Archive for March, 2010

Divided in Death (book #68)

21 March 2010

JD Robb, 2004.

I’m interested in the ways Nora Roberts manages to write (and publish) so much. One strategy, I think, is rather like that uses in oral storytelling. I read Walter Ong’s book on this when I was studying Beowulf, and I’ve thought about it a lot since then. The Wikipedia article on orality quotes him:

To solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, you have to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence. Your thoughts must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antithesis, in alliterations or assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions … Serious thought is intertwined with memory systems.

See also h2g2’s article about the hero on the beach trope.

Two things to note about this. Firstly, saying that Robb / Roberts uses tropes, recurring situations etc, doesn’t necessarily dimish her literary value. Secondly, repeating patterns can be at any kind of scale – from repeating phrases like Homer’s “wine-dark sea” to the pattern that equates to a particular genre (crime fiction: crime happens, investigator usually as hero finds out what happens, crime is solved, criminal [usually] brought to justice).

It seems to me that in the In Death books Robb uses food and sex as ways to structure her main character’s day, and therefore to make it easier to write. I looked at Eve’s patterns of eating, drinking and sex in Divided in Death:

Day 1.
2am – sex
5am – two coffees
9am – “hoagies” (pork sandwiches), drinks, soy chips, dried apricots, chocolate cookies, all as take-out.
2pm – coffee, cookies
Evening – two coffees, steak, cabernet (wine), coffee, wine, chocolate

Day 2.
5am – sex
Soy burger
Chocolate cookie
Grilled pepper

Day 3.
Coffee and cookies
Soy dog (take-out)

Day 4.
Eggs and bacon, toast, coffee

(Not always possible to identify time of day.)

Food is a pretty big thing in In Death: Roarke is always trying to feed Eve; Peabody is always talking about food and wanting to stop for some (and a particular trope is Eve and Peabody offered drinks by suspects; Eve always refuses and Peabody is always annoyed about this); Feeney is identified by the bag of nuts he always has with him. Sex is also important, particularly as a demonstration of Eve and Roarke’s feelings for each other. I think it would also be worth logging sleep and showers in the same way.

Robb uses food and sex as way of structuring the days of her book. She doesn’t so rigorously use other details of mundanity in the same way (she could use visits to the loo, for instance, or the daily commute).

Books in charity shops

16 March 2010

I’ve been wondering for a long time why the range of second-hand books in most charity shops is so restricted. I rarely see paperbacks more than a few years old, hardbacks ditto (and they all have dustjackets). Where are the paperbacks from the 1930s to 1980s? Where are the hardback novels of the 1950s to 1980s?

In Vitalise the other day I found an almost closed box of books. I only had a quick look because we were running late to pick up the M, but I found a lovely copy of East Lynne and another 19thc novel. I’ll put images up when I have a moment. They also had some non-dustjacketed hardbacks from the 1970s and some paperbacks from the 1970s-1980s, all in good condition. I took my haul to the counter where the assistant was baffled because the books had no prices on them. Another assistant explained to her that these were from the box left out for recycling.

It made me wonder how many books are just pulped by charity shops – so I’ve emailed Oxfam, British Heart Foundation, Marie Curie, Barnado’s, Cancer Research, The Children’s Society, Vitalise, Age Concern, Help the Aged, PDSA, Scope and Tenovus. Will update this site with any responses.

Things people on the internet in the last year regret and don’t regret

15 March 2010

Katie Haegele mentioned my last statistical post to me, and I thought I’d do another one.

This was more tricky, because it turns out most online references to regretting or not regretting are quotes from celebrities, and I’m looking for mundanity. There are also some sites specifically about posting things you regret, and I wanted to exclude these, only looking for places where people had said unprompted that they regretted something. There are also sites specifically about regretting abortion, and I wanted to keep these out too, as the framework of sites like this could lead to people using the phrase “I regret that” when they wouldn’t have used that form of words naturally.

So … 55 things people regretted on the internet in the last year:

buying an iPhone
reading Twilight
telling you that
my Hannah Montana tattoo
making wrong choices in life
that I wasn’t with him when he died
moving to Minnesota for a guy that I fell in love with
a lot
not giving us a chance to see if we can work things out
sending that last message
getting married
that I am in the education field and have a low income (NYC standards)
being far more interested in playing guitar and smoking dope in college instead of concentrating on running
every second of it
the way that moment affected me at the time
I’m simply a blogger, a political activist and I do not have a feather boa
Playing Hardcore
the day I entered Kasturba
letting my boyfriend eat me out
his cowardly ass represented this country for 8 years
to inform you of the passing of Cupy and his entire family
ever saying “Cold is better than heat, because at least you can escape it”.
to find myself classed amongst the ever-increasing number of those who have misunderstood Humanism
to inform each and everyone of you that our beloved super moderator Akaruz is no longer with us
choosing this uni
listening to them
I wasnt here
getting a car in school
nothing whatsoever
my marriage
My Madden 10 Purchase
teaching my child sign language
I was unable to offer guidance on improving the accuracy of the registers
having asked for those chips
painting my neighbors outside deck yellow
that my advice was not taken by Mayor Fletcher when it was first given to him
that I lived so much of my life away from God
starting with a mage
that I waited for his second invitation
not seeing this while I was in SXSW
never writing a cover on Santa Fe gang violence
buying the HMX-H106
not being a Maths student
going to
I showed her I was angry instead of how much I loved her
having the Lobotomy
not marrying my ex girlfriend
only not buying all the frozen orbs until they were 6g
Not Taking Gcse DT
getting my tattoos
the times I have been unkind
adding my aunt on facebook
I couldn’t have stayed in and served my time

I categorised that as:

Career – 6
Culture – 2
Death – 2
Family – 2
Feelings – 1
Food – 1
Gaming – 3
General – 3
Health – 1
Missed opportunities – 5
Nothing – 2
Opinions – 2
Politics – 4
Purchases – 4
Relationships – 8
Speaking out – 2
Specific events – 4
Taking advice – 1
Tattoos – 2


55 things people did not regret on the internet in the last year:

leaving my job
buying the N97 (despite the rumours of upcoming devices that on paper upstage it)
buying L4D2
getting arrested
being with them
choosing to attend an all African-American school in the ’60s
my sins
buying a cockatiel
behaving that way because, despite it all, I’ve come a long way
the 10 hours I spent hunting pigeons in GTA
not spanking my children
leaving Facebook
nursing my wee ones on demand
my mastectomy
taking those classes
drinking underage in college
the time away
my education
my love of loneliness
any of it
a damned thing
that my children are alive on this planet
being a homebody during all those early years
not going to the 8th grade dance
the German lit degrees*
my Sony purchase
my kids one bit
a moment of my breastfeeding experience
getting married
not trying to make it work
liking what I like
not having any friends and devoting all of my time to this blog
anything about coming out
a bit all the times I’ve made fun of her with everyone
working for that very large company
my decisions and experiences
going to graduate school for writing
buying our home
any of my tattoos
my abortion at all
that I choose to do other things
trying smoking at all
losing my virginity to him
being a nerd
my decision not to be friends anymore
no stylus
sending my child to a Chinese School
any of my tattoo’s
being financially responsible
getting to know him
either divorce

*I like this one. “I’ve got two of the damned things and by God I don’t regret either!”

By categories:

Anything – 5
Career – 8
Family – 7
Gaming – 2
General – 2
Health – 3
Life choices – 3
Personality – 5
Purchases – 7
Relationships – 9
Specific events – 2
Tattoos – 2

On the basis of this small sample:

– people think a lot about what they regret / don’t regret in their career choices
– people don’t regret more things to do with their family than they do regret
– the things that people do regret need a larger list of categories than things they don’t regret (they are more various)
– people don’t regret the way their personality is
– they admit to regretting fewer purchases (4) than those they say they don’t regret (7)
– gamers think a lot about what they do and don’t regret in gaming
– a lot of people say they don’t regret anything
– people often think about relationships in terms of regret (8 times) or not regretting (9 times)
– much regret is about missed opportunities (5 incidences)
– the jury is out on tattoos (2 regrets, 2 no regrets)

And, not obvious from the data, but when searching for these I found that people tended to talk about things they didn’t regret in the context of those they did (“I don’t regret knowing him, but I do regret marrying him”).

The House of God (book #67)

15 March 2010

Samuel Shem, 1978.

This is apparently the basis of Scrubs, though some of the suggested parallels in the Wikipedia article aren’t very convincing.

Here’s a good bit:

we interns played “The Gomer Game,” where someone would call out an answer, like “Nineteen hundred and twelve,” an answer given by a gomer, and the rest of us would try to come up with questions to the gomer that might have produced that answer, such as “When was your last bowel movement?” or “How many times have you been admitted here?”

There are 149 reviews on I liked one on Amazon UK with the title Insightful but self-absorbed – as if a memoir could be other than self-absorbed. The reviewer puts the common sense side well:

The year he writes about is hellish and chaotic, and he’s a good writer, but the smell of wilful exaggeration is never very far away. Did he really know someone who punctured the heart while trying to put in a chest drain? Did he really despairingly sleep with several sexy nurses? Did he really have a profound emotional epiphany while watching a mime performance? Dear me.

The letters Roy’s (the hero) father sends him, with their precise grammar and complete inability to understand the terrible experiences Roy’s having, are almost unbearably touching at times. Roy’s partner, however, the moral centre of the book and the person he believes gets him through the year, can be very irritating to the reader in the way she describes the doctors’ black humour: ‘”making fun of them, like they were animals, is sick”‘.

Books read so far this year

14 March 2010

List, in order from the start of the year. Repetitions aren’t mistakes.

Title, Author, First published, Type
Kindred in Death, J D Robb, 2009, Fiction
Glory in Death, J D Robb, 1995, Fiction
Reunion in Death, J D Robb, 2002, Fiction
Visions in Death, J D Robb, 2004, Fiction
The Chinese Shawl, Patricia Wentworth, 1943, Fiction
Venice, Peter Ackroyd, 2009, Non-fiction
Promises in Death, J D Robb, 2009, Fiction
Naked in Death, J D Robb, 1995, Fiction
Judgment in Death, J D Robb, 2000, Fiction
Ceremony in Death, J D Robb, 1997, Fiction
Medieval Women, Henrietta Leyser, 2002, Non-fiction
Purity in Death, J D Robb, 2002, Fiction
Creation in Death, J D Robb, 2007, Fiction
Survivor in Death, J D Robb, 2005, Fiction
Witness in Death, J D Robb, 2000, Fiction
Memory in Death, J D Robb, 2006, Fiction
Seduction in Death, J D Robb, 2001, Fiction
The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, 2010, Non-fiction
Richard Eurich, Edward Chaney and Christine Clearkin, 2003, Non-fiction
Portrait in Death, J D Robb, 2003, Fiction
Since You Asked, Cary Tennis, 2008, Non-fiction
Immortal in Death, J D Robb, 1996, Fiction
Spotlight, Patricia Wentworth, 1947, Fiction
Divided in Death, J D Robb, 2004, Fiction
Visions in Death, J D Robb, 2004, Fiction
Tribute, Nora Roberts, 2008, Fiction
Soulless, Gail Carriger, 2010, Fiction
Six Geese A-Slaying, Donna Andrews, 2008, Fiction
Three in Death, J D Robb, 2006, 2007, 2008, Fiction
The Nine Modern-Day muses, Jill Badonsky, 2007, Non-fiction
Visions in Death, J D Robb, 2004, Fiction
The Wine of Angels, Phil Rickman, 2003, Fiction
Two-Bit Heroes, Doris Egan, 1992, Fiction
Conspiracy in Death, J D Robb, 1999, Fiction
Carolina Moon, Nora Roberts, 2000, Fiction
The Lost Soul Companion, Susan Brackney, 1999, Non-fiction
Kindred in Death, J D Robb, 2009, Fiction
Who Cares?, Cherril Hicks, 1988, Non-fiction
Creation in Death, J D Robb, 2007, Fiction
Divided in Death, J D Robb, 2004, Fiction
Innocent in Death, J D Robb, 2007, Fiction
Ten Boys Who Lived on the Road from Long Ago to Now, Jane Andrews, 1885, Fiction
Pilgrim’s Rest, Patricia Wentworth, 1946, Fiction
Blue Smoke, Nora Roberts, 2005, Fiction
The Toll-Gate, Georgette Heyer, 1954, Fiction
Catal Huyuk, James Mellaart, 1967, Non-fiction
With a Bare Bodkin, Cyril Hare, 1946, Fiction
Remember When, Nora Roberts and J D Robb, 2003, Fiction
The House of God, Samuel Shem, 1978, Fiction
Rainbow’s End, Ellis Peters, 1978, Fiction

Certain themes of course emerge from this list. Feel I’ve done In Death for the moment. Securely in my head.

Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia (book #66)

7 March 2010

James Mellaart, 1967.

Now that Sam has sorted out my library membership (yay Sam!) I have a handful of random books to read. Or use to hold down books I am making, but this one I have read.

I heard a lecture by Ian Hodder about Çatalhöyük in 1998 or 1999. I’d never heard of the site and was pretty baffled by most of the lecture, but fascinated by the theory Hodder was developing about the idea of “habitus” and how the site demonstrates the development of a distinction between the inside and the outside (the house and the “natural” or “wild”), which now itself seems “natural” to us. It’s quite possible I’ve got wrong what he was saying, but this is what I took away from the session.

Here’s Çatalhöyük on Wikipedia. Much of what Mellaart writes about has been re-imagined since. He did seem pretty dodgy at times to me I have to say – see the picture below and the text about how it “evidently” shows spring.

I like “the use of red paint on panels, posts, niches, doorways [etc] … has no structural significance and its use must therefore be regarded as ritual”. It would be a dull world if we only had “structural” or “ritual” features, with nothing in between.

There’s a very full Çatalhöyük official excavation site. The most recent report is interesting, especially about efforts to involve local people in planning for and interpretation of the site.

Later – this presentation (not by Hodder) must have been written about the time I heard Hodder speak.