Thursday, 30 April 2009

Some Brief Thoughts about Exclamation Marks!

While writing this month’s newsletter (arriving in your inbox today), I realised that the entire page was littered with exclamation marks.

Why, I asked myself, did I feel the need to include even one, let alone fourteen?

I know that the overuse of the mark is frowned upon, and admittedly they made the newsletter page look untidy, but there was no denying that they also made it look friendly. The exclamation mark at the end of the heading ‘Welcome to Bookarmy’s May Newsletter!’, made the otherwise ordinary title seem personal, exciting, uplifting even, just as ‘Hi’ communicates a rather even-toned greeting, adding an exclamation mark injects genuine pleasure into the same salutation: ‘Hi!’

But why does this one symbol hold so much meaning? Why does it have the power to alter the meaning of words and change the entire tone of a sentence?

Then I found that Stuart Jeffries had been musing upon the very same subject:

Just in case you are wondering, I culled the fourteen exclamation marks to just two.

Friday, 24 April 2009

As many of you will have noticed, we've recently implemented quite a few changes to, so I want to update you all on exactly what these are. The main changes are:

- A new homepage featuring lots of info about what's happening on the site (you can see the new page by logging out)

- A new layout for the books section of your profiles. We now display cover images for the books you've added. The books are also now displayed over several pages rather than in one long list so that those of you with several hundred books don't have to scroll for years to get to the bottom of the page.

- Everyone should now be able to add line breaks to their forum posts.

- Ticker settings (you can find this button on your profile pages) mean that you can choose which news alerts you receive and which ones you don't want to see.

- Changing your password is now more secure as it requires confirmation from your email address.

- You can now choose whether to display your real name on the site or not using the 'display real name' check box which you can find on the 'update profile' section of your profile page.

- The entire site is now displayed in a slightly larger font that is less squashed and just generally nicer to look at.

As always, we appreciate any feedback you can offer us on any of the changes we've made, and we ask that you don't hesitate to inform us of any problems you're experiencing with any aspect of the site so that we can fix it for you!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

I have recently been introduced to a poet called David Kay, whose poems never fail to provoke a reaction from me –mostly a smile.

It's like I always say:
"here's something,
you've never heard before,
that doesn't really apply,
to me,
or my methods,
but it'd be great,
if they did.

Dirty Dancing
There comes a time,
in every Englishman's life,
when he must learn salsa,
to save his relationship.

If he does not,
another man,
will dance salsa
all over the relationship,
and these,
are the very seeds,
of betrayal.

For salsa is ok,
in South America.
Salsa is not ok,
in South East England.

Visit his blog to read more and then post your comments on our Poetry forum.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Book Review - The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

When you start to tell someone about a book written by a brand new author, it is always tempting to compare the writer to another more established, well-known author.
Okay, I will immediately pigeon hole debut author Reif Larsen and say that The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet will be enjoyed by lovers of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and the quiet analytical approach to life of the 12-year-old protagonist, Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet, is very like that of Mark Haddon’s central character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Although these are accurate comparisons, to be honest, they aren’t very helpful and somehow make ordinary a novel that is anything but. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like it.

It is the story of a brilliant young cartographer, who lives on a ranch in Montana with his father, a silent cowboy, his mother Dr Clare a coleopterist, his bored teenage sister, and his brother Layton who although not around, haunts the pages. T.S. has for a while been submitting maps and illustrations to a wide range of institutions and publications and now his extraordinary work has been noticed by the prestigious Smithsonain Institution, only they don’t know he is twelve. (synopsis)

The book is a thing of beauty. I read one review that described the cover as ‘dull’. Not a bit of it. Designed to resemble one of T.S.’s coloured notebooks, I think the cover is exactly right for this novel. The margins of the book are filled with delicately drawn maps, diagrams and illustrations of T.S’s journey across America to receive his Smithsonain award. Lines and arrows point to the different drawings, politely interrupting your reading flow, adding more detail to the story through an aside comment or a brief connected thought.

One of my favourite maps is entitled ‘Freight Train as Sound Sandwich’ in which T.S. pictorially uses the analogy of the different elements the make up ‘John’s Pork Chop sandwich’ to map the different layers of sounds that make up the noise of the train hurtling along the tracks (it’s on page 97 of my copy).

For me the margins make this book, which is a nice change as the margins in most books are just the vacant spaces left in the printing process.
The drawings and maps are a big distraction; they make you stop half way through a paragraph and turn the book on its side to look at a map of how you might be able to shake God’s hand, or to study how Layton pumps his fist. I like that. I like the invitation to wonder through the book. And for me, that is the purpose of the drawings.

They offer the reader a new route through a book, we don’t have to slavishly read right to left and down the page. We can follow each arrow as it appears and read the margins, or we can finish the page and go back to look at all the drawings in one go, or we can ignore them all together –although that would be a shame. Rather than a one-way street of text as in other novels, this book is an invitation to create and follow new paths.

I’ve always thought that comparing new books with old favourites makes the debut novel less new and exciting, and to do that to this book would be terrible. So yes, if you like Mark Haddon or The Catcher in the Rye, give this books a go, but there is a lot more to it than that. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is both a beautiful artefact and a great story.


Monday, 6 April 2009

Charlotte Perkins Gilman fans

I just come across this blog while editing our entry for Charlotte Perkins Gilman - it's a must for all fans of the wonderful writer.