Tag Archives: books

I can’t believe that Readitfor.me exists

Reading is one of the few pure joys left in the world.

Books don’t have ads in them. Books don’t have extra downloadable content after you’ve bought them. Books don’t stay in a state of disappointing ‘early access’. Books are good.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those ‘I love nothing more than the smell of a new book, the feeling of turning pages, the rush of knowing you’re getting to the end’ kind of people. Even though my life’s ambition is to one day be rich enough to own a failing bookshop, I read everything on my kindle these days. It’s just more convenient.

But here’s the important bit: I still read them. I’ll spend months ploughing through a good book. Which in the age of 90-minute movies and meant-to-be-binged Netflix shows is pretty nuts. That’s a lot of time and attention to dedicate to one form of entertainment. But I don’t mind at all. A good book is a slow burn, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But what if you’re too important to have the time to read books? Introducing: readitfor.me

Billed as ‘the #1 book summary service for entrepreneurs, executives, and business coaches‘ the pitch is this: WE READ BOOKS SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

They basically produce short twelve minute summaries of the kind of books that people who describe themselves as ‘serial entrepreneur’ in their Twitter bio go crazy over. Books with titles like HOW TO SCALE YOUR BUSINESS BRAIN AND SUCEED WITHOUT TRYING or POWER HACKS TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR MINDSET. So it’s not fiction, or anything good, just typical executive trash. But it’s still annoying to me.

Here’s a gem from their FAQs:

What sort of equipment do I need for this?
All of our videos and workshops can be accessed on your tablet, laptop or smartphone, and can also be projected onto a boardroom wall.

Ahhhh yes. The way books were meant to be read. Little did Dickens know when he put pen to paper and inspired generations of writers in the English-speaking world, that one day we might be reading books “projected onto a boardroom wall”.

Sure, the sting is taken out of this by the fact that the books aren’t any good. If this was attempting to reduce classic literature down it’d be outright offensive. But I think there’s a couple of assumptions being made here that I find distasteful:

  1. That the benefit of a body of work is solely the top-level content, which can be extracted without anything being lost.
  2. That reading as an activity can be outsourced.
  3. That you can be too busy to just a read a book.

Keep books great. Read them! Support libraries! And for the love of God, don’t pay something else to read them for you.

I submitted a silly Freedom of Information request about books and now I feel bad

In Week 11 of my ‘#Richards2016‘ project, I had to get in touch with the local council. It was Freedom of Information Day, so I sent a request to the council for information. My request was thus:

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A pretty dumb request, I’m sure you’ll agree. I submitted it fully expecting to get a “this is a dumb question and we’re not going to do it” response. But I didn’t. Like absolute madmen they decided to actually do it for some reason.

DISCLOSURE: My friend and housemate works at the council and is well-connected with the FOI department. So yeah, basically you could say this was an INSIDE JOB. But still, I can’t believe they really did it.

I mean, I pay my council tax and all that. (Well, my landlord does on my behalf). So I guess I should be able to march up to any public servant and demand them to do whatever I want, right? Yes I know that’s not really how it works, but I think the principle is sound.

After all, beyond picking up my bins, planning out transport infrastructure, maintaining public spaces and utilities, developing local art and culture, looking after stray animals, eradicating pests, securing housing for the vulnerable, providing health and welfare, licensing commercial enterprises, dispensing planning permissions, provisioning sports and leisure facilities, controlling public noise and nuisances, and generally looking out for me and my local area, what does the council ACTUALLY do for me?

So yeah, you’re fully entitled to do this kind of thing I reckon. They’ll probably appreciate it.

ANYWAY ENOUGH CHIT CHAT WHAT DID I ACTUALLY LEARN?

I guess I’m allowed to share the outcome of my request. What would be the point otherwise? So, here are my KEY findings.

Notes:

  • The data provided covers all books that have been checked out at least once. (I assume, as there are no books with a zero check-out value, and I’m sure there are books in the library that have not been checked out).
  • The data covers 78,702 books. That’s a lot.
  • The data covers pretty much all the types of books too. (eg. Adult Fiction Hardback, Junior Large Print, etc.)
  • The information I have is Title, Date Item First Made Available, Total Loans, Days Available, Loan Frequency (ie. loans / days available), Collection.

It’s a beautifully formatted excel document that I’m sure someone spent ages on.

*** TOP TRUMPS TIME ***

Book with most total loans

Scandinavia, living design by Gaynor, Elizabeth – 224 loans.

Well, that’s unexpected. Some random book about Scandinavian design is the most checked out book? Why? What does that tell us about the Cambridge zeitgeist? To be fair, the book has also been available since 1989, so it might be winning just on time alone. It’s got a loan frequency of 43.33 days. So, it’s checked out basically every month and a half? Not bad! Though I do wonder if the book’s Scandinavian design tips are still relevant 27 years on.

Interestingly, the fourth most checked-out book is The architectural history of King’s College Chapel and its place in the development of late Gothic architecture in England and France by Woodman, Francis which makes much more sense for Cambridge. It’s also like the longest book title in the world.

Book with fewest total loans

Joint winner between 1,980 books. I guess that makes sense since it’s just the bottom of the data set. Some highlights:

  • Teapots. The collector’s guide to selecting, displaying and enjoying new and vintage teapots by Carter, Tina M.
  • Big Pig on a dig by Tyler, Jenny
  • 100 questions & answers about gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) by DeMatteo, Ronald
  • How not to die : discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease by Greger, Michael, author
  • Yo by Martin Ricky [i guess this is one book that’s NOT living da vida loca LMAO]
Book that has been available the longest

Battalion at war: Singapore 1942 by Moore, Michael – since 23/2/1989

This book actually occupies the top two spots on the longest being-in-Cambridge-library lists. I guess they just started with two copies of that book they had or something. Oh, and apparently it’s not THAT Michael Moore.

110 loans, with a loan frequency of 90.5.

Book that has been available the longest and only been checked out once

The changing face of Britain : from the air by Gardiner, Leslie –  since 12/05/1989

Only 1 loan in 9827 days, giving it a loan frequency of 9827. Eesh!

If you’re ever in Cambridge Central Library in the near future, do consider checking this book out and making Leslie’s time worthwhile.

Book that is loaned the most frequently

How is this different to total loans, you ask? Well, we’re looking at the loan frequency specifically, so it’s weighted against time available. Thus a book that’s new and popular will rate higher than a book that’s just old and been checked out loads. Anyway, it’s

The humans by Haig, Mattloan frequency 6

Pretty sweet LF there. But the book has only been available since 20/3/16. SO I GUESS THIS STAT IS NOT ACTUALLY THAT INTERESTING AT ALL SORRY.

Most checked out books about Batman

Because I might as well, right?

Well, the top book with “Batman” in the title field is actually Your Body’s Many Cries for Water : A Revolutionary Natural Way to Prevent Illness and Restore Good Health by Batmanghelidj, F. who is a FAKE Batman.

The real top Batman book is Batman: Arctic Attack! (44 loans). I have never heard of this book. Batman: Year One (the definitive modern Batman story) only has 36 loans. Sorry Frank Miller, guess you shoulda set your gritty retelling of modern comics’ most iconic origin story at the north pole! Or made it a pseudo-scientific study into the magical healing properties of water.

Erm, I guess that’s everything I can think of then. I know this isn’t quite the Panama Papers, but I think it’s pretty interesting nonetheless.

In short, it turns out that the FOI system does work. You can make sensible requests and get a sensible response in a sensible time. But it is totally open to abuse I think, especially if you’re some crazed lunatic with nothing better to do and a vendetta against the council. I’m sure you could ask for all kinds of crazy things to prove that the council (MORE LIKE CLOWNCIL) is wasting money and generally rubbish.

But please don’t do that.

Review: Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

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This is a book about burning books. But maybe you know that already, because this book is like super famous. It’s on loads of lists of books and things, so I thought it was about time I got around to reading it.

It’s kind of a light sci-fi, in the dystopian theme. Chronologically, it could be set as little as like twenty years in the future. Much of the tech in it isn’t too far from what we have now, as it’s implemented in nice understated ways.

For instance, the main character’s wife is obsessed with this ‘parlour’ in her house where she watches literal wall-to-wall TV with characters who interact with her. She ends up spending all day in this room, neglecting reality. So basically video games and oculus rift and all that.

More interesting is the picture of society painted by Bradbury. It’s a dystopia though not so much in the Orwellian vein (though there is a bit of that). It’s more a cultural dystopia, where entertainment rules.

Many readers take Fahrenheit 451 to be a clearcut tale about the tyranny of censorship by the government. But I read it more as a moralistic vision of how we need to stop ourselves sleepwalking into a cultural vacuum. In Bradbury’s future, books are outlawed not so much because they are dangerous, but because they are boring. It’s a society where only the fast and easily understandable can be accepted, and books are evil because they can confuse the mind.

I really appreciated the nuance that Bradbury approached this topic with. And the sci-fi in it is nice and original – there’s a fascinating mechanical hound in it that really sticks in the memory.

My only gripe is that the book itself is rather short. There’s a great character we’re introduced to at the beginning that never gets followed up on. And the ending of the book isn’t really a satisfying conclusion to the story. But overall it was great and I really liked it!

Rating: 5/5

What’s the deal with Hunter Fox novels?

It’s no secret that I fancy myself as something of a writer. As such, I’m always looking out for what’s happening on the literary scene.

I’m particularly interested in what’s going on in the world of publishing. I’m pretty certain that no publishing house would ever be interested in anything I would write. So my only hope really is the world of self-publishing.

The Kindle has revolutionised the literary world. It’s easier than ever to get into reading. But it’s also changed publishing too. Now pretty much anyone can just shovel content onto the Kindle store via Amazon. And suddenly… BOOM, you’re a published author.

There is no better example of this than Hunter Fox.

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Hunter Fox has a total of 63 published works on Amazon UK. For comparison, Shakespeare wrote around 40 plays, and Dickens wrote just under 20. The guy is prolific as hell.

However, as we waltz through his quote unquote bibliography, a remarkable trend emerges. Basically every book is the same. Here are some selected highlights:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.47.36Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.48.26 Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.48.29 Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.48.33 Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.48.40 Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.48.42

Erm, what? Common themes include:

  • Aliens (wtf is an alien hound btw?)
  • Mythological beasts
  • Robots
  • Being “turned” gay
  • Being “forced” gay
  • Being “punished”

Here’s a great one:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.50.40

GAY UNDERWATER LOCH NESS ADVENTURE – HUNTER FOX

What. Is the Loch Ness Monster real now? Real and gay? And surely the fact that it’s going to be underwater is a given?

I get it, it’s a fantasy. But it’s super weird and random. At least with stuff like A Griffin Tore Me Up you can just be like “yeah ok I guess this is standard fare for weird fan-fiction fantasy.” But Nessie? I don’t understand how this happened.

In an effort to get to the bottom of things, I sacrificed my personal dignity (and Amazon.co.uk personal recommendation engine) and rented out A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay because I think it has the funniest title. Don’t worry, I’m renting it via a free trial of the Kindle Unlimited service, so it’s not costing me anything.

I shall now read this book. Until I get back, please enjoy the cover.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.57.09

Done! Ok that literally took five minutes to read. It is a very short novel. Amazon.co.uk’s estimated reading time of 15 minutes was overly generous. The site also says that is has 3,500 words, making this “novel” about the same length as one of my longer short stories. Maybe I should publish mine.

What was the book about? Well, the title literally says it all. A guy gets a job working for a billionaire dinosaur (the book lampshades this saying that dinosaurs got rich on the stock market in the 80s??), who then homosexually assaults him. In graphic detail. The end.

Some choice quotes:

“My father never liked the dinosaurs ever since they began taking control of the world economy”

“I had never been with a male before, let alone a male dinosaur!”

The writing is all pretty terrible and horribly, horribly explicit. I’d recommend against reading this yourself even out of curiosity.

Interestingly, the book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts with the narrator promising vengeance on the billionaire dinosaur CEO. Part 2 of A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay is available now apparently.

I wish I could un-read this book.

So what the hell is going on, exactly? Well, it seems that Fox has found himself a little niche market to dump content into. Cheap, easily reproducible stories involving gay fantasy that will each appeal to a minuscule, yet highly engaged audience. There’s that not that many people into dinosaur homosexual rape, but those that are, really are. And sure they might just pay the £2.11 for the privilege of reading this story. Repeat ad nauseam 63 times and you’ve got yourself a little money maker.

I guess I’m just annoyed I didn’t think of it first.

Review: Dave Gorman vs. the Rest of the World

More of the same from Gorman. Which is a shame really, because I really wanted something good.

In this book, Dave Gorman travels around the UK meeting people and playing games. It’s standard Gorman fare then, travel + people + some vague ‘aim.’ But it doesn’t hold up to the others in my opinion, and generally feels like an all-round more muted experience.

For a start, there’s no real challenge to speak of. The beauty of Googlewhack / AYDG? was that it was a race against time to find/do something. In this, Gorman just randomly meets up with people to play games with them. There’s a subplot about his upcoming marriage, but there’s no significant interplay between the two. There’s nothing at stake, and reading about someone just meeting people in pubs turns out to not be that interesting.

It’s also confined just to the UK, which is a shame given the globetrotting-ness of the previous outings. Reading about Sheffield train station doesn’t quite have the appeal as his roadtrip across America.

The games themselves are fine, and quite interesting – even when they are just Monopoly and Guess Who. The people are supposed to be the real focus I guess, and Dave’s compassion for the people he meets is plain to read. Even the weird ones.

In all then, this felt liked a dumbed down version of his other work. It almost read like a newspaper weekly column, as opposed to a proper book-adventure. It even felt shorter. I didn’t hate it though, just found it rather average.

Rating: 3/5