Fun Reads for Friday (And the Long Labor Day Weekend)

Although this first one is more dispiriting than fun:

Book Loving City Forgoes Free Ones for a Week.” William Yardley for the New York Times, August 31, 2011.

“The Seattle Public Library, a beloved civic trophy in a book-loving city, whose directors are plucked away for plum jobs by presidents and philanthropists and whose buildings are often beacons of design, is closed all week — yet again. The furlough, intended to save about $650,000 from the system’s $50 million budget, has become something of a late-summer tradition in recent years, hardly as welcome as the weather.

“It’s an unfortunate tradition,” said Marcellus Turner, who started as the city librarian on Aug. 15 and promptly got a few days off, unpaid.

“Library Closed Aug. 29 — Sept. 5 Due to Budget Cuts,” say the bold red signs on the doors at the central library, a jolt of glass and steel by the architect Rem Koolhaas.”

The article also touches on an interesting trend that I was unaware of: “In Seattle…being the city librarian has become something of a launching pad.” It seems that several of the Seattle Public Library directors have been plucked from their positions by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and President Obama for other high profile librarian gigs.

***

Is BookLamp’s ‘Book Genome Project’ the Future of Discovery?” by Edward Nawotka at Publishing Perspectives, August 24, 2011.

Hailed by some as the “Pandora for Books,” BookLamp aims to break a book down by its essential elements and use those to hyper-scientifically make recommendations to its readers. The program

“…breaks a book up into 100 scenes and measures the ‘DNA’ of each scene, looking for 132 different thematic ingredients, and another 2,000 variables.”

So say, for some bizarre reason, you really want to read a book that is just like The Da Vinci Code. Says BookLamp CEO Aaron Stanton:

“We have found that it contains 18.6% Religion and Religious Institutions, 9.4% Police & Murder Investigation, 8.2% Art and Art Galleries, and 6.7% Secret Societies & Communities, and other elements — we’ll pull out a book with similar elements, provided it is in our database.”

Now I actually really enjoy Pandora–not having a really fine-tuned ear or a lot of in-depth awareness of music composition (although I have some), I like being able to enter a song or artist or composer and have Pandora tell me that I’m responding to the key that the music is in, or the fact that there is a strong male vocalist, or that there is a repeating structural element that is standing out. For books, somehow–and I’m guessing that this is more a function of my own relationship to literature and my general faith in my ability to select books I’ll like–the project seems a little cynical. Perhaps I’d like to think that there isn’t some formula that a computer program can use to dissect a novel and what someone responds to in it.

But I’m inclined to ignore my gut reaction on this and consider that for someone who doesn’t have piles of “books to have read” strewn haphazardly around the house, this might be a great way to learn not only about new books, but also develop a better sense of what qualities she, the reader, is enjoying in a book. And what’s not to like about more self-aware, informed readers?

New assignment: I’m going to try out BookLamp in the next week and report back on the qualities considered in each book, and the types of recommendations yielded. Perhaps I’ll get some good book recommendations myself.

***

Jo Nesbø’s novel Headhunters (first published in 2008) will be released in English this month.

Lots of interest here. Firstly, this is not a Harry Hole book. (Nesbø has a number of non-Hole titles to his credit, including a variety of stand-alones and the “Doktor Proktor” series, which starts with the novel Doktor Proktor’s Fart Powder. These are for kids—see here.)

Secondly, it came out in 2008 and is only now being released in English here, even though it was apparently a big deal in Norway when it was first published–it won the Norwegian Book Club Prize for Novel of the Year in 2008. (The delay is also not that surprising, really. The Hole novels have been a hit here, so perhaps the publisher didn’t want to overflow the market with too many Nesbø books at once?)

But thirdly, and most interestingly, with the publication of Headhunters in 2008, Nesbø established the “Harry Hole Foundation” which will receive “[a]ll proceeds from Headhunters, in all editions and formats including the movie adaptation…” (The movie has already been made–it came out in Oslo last month.)

Nesbø talks about his decision to start the foundation here:

I also made a decision that was very important for me. But not until Greedy Jo had had a serious discussion with Decent Jo. The decision was that all the income from Headhunters, domestic and international, would go towards a plan I had been mulling over for a while: basic reading and writing classes for children in the third world. My motivation was principally twofold. I have been privileged enough to be able to travel all over the world, and what this traveling has taught me is that the ability to read is a basic prerequisite for citizens to find their bearings in society so that genuine democracy can exist and so that those same citizens can create a better life for themselves and their families. Besides, I had also realized that I did not have—and would never have—a lifestyle that matched what was gradually becoming a rather large amount of money in my bank account. And there were surely plenty of other very human motives there, too: feelings of guilt that things had gone absurdly well, the need to be liked, to buy myself karma, an indulgence, redemption, etc. But I do not imagine that self-analysis by an overpaid Norwegian writer is very important to an Indian girl who receives ten years of schooling and can return home to her village afterwards, perhaps as a teacher, and be a role model for other girls and mothers.

So we set up a foundation, the Harry Hole Foundation, which would award an annual prize called A Decent Guy or A Decent Lady, and a stipend that the prizewinner, with the help of a committee, would invest in literacy projects. And the following year, in 2009, we did just that. The Decent Guy prize went to a prison chaplain, Odd-Cato Kristiansen, and the stipend went to the Naandi Foundation that helps provide schooling for deprived girls in India.

So yeah. Jo Nesbø: Decent Guy. Read more about Headhunters on Nesbø’s website here and feel free to feel good about going out and buying a new book for yourself when it comes out.

Enjoy not working on Monday!

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One thought on “Fun Reads for Friday (And the Long Labor Day Weekend)

  1. Pingback: Headhunters « The Afterword

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