race Plan, with some added extra sneering at the Labour Party bolted on. As Alex puts it “the argument pretty much amounts to saying: scratch the surface of Ed Miliband and you’ll find Tony Benn underneath.”

The choice of Browne to write this book, and releasing it a long time in advance of a general election whose date has been known for some time, is one of the curious decisions that make these books a lot less useful than they could have been. As we know now, Browne’s not going to be an MP in the next Parliament, regardless of the result in Taunton Deane, and anyone reading his book isn’t going to find out much about what the party might want to do, or the range of opinions with it. Herbert’s still a backbencher, without much clamour heard for his return to Government, and these two books feel like they’ve failed to answer the question of their titles. It perhaps explains why Dan Jarvis is seen as a rising star of the Labour Party, in that he’s willing to work with others to deliver a vision, not assume that all people need to support his party is hear from him in more and more detail. If the others had followed that approach, then not only would their books have been more interesting, but their Governmental careers might have seen more success.

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Not Watching This Weekend: Find Me A Writer!

"You might already know that these are books. But what you might not know is that the words inside them are made up by people."

“You might already know that these are books. But what you might not know is that the words inside them are made up by people.”

The Pitch: There’s been a lot of complaint that TV mainstream doesn’t have much, if any, programming about books (rather than just being based on them). This show aims to change that by finding Britain’s Next Top Writer in a primetime show. Having made one giant leap of originality by doing a show about books in primetime, the rest of the show will be a complete ripoff of other talent formats. Thus, one round will feature wannabe writers reading a small sample of their work to celebrity writer judges, who’ll be sitting in the chairs from The Voice that have been badly modified to look ‘writerly’. Writers will be expected to jump across genre, style and form at a moment’s notice. (An amateur playwright protesting they know nothing about novel structure being berated by an angry Salman Rushdie will become a YouTube favourite) The life of a writer will be presented as effortless luxury, casually dispensing bon mots at cocktail parties between dashing out a newspaper column and being showered in money by benevolent publisher.

The climax will come in a live final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff where a book-wielding audience of thousands will watch as the four finalist writers discover that the hours they’ve spent sweating over their work, carrying out every edit and demeaning video diary task ordered by the producers, was utterly wasted as the executives have discovered no one really likes reading books, so they’ll be engaging in It’s A Knockout style contests with a vaguely books-that-have-become-well-known-movies theme. The winner will discover that there book was already published for free as a sample on Amazon that morning and they’ve made £2.35 from the millions of downloads.

Initially planned judges/mentors by the producers: JK Rowling, that one who wrote that thing that we were all reading last year in Tuscany, what was it, look, just get me JK Rowling. What do you mean, she doesn’t want to do it?
Actual judges: A generally confused looking Salman Rushdie, three other authors who could be made to look vaguely presentable on camera and are happy to appear on The One Show and regional radio programmes on an almost daily basis to plug this.
Likelihood of actually boosting book sales across the nation: Low