For some reason my life is always at its busiest during the Hay Festival, and, to prove a point, this year I’ve been so busy as to nearly forget the UK’s crown jewel of Literature festivals.
Nonetheless, the UK’s busiest annual literature event is now in full swing, so if you’re finding yourself without something to do between now and Sunday 6th June 2010, then head to Hay-on-Wye and take in some wine, some writers, and some of the damned finest British weather this side of the Channel.
As the English Summer warms up and the mad dogs and Englishmen run riot in anticipation of the sunshine, it seems a touch unmannered to consider the Autumn. However, since the Guildford Book Festival has announced this year’s dates as 14th – 23rd October, it would be unseemly not to, at the very least, mark the festival dates in the diary.
While the programme is yet to be announced, the festival is the pinnacle of the literature calendar of in the English commuter belt of Surrey, and anyone in the South East of England with a literate bone in their body could do far worse than engaging in some festival cheer, once that perennial inkling of happiness, our short summer blessing, has withered and wilted.
Since the age of Web 2.0 heralded in the rise of social networking, there’s been an illimitable stream of social networking sites, each growing broad—and sometimes deep—social graphs, and most of them failing to think of one single interesting thing to do with their complex networks of users.
One website that tries to buck the trend is Book Army, a site sponsored by the publishing industry and looking to build an extensive library of book reviews from its network of keen readers.
The idea is impeccable. Since the majority of users are keen, amateur readers, the site is growing an army of reviewers, such as myself, who are unlikely to be swayed by publisher trends or kickbacks, and are more likely to provide honest reviews than traditional media. As the mass of candid reviews grows, the site attracts a larger group of users, which, coupled with the ability to favour reviews using the site’s social networking, allows users to tailor their experience to fit with their own social graph and ideals.
But while the idea is simple and exciting, I can’t help wonder if perhaps something hasn’t been lost in the execution? While you can read and post reviews on the site, the social features are limited, and the inability to link outside the site makes it difficult for blogs, such as this one, to work co-operatively with the site. Although BookArmy undoubtedly works and has promise, it seems to lack the passionate zeal that separates those truly successful websites from the throng that litters the Internet’s long tail.
Is Book Army the future of book reviews? Almost definitely not, although it does serve as an excellent illustration of the power that user-generated content and social graphs hold, as they go hand-in-hand and bash at the door of traditional media, a sign that someday soon the madmen might well rule the asylum.
A Word Child by Iris Murdoch
There is one egregious facet of my Vintage Classics edition of A Word Child, which is the clumsy quote on the front cover from The Times: “Iris Murdoch is incapable of writing without fascinating and beautiful colour.” While only an illiterate would dare contest the fascinating colour of Murdoch’s writing, it would be crass to attribute this particular book with beautiful colour, as it is with artful poise that Murdoch draws a very real, but suitably drab, monochrome rendition of London.
Into this necessarily murky landscape is captured the complex frailties of human relationships and the fragile edifice of social behaviour that draws the reader through the guilt-ridden, habitual purgatory of the protagonist, Hilary Burde’s, passive reminiscence of life. Engraved with Murdoch’s legendary intelligence on every line of prose, the procession of pages beguile the reader with a fabulous charade of pain; a calamitous world of sickening sibling relationships, haunting nostalgia and naive virgin worship.
After the plot weaves into a powerful tapestry that depicts a childish renouncement of responsibilities, the story then unfurls itself into a disaster of farcical proportions and displays, what can earnestly be called, one of the most cunningly paced and thoroughly unblemished examples of demonstrating genius with mere words.
After previous trysts with blogging, tweeting and all manner of odd, online publishing experiments, it’s once again time for me to enter the fray. Although it would be nice to avoid cliché so early on, my gut tells me this blog is going to be different, just like every other blogger out there since time immemorial. Not only will I post regularly and build the blog out through sensible linking, but I’ ll also stay focused on the blog’s subject: my adventures through the world of literature to decipher the role of literature to the contemporary reader.
So here it is, Verso-recto, a sojourn around the kingdom the written word. A back to front exploration through the world of words, the glories of Recto-Verso printing, and the halcyon dreams of writers past and present. I will stumble at times, I will lose perspicuity, and I might never touch on the hallowed ground of perspicaciousness. But let those future failures not cloud this beginning, as I step onward to explore that cherished blessing of culture that is literature. The written word awaits.