keeping score

As 2014 is rapidly coming to a close, I thought I’d check on my Goodreads list of books I’ve read so far this year, with the intent of coming up with a ‘best of 2014’ list.

I know you love a good list. Don’t we all?

I saw that I had read 19 books, and that 12 of them had a 5-star review  (there are a few in the ‘currently reading’ list as well). I tweeted this.

books of 2014

My friend Matt jumped into the discussion with this.

Hmm. Wrong, eh? Matt added:

Ok. That’s an interesting point. I went back and looked at the books which I’d given five stars. Some were definitely a five. Some were perhaps more of a 4.5. But Goodreads limits you to whole stars, so which way to go? Do I mark down a book which isn’t *quite* a five? But what if it’s better than a four?

And what happens if, as Matt says, I come across a book which is *better* than the other five-star books? Just give it another 5 stars?

I have another friend who insists that there’s no such thing as a five-star, 10/10 book or movie. Just doesn’t exist. Most you can hope for is a nine, and that’d be high praise indeed.

I guess that’s where the reviews come in. I want to get better at writing reviews and more importantly, better at posting them up, either here or on Goodreads/Amazon. It’ll allow me to explain *why* I’ve given it the star rating I have! I can get giddily enthusiastic about books I really really love – if you follow me on twitter you’ll probably know this already. And if you’re an author of one of those books, you’ll be backing away quietly, nodding.

COME BACK I LOVE YOU REALLY NOW WRITE MORE BOOKS OK?

Ahem. Sorry about that (but do write more books).

Book reviewers – what do you think? How do you handle five star reviews? Is there such a thing?

Obligatory New Year resolutions post

Well, here we are in 2014. Traditionally the time of year when we start making resolutions for all the things we’re going to do (or not do, or stop doing) over the course of the next twelve months.

 

I’ve given this some thought. Photo a day? Blog post a day? Read all my unread books?

Handily I managed to get through January 1st without doing anything much other than relax, so all thoughts of ‘do X every day in 2014’ have neatly gone out of the window. It does rather take the pressure off.

That said, I would like to do more things in 2014. I hesitate to call them resolutions as such, but for my own reference, here they are.

Blog more
Or at the very least, blog more regularly.
The handy WordPress review of the year showed that I posted 201 blog posts in 2013. That seems like a nice number – I put up a post for just over half of the year. However, lots of this was clustered – February and November had a post every day as part of various challenges, whereas other months were very quiet. December, I’m looking at you. So, I’d like to get into more of a routine, post more regularly and make more use of scheduled posts for when I’m not feeling inspired. I’m sure there will be various ‘blog every day in [month]’ challenges along the way as well!

Make more photographs
I took a lot of photos last year with the (admittedly quite good) camera on my phone. But I want to get out and explore the city more as part of an upcoming collaborative project I’ve got in the works. As part of that I’ll be digging out my DSLR and getting back into the habit of making more photos.

Read more
I used GoodReads last year to keep track of the books I’ve read. I’d planned to make inroads into my Great Unread Book Pile, which didn’t really happen. I got through 27 books last year, though quite a few of them were new ones. This year I’d like to spend more time reading rather than faffing around on the internet. Can I clear some more books off the list?

Practice on my guitar
I bought a guitar towards the end of 2012, with the intention of teaching myself how to play it – I’ve never played an instrument before but figured now was as good a time as any to get started. I’ve taken it out of the case at least four times in the course of 2013, had a go and put it away again. A friend has persuaded me that ten minutes’ practice each day will pay dividends, and has given me some exercises to get started. We’ll see where that ends up.

Ride my bike more
I didn’t get out on my bike as much as I’d have liked last year, mainly due to laziness on my behalf. Couple that with a nasty spill towards the end of the year which left me with bloodied palms, bashed elbows, grazed knees and a lovely scratch on the face of my new watch. Always wear a helmet when out riding, kids. And gloves…
I’d find that I had an hour spare, but think it wasn’t worth going out for such a short time – I love the weekend long 20-30 mile rides! So I’d make excuses and leave the bike in the garage. Now wish I’d taken the chances where I’d got them. After all, an hour spent on the bike is better than an hour spent not on a bike.

That’s it, I think. Have you made any resolutions for 2014? What are yours?

life online

I’ve been thinking about blogging recently and how it’s changed over the years.

Image representing LiveJournal as depicted in ...

I started blogging on Livejournal ten years ago. The thing I loved about it was the sense of community that existed – I’d arrived there along with a bunch of others from another online forum, and before long I’d made some really good friends there. In the early days there were times when the conversations going on in the comments on a blog post were often more entertaining than the original post itself.

But a few years ago something changed – people started drifting off to other sites, predominantly Facebook. The one thriving hub of activity that was my LJ friends page started to drop off.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

I was as much to blame as anyone, I’ll be the first to admit. The lure of the shiny meant more time on Facebook and the weird kid on the block Twitter, with its odd insistence on 140 characters or fewer.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

It made sense, in a way. Livejournal was a place where groups of friends would congregate for a chat. Facebook made it easier to share photos and find your real-life friends to go with your online friends. People who’d never have gone near LJ in a million years were now online. It had the now ubiquitous ‘like’ button, which meant that you didn’t need to actually interact with the poster, a quick click to show you’d been there and move on. Times were changing.

I miss the old days of LJ. My friends are now scattered across different social networks. Some now live exclusively on FB, some go between that and Twitter, some still hang out on LJ and some have ventured into the side new world of Google+

Me? I’m all over the place. Facebook for people I know in real life, or who only live there – often for them Facebook *is* the internet. Twitter for the random stream of consciousness. LJ for the occasional post. Flickr for photos, GoodReads for books, the list is ever-growing.

I’ve also been tinkering with G+ since it started and am starting to get a real feeling of community there. Could it be the next LiveJournal? Should it be? G+ has its quirks too – it doesn’t like you cross-posting content *out*, but is more than happy to pull content in. I can’t use automation to post to G+, whereas I can to Twitter, WordPress, Livejournal and many other sites. My posts on espressococo get automatically tweeted out and cross-posted to LJ. I have to manually add them to Google+, for now.

G+ seems to have the most potential in terms of posting significant content (like blog posts) and interacting with people. I get a few people posting comments or likes here on WP, but nowhere near the level I used to see on LJ.

So, dear reader. Where do you live on the internet? Are you a digital nomad, wandering from site to site? Or have you set down roots?

Iain Banks – farewell

It was only recently that I wrote about hearing the news that Iain Banks was (very) ill, then yesterday heard the news that he’d passed away.

Damnit.

He was an enormous influence on my reading from the late 80’s and early 90’s. A new book by Banks (M. or not) was always an event, and something to be anticipated, savoured and enjoyed. His books have long been a staple foundation of my bookshelves, often in multiple copies as they fall victim to much re-reading and passing around.

There was an outpouring of grief and condolences on my twitter feed yesterday (though, interestingly, virtually nothing on FB – Twitter, you have exceptional taste).

Lots of people wrote lovely things about Iain – Nick Harkaway’s “So long, IMB, I never knew ye” and Neil Gaiman’s “Iain Banks. With or without the M.” being the first of many which come to mind.

There’s also a truly fantastic collection of quotes on GoodReads from Iain and from his books. If you’ve never read any of his stuff, start there. Find a quote you like, then go buy the  book. Or, if you’re already a fan, buy a book for someone who’s never read any of his work. As Neil himself puts it:

Even the bad ones were good, and the good ones were astonishing.

Me? I can only echo what everyone else has already said, in many other places, and far better than I am able.

Farewell, Iain. Here’s to you and your stories.

Never judge a book

(originally seen on  http://cheezburger.com/7426380800)
(originally seen on http://cheezburger.com/7426380800)

It’s interesting how we so often judge books by their covers, isn’t it? I know I do when I’m browsing in a bookstore. Interesting cover, pick it up, check out the blurb. Sounds interesting, buy it.

Speaking of covers, I highly recommend checking out this article: Coverflip: author Maureen Johnson turns tables on gendered book covers. It started with this tweet:

Maureen threw out a challenge –

1. Take a well-known book. (It’s up to you to define well-known.)
2. Imagine that book was written by an author of the OPPOSITE GENDER. Or a genderqueer author. Imagine all the things you think of when you think GIRL book or BOY book or GENDERLESS book (do they EXIST?). And I’m not saying that these categorizations are RIGHT—but make no mistake, they’re there.
3. Now, COVERFLIP! Make the new cover and put it online. Tweet or Tumbl it with the tag #coverflip.

The Huffington Post picked up on some of the entries. Go have a look and see, the results are absolutely fascinating.

I’m completely certain that I’ve missed out on a great number of excellent books this way, so it’s nice to have the backup of recommendations from friends, either in person or on a site like Goodreads. I’ve also been fortunate to get a variety of books from various lovely publishers via the magic of Twitter. See a book competition, enter it – I could fuel my To Read pile from Twitter-sourced books alone!

Which leads me back to the brilliant photo above – what books might you be missing out on purely down to them having a cover which doesn’t catch your eye?

Also, with the advent of the Kindle, we’ve lost (or are starting to lose) that link between book and cover – no longer can you sit on the train and peer at what your fellow commuters are reading, and I’m sure we’d be surprised at some!

Have you read any great books despite the cover?