Archive | September 2009

Too many words?

A few days ago, the Word of the Day was lucubration. By way of illustration, this quote was included:

A point of information for those with time on their hands: if you were to read 135 books a day, every day, for a year, you wouldn’t finish all the books published annually in the United States. Now add to this figure, which is upward of 50,000, the 100 or so literary magazines; the scholarly, political and scientific journals (there are 142 devoted to sociology alone), as well as the glossy magazines, of which bigger and shinier versions are now spawning, and you’ll appreciate the amount of lucubration that finds its way into print.— Arthur Krystal, “On Writing: Let There Be Less”, New York Times, March 26, 1989

This quote has stuck in my mind. I have a few reactions to it; not least, noting that it is twenty years old and that the number must surely be much greater now.

These numbers are given as a reason for less writing but I can’t see that the argument stands up. Much is written that has a niche audience, particularly that published in academic journals, but that doesn’t diminish its value to the members of that audience. If what someone writes is only of interest to five people, why should those five people go without just because there is too much writing and one person can’t read it all?

I don’t know about you, but I really only need an audience of one to keep writing.

It rather puts my two bookshelves of unread books and feedreader full of unread articles into perspective. The things I know I haven’t read are a grain of sand on the beach of things I don’t know I haven’t read. But you know, that’s ok. I’ll never be short of something to read and that is wonderful.

Books on writing

I’ve just started reading The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. It came quite highly recommended.

Like most (if not all) writers, I’ve read a goodly pile of books on how to write. Some of them were more helpful than others and I’ve put a list of the ones I use as reference in the right-hand column.

What I’ve been reading

Again, a long delay in posting. I’m job hunting again as my current contract finishes at the end of the year. Happily, I’m using working on my novel as displacement activity for finding a job. This weekend I managed to get my act together enough to update my CV and apply for a couple of jobs.

In the meantime, I’ve read a few pop science books lately that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Risk, The Science of Politics and Fear, by Dan Gardner is a guide through understanding statistics and probability. It does this through examining health scare, terrorism, and child abuse stories rampant in the media. It can have a flavour of biological reductionism, especially at the beginning, but it is worth perservering with.

Blink, The Power of Thinking without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell is really interesting. It looks at intuition and what happens when it’s right and why it can go wrong. What was mainly interesting is the idea that you can develop better intuitive thinking through applying lengthy analysis to your experience. Gladwell has a very light writing style and covers some complex ideas in a manner that requires little effort on the part of the reader.

Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre. This mainly focusses on medical science. Goldacre has a pop at homeopaths, nutritionists, big pharma and science journalism. The section on how the placebo and nocebo effects work are very engaging.