Friday, December 07, 2007

After browsing at Borders

In which the author reviews everything he found interesting in Borders

Alan Coren once wrote, in the forward to a collection of his essays, that he asked his publisher to identify the most popular genres of books. His publisher told him that the best-sellers were books about golf, books about cats and books about the Second World War. So Coren named his book Golfing for Cats and put a large swastika on the front cover.

I was reminded of this when I found a book called Dog Heroes of September 11th, a tribute to America's search and rescue dogs. With this publication, a new age for the dog book has dawned: from humble beginnings in guides to the care and maintenance of canines, through books which treat dogs as objects of fluffy sentiment and now onward and upward to the most noble and perhaps most profitable subject: the patriotic dog.

Dogsploitation ought to be the name for this genre of book; if it is not, I claim my place in the Oxford English Dictionary here and now. For years, it lagged behind the far more lucrative catsploitation trade, whose practitioners knew that a picture of a cat on a cool Greek roof was worth a thousand bucks. But cats do nothing but look cute and adorable. Dogs are cute, adorable and America's allies in the war against Terror.

I would continue with this review but I could not bring myself to look inside the book. Instead, I wandered to the magazines section, where the cover of this week's Listener asks the important question "do bananas give you too much potassium?" The answer, provided in the Nutrition section, is "no." Quite why the Listener poses alarming questions about fruit, to which it knows the answer is a reassuring negative, is a matter between the magazines publishers and its accountants.

The really alarming stuff is to be found in New Scientist. Somebody clever thinks we have hastened the end of the universe by looking at it. And if that is not bad enough, the universe has a huge hole in it, 900 million light years across. The string theorists think it is evidence that ours is one of many universes.

Oh well, at least there is a new Sigur Ros album out, for people who think Radiohead are too commercial. There is probably a new Nick Hornby novel as well; there usually is.


Lyndon said...

To unify your magazines, I believe it was New Scientist once had a cover story: 'Was Darwin Wrong?'. I glanced at the editorial; it appeared the answer was 'no'.

I believe the end-of-the-universe chap has added a paragraph to the paper to the effect of, 'that's not what we meant at all'.

Anonymous said...

Feh. Not enough Bataille for me.

Craig Y.

stephen said...

It was Scientific American who had that cover story. Scientific American has gone way, way downhill in the last 20 years, all soft and fluffy and vapid, but I actually thought "good on them", because they ran that story in the middle of last bout of "Intelligent Design" brouhaha.

Anonymous said...

I have asked numerous physics types over the years exactly how, in a mechanistic way, consciousness impacts on the universe. Beyond 'observation' they have no idea. It is as though something exits our eyes from the conscious parts of our brains (which are?) and does nefarious things to the universe. This something obviously travels faster than light since we have only been 'conscious' for less than a million years. Though elephants, having been demonstrated to be self aware, might have been doing it for longer.

I think it is bad enough that peer reviewed journals exist which publish this claptrap but New Scientist does seem disturbingly susceptible to publish them of late.

It all seems to smack of the argument from ignorance to me. 'We can't think of another explanation, so this one with no experimental or mechanistic basis must be the explanation'.

I have a letter in this week's issue in fact on that very fallacy. That was in relation to shrimp having 'feelings'.

Peter in Dundee

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should be the argument from incredulity. And my letter is in this week's issue. The one where the physicists are trying to use 'magic' quantum effects to create the first life. Ignoring all the biological reality in the process, of course. I despair.

Peter in Dundee

Forensic morsels said...

You can however find something you like in borders in the range of say 100 - 200 pages and treat the place as a library since its so cavernous the staff won't notice if you've been there reading for hours on end.

Radiohead's new album is quite nice actually, brilliant release strategy.

Anonymous said...

My sole trip to Borders in Auckland terrified me. Not because of shelves devoted to the exploitation of charismatic-megafauna or news that observing the universe might collapse it in a more literal sense that most interpretations of quantum mechanics. I got utterly lost, nothing in my experience as simple provincial-lad-cum-scarfie had prepared for a shop that could exist in multiple layers underlying multiple blocks of a city. A swear I came out two blocks and several hours away from where I entered.

Oh, and in bout of pedantry, it was National Geographic that ran the "Was Darwin Right?.. Yes!" cover. There is an interesting (for certain values of interesting) article here about the misinterpretation of the paper that lead to the end of the world story. The amending of the paper was presumably the result of the criticism of noted physicist Rush Limbaugh

Anonymous said...

Ok, before someone out pendants me I'll do it myslef. The cover story above should be "Was Darwin Wrong?... " (you opened the cover to find another cover that provided the answer "No") The editorial was by David Quammen who wrote The Song of the Dodo - one of the best books on natural history I've ever read.

That is all.

Anonymous said...

Good Philip K Dick selection though insofar as the one in Wellington goes. You can get
most of his books from there-
from masterpieces like Man in
the High Castle, Ubik and
The Three Stigmata of Palmer
Eldritch to crap like Vulcan's
Hammer, Dr Futurity and Friends
from Frolix 8.

Craig Y.

Anonymous said...

I've been to Borders and Paper Plus recently - but ended up in Dymocks where there were plenty of copies of "The Divinity Code" by Ian Wishart. I saw a guy checking books over and pointed out a copy that was damaged. Dymocks gave a nice discount - sounds like THIS copy will be sent on to Richard Dawkins. Richard will have much Xmas laughter, seeing how the great Wishart has slam dunked him over and over again. The book was still too expensive with the discount.

Anonymous said...

To think that acres of innocent trees died to produce that travesty of journalism.

Damn you, Wishfart!!!

Craig Y