Thoughts on concentra …

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc. But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present. The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind. Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me. Then – when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever – I cannot switch. I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into. Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing. And I now know Lohengrin a lot better. Why? Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention. I could shut my eyes, which I often did. But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have. It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with. I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens. Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Devil’s Dice is The Times crime fiction book of the month

Yes. From yesterday’s Times, in the Review section:

Here is what Roz is making of this.

Sadly, that wonderfully admiring review is behind a pay wall. But: remarkable. I don’t know how much difference a thing like this makes to sales, but it surely can’t hurt. All those favourable Amazon reviews also help a lot, as Roz, unsurprisingly, confirms.

Here is a piece I did for Samizdata, more about crime fiction generally, but provoked by – and giving a plug to – The Devils Dice.

Why all this fuss from me about The Devil’s Dice is because Roz is my niece and because The Devil’s Dice is very good. See also this earlier posting here. I have not posted an Amazon review, because If I didn’t say I’m her uncle that would be dishonest, and if I did, then it would be dismissed as hopelessly biased, as it would be.

Roz’s cat is less impressed.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Weird Queen Elizabeth IIs and weird Sherlock Holmeses

I don’t quite know why I am so very fond of tourist crap shops. I think it’s basically because of how very weird they are. Also, perhaps, the notion that no-one else in my circle of friends and acquaintances gives them a second look, so I do, just to be different. My friends and acquaintances certainly certainly wouldn’t consider the crap in tourist shops to be worthy of photo-immortality, and those are just the things that I think often make the best photos.

Consider this photo, taken recently in Piccadilly:

What is particularly weird about that is how very unlike the actual Queen Elizabeth II those Queen Elizabeth IIs contrive to look.

And those Sherlock Holmeses are hardly any better. In fact, they are probably worse. Sherlock Holmes didn’t look like anything at all, because he was made up, by a writer of fiction. But he surely doesn’t, in anyone’s mind, look like those Sherlock Holmeses. They look like Sherlock Holmes as re-enacted in a school play, by a rather bad boy actor who couldn’t do make-up properly, and who therefore sought assistance from someone else who couldn’t do make-up properly.

It’s as if the people selling these things, and the people buying them, are all people to whom us white people all look alike.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog