Friday, 26 April 2013

Something for the weekend - Blink

This weeks 'Something for the weekend' is...


by Malcolm Gladwell

As you read along the first few lines of this post, taking in each word that forms the introductory sentences
of what is to follow, your brain is processing information in quantities and at speeds that you would find difficult to comprehend. Ironically it is your own brain processing the thoughts required to comprehend the work that it is doing, however that level of meta-thought is something that I'm just not prepared to deal with on a Friday.

One of the key things that you have already done up to this point is make a judgement, and a snap judgement at that; you judgemental little so-and-so you. Don't worry, you are forgiven. We all make decisions in the blink of an eye that we just can't help, and, more often than not, some that we don't even notice. Within two seconds you had probably only managed to read the first 25 words of this writing and had already decided whether you wanted to read on or not. Good decision so far I must add.

What Blink does, through Malcolm Gladwell's alluring narrative littered with intriguing factual anecdotes, is present some prime examples of the effects of these snap judgements. Starting with the correct instinct held by a handful of art experts working with the Getty Museum, and working through to the bad decisions made in a police shooting in the Bronx, Gladwell shows the full extent of the power that those first two seconds can hold.

What he argues however, is that these snap decisions can be trained, thus allowing our brains to process all the same information in the same short space of time to a more effective level. Just think (no pun intended) of all those snap judgements and decisions you have already made today. How much easier would it be to trust them if you knew you were thinking more effectively? Blink not only gets you thinking about the way you think, but it entertains and informs you through every chapter you absorb.

If you want to trust my snap judgement, buy this book: you'll be delighted.

Or just come in to Blackwell's, pick up the book, and let your brain make up its own mind.

Buy it here


Friday, 19 April 2013

Something for the weekend - History is the new sex.

In this week's 'Something for the weekend' Neil suggests that..

History is the new sex

History is the new sex. Sex sells. And there's an awful lot of history out there. Historians are well known for searching out that little unexplored niche which will give their book a little edge to stand out on the shelves. A few years ago it was the history of .. well, any product or domestic item you'd care to mention from latitude to salt.

The past few months it seems to be sex in history that's seducing the publishers and pulling the punters. And what better way (with an eye to reading on public transport of course) of sating your carnal lusts then wrapping them in an academic sounding title?

Call it the EL:James effect but what our ancestors did and what they thought about (and how they got away with it (or didn't) in societies with little privacy and strict legal, religious and social codes) is filling a fair few current titles, and to save your blushes I've bravely done my research to try to recommend some of the best, most of which can be read in polite company:

Popular academic - can be read without too much blushing:

The unconventional rebels:

The skeletons in the family closet:

The high brow low brow:

The medieval riot girls:
Helen Castor's 'She-wolves: The Women who Ruled England before Elizabeth'
Nancy Goldstone's 'Joanna: The Notorious Queen of Naples, Jerusalem & Sicily'

A little more learned:
Ruth Mazo Karras' 'Unmarriages: Women, Men & Sexual Unions in the Middle Ages' 
and 'Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing unto Others 2e

Neil Grosvenor

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Jodi Picoult - The Storyteller Competition!!

Competition Time!!

This competition is now closed

Calling all Jodi Picoult fans; this is your chance to own a remarkable piece of Jodi Picoult memorabilia!!

Thanks to the lovely people at Hodder we have a 6ft by 4ft reproduction of the cover of 'The Storyteller',signed by Jodi herself, up for grabs. This amazing prize can be yours by answering this simple question:          

Which Jodi Picoult novel was adapted into a hit film starring Cameron Diaz (2009)?  

Put 'Jodi Picoult' in the subject line & email the answer to before 3.00 pm on Friday April 12th.  The winner will be chosen at random & notified by email before 5.30 the same day. Please be aware that anyone who enters this competition will be placed on the Jodi Picoult newsletter email list & that you will receive a monthly email with updates about Jodi Picoult.

The prize will be delivered to your home by Hodder so this competition is only open to UK residents - apologies to overseas Jodi fans.

You will never have a chance like this again so what are you waiting for?

(This competition is not open to Blackwell's or Hodder employees)

Friday, 5 April 2013

Some Things for the Weekend: Science Fiction for Beginners

I am arrogant enough to consider myself 'well-read', and as the daughter of a librarian I have always been able to turn to my Mum for an endless stream of book recommendations whenever I get bored with my own collection. I am also a serious fan of Star Trek and am the proud owner of my very own toy X-Wing and Star Wars Rebel Alliance tattoo. Despite this, I have never really forayed into Science Fiction until very recently, something I now know to be a tragedy, since a lot of it is bloody good. Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I considered SciFi to be something of a boys club, a genre heavy on the science and light on the gripping and interesting fiction. Since there was so much else to read, I never thought I was particularly missing out on anything. How wrong I was.

The first book to illustrate the depth of my ignorance, was Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Instead of taking the long metaphorical way round of describing two completely different cultural world views, Le Guin simply (although simply is the wrong word here) makes them live on completely different planets. Anarres and Urras are sister-planets, at first seeming to be inversions of each other, one socialist and Utopian, the other capitalist and Dystopian. The more you read, the more you realise that there's much more interesting social experiments at work than my feeble attempt at a summing up can illustrate, but what's most important to me is that this is a SciFi title that uses a different universe in order to enable a unique cultural and social investigation of human behaviour. In other words, SciFi writers have freedoms that authors dealing with our own reality do not. They have their own set of rules, but they are rules that are of their own making, and Le Guin uses hers to subtly and acutely critique our own society through its extrapolation in another universe.

After falling in love with Le Guin, I turned to my Dad for more suggestions (he offered the hefty works of Peter. F. Hamilton for anyone feeling braver than me) and I was immediately given the fabulous Dune by Frank Herbert and the soon to become a feature film Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (please do not let the questionable cover deter you). Both are pretty much coming of age novels, set in very disparate universes but with spectacular interplanetary warfare at the crux of each. Despite this heavy science and action-fueled edge, both are the stories of young boys trying to become men, and the cultural and paternal pressures that accompany these struggles. They are very different books, despite my jamming them into one paragraph, and though both fairly long, I flew through each with the happy knowledge that both have sequels.

Finally, I want to break lots of bookseller rules and talk about a book I haven't yet finished. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein has busted the final myth I had about SciFi. Heinlein is very, very funny. Funny in an "I laughed out loud on public transport" kind of way since the novel is as unexpected as it is hilarious. As I said, I haven't finished this one yet, and I will probably be quite sad when I do, but my journey into SciFi is far from over. If you enjoy this genre this will sound like I am trying to teach you to suck eggs, as these are not hidden gems of SciFi in the least (most having won either or both the Hugo and Nebula awards) but well celebrated favourites. However, if you haven't tried SciFi, I am urging you to. These are where I have started, and all of them are fantastic reads.