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David Briddock

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Breaking the Page: Preview Edition
Breaking the Page: Preview Edition

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an insight into the future of ebooks, 1 Jan 2012
This guide to the embryonic world of electronic books is full of observations, ideas and suggestions. It discusses the ebooks of today, their capabilities, relative immaturity and shortcomings. And it hints at the ebooks we might own tomorrow, ones based upon innovative approaches, designs and techniques.

Even in this shortened three chapter preview edition, there are rich veins of information to be discovered. With plenty of useful material for anyone interested in the future of ebook creation and publication. Subjects covered include effective navigation, table of contents integration and the true purpose of indexes.

Peter Mayers makes the case that ebooks shouldn't try to slavishly copy the best features of our printed books, but instead replicate the actual experience of a physical book. Something that can be achieved with carefully considered, reader-focussed design. Certainly not an easy trick to pull off, but essential to realise the ebook's inherent advantages and rich potential.

There are so many topics to consider. Content scanning, intelligent searching, intuitive gestures, smart hyperlinks, interactive material, even user-defined flow - all unobtrusively combined with uncluttered readability.

Peter exploits his extensive publishing industry experience, knowledge and contacts to deliver a collection of interesting and up-to-date examples. Examples that are carefully chosen to highlight both good and bad practices. Examples that encompass competing technologies, such as EPUB, MOBI, HTML5 and apps. Examples that work for basic electronic ink screen e-readers, and ones aimed at the latest multifunctional tablets with their full colour displays.

We are just the beginning a journey towards building a better ebook. It's far from obvious which initiatives will be ultimately successful, and there'll be many failures along the way. I'd suggest that thoughtful, elegant and purposeful ebook design, is more likely to succeed over any particular technical standard, file format or technology. But it will certainly be a fascinating journey.

The full version of this book promises to help illuminate this journey. And I for one can't wait to read it.

After Dark
After Dark
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Skilful prose and scrupulously crafted atmospheric scenes, 19 Dec 2011
This review is from: After Dark (Paperback)
After Dark is a novel set within a seven hour period, commencing a few minutes before the strike of midnight. With scenes set amongst the backstreets of downtown Tokyo, its pace beautifully captures the slow, stretched out feel of the nighttime.

Highly detailed characters are, ultimately, richly exposed to the reader through a trickle of vividly naturalistic observations, expressive behaviour, meaningful interplay and effective dialogue.

In fact, it takes most of the narrative to discover who the reclusive, bookish, thoughtful main character Mari really is; her background, her fears, her dreams and the depth of connection to her sister Eri.

When combined with Haruki's skilful prose, clear voice, scrupulously crafted atmospheric scenes and volumes of unspoken mystery, it's a technique that ensures we're always immersed, always keen to turn the page.

There are many writing devices and traits at work. Chapters entitled with an ever-increasing time - to denote the advancement of the night. Pronounced shortening of chapter length as the story concludes - to enact rapid scene change and raising the tension. Using a narrator voice when visiting a scene with mystical, dreamlike viewpoints - to endow a movie director like quality. An inconclusive ending - resolution

Its a novel immediately identifiable, albeit in a fascinatingly illusive manner, as a Haruki Murakami story, and a highly recommended read.

The Anthologist
The Anthologist
by Nicholson Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highly entertaining take on poetry and poets, 19 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
Paul Chowder is in love with poetry and is determined to show us why. In a delightfully rambling story we're taken through a challenging period of his life. It's a story shared with Roz, various neighbours and friends, his dog Smacko, and the mouse.

Throughout the first-person narrative he conveys his thoughts on poetry and poets, rhyming and free verse, and in particular, rhythm. Having little regard for the iambic pentameter or the trochaic octameter, he maintains all good poetry is based around an underlying four beat or three beat rhythm - occasionally adorned with strategically positioned rests.

There are obvious parallels with western music and lyrical poetry. Especially with regard to the ballad stanza, which he describes as, "Four lines, four beats in each line, and the third line drives towards the fourth."

It's certainly an interesting and entertaining point of view. One argued by multiple examples from some of the greats: Edward Lear, Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Mary Louise Ritter, Alice Carey, Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, T.S. Eliot plus many others - and liberal use of his sharpie.

Yet despite all this poetry knowledge and his previous successes, in a dryly comic manner he reveals, his lack of confidence and loss of motivation for creating the introduction to his poetry anthology.

Ultimately, this highly readable book is able to both entertain and inform. The way the prose subtly, almost subconsciously, imbibes gems of poetry knowledge and understanding upon the reader, is the mark of highly creative and skilled writer.

The Birthday Boys
The Birthday Boys
by Beryl Bainbridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars The antithesis to a dry, historical tale, 19 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
This highly individual book, from the much loved and missed Beryl Bainbridge, is the antithesis to a dry, historical tale of Scott's fateful Antarctic expedition.

With amazingly inventive imagination and striking clarity, she digs deep into the makeup of these familiar characters. The arresting result is they burst into life; convincingly real, alluringly complex lives, complete with loves, aspirations, fears, regrets and inner conflicts.

Few other writers are likely to achieve such rich character renditions. Totally credible and identifiable renditions. Renditions that exhibit all the strength, fragility, confidence, vulnerability and emotional complexity you'd expect from men destined for such an expedition and ultimate fate. Men described in the book as, "misfits, victims of a changing world."

Interestingly each of these five main characters - Petty Officer Edgar (Taf) Evans, Dr Edward (Uncle Bill) Wilson, Capt. Robert Falcon (Con) Scott, Lt. Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers and Capt. Lawrence Edward (Titus) Oates - are given their own chapter, written from the first-person narrative viewpoint.

These chapters are full of engaging dialogue; intimate conversation and drinking stories revealing past experiences, warmly remembered comrades and shared adventures. The story begins just before embarking on the long voyage south. Each subsequent chapter progresses through the 21 month timeline, guiding the reader inexorability towards its finale.

Just Kids
Just Kids
by Patti Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book to discover Patti the artist, 19 Dec 2011
This review is from: Just Kids (Paperback)
Biographical books rarely start better than this: intimate and honest; moving and involving; poetic in rhythm and content.

Chapter one, Monday's Children, whisks the reader off to a childhood environment, studded with meaningful observations and subtle, tantalising indications of what destiny may have in store. The second chapter, Just Kids, proudly and successfully forms the core of the book, centred around that accidental - yet in so many ways unavoidably inevitable - meeting of two artistic minds and souls. Amidst the affection, tenderness and natural coupling is a deep seated respect for each other's talents and ambitions.

However, after diving expectantly into the Hotel Chelsea chapter, I noticed the narrative style had changed, the magic lost. As they gradually drift apart due to work, friends, relationships and circumstances, the book also seems to lose its way, even its sense of purpose. There are glimpses of the earlier magic, but small and fleeting in comparison, little reward in a huge 120 page chapter. There are, of course, many interesting tales to be told and many interesting characters to meet, and it's an important element in understanding the overall story. Yet the altered style and modified voice is more mundane and matter-of-fact, losing its previous beauty and energy. In my imagination it's written at a different time, in a different place and in a different state of mind to the rest of the book.

Happily, the magic reappears in the penultimate chapter, Separate Ways Together, then sparkles magnificently in Holding Hands With God - the final sweet, lyrical chapter awash with tenderness, affection and love. Conclusively demonstrating, when focussed on Patti and Robert, how exceptionally well the prose captures this intensely intimate relationship.

But it's also a book to discover Patti the artist - her drawings, photographs, silk-screens, installations and, of course, poetry - a delightful bonus. Overall this is a simply wonderful book - and an immensely engaging story.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 23, 2011 6:34 PM GMT

Talking About Detective Fiction
Talking About Detective Fiction
by P. D. James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, insightful and informative, 19 Dec 2011
Written by one of our present day detective fiction masters, this slim volume contains a plethora of historical background, author analysis and exploration of writing methods. A book conceived following a request by the Bodleian Library's Publishing Department, located in her native Oxford.

From start to finish it's intelligent, insightful and informative. And she doesn't sit on the fence when expressing her views on fellow authors' techniques and proficiencies - for example Agatha Christie's reliance on 'pasteboard characters' and occasional less-than-credible narrative scenarios. But, for myself, this only adds to the book's readability.

Many pages are devoted to Arthur Conan Doyle's famous 221B Baker Street tenant, the literary richness of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the graphic realism of Dorothy L. Sayers and the story telling brilliance of Agatha Christie with her talent to deceive. And there's similar thoughtful discussion on Richard Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Georges Simenon, and many others.

It's always interesting to hear an author articulate her approach to novel writing. In particular, there's her rational, clearly presented argument for preferring a setting-based starting point, a notion which differs from many other authors in this genre.

In the forward P. D. James declares her intention to 'interest and entertain'. Regardless of whether you're a fan of detective fiction, I believe she achieves this aim. A particularly illuminating book in so many ways, and a fascinating read.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The deeply personal journey of a runner and writer, 19 Dec 2011
An open, honest, and thoughtful book, full of biographical reflections on running, writing and life in general. There's a peppering of poetic flourishes too - the special New England fall is my particular favourite. It all goes to make for a very enjoyable and interesting read.

Haruki's extensive running experiences and personal insights provide a rich resource for delving into the motivations of a long distance runner. His highly descriptive accounts of marathons, triathlons and other endurance events, will be of interest to anyone who runs, is thinking about running, or wonders why anyone would ever decide to run. He conveys the intimate link between the physicality of running and the associative state of mind, with phrases such as "All I do is keep running in my cosy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence".

From a personal viewpoint, I found his insights into the mindset of a novelist, and a writer's life in general, just as interesting. Indeed, I can only feel a sense of poignant affinity with someone who's decision to become a writer was born out of a single thought, on one particular day. Like most writers he initially wrote in short, snatched periods, whenever his time-absorbing bar and Jazz club business allowed. But, after attracting significant attention with his early 'Hear the Wind Sing' and 'Pinball, 1973' novels he then, "hung out my sign as a novelist and set out to make a living writing" admitting to himself, "I'm the kind of person that has to totally commit to whatever I do".

Wandering through the chapters it's impossible to miss the many connections between the solitary world of a long-distance runner and the solitary life of a creative novelist - something he explores, confirms and strengthens throughout the book. Both endeavours he maintains suit him, as someone who, "likes to be by himself" and, "doesn't find it painful to be alone".

Finishing a long race in a personally acceptable time involves a hard, regular training regime to acquire not only the muscle tone and physique necessary, but also to train and strengthen the mind. Improvements are made daily, albeit at an almost imperceptible pace.

Tackling a book project requires an equally steely undertaking, sitting every day in focussed concentration. As he points out, even if no words are penned this process is necessary to build physical stamina and willpower - essential when completing a sizeable writing project, to a standard with which the writer can be proud. For him, being creative isn't a natural process, but a hard, physical one which requires lengthy toil, dredging out deep holes to find the sources of creativity.

In writing and running you need self motivation and inner drive; dedication and routine; confidence and optimism; willpower to keep going to the finish; and a desire to explore what's possible. The rewards are a heady sense of release, contentment and inner-calm that occur as you settle into a steady-paced running rhythm or find yourself amidst an outpouring of free-flowing prose.

Ultimately, in writing as in running, there is really only a single opponent to achieving your goals - yourself.

Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future That Disappeared
Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future That Disappeared
by Andrew Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part memoir, part nostalgic reminisce of a lost Sweden, 19 Dec 2011
Part memoir, part nostalgic reminisce of a lost Sweden, part insight into a life of thoughts and words.

It's an entangled journey. Andrew Brown's very English childhood in Oxford, interjected by two years in Stockholm. A chance meeting with his future Swedish wife in a North Wales care home. A seminal period near Gothenburg, metamorphosing into a Swedish family man, while trying to discover himself. Followed by a self-launched writing career, bouncing between London and Scandinavia.

A journey threaded by a literary trail of fishing stories and experiences. A passion for angling that pumps like a main arterial vein. A passion that demands visits to silently desolate, engagingly surreal, forest bound lakes and rivers - described in poetic-like prose.

The time-travelling chapters and reflective nature of the first-person narrative, induce an awareness of a life passing by. Never really feeling at home in England or Sweden, this conflict adds a distinct objectiveness and sense of detachment when musing on the world around him. Yet he's undoubtedly in touch with the Swedish mindset, culture and deep rooted history.

Unsurprisingly, I found the writing references particularly interesting. His tentative and rather inauspicious start being transformed by some highly newsworthy stories, leading to a new life as a freelance journalist, columnist and author.

Sweden's enviable global status in the 1960s and 70s disappeared during the 1980s - suddenly and seemingly irreversibly. In the end he seems torn between a love for the country and the people and a despair for the future of them both.

Three Men in a Float: Across England at 15 Mph
Three Men in a Float: Across England at 15 Mph
by Dan Kieran
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The trials and tribulations of completing a 600 mile journey three times slower than a cyclist, 19 Dec 2011
Take a classic 1958 milk float, three men and a journey from Lowestoft to Lands End, and you have the ingredients for a distinctly original book. This attention-grabbing concept prompted plenty of enthusiastic national media coverage, including a dedicated BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast in February 2008.

The book is jointly authored by Dan Kieran and Ian Vince, who share the writing of its twenty chapters - all written in the first-person narrative form. After describing the story behind the story, each day-long leg of the journey is allocated its own chapter.

These legs vary in length from as little as 17 miles up to 49 miles. Each day's eventual distance being highly dependant on weather conditions, driving terrain, characters encountered, extravehicular adventures and, of course, availability of suitable charging points. So, as you can imagine, it was a particularly slow journey, as confirmed by the book's subtitle - Across England at 15mph.

The pivotal third man, Prasanth Visweswaran (Pras), has the necessary electrical skills - and risk taking attitude - to turn their concept into a reality. Still, without the support of friends, supermarket managers, publicans, campsite owners and generously spirited members of the public, it would have been impossible.

The problems faced in securing adequate supplies of electron-based fuel are a central, and often highly amusing, theme within the story. A story imparts a crystal-clear indication of how far away the UK is from delivering a viable infrastructure, able to support battery-powered alternatives to our current fossil-fuel guzzling vehicles.

The milk float in question rolled off Cowley's Morris car plant production line on 2nd September 1958. In the intervening decades this once commonplace mode of door-to-door transportation, has largely been resigned to history. After all, when was the last time you saw, or heard, a milk float trundle down your street?

Parallels with Jerome K. Jerome's 1892 classic Three Men in a Boat are obvious. And the inspiration provided by Jerome's book is clearly stated in the text. But the narrative's pace, humour and sense of adventure ensure this isn't some pale imitation or shallow copycat effort.

Enjoyable as it is, it's unlikely this book will also become a classic. And yet, in my imagination, when this century ticks over into a new one, I can envisage a world where all transportation is electric powered. In such future times the trials, tribulations and experiences of completing a 600 mile journey three times slower than a cyclist could manage, might indeed become an interesting and amusing literary resource of a past era.

Bicycle Diaries
Bicycle Diaries
by David Byrne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly eccentric and highly personal book, 19 Dec 2011
This review is from: Bicycle Diaries (Paperback)
David Byrne is better known for his music than his writing output. Although he's authored quite a few books this one stands out as one of his more mainstream offerings.

It's a book driven by, and full of, a passion for cycling and written by a practising pedal-head. Someone who's enthusiastically used a bicycle as a principal form transportation in his native New York since the early 1980s. And who endeavours to explore various parts of the world in the same human-powered manner.

The first chapter is a wide-ranging, and rather nostalgic, exploration into a number of American Cities. Unfortunately, he encounters many rather frustrating, disconnected rides through communities chopped into ghettos by massive concrete ribbons.

Subsequent chapters are dedicated to one particular city. As seen from a cyclist perspective, it offers a new way of exploring and interacting with cities you might already have some knowledge about. His artistic eye picks out the unconventional, the significant, the sublime and the striking across the urban landscape and in the local art, music and film culture.

Always a deep thinker, his views are heartfelt and expressed with zeal - at times in an intensely earnest discourse. His observations and very personal points of view are enhanced by a collection of text-embedded photographs. As you might expect, the majority of these images are very different to the usual tourist fare, and interesting in their own right.

It's a brilliantly eccentric and highly personal book, delivered in a lovely embossed cloth cover. Even the epilogue entertains with its look into the future of transportation, and an eye catching selection of drawings illustrating some of his bike rack designs - many of which now adorn the streets of NewYork.

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