Book Log: Mr Bingo – Hate Mail: the Definitive Collection

I had far too much fun backing random “that looks interesting/amusing” publishing projects on Kickstarter a few months ago, and the fruits are now falling into my letterbox. Yesterday’s was this:

Hilariously obscene collection of Mr Bingo’s favourites from his Hate Mail project – pay good money to a professional artist to have him draw a lovingly rendered insult on the back of an item from his collection of vintage postcards, and post it to you. Having done nearly a thousand of these, he then launched a Kickstarter to publish his favourites as a high quality art book. Whether or not you enjoy the contents depends very much on your sense of humour, but if it is your sort of thing, here it is in a physical object that’s a work of art in itself. It’s printed on heavy art paper, Smyth-sewn, clothbound casing, and tastefully stamped in gold foil with the title on the spine and a line drawing on the front cover reflecting the contents. That line drawing being of an octopus putting two fingers up at the world with all eight legs…

book log: LA Witt & Lauren Gallagher – Writing faster for the win

Have some book log completely out of order, because otherwise book log won’t be happening…

Short book (20,000 words according to the author), but packed full of useful advice presented in an entertaining manner. The most important piece of advice is right up front: not all techniques work for every writer, so take and use what works for you personally.

This isn’t about how to type faster. It’s about how to be more productive with your writing time, and that includes protecting yourself from burnout. A lot of it is stuff that should be obvious, but isn’t until somebody points it out to you; other techniques are ones that all too often writers have been told they shouldn’t do, by a writer/editor/agent who thinks that if it doesn’t work for them, it’s bad for everyone. Some are things that are much less obvious, and which you could go for years without working it out by yourself.

Even if you already know everything in this book, it can help to have the positive reinforcement from another writer who learnt it the hard way. And besides, I know everything in this book already, and I still found it an entertaining read, well worth the £1.26 I paid. This matters – you’re more likely to remember and follow advice if it was fun to read.

Very much recommended for writers, and even non-writers who are interested in the nuts and bolts of writing.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

book log 2015 – 1) Ben Goldacre – Bad Pharma

I was a bit pathetic at book logging last year, wasn’t I? Doubtless I shall be again this year, but I’m going to try to do slightly better and at least get to the end of January before it all goes horribly wrong…

Ben Goldacre is a very angry man, with good reason. In this book he lays out how the pharmaceutical industry has distorted drug research in pursuit of profit, sometimes intentionally, sometimes entirely without malice but with equally devastating effects for patient welfare. This matters because patients are prescribed less effective drugs, or drugs which are outright harmful, at huge financial expense to those paying for the drugs. This isn’t a conspiracy theory book; Goldacre is quite clear that many valuable drugs have come out of the industry, and that most of the people who work in it want to make better drugs. He sets out in detail how and why bias is introduced into both research and prescribing practices, putting it in layman’s terms but linking to the research papers and court documents that back up what he’s saying. He also addresses the failings of the current regulatory system, and proposes ways to improve things — pointing out that unless real controls with serious financial penalties are put in place, even those companies which genuinely want to reform will be under commercial pressure to continue with bad practice in a race to the bottom.

It’s a dense and at times exhausting read. But Goldacre has done a decent job of making the issue accessible to a wide audience with a direct interest, from patients to practising doctors and academics. You can skim a lot of the book to get the general gist, or you can read it in details without following the links, or you can dig into research material he drew on and has laid out in meticulous footnotes and citations. He concludes the original edition with practical suggestions about what individual people can do to improve things, often simply by asking questions.

I read the second edition, which has a “what happened next” chapter about the reaction to the first edition. As he had predicted, there was a backlash in an attempt to discredit him — but there was also a lot of covert feedback from industry personnel acknowledging the problems and considering how to improve things. While there’s always a “the lurkers support me in email” issue with uncredited sources, he does also offer some examples of companies which have publicly moved to improve transparency.

Bad Pharma is an angry but rational examination of a real problem that affects millions of people, including almost anyone reading this review. It’s a worthwhile read, even if it makes for uncomfortable reading for patients, doctors and companies alike.

Kobo
Amazon US
Amazon UK

book log: David Boyle – Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma

This new biography of Turing is short, the length of a long article or essay rather than a full book. If you want a detailed exploration of the life and work of Turing, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but this is a good overview that’s well worth reading. It’s well balanced on coverage of his personal life, his work at Bletchley Park, and his academic work, tying them all together so you can see how one element affects the others. It also brings the story up to date as I write this, having been prompted by the campaign for a posthumous pardon, and there’s some interesting material about that which won’t be in the older biographies.

It’s well written and edited, solidly grounded in known facts but enhanced by the author’s clearly marked interpretation of some of those facts to make it more than a dry recital, and I found it a very enjoyable read. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth than the online articles without diving into the full length works, this is an excellent introduction to Turing. I think it will also serve well as a synopsis volume for those who want an outline in addition to the full length studies.

The Kindle Single is currently priced at 99p, and excellent value for money at that price, even if a significant chunk of the stated page count is a preview of another book by the author. It’s also available in a paper edition, although I’m not convinced that most readers would find it value for money unless they’re die-hard completists, unable to use Kindle format ebooks, or looking for a gift for a Turing fan. There’s also an audiobook version.

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon UK
Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon US

book log May 2013

20) Alexander McCall — In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Sixth in the series about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The usual collection of small and large puzzles for the ladies to solve, and two new characters for the series. Mma Ramotswe knocks a gentleman off his bike, and thereby gains a new staff member for the joint premises of the detective agency and the garage. Mma Makutsi joins a dance class and thus acquires a new friend. As ever with this series, gentle humour and believable domestic mysteries make this a pleasure to read.
http://www.librarything.com/work/20047

21) Sayers — The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (audiobook)
Superb BBC full cast dramatisation, with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. If you’re a Sayers fan, this radio dramatisation is well worth getting.
http://www.librarything.com/work/10709447
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

22) Georgette Heyer — Venetia
One of Heyer’s Regencies. There are several excellent reviews on LibraryThing, so I will merely say that I adored it.
http://www.librarything.com/work/16552/

23) Gladys Mitchell — The Twenty-third man
Another outing for the inestimable Mrs Bradley, this time on holiday to the Canary Islands, and a cave with a somewhat erratic number of mummies of ancient Kings. As usual for this series, enjoyable murder mystery with a fair bit of macabre humour.
http://www.librarything.com/work/1246526

24) Mark Coker — Secrets to ebook publishing
The head of self-publishing company SmashWords offers some useful advice on self-publishing via ebooks. While it’s slanted to using SmashWords, it’s wider-ranging than that. It’s free to download, and the contents are useful and well-written. Available from SmashWords, obviously, but also on Amazon and presumably other platforms.
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/145431

25) Edward Marston — The Merry Devils
Second in Marston’s mystery series set in an Elizabethan theatre troupe. Enjoyable read.
http://www.librarything.com/work/425601

Book review: Diana Dors — Behind closed Dors

Book 59 (Although I’ve actually been reading this on and off for several months, and have only just got around to writing a capsule review.)

Second volume of memoirs from Diana Dors. This is in A-Z format, with several short tales under each letter heading, covering a range of topics. A lot of it is salacious gossip about assorted big names of the day, and not just people from the entertainment field — some sympathetic, some not. There is also a small selection of photos of Dors.

If you’re interested in Dors herself, or the period in British cinema and tv when she was working, this is well worth reading, and the format makes it a good book for dipping into for ten or fifteen minutes; but be aware that it really was aimed at the salacious gossip market, so if you find that sort of thing tedious you might be better giving this a miss, as you’ll be skimming large chunks of it.

LibraryThing entry

Book review: Gerald Durrell — The Stationary Ark

Nowadays, a good many zoos are seriously involved in conservation work, the last hope for some of the most endangered species on the planet. In the 1970s, that wasn’t the case. This book was Durrell’s polemic against the keeping of wild animals purely for entertainment purposes, an impassioned plea for things to change. In a series of seven essays he set out the case for zoological gardens to be genuine centres of scientific excellence devoted to the preservation and breeding of the animals in their care, and described the work of the zoo he had set up for this purpose. He made himself highly unpopular in some quarters with his stinging criticism of then-current practice, not least because it’s well and entertainingly written, a successful appeal to the public at large to support his campaign. The first chapter is a little dry, but after that this is a fascinating description of the work of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. Funny, moving, and utterly devoted to the animals without ever lapsing into saccharine sentiment, this is well worth a read.

LibraryThing entry
The Stationary Ark