Month: November 2014

It’s grounbreaking, it’s path-breaking, it’s going to change the course of history…no it isn’t

It’s just a book. It’s just paper and ink (or pixels and light). It’s just a book which has been published for a very selective readership of academics. It might have an impact on the field of tribology, experimental philosophy or cognitive neuropsychology but it isn’t about to break concrete up or change the world.

This is a thought that came to me while reading an article on the BBC website today about a ‘groundbreaking’ exhibition. The thought doesn’t relate specifically to the contents of the article, it is about my job. Part of my job entails me reading a lot of book blurbs. I have to transform book blurbs into book abstracts for Oxford Scholarship Online. Book abstracts should be descriptive rather than persuasive so I have to do a lot of ‘toning down’ and aggressive adjective removal. I don’t want the text to tell readers that the book is ‘the most outstanding study of it’s kind on the encounter between the common law legal system and the tribal peoples of North America and Australasia’. I want it to tell them that it ‘examines the encounter between the common law legal system and the tribal peoples of North America and Australasia’.

I used to write book blurbs myself during my full-time working days so I know that the task of the book blurber is to sell the book. I know all the theory. Grab them in the first sentence and they will be yours for £9.99. I appreciate that the back cover is the only chance a publisher has to persuade a reader not to put the book back on the pile in Waterstones. The Amazon blurb can swing the decision between add to basket or back button. I know all about strap lines and the value of a quote from Stephen Fry or The Sunday Times (or Professor Famous-in-his Field from Harvard University).

If you are tasked with selling a book with a title such as Law, Power, and Imperial Ideology in the Iconoclast Era then you need to think of some really outstanding selling points to get potential readers interested. I understand that. Many years ago, I had to write the blurb for this book Britain’s Historical Railway Buildings: An Oxford Gazetteer of Structures and Sites (which incidentally I think is a fantastic book – I think the blurb on Amazon is mine).

This book really was groundbreaking

This book really was groundbreaking

However, there are two oft-chosen words to describe a book that send shivers down my spine. These are groundbreaking, path-breaking. Not once during my career as a book blurber did I describe a book as groundbreaking or path-breaking. I cannot describe any book, however amazing and however revolutionary ‘in its field’ as likely to break a bath. It is a metaphor that I cannot bring myself to use (or allow to appear on Oxford Scholarship Online).

That is, unless the book in question was about concrete crushers. This book might indeed be path breaking.

A book about concrete crushers is definitely groundbreaking

A book about concrete crushers is definitely groundbreaking


My children read a lot and it’s not my fault

This is a thought that has been mulling around in my head for a few days. The other day, I was having a conversation with my one of my son’s teaching assistants about children and reading. We were talking about the influence of nurture versus nature on children’s reading and enthusiasm for books. We are both avid readers and both have children who have ‘inherited’ a love of books. She was telling me how it amazed her that some children just don’t pick up the love for books. For whatever reason, they don’t get struck by the bug.

I posed the question to her of whether the fact my boys love reading was down to my ‘genetic’ love of reading (nature), clearly inherited from both my parents, or whether it was down to the extent to which they’ve absorbed my love of reading through seeing me read (nurture). Have they been surrounded by books since birth and picked up on my enthusiasm for books and stories? Or would they have grown up to love reading irrespective of the amount of books in the house?

Oldest son reading in bed

Oldest son reading in bed

I’ve been considering this, and I think that in our case at least nature must be a stronger influence than nurture. Certainty, I love books and I love reading. I own a lot of books. I work in the publishing industry. I have a book on the go (sometimes two) at all times. However, I am so busy most of the time that I rarely read during their waking hours. So, to what degree does nurture influence them? They hardly ever see me read. I do it mostly when they are asleep. Their father also likes reading. He reads a kindle, and also only when everyone else is asleep.

The evidence is clear, they love to read. Here are a few photos taken from near and in their bedrooms.

Middle son's bedside table

Middle son’s bedside table

Under oldest son's bed

Under oldest son’s bed

First son's bedside table

Oldest son’s bedside table

These were in the toilet for 'weird thoughts' time reading

Abandoned on the landing

These were found in the toilet for those 'weird thought' moments

These were found in the toilet for those ‘weird thought’ moments

This house is overflowing with books. I moan about the books. I trip over the books. I am constantly picking up the books and piling them up. Books make them late for school. Books keep them in bed in the morning and keep them awake beyond lights out (the carefully positioned curtain to allow street light into the room in my middle son’s room is evidence of that).

Although I frequently moan about the amount of books in our house, the lateness of our children, and the amount of books and spare books they insist on taking on car journeys that last 10 minutes, I’m really quite pleased that they love books. Whoever said that boys don’t read hasn’t spent any time in my house. My boys love their books, perhaps too much sometimes. They drive me mad with their damn books! Books make them curious about the world. Books feed their thirst for knowledge and this makes me happy. Whether it be nature or nurture, my children are mini-mes.

Middle son reading on the landing

Middle son reading on the landing

If nothing else, this means I can leave my thousands of books to them when I trot off to the library in the sky.

If you can have toasted bacon butties…

…and toasted sausage butties, why can’t you have toasted egg butties? This is the thought I had this morning.

Toasted bacon butties - yum

Toasted bacon butties – yum

The thought came about because I really fancied an egg buttie for breakfast. However, we were running quite low on fresh bread. We have lots of bread in the freezer. Usually in these situations I know that I can have ‘frozen’ toast for breakfast because our toaster has a setting for toasting frozen bread. But I really wanted an egg buttie. It occurred to me that if I’d wanted a bacon buttie or a sausage buttie I could have just had toast rather than bread with the bacon or sausage between the slices. But who in their right mind would have a toasted egg buttie?

Would you toast this?

Would you toast this?

Perhaps I am wrong. I’m happy to be met with a barrage of ‘me, me, me I’d have a toasted egg buttie!’ Perhaps I should try it one day. Luckily, we had just two slices of fresh bread left so I could have my egg buttie with bread as I normally would. I will test out this weird thought another day.

And on a slight tangent: how about chip butties?