Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Children's books

Some children's books can be appreciated by readers who ceased, long ago, to be children. No doubt the finest cases of such literature are the works of Lewis Carroll… but one might claim that the author imagined his juvenile readers as intellectually-endowed individuals capable of being intrigued by logical enigmas, linguistic bizarreries and all kinds of puzzling things.

I've always thought of Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows as a splendid example of a children's book that can be enjoyed by adults.

On the other hand, certain books that I found extraordinarily exciting as a child had lost all their charm when I rediscovered them years later. The most disappointing case of this kind, for me, was the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. When I was about 11 years old, these adventure stories—of a Boy Scout and Girl Guide tone—were the summit of thrilling fiction.

These days, I would imagine that many adults have derived pleasure from reading the Harry Potter books. Personally, having seen some of the movies on TV, I became rapidly bored by all that pointing of magic wands and riding of flying broomsticks. It's definitely not my kettle of fish, but I can understand that many adults might appreciate this kind of stuff.

A new book for children will be coming out on October 4, and I've just put in an advance order for it. I'm referring to The Magic of Reality, the latest book by Richard Dawkins. I'm happy to see that the author is already exploiting this forthcoming event to promote the teaching of evolutionary science in primary schools. That would be a wonderful idea.

We've already seen an excellent specimen of writing from Dawkins for a child. I'm referring to the final chapter of A Devil's Chaplain, entitled A Prayer for My Daughter (first published in 1995), in which Dawkins provides his 10-year-old daughter Juliet with various "good and bad reasons for believing".

Thursday, July 2, 2009

World library catalogue

A US-based organization named OCLC [Online Computer Library Center] has been grouping together many of the planet's great libraries with the aim of enabling scholars and researchers to know immediately where such-and-such a book is located.

[Click the banner to access their website.]

On its website, this organization defines itself as a "nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purpose of furthering access to the world's information and reducing information costs".

A fortnight ago, France's great BnF [Bibliothèque nationale de France] signed an agreement enabling OCLC to process an estimated 13.2 million bibliographic records from the catalogue of the national French library, which is considered one of the richest catalogues in the world.

To actually use the OCLC service from your computer, you call upon a software tool called WorldCat.

[Click the banner to access their website.]

I was amused to discover that specimens of my own humble production can be found in 228 libraries across the planet... with my Macintosh book of 1984 largely in top place.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Revolution in the world of books?

I've put a question mark at the end of my title, because I really don't know with certainty what's likely to happen in the near future. Meanwhile, I urge you to take a look at the present state of the Google Book Search service. To do so, pull down the Google menu labeled more and choose the Books item.

[Alternatively, you can simply click the above banner.]

It's a surprising service. Google seems to be aware of the existence of a vast quantity of published books, both ancient and modern. But don't expect to be able to download many of them, because either they're under copyright, or maybe they haven't been fully scanned yet, or there's some other reason preventing their downloading. I have the impression that what we see today provides us with no more than a taste of what's to come. It's all rather complicated, because Google is obliged to come to terms with the two great poles of the book industry: publishers and authors.

The current state of this confrontation is well described in the celebrated TidBITS website, which provides Macintosh-oriented news. Click the banner to display an excellent in-depth article on this subject by Glenn Fleishman. The article is so full of pertinent information that you might decide to print it out, as I've just done.

I have the feeling that Google might be about to revolutionize many aspects of the conventional book world. Then there's all the current talk about electronic books...

Open Google Book Search and type in "william skyvington". You'll discover that Google is convinced that I've written a book about contemporary Iran. This is really quite hilarious, because I know almost nothing about Iran. I've never been there, and I've certainly never written a book about Iran. As I've already pointed out, I've known for some time that the true author of this book on Iran happens to be the fellow who once published my book on Great Britain. For reasons I ignore, something got short-circuited when Google was examining the books published by the French Jeune Afrique company, and they decided that I was the author of two books, not just one. So, even Google can make mistakes, but the gigantic company is such a behemoth that I have no idea how to go about correcting this silly error.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ordinary village, extraordinary bookshop

When you arrive in Banon, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, it looks like a rather ordinary village, which hasn't yet been beautified by wealthy outsiders. It's not crowded with tourists, and there's a delightful bistrot in the middle of the village where you can sit in the sun and watch people and vehicles going past... which is surely a perfectly honorable occupation for a lazy visitor such as me.

But Banon has an extraordinary bookshop, called Le Bleuet. It's charming and enormous, with every kind of book you could imagine.

My children would surely appreciate the Banon bookshop, because the first thing I noticed upon entering Le Bleuet was the moped book created by François and Emmanuelle.

[Click here to visit the French-language website on this book. You might also like to click here to visit my son's emerging photographic website. For the moment, only the billiards theme has been completed.]

In the fabulous Banon bookshop, I bought a little book full of recipes for making herbal tea and infusions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Machina sapiens

On February 26, 2007 I wrote a blog article whose title was What's in a name? [Click here to display it.] I mentioned the fact that, in 1976, I wrote a book in French called Machina sapiens on the subject of artificial intelligence. I went on to express my mild irritation concerning the fact that many people are now using that expression without ever acknowledging that it was the title of my book.

Many years ago in Paris, at a big international computer fair, I approached the stand of a Canadian company named Machina sapiens and asked them where they had dug up their name. One of their managers was pleased to offer me explanations.

Manager: "Some time ago, there was a best-seller named Machina sapiens written by a Frenchman."

Me: "Not a Frenchman. An Australian. I wrote that book."

The guy looked embarrassed, but I'm not sure he believed me. What the hell. I've never claimed that I own that expression. I believe that the true inventor of the expression was the distinguished biophysicist Walter Rosenblith [1913-2002], who was the provost of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] when I interviewed him in 1972 for my TV specials on artificial intelligence and brain research.

This morning, I received a friendly comment from a lady in Argentina who uses Machina sapiens as the name of her blog. At first, I didn't see why somebody would assume I knew enough Spanish to be able to read a comment in this language. Then I remembered that a translation of my book had been published in Buenos Aires in 1978.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Influencing people

During my trip out to Australia last year, I was thrilled to receive an unexpected gift from my young sister Jill. In an outdoor market, probably in the vicinity of her home town of Woolgoolga, she had come upon a copy of a book that fascinated me when I was a teenager: Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I was surprised that Jill, who's much younger than me, would have remembered that her brother had come in contact with Carnegie's famous book. Retrospectively, I imagine that my interest in this book stemmed from the fact that the very idea of trying deliberately to win friends and influence people was most exotic in the backwoods environment in which I had grown up, where quiet timidity, reticence and inhibition were our primary social qualities. My discovery of Carnegie's advice was akin to the parson's daughter opening stealthily a copy of Sex Manual for the Single Girl.

I've already pointed out in this blog [click here to see my Therapy post] that I'm an unconditional fan of the Dilbert comic strip, whose creator, Scott Adams, runs a marvelous blog. From time to time, Scott has alluded with enthusiasm to a book by Robert Cialdini, Influence — The Psychology of Persuasion, whose first edition appeared almost a quarter of a century ago.

Normally, these days, I'm no longer keen on this kind of psychological literature, since I've become more interested in science, computers and dogs than in people. But, based upon my assumption that anything that's good for the creator of Dilbert is good for me too, I ordered the revised edition from Amazon. It arrived yesterday, and my rapid reading confirms that this is indeed Dale Carnegie in overdrive: choice intellectual fodder, in fact a gourmet dinner, for a social critic such as Scott Adams. Cialdini's book is in the same heavyweight category as The Peter Principle. It reveals the ways in which smart individuals have unearthed rules of conduct enabling them to impose their will upon others, thereby achieving power of an economic, political or even religious kind.

If this blog were penned by an out-of-phase literary critic who waits a quarter of a century before deciding that a book deserves to be read, I would say that Cialdini's Influence is a must. In Carnegie's country, the cover says it's a National Bestseller. With a bit of time and perseverance, it could even become an international bestseller.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Over the last six months, my acquisition of English-language books has increased considerably because of the ease of getting them through the local branch of Amazon. Meanwhile, for old stuff of a historical or genealogical nature, the Gallica service of the BnF (bibliothèque nationale de France) has been useful at times, but not as much as I would have hoped. [Click here to see this service.]

A new system named Europeana has just gone into action. It is the French contribution to a future European digital library with an ugly but logical name: BnuE (bibliothèque numérique européenne). It goes without saying that this European initiative aims explicitly to counteract the dominance of Google Book Search in this domain. If you want to read, not only Racine and Hugo, but also Shakespeare, Dickens and Dante, then Europeana is the place to go. [Click here or on the banner to visit the website, whose interface is only in French for the moment.] For the moment, the catalog of Europeana is not very rich, compared with Google's present achievement of a million scanned books. [Click here to visit Google Book Search.]

If everything goes as planned, the great advantage of Europeana, compared with Google Books, will be the possibility of downloading fragments of a book in text format, so that they can be pasted into the user's work.

For me, the subject of books reveals that I remain a very old-fashioned fellow. While I love to see stuff flashing up onto the screen of my Macintosh, I must admit that there's nothing better, on cold evenings, than to sit in front of my open fireplace, with my bare feet up on the hearth, and a good book in my hands.

I remember our potter friend Maurice Crignon pointing out that the "three eights" system applies, not only to ordinary folk (roughly: work, personal affairs and sleep), but also to monks (even more roughly: their daily schedule of prayers, worldly activities and sleep). Well, I've created a personal three-part breakdown for my daily existence. It's not an earthshaking invention. The early moments of the morning are for thinking. The main part of the day is for writing or working on my computer. And evenings are for reading, or watching a little TV. I'm convinced that the human brain functions in a way that encourages this particular time-based division of operations.