Monday, December 31, 2007


Because I've been immersed in research over the last few months I've become increasingly aware that one of the websites that I use more than any other is Copac. For those who don't know Copac - it is the "merged online catalogue of major University and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland", and a fantastic resource for identifying and locating books. Now it has become even more useful with the trial introduction of a search interface enabling users to simultaneously search Copac and the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) of materials published between c1473 and 1800:

Sunday, December 30, 2007

John Harvey

Great news for fans of crime-writer John Harvey, as his next book features the long-overdue return of his humane, jazz-loving detective Charlie Resnick. Although Harvey's recent novels featuring world-weary Frank Elder have all been successful, they have never really quite captured the reader's imagination in the way that the ten earlier "Resnick" novels managed. The book is called "Cold in Hand" and is due out in January. John Harvey won the Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger award for 'sustained excellence in the genre of crime writing" in May, and is the subject of a first-rate interview by Nicholas Wroe in this week's Guardian:,,2232896,00.html

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Two Nobel Lectures of Doris Lessing
Writing for the Britannica blog J F Luebering dissects the different versions of Dorris Lessing's Nobel lecture that have been circulating:

I haven't read any defence of the Internet against Doris Lessing's charge that the Internet has fragmented culture and destroyed reading, but I would love to hear of any spotted by readers of Booksurfer. Meanwhile let me briefly spell out some reasons why I believe Doris Lessing is wrong.

Far from fragmenting culture, the Internet disperses culture more widely, decentralises and democratises it. True - "official" and prescribed cultural forms are threatened - but that is not a bad thing, as social cohesion should not rely upon imposed cultural norms. The World Wide Web has widened the availability of minority cultural forms, which were often only "minority" because people lacked access to the capital required to disseminate them more widely. "Inanities" identified by Doris Lessing as a fundamental characteristic of the Internet existed long before the Internet was even thought of, and seduced people into wasting their time centuries ago - although what one person describes as "inanity" might be someone else's treasured cultural norm.

Does the Internet destroy reading? Hardly as the Web is primarily text based so that reading becomes more important than ever. Does it even (to take the argument further than Doris Lessing does) destroy some forms of reading? Even this is doubtful as many of the the Internet's real successes such as Project Gutenberg, Amazon,, are closely linked to literature. There are many other online book related projects that support and enhance reading - the British Library's "Turning the Pages", WorldCat and Copac, and Intute, are just some of the examples that spring to mind. In addition, many public libraries now make book-based reference resources available online to even the most remote communities. Rock lyrics and poetry (from rap to Milton) are now available at the click of a mouse. It is possible to find out about Camus even though the local library has no books about him on the shelves. The decline of reading (if ineed it is happening) cannot be attributed to the Internet.

Of course the Internet presents problems, both general - like the new forms of information monopoly that are emerging, - and for specific groups - such as the threat posed to monopoly News organisations by the rise of "citizen journalism" for example. But these contested aspects of the Internet follow from the challenges presented to entrenched interests by new social groups moving onto the stage of history.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Ben Granger writes a lengthy and perceptive review of Stephen Dorril's Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism in Spike Magazine:

Monday, December 10, 2007

In Print

The Art of Political Murder: who killed the Bishop? by Francisco Goldman (Grove Press). An account of the investigation into the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, Guatemala's leading human rights activist who was "bludgeoned to death in his garage on a Sunday night in 1998, two days after the presentation of a groundbreaking church-sponsored report implicating the military in the murders and disappearances of some two hundred thousand civilians. Realizing that it could not rely on police investigators or the legal system to solve the murder, the church formed its own investigative team, a group of secular young men in their twenties who called themselves Los Intocables (the Untouchables)." A tense account of a remarkable group of young people and their fight for justice.

Writing in an Age of Silence, by Sara Paretsky (Verso) Author of the bestselling Warshawski novels explores the traditions of political and literary dissent against the background of her own life, and also "traces the emergence of V. I. Warshawski from the shadows of the loner detectives that stalk the mean streets of Dashiell Hammett’s and Raymond Chandler’s novels, and in the process explores American individualism, the failure of the American dream, and the resulting dystopia".

Villages of Vision, by Gillian Darley (Five Leaves) has been reprinted in a new and enlarged edition.

The Anarchist Past and Other Essays, by Nicolas Walter (Five Leaves) is a selection of essays by the late Nicolas Walter, one time editor of the New Humanist magazine, a member of the Committee of 100, the Direct Action Committee and Spies for Peace, and a key contributor to the anarchist press as well as a prolific letter writer. Some of his best essays collected and edited by David Goodway.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

30 Year Closure Rule

The "thirty year closure" rule before government files are transferred to the National Archives and the public are given free access is to be reviewed. The terms have reference have just been published. See the National Archives website for more information.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Alan Furst

I'm only just catching up with Alan Furst's thrillers - I'm reading Foreign Correspondent at the moment - here's an interview with Furst, conducted by Robert Birnbaum and featured on

Donald E Westlake

The Times profiles the life and work of Donald E Westlake: