Dead Tree Update

A couple of notable book releases around now. Sarah Brown‘s Cringe is now available in hardback, being a collection of embarrassing teenage diary entries and the like. It’s based on a cathartic reading evening of the same name created by Sarah and a regular Brooklyn draw.

I attended the London premiere of Cringe back in June 2007, which was great fun, and I met SB afterwards, had a drink or two, and realised what the fuss was about – she’s awesome, and we share our birthday. I’ve ordered my copy.

Ben Goldacre of Bad Science is a bit of a hero of mine, in the same brooking-no-nonsense vein as Phil Plait (the “Bad Astronomer”), and he has a book out (soon) too. It sounds like it should be a standard text, if the previews are anything to go by. Ben has a screengrab of a vitriolic review on the Amazon page from Roger Coghill, a notorious snake-oil salesman, who currently has a new product out which, like many of his products, uses magnetism – in this case to make your car 14% more efficient. Sadly the review is no longer on Amazon – Ben grabbed it just in time.

This reminds me of a poem I read recently (it was in a slim volume I received as a wedding guest recently, if you must know) which irritated me. This was because it gave me the impression that the poet believes that the astronomer is reducing the beauty of nature to a series of charts and numbers. If I were to be uncharitable, I’d say he thought himself better equipped to appreciate the beauty of a starlit night, and that the magic of nature was wasted on the chalk-dusted scientist. Only the poet and the artist truly understand.

Of course nature can (probably) be reduced to a series of charts and numbers. Very large numbers, very complex charts, so complex we cannot (yet) understand them. Is it a fear that science will remove the ‘magic’ from the wonders of nature?

Phil Plait’s predecessor and hero James Randi started out as a stage magician and escape artist. He still performs doing conjuring tricks in between shaming bullshit-peddlers like Yuri Geller. But this isn’t supernatural magic, it’s just traditional showmanship and sleight-of-hand. Why not just enjoy that? As Douglas Adams (another hero – enough with the heroes) said, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

As for the title of this post, I don’t have anything against paper books. I have some. But I am interested in the future of electronic books and the technology involved, such as e-ink. Obviously the Amazon Kindle is a big example, despite it’s many flaws (a pointless keyboard, lack of support for some open formats, sheer flipping ugliness etc). I know someone with a iRex Iliad, which many people seem to like, and having seen it in the flesh (silicon? HDPE?) I quite like it. My new smartphone allows me to read books in the same way I used to with my old Palm Tungsten E. Haven’t had a chance yet – I don’t sit on trains much any more.