Thursday, December 13, 2007

Online Review

I'm not sure quite why but more people than ever before are reading A Half Life Of One online. That's good. But what's even better is when they take the trouble to review the book. Here's one just in from a guy called Ken Crowe:


I sailed through your novel with pleasure, the pleasure of reading a well-written, carefully plotted story with a logical, intelligent ending.

In my notes to myself about A HALF LIFE OF ONE, I wrote: This was a well-written, smoothly moving, stinging portrait of a seeming everyman, who is decent and willing to work hard, but within himself lurks a self-centered selfishness that enables him to be startlingly cruel. At the same time, there is an element of guilt and the fear of being caught that is his sentence to a torturous life.

Your ending was as unforgettable as Edgar Allan Poe’s THE CAST OF AMONTILLADO.

Thank God for the internet so that works like yours can be made available to readers.

All the best,

Ken Crowe

This struck me as an interesting take on the book so I asked Mr Crowe to tell me a little more about himself. Here's his biography:

Kenneth C. Crowe’s latest book is the free on-line novel, THE DREAM DANCER, which may be accessed at

Crowe was a labor reporter at Newsday and New York Newsday from 1976 to 1999. He is the author of COLLISION/HOW THE RANK AND FILE TOOK BACK THE TEAMSTERS. Published by Scribner's in 1993, COLLISION tells the story of the Teamsters' rank and file reform movement, culminating in the election of Ron Carey as president of the union.

Crowe won an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship in 1974 to study foreign investment in the United States. In 1978, Doubleday published AMERICA FOR SALE, Crowe's book on foreign investment in the United States.

Crowe was a member of the Newsday investigative team whose work won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal.

Definitely an interesting guy. Certainly enough to make me want to pop over and take a look at his online novel. Oh, and Scribner's were Scott Fitzgerald's publishers too, a connection which sent a little shiver down my spine.

Amazing who you meet on the web, isn't it? So much better than being stuck alone at home in the Pundyhouse without any kind of access to the outside world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The economic case for Books versus Kindles

Despite all this talk of new e-book readers like Amazon's Kindle eventually replacing the printed word I still think they'll have a long way to go to beat old-fashioned Guttenberg-style books on economic grounds alone.

As a kid I was a big library user. But it's nice to own books. So I started buying paperback books big time in 1964 when I was sixteen. I can't remember now but I must have suddenly become affluent - maybe I got a paper round - because I used to buy half a dozen books or more a month right up until the time I went to university in 1966.

The first book I ever bought was called something like "Kennedy: the first 100 days, a skeptical analysis" from the Paperback Bookshop in Edinburgh. I still have it although - because we have the builders in - I can't put my hands on it right now.

Next, in July 1964 I bought Henry James' "Washington Square". It cost 3/6 in old money which is 17.5 pence today or roughly 35 cents. Now, amortising that over 43 years and taking into account the fact that I've read it twice that equates to a written down value of around 0.00056 pence for the price of the book. In other words, that's what the book has really cost me given the length of time I've owned it. Since the book has around 60000 words that's a download equivalent to 10cc of fresh air per word (my calculator just can't handle such a small amount). Or half that already infinitesimal amount if I read it again within the next six months. Even less if my wife reads it too since she didn't buy it in the first place (we hadn't met back in 1964), and assuming I hire it to her at the going rate based on the current replacement value (which is standard practice in the hire business). I wouldn't hire it to my son though, because I wouldn't get it back from him.

Now, I've never met Jeff Bezos but I know he's a formidable businessman who must have done his sums on this venture. Even so, I'm prepared to take him on. If he can convince me that I can buy his little gizmo and download novels for less than the price I've been paying up to now, then I promise I'll go online right away and give him all my credit card numbers and he can take them up to their limits and beyond. Which, unfortunately for Jeff, is not very far. That is to say, I'll never buy another book.

Don't know what I'll put on my bookshelves in future though.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tattie Bogles

We went down to the village hall last night to watch the amateur dramatic society's panto The Enchanted Tattie Bogle. The hall was packed, a ratio of about fifty-fifty kids to adults, although the ratio of noise and frenetic activity was thirty-to-one in favour of the kids. There were maybe a hundred people in total in the audience. Certainly there were no empty seats. The adults got a free glass of wine included in the price of the ticket and there was a bar at the interval.

Production values this year were high. The costumes in particular - all made by Ms Pat Jennings, who also wrote, produced and directed the show - were magnificent. The plot - after numerous scary twists and turns - had a suitably happy ending. This was the first night of a three night run and I have no doubt that by Saturday everyone will reliably know their lines, or even whether they have lines or not. The backstage side of the operation was supported by fourteen people, while over twenty-five actors brought the plot - and the audience -to life.

Acting honours were shared equally by Neil Thomson as the thoroughly Wicked Wizard and a troup of under-fives as the Northern Lights Fairies. The biggest laughs of the evening were garnered by the veteran performer Robbie Marshall - who must be at least sixty- playing the parts of the Tyrone Turtle Dove and Basil the Tattie Bogle, although not at the same time. A Tattie Bogle is an old-fashioned Scots word for a scarecrow. Robbie Marshall is Scots for an old-fashioned farmer.

And it was the laughs that Robbie Marshall got that set me thinking.

Mr Marshall looks like Fred Flintstone after a rough night. Dressed in the full plumage of a turtle dove he looked deliciously ridiculous, notwithstanding a pair of fine-turned calves. The sheepish expression on his face added to the effect. His very appearance, then, raised a smile. But what made people really laugh out loud was whenever he opened his mouth. Mr Marshall you see speaks Doric. Doric is an old dialect native to the North-East of Scotland which is a sort of cross between Gaelic and Scots and it can be pretty impenetrable. Thirty years ago everyone round here spoke Doric, especially the farming community. Anglified Scots was their second language. Now the dialect is a rarity, especially amongst the young. Even young farming lads don't talk like that now. That's not the way they're taught, nor indeed the way the world works.

Of course the world has changed. Farming now employs many fewer people. The village itself is full of commuters. There are many more incomers. Many are English. Thanks to the motor car, and televison and the internet we are no longer isolated. People come and go all the time, especially the young. On the whole this is a good thing, this is progress. But not entirely. Something has been lost.

When you take away a man's language you take away part of his soul. Mr Marhall's grandsons and grandaughters are educated in a foreign language: Scots. They don't talk the way he does. I was born English - working-class English - and I too was educated in a foreign language: Middle-class English. I didn't talk the way my parents did. And of course with the imposition of a foreign language comes the adoption of foreign values and an alien culture. But it's not just the Education System that is foreign to indigenous minorities. The legal system, government, the BBC, most of the Establishment in fact belong to another culture.

I used to get pretty worked up about this state of affairs, what I saw as a massive injustice, this oppression of the minority by the majority, this denial of statehood.

Maybe that's the wrong reaction. Like everyone else in the audience last night I laughed loudly at Robbie's anachronistic accent. Even Robbie laughed good-naturedly at the way he sounded, albeit somewhat sheepishly. I guess he's had sixty years to get used to other people's reactions.

Either that, or he's been educated well in the new ways. Or weel learnt, as they still say up here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


The other book I bought last week was the Oxford Dictionary of English. My wife raised her eyebrows as I lugged it into the room.

"What?" I muttered defensively.

"Haven't you got enough dictionaries already?"

It was a good question. I already own The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (Revised Edition), Bloomsbury Dictionary, Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, The Oxter English Dictionary and several others which I can never find when I need them. Like now. Oh, and there's half a dozen Encyclopedias as well, but they don't really count.

My all-time favourite dictionary though is called - I think - The Penguin Paperback Dictionary. It's about five years old. It's full of words , just like the others, but what distinguishes it is the excellent way it illustrates how they should be used. Or it did. Unfortunately, because it's a paperback I managed to break its spine in two. My wife took it away to get it re-bound. That was a year ago and I haven't seen it since. I really loved that book. Unfortunately, so does she. I can't seem to locate a replacement and I suspect it is now out of print. This latest purchase is okay, but it's not perfect so I guess the hunt will continue.

The new dictionary isn't completely useless though. Later that same night my wife was leafing through some notes pertaining to her Contract Of Employment. Her employers have been looking at the way their organisation is managed and have decided they need to implement some fairly radical structural changes. As a result they intend to "Allocate staff from departments to new divisions and issue proleptic contract changes to take effect 31 July 2008." Now, I've been in management for over thirty years and I've studied its workings in some considerable depth but this word is a new one on me. I hauled out the newly-purchased dictionary. "Proleptic: The representation of a thing as existing before it actually does or did so."

Wow. I can't decide in this instance whether the use of this word is Orwellian or more like something out of Alice In Wonderland. Either way, I'm glad I've got enough dictionaries to build a stout defence around me against this sort of management gobbledegook.

Monday, December 03, 2007


I bought two books last week.

The first one was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Somewhere recently in my wanderings around the blogosphere I'd stumbled on a review of the book on one of Maxine's many blogs and it made me wonder why I'd never read the book. Forty years ago when I was still at school I was addicted to Hemingway but I stopped reading him, mainly, I guess, for two reasons. Firstly, I felt I was being somewhat disloyal to my great hero (and Hemingway's occasional friend) Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway's reputation at that time was huge and growing. Fitzgerald, while popular, was somewhat in decline. I knew Hemingway was good, but not that good. To tell the truth I hadn't really enjoyed the last two books of his that I had read: For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. The latter, in fact, I rather disliked. It seemed contrived and stagey. False, even.

But the real reason I stopped reading Papa was that his style was so infectious, like typhoid. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Vigorous. Masculine. And frequently portentous. You couldn't read Hemingway and not write like him. Or at least a feeble parody. That voice was so hard to get out of your head. Fatal for a young writer.

Fortunately the voice is subdued in A Moveable Feast, barely a whisper in fact. It's an interesting memoir of his time in Paris as a penniless writer in the Twenties. It's well-written and atmospheric. It's plain how much his art - especially the search for truth - means to him. That search - about which he wrote extensively over the years - was the one that inspired me as a young man. As a writer he was a powerful role model, someone to look up to. As a person, less so. In the book he's kind and generous in his portrayal of Fitzgerald and praises The Great Gatsby highly which I found rather touching. Especially since he had long before fallen out with Fitzgerald big time.

I read A Farewell To Arms again a couple of years ago and I thought it stood up pretty well. Very well in fact. Indeed, I'd say it was one of the great novels of the twentieth century. Despite his apparent bravado and manliness Hemingway suffered terribly from depression. He died at the age of sixty-one on July 2, 1961 in Ketchum, Idaho when he blew his brains out with a shotgun. Reading about it at the time it seemed a shocking ending to an extraordinary career.