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1. A LIterary Apprecitation of Dragons 2015 – Part 4 of 4

Far too soon, we've come to the end of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Literary Appreciation of Dragons Series. Anyone needing some backstory, or a refresher, can click on the link in the first sentence and get caught up quite nicely. But don't forget to come back here to catch this last literary dragon post for the 2015 series.

Drawing courtesy of Chez Wheedleton's resident Dragon Expert: Lovely Girl

So far, we've read our way through three Fridays of dragon book fun:



and



And for today's post, we've got something really fun:

Drawing Dragons

That's right! We here at Bugs and Bunnies were delighted to find this little collection of books, so we could learn how to draw the dragons we love to read about! We hope you enjoy them, too:



1-2-3 Draw: Knights, Castles, and Dragons: A step by step guide
By Freddie Levin
Ages 5 - 10

This one is great for the beginner level artists out there. It starts with a list of very basic tools you will need - all things you probably already have around the house. The book is separated into several sections, starting with drawing basic shapes. As you move through the book, these basic shapes are used to guide you through drawing a variety of medieval-type things, starting with a basic person, and moving through to specific ones (king, queen, prince, princess). There are sections for drawing castles, heraldry, knights, and of course dragons. And there are other sections, too, each related to knights, castles, and dragons, plus an index.



How to Draw Dragons (Drawing Fantasy Art)
By Jim Hansen and John Burns
Ages 9 and up

This one is great for those who want to both learn a little about dragons as well as draw them. The Introduction section explains the equipment you may want to have on hand before you begin. (Some of the supplies listed are more advanced equipment, but you will still be able to use this book with just the basics - pencil, paper, eraser.) Then there's a short lesson on Perspective. And then there's the instruction, separated into types: Western Dragon, Eastern Dragon, and North American Dragon. The book also contains a glossary of art-related terms, as well as a section on suggestions for further reading. The instructions start basic and work up to the details fairly quickly, so this book will be most helpful to those who already have a good base of drawing skills.

 
Draw! Medieval Fantasies: A Step by Step Guide
By Damon J. Reinagle
Ages 8 - 14

This one starts with a list of basic drawing tools, and a few "Common Sense Drawing Rules" to get you started. It is for those who are a little more advanced in drawing skill, yet still starts with Basic Shapes, then moves on to sections showing you steps for how to draw Rods and Joints, Dragons, Castles, and Heroes and Villains. Then there is a section on adding Textures and Patterns to your drawings, and finally, one on Putting It All Together.



Ralph Masiello's Dragon Drawing Book: Become an artist step-by-step
By Ralph Masiello
Ages 8 - 12

As with the others, this one also starts with a section on the drawing tools you may want to use. It is also for those who know a little about drawing already. There are step-by-step instructions for drawing eleven different types of dragons, from all over the world. For each dragon, you'll be shown one detailed step at a time, using just the drawings to guide you - no text instructions. You can easily tell which is the new line to add for each step, because it is shown in red.

Once you've been guided in drawing the dragon, the next page for each one shows what the fully-complete drawing could look like, with all color and pattern added, as well as some information about the type of dragon you just drew, and hints for how to create the patterns you see in the finished drawing example. At the end, you'll find a section on Resources for you to learn even more about dragons, as well as a Pronunciation Guide, so you'll know how to pronounce the names of the dragons you've just learned how to draw.


* * *

And so, we've reached the end of our series for this year. We hope you enjoyed this Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Literary Appreciation of Dragons Series as much as we did, and we hope you'll come back again next year to celebrate a whole new bunch of fabulous dragon books with us!

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2. Fluorescent proteins and medicine

Fluorescent proteins are changing the world. Page through any modern scientific journal and it’s impossible to miss the vibrant images of fluorescent proteins. Bright, colorful photographs not only liven-up scholarly journals, but they also serve as invaluable tools to track HIV, to design chickens that are resistant to bird flu and to confirm the existence of cancerous stem cells. Each day, fluorescent proteins initially extracted from jellyfish and other marine organisms illuminate the inner workings of diseases, increasing our knowledge of them and providing new avenues in the search for their cures.

It is important to realize that these incredibly useful and now very common tools might not have been found if it were not for decades of basic research funded by the US government — research that would probably not be funded by most current funding agencies as the research would be deemed too fundamental in nature and not applied enough to qualify for funding. This fundamental research that formed the basis for all the fluorescent protein based technologies, such as super-resolution microscopy and even optogenetics, was performed by Osamu Shimomura.

Aequorea victoria emitting fluorescent light. Image credit: This photo has been used courtesy of Steven Haddock.
Aequorea victoria emitting fluorescent light. Image credit: This photo has been used courtesy of Steven Haddock.

While a research scientist at Princeton University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Shimomura spent more than 40 years trying to understand the chemistry responsible for the emission of the green light in A. victoria, and in the process, he caught more than a million jellyfish. Every summer for more than twenty years, Shimomura and his family would make the 3,000-mile drive from Princeton, New Jersey, to the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor laboratory, where they would spend the summer days catching crystal jellyfish from the side of the pier. For 20 well-funded years at Princeton and an additional 20 years at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Shimomura spent his days, and sometimes his nights, unraveling the mysteries of the jellyfish’s glow.

The crystal jellyfish was the first organism known to use one protein to make light, aequorin, and another to change the color of this light, GFP. There was no precedence in the scientific literature for this type of bioluminescence, and so Shimomura had to break new ground. Additionally it was laborious and painstaking work to isolate even the smallest quantities of GFP. Fortunately Shimomura had both funding and a purist’s fascination with bioluminescence to unlock the secrets of GFP.

Although he was the first to discover GFP and isolate it, he was not interested in the applications of this protein. Doug Prascher, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien were responsible for ensuring that the green fluorescent protein from crystal jellyfish, Aequorea victoria, has been used in millions of experiments all around the world. They took the next step, but without Shimomura’s first essential step there may have been no flourescent future.

Featured image: Aequorea victoria by Mnolf (Photo taken in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, CA, USA). CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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3. Rotten fish and Belfast confetti

Winston Churchill’s Victory broadcast of 13 May 1945, in which he claimed that but for Northern Ireland’s “loyalty and friendship” the British people “should have been confronted with slavery or death,” is perhaps the most emphatic assertion that the Second World War entrenched partition from the southern state and strengthened the political bond between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Two years earlier, however, in private correspondence with US President Roosevelt, Churchill had written disparagingly of the young men of Belfast, who unlike their counterparts in Britain were not subject to conscription, loafing around “with their hands in their pockets,” hindering recruitment and the vital work of the shipyards.

Churchill’s role as a unifying figure, galvanising the war effort through wireless broadcasts and morale-boosting public appearances, is much celebrated in accounts of the British Home Front. The further away from London and the South East of England that one travels, however, the more questions should be asked of this simplistic narrative. Due to Churchill’s actions as Liberal Home Secretary during the 1910 confrontations between miners and police in South Wales, for example, he was far less popular in Wales, and indeed in Scotland, than in England during the war. But in Northern Ireland, too, Churchill was a controversial figure at this time. The roots of this controversy are to be found in events that took place more than a quarter of a century before, in 1912.

Then First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was booed on arrival in Belfast that February, before his car was attacked and his effigy brandished by a mob of loyalist demonstrators. Later at Belfast Celtic Football Ground he was cheered by a crowd of five thousand nationalists as he spoke in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. Churchill was not sympathetic to the Irish nationalist cause but believed that Home Rule would strengthen the Empire and the bond between Britain and Ireland; he also saw this alliance as vital to the defence of the United Kingdom.

Churchill Side Image
Winston Churchill As Prime Minister 1940-1945 by Cecil Beaton, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Loyalists were outraged. Angry dockers hurled rotten fish at Churchill and his wife Clementine as they left the city; historian and novelist Hugh Shearman reported that their car was diverted to avoid thousands of shipyard workers who had lined the route with pockets filled with “Queen’s Island confetti,” local slang for rivet heads. (Harland and Wolff were at this time Belfast’s largest employer, and indeed one of the largest shipbuilding firms in the world; at the time of the Churchills’ visit the Titanic was being fitted out.)

Two years later in March 1914 Churchill made a further speech in Bradford in England, calling for a peaceful solution to the escalating situation in Ulster and arguing that the law in Ireland should be applied equally to nationalists and unionists without preference. Three decades later, this speech was widely reprinted and quoted in several socialist and nationalist publications in Northern Ireland, embarrassing the unionist establishment by highlighting their erstwhile hostility to the most prominent icon of the British war effort. Churchill’s ignominious retreat from Belfast in 1912 was also raised by pamphleteers and politicians who sought to exploit a perceived hypocrisy in the unionist government’s professed support for the British war effort as it sought to suppress dissent within the province. One socialist pamphlet attacked unionists by arguing that “The Party which denied freedom of speech to a member of the British Government before it became the Government of Northern Ireland is not likely to worry overmuch about free speech for its political opponents after it became the Government.”

And in London in 1940 Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club published a polemic by the Dublin-born republican activist Jim Phelan, startlingly entitled Churchill Can Unite Ireland. In this Phelan expressed hopes that Churchill’s personality itself could effect positive change in Ireland. He saw Churchill as a figure who could challenge what Phelan called “punctilio,” the adherence to deferential attitudes that kept vested interests in control of the British establishment. Phelan identified a cultural shift in Britain following Churchill’s replacement of Chamberlain as Prime Minister, characterised by a move towards plain speaking: he argued that for the first time since the revolutionary year of 1848 “people are saying and writing what they mean.”

Jim Phelan’s ideas in Churchill Can Unite Ireland were often fanciful, but they alert us to the curious patterns of debate that can be found away from more familiar British narratives of the Second World War. Here a proud Irish republican could assert his faith in a British Prime Minister with a questionable record in Ireland as capable of delivering Irish unity.

Despite publically professed loyalty to the British war effort, unionist mistrust of the London government in London endured over the course of the war, partly due to Churchill’s perceived willingness to deal with Irish Taoiseach Éamon de Valera. Phelan’s book concluded with the words: “Liberty does not grow on trees; it must be fought for. Not ‘now or never’. Now.” Eerily these lines presaged the infamous telegram from Churchill to de Valera following the bombing of Pearl Harbor the following year in 1941, which, it is implied, offered Irish unity in return for the southern state’s entry into the war on the side of Allies, and read in part “Now is your chance. Now or never. A Nation once again.”

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4. The 100 most sought after out-of-print books of 2014

Today we published the 2014 Bookfinder.com Report which features the 100 most sought after out-of-print books in America.  The big surprise this year annual report was that after years on the throne the Queen of Pop (Madonna)’s photographic escapade "Sex" was finally knocked off the top of the list, and the book(s) that took its place may surprise you.  There were in fact two, and you can read about them here.  What I wanted to talk about on the blog, however, are some of the usual suspects there were some interesting additions and subtractions to this year’s list.

Back In-Print:

Labyrinth-smith-2014
2014 edition

Avid readers will notice that A.C.H Smith’s Labyrinth novelization is noticeably missing from the top end of the report; the book has been a part of the BookFinder report since 2010 and was finally re-published in April as Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and contains updated cover art.  I’m not sure the books target age group would have any idea who David Bowie is anyway.  According to reviews the books both stay quite close to the movie’s plot line however the novel replaces Bowie’s musical interludes with additional dialogue; and Smith also draws out the dialogue in a number of scenes.

Another graduation was In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting by Ray Garton who’s book has been on the BookFinder.com Report since 2008.  The fact that it was republished December 31st 2014 left me on the fence as to whether I should remove it from this year’s list, but considering precious few of you would have gotten to read an in-print copy in 2014 I decided to leave it on this year.  In 2009 the book became the basis for the hit film The Haunting in Connecticut (starring Virginia Madsen).

New to the BookFinder.com Report

An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion by Dorothea Lange this book was featured heavily in the photographer’s episode of PBS’s American Masters series (snippet below) which aired late August 2014.  The full episode covered Lange’s five decades photographic work which documented Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II Japanese internment camps and more.  You can find a wide array of Dorothea Lange’s other work on BookFinder.com.

Another new, and timely, entry to the list was Margin of Safety by Seth Klarman.  The books author, who has been singled out by Forbes as one of the most successful hedge fund managers of recent years, was quoted numerous times this year after his 2013 year end investor letter was leaked online.  In the letter he preaches caution and warns of today’s stock markets being too bubbly, and that today's investors should take warning.  The fact that his track record for posting huge growth has remained in tact all these years has lead to his 1991 out-of-print value investing opus to fetch four figures, when you can find it.

Every year I find stories about these books buried within the list, and every year I also miss some amazing stories.  Read the full list and let us know any of your interesting stories about the books within.

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5. Shiny New Books

The new issue is up! You can find me there today, Reading for Other Worlds with, I hope, fun and interesting science fiction recommendations. Most of them are older so if you are looking for something besides Station Eleven or The Martian, check it out! And don’t forget to browse all the other fun bookish goodness while you’re at it.


Filed under: Books

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6. Book Review: ‘Anime Fan Communities’ by Sandra Annett

I regret starting this review on a negative note, but it should be said that "Anime Fan Communities" is not the most accurately-titled book. Author Sandra Annett takes international anime fandom as her starting point, but she ends up engaging with a much wider range of topics.

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7. Are the mysterious cycles of sunspots dangerous for us?

Galileo and some of his contemporaries left careful records of their telescopic observations of sunspots – dark patches on the surface of the sun, the largest of which can be larger than the whole earth. Then in 1844 a German apothecary reported the unexpected discovery that the number of sunspots seen on the sun waxes and wanes with a period of about 11 years.

Initially nobody considered sunspots as anything more than an odd curiosity. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, scientists started gathering more and more data that sunspots affect us in strange ways that seemed to defy all known laws of physics. In 1859 Richard Carrington, while watching a sunspot, accidentally saw a powerful explosion above it, which was followed a few hours later by a geomagnetic storm – a sudden change in the earth’s magnetic field. Such explosions – known as solar flares – occur more often around the peak of the sunspot cycle when there are many sunspots. One of the benign effects of a large flare is the beautiful aurora seen around the earth’s poles. However, flares can have other disastrous consequences. A large flare in 1989 caused a major electrical blackout in Quebec affecting six million people.

Interestingly, Carrington’s flare of 1859, the first flare observed by any human being, has remained the most powerful flare so far observed by anybody. It is estimated that this flare was three times as powerful as the 1989 flare that caused the Quebec blackout. The world was technologically a much less developed place in 1859. If a flare of the same strength as Carrington’s 1859 flare unleashes its full fury on the earth today, it will simply cause havoc – disrupting electrical networks, radio transmission, high-altitude air flights and satellites, various communication channels – with damages running into many billions of dollars.

There are two natural cycles – the day-night cycle and the cycle of seasons – around which many human activities are organized. As our society becomes technologically more advanced, the 11-year cycle of sunspots is emerging as the third most important cycle affecting our lives, although we have been aware of its existence for less than two centuries. We have more solar disturbances when this cycle is at its peak. For about a century after its discovery, the 11-year sunspot cycle was a complete mystery to scientists. Nobody had any clue as to why the sun has spots and why spots have this cycle of 11 years.

A first breakthrough came in 1908 when Hale found that sunspots are regions of strong magnetic field – about 5000 times stronger than the magnetic field around the earth’s magnetic poles. Incidentally, this was the first discovery of a magnetic field in an astronomical object and was eventually to revolutionize astronomy, with subsequent discoveries that nearly all astronomical objects have magnetic fields.  Hale’s discovery also made it clear that the 11-year sunspot cycle is the sun’s magnetic cycle.

5374438446_5f1f72c145_o
Sunspot 1-20-11, by Jason Major. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

Matter inside the sun exists in the plasma state – often called the fourth state of matter – in which electrons break out of atoms. Major developments in plasma physics within the last few decades at last enabled us to systematically address the questions of why sunspots exist and what causes their 11-year cycle. In 1955 Eugene Parker theoretically proposed a plasma process known as the dynamo process capable of generating magnetic fields within astronomical objects. Parker also came up with the first theoretical model of the 11-year cycle. It is only within the last 10 years or so that it has been possible to build sufficiently realistic and detailed theoretical dynamo models of the 11-year sunspot cycle.

Until about half a century ago, scientists believed that our solar system basically consisted of empty space around the sun through which planets were moving. The sun is surrounded by a million-degree hot corona – much hotter than the sun’s surface with a temperature of ‘only’ about 6000 K. Eugene Parker, in another of his seminal papers in 1958, showed that this corona will drive a wind of hot plasma from the sun – the solar wind – to blow through the entire solar system.  Since the earth is immersed in this solar wind – and not surrounded by empty space as suspected earlier – the sun can affect the earth in complicated ways. Magnetic fields created by the dynamo process inside the sun can float up above the sun’s surface, producing beautiful magnetic arcades. By applying the basic principles of plasma physics, scientists have figured out that violent explosions can occur within these arcades, hurling huge chunks of plasma from the sun that can be carried to the earth by the solar wind.

The 11-year sunspot cycle is only approximately cyclic. Some cycles are stronger and some are weaker. Some are slightly longer than 11 years and some are shorter.  During the seventeenth century, several sunspot cycles went missing and sunspots were not seen for about 70 years. There is evidence that Europe went through an unusually cold spell during this epoch. Was this a coincidence or did the missing sunspots have something to do with the cold climate? There is increasing evidence that sunspots affect the earth’s climate, though we do not yet understand how this happens.

Can we predict the strength of a sunspot cycle before its onset? The sunspot minimum around 2006–2009 was the first sunspot minimum when sufficiently sophisticated theoretical dynamo models of the sunspot cycle existed and whether these models could predict the upcoming cycle correctly became a challenge for these young theoretical models. We are now at the peak of the present sunspot cycle and its strength agrees remarkably with what my students and I predicted in 2007 from our dynamo model. This is the first such successful prediction from a theoretical model in the history of our subject. But is it merely a lucky accident that our prediction has been successful this time? If our methodology is used to predict more sunspot cycles in the future, will this success be repeated?

Headline image credit: A spectacular coronal mass ejection, by Steve Jurvetson. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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8. Monthly gleanings for January 2015

I am pleased to report that A Happy New Year is moving along its warlike path at the predicted speed of one day in twenty-four hours and that it is already the end of January. Spring will come before you can say Jack Robinson, as Kipling’s bicolored python would put it, and soon there will be snowdrops to glean. Etymology and spelling are the topics today. Some other questions will be answered in February.

Etymology

Sod, seethe, suds

Our correspondent Paul Nance is not satisfied with the idea that sod is related to seethe because the senses don’t match; he also wonders where suds in the triad seethe-sod-suds comes in. As concerns his doubts about sod and seethe, he is in good company. Yet Skeat was probably right and the two words seem to be related. We should first note that sodden, the petrified past participle of seethe, contains the syllable sod. The form of some importance is Dutch zode “sod,” “boiling,” and “heap, a lot,” the latter usually occurring in the forms zooi or zo. It is not immediately clear whether all of them are related and with how many words we are dealing (one, two, or three).

I think the best clue to the sod – seethe question is provided by Engl. suds (the singular sud also exists, but its meaning can be left out of the present discussion). English has a regional verb suddle “to sully,” a congener of German sudeln “to daub; sully; do dirty work,” often translated rather misleadingly as “to botch.” Sudeln is believed to have arisen as the result of the confusion of two different roots: one meant “cook” (compare “boil,” above); the other, which meant “sap, moisture,” referred to small bodies of water (pools, puddles, wells, and so forth) and is present in many words of the Indo-European languages, Old English among them. But it is not the ancient history of sudeln that matters. Engl. suddle looks like a borrowing from Dutch or Low German. The same is true of Standard German sudeln, which does not antedate the 15th century, and of Engl. suds, which goes back to the fifteen-hundreds. They emerged too late to be classified with native words. Finally, the same holds for sod, another fifteenth-century intruder, and here comes the main point: sod is almost certainly allied to suds and suds is almost certainly allied to seethe. By the law of transitivity, sod is also allied to this verb. Mr. Lance writes: “In Upstate New York, sod is only occasionally sodden.” But the semantic history of the entire group (sod, suds, sudeln, and suddle) should be looked for in the Low Countries.

Suds are good for babies and etymology.
Suds are good for babies and etymology.

House and hood

Even though house might refer to “covering,” while hood, a cognate of hat, certainly does so, they are not related. The ancient vowel of hood was long o (as in Engl. or, without the r glider after o), while house, from hus, had long u (as in Engl. too), and no bridge connects them.

Engl. house and German Haus

Why do the cognates Engl. brother and German Bruder (to cite one typical example) have only br- in common, while house and Haus sound alike? House and Haus owe their similarity to good luck. It was the so-called German Consonant Shift that drove a wedge between German and the other Germanic languages. Engl. tide and German Zeit “time” are cognates, but the new consonants in Zeit destroyed the similarity. The consonants s and h stayed intact in German, and the vowel (long u) changed the same way in both German and English; hence house and Haus. However, the vowel shift, great or not so great, had partly unpredictable results; compare Dutch huis. The vowel in bread has undergone many changes since the Old English period, and it is hard to believe that both o in German Brot and ea, pronounced as short e, in Engl. bread go back to the same diphthong au. I have known a student who tried to translate an English text into Russian with the help of a German dictionary and, miraculously, had some success. Foreign languages are tough. One’s mother tongue may also look foreign. Thus, ea in bread, as opposed to e in bred, does not increase the amount of happiness in English spellers, and the horror of lead/led is known to many of us.

Latin antiquus

Thomas Lambdin, Professor in Harvard Department of Near Eastern Studies, once suggested that the Latin adjective antiquus “old, ancient” was a borrowing of Aramaic attiq “old.” One of his former students asked me what I can say about this conjecture. I have known for a long time that scholars’ etymologies of English words depend very strongly on their professional orientation. Those linguists who specialize in Old Norse point to possible Scandinavian etymons of English words, while Romance scholars find equally plausible Old French roots. (I am not speaking of the monomaniacs who trace all words of English, and not only of English, to Hebrew, Irish, Slavic, and so forth: those are simply crazy.) Similar things happen in some other areas. Modern linguistics is strongly influenced by the concepts of English phonetics and syntax, because the Chomskyan revolution, before spreading to the rest of the world, took place in the United States and its creator was a native speaker of English. Someone noted that, if N. S. Trubetzkoy were not a native speaker of Russian, some of the central ideas developed in his epoch-making book The Bases of Phonology (Grundzüge der Phonologie) may not have occurred to him.

Professor Lambdin is an expert in Semitic linguistics and, naturally, receives impulses from the material he knows best. I happen to be well-acquainted with his books and even reviewed the etymologies offered in his untraditional manual of Gothic. It is true that that the etymology of antiquus entails several difficulties, but, in my opinion, suggesting that that adjective came from Aramaic is hard to justify. As usual, the closeness of forms is not a sufficient argument. We would like to know why such a basic concept had to be taken over from a foreign language, under what circumstances the borrowing took place, and whether it filled a lacuna in Latin or superseded a native synonym. In the absence of additional arguments I would stay away from such a bold hypothesis.

Dwell and its Latvian parallels

I read the comment on the subject indicated in the title of this section with great interest. Such parallels are of utmost importance. They prove nothing but add credence to some of our conjectures. If a certain semantic shift happened in one language, it may, theoretically speaking, have happen in another. In etymology, high probability and verisimilitude are often the only criteria of truth. That is why Carl Darling Buck’s dictionary of synonyms in the Indo-European languages is so useful.

George Bernard Shaw. A glowing example of a man who not only advocated Spelling Reform but also supported it financially.
George Bernard Shaw. A glowing example of a man who not only advocated Spelling Reform but also supported it financially.

Spelling and spelling reform

Spelling: whose cup of tea?

One of our correspondents wonders why Modern English spelling is so irrational. It would take a book to answer this question in detail, but the main reasons are two.

  1. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 French and French-educated scribes imposed their habits on English spelling, and the medieval norm has more or less stayed intact to this day.
  2. The second reason is the loyalty of English to foreign spelling. The Spanish don’t mind writing futbol, while English speakers live with monsters like committee, though one m and one t would have been quite enough. Nor do we need sugar, chagrin, and shrine, to say nothing of fuchsia, despite its origin in a proper name.

Thus, the chaos most of us bemoan stems from reverence for tradition. Shureli, a tru skolar wud be imensli shagrind if he were made to put a spoon of shugar in his cup of tee. The tee would taste bitter and the world wud kolaps, wudnt it?

News about spelling reform

I am afraid to sound too optimistic, but it may be that the Spelling Society is making progress, that is, it seems to have feasible plans for effecting the reform and not only ideas about how to spell the words of Modern English. English children take up to two years longer to master basic words than those of other countries (the torture imposed on dyslexics and foreigners should not be forgotten either, for aren’t we all against torture?). The sound system of English is such that we’ll never reach the elegance of Finnish spelling, but something can and should be done. For that purpose, the institution of INTERNATIONAL ENGLISH SPELLING CONGRESS has been proposed. Everyone is welcome to join it. The Expert Committee will be appointed by the delegates who will make the final decision on the alternative scheme. The main virtue of the proposal is that it seeks to engage as many people in the movement as possible. Some publishers of visible journals are already showing an interest in the cause. The public should be informed that the preservation of the status quo has serious negative economic consequences. It is no longer a virtue to smoke. Perhaps the Spelling Congress will be able to explain to the world that retaining a medieval norm in spelling (arguably the most complicated in the world) is not a virtue either. Mr. Stephen Linstead, the Chairman of the Society, has spoken on the BBC and was mocked by many for offering to tamper with a thing of beauty. This is a good sign: no success without public outrage before a novelty is accepted. A report of these events has also been published by the Chicago Tribune.

Image credits: (1) A baby in a bathtub with soap foam. © artefy via iStock. (2) George Bernard Shaw, 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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9. Books I Won’t Read

Back in the distant past, about two or three months ago, someone commented on a book review about not reading books on certain topics and perhaps that might be something I could write about sometime. This being in the murky past, I have no recollection of who made the comment nor on what book review post it was made. I thought it was a great idea at the time but had so many other fascinating things to write about I never got around to it and soon forgot about it. Until this morning when I was dredging my brain for something to post about besides links to interesting articles. So tonight’s the night! Avoiding books because of subject matter.

I’m not talking about book genres here so there’s no, “I never read romance novels” or some kind of blanket thing like that. It’s more like, “I can’t read books with child murders in them.” There’s a difference, yes? My first thoughts were that there is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t read about. But of course, that’s not true. Nonetheless, I had a hard time with it because it is such an automatic response I am not even aware of it most of the time. And sometimes I might make exceptions for one reason or another.

This list then, I’m not sure how accurate it is. I might have left something off. But I can say that this is a list of topics/plots/things I tend avoid when reading:

  • Books about women whose main goal in life is to shop their way to happiness or find the perfect husband. I never read The Devil Wears Prada because I thought it was this sort of book. I never saw the movie either until this last fall after a coworker told me it was totally not what I thought. And she was right. I liked the movie quite a lot. I have no plans to read the book because it seems the movie covered it all and I didn’t like it that much.
  • Books that will give me nightmares. This is one of those “I know it when I see it” sorts of things. It’s usually a horror-type novel. I will never, for instance, read The Shining. But it’s not a blanket horror ban because I really liked Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. I can do psychological horror such as Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House. Loved that book. I guess it’s more of the graphic supernatural violence/horror that gives me problems. But not only that. It’s also the idea of a threat without having any kind of predictability. If there are rules like “don’t blink” I can handle it. But if it is random or unexplainable, no way will I go there. You are all welcome to psychoanalyze me now.
  • Books that are overtly misogynist and deliberately degrading and cruel to anyone, especially to women.
  • Books with dogs. These tend to fall into two categories. The worst are the emotionally manipulative smarmy ones. If it’s not one of those I still won’t read it because I will at some point during the book break down into a sobbing mess usually in the last chapter when the dog inevitably dies. My trauma around this began when I was in third grade and read Where the Red Fern Grows. Twice. And then the second time having my mom walk into my room when I was in the midst of a glorious sobfest and she was, briefly, very concerned and a bit scared about why I was crying. So perhaps it’s not about the dogs at all but a personal concern about scaring people who might find me sobbing. Because I do sometimes make an exception. However, while reading those exceptions when I come to the crying part I try really hard to make sure I’m alone.

There you have it, the books I will pass by if they are any of these things. I think I got them all but as soon as I push the “publish” button I will probably remember one I forgot. Or Bookman will read this and say, “and what about …?” That’s what updates and comments are for, right?

What about you? Are there topics or plots or other things you will not read?


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10. WINTER 2015 NEW VOICES SNEAK PEEK

Happy 2015 to you! To start the year off right, we’d like to introduce our New Voices picks for Winter 2015. These debut novels entertained us, enriched us, intrigued us, and made us so excited to witness the beginnings of these authors’ sure-to-be-stellar writing careers.

Click on the links below to read the first chapter of each title, and make sure to keep an eye on these fantastic authors. We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Blackbird Fly

BLACKBIRD FLY, by Erin Entrada Kelly, follows twelve-year-old Apple Yengko as she grapples with being different, with friends and backstabbers, and with following her dreams. Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to America from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods, makes mistakes with her English, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” But it becomes unbearable in eighth grade, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is. Read the first chapter here!

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly

THE KEEPERS: THE BOX AND THE DRAGONFLY, by Ted Sanders, is the first in a four-book middle-grade fantasy series about Horace F. Andrews, a quiet boy who discovers he possesses a power that can change worlds. When a sign leads Horace underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse full of mysterious objects, he unfortunately finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it? From the enormous, sinister man shadowing him to the gradual mastery of his new-found abilities to his encounters with Chloe—a girl who has an astonishing talent of her own—Horace follows a path that puts the pair in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between two warring factions in which every decision they make could have disastrous consequences. Read the first chapter here!

No Parking at the End Times

NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES, by Bryan Bliss, is a thoughtful and moving story about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love. Abigail’s parents never should have made that first donation to that end-of-times preacher. Or the next, or the next. They shouldn’t have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there for the “end of the world.” Because now they’re living in their van. And Aaron is full of anger, disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But is that too big a task for one teenage girl? Read the first chapter here!

Red Queen

RED QUEEN, by Victoria Aveyard, is a sweeping fantasy about seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose latent magical powers draw her into the dangerous world of the elite ruling class. Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with Red blood serve the Silver elite, whose silver blood gifts them with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the King, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the King forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything to use her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal. Read the first chapter here!

Little Peach

LITTLE PEACH, by Peggy Kern, is the gritty and riveting story of a runaway who comes to New York City and is lured into prostitution by a manipulative pimp. When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: She is alone and out of options. Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels. But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution. It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition. This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive. Read the first chapter here.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, by Becky Albertalli, is an incredibly funny and poignant twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming-out story—wrapped in a geek romance. Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: If he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing with, will be jeopardized. With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. Read the first chapter here!

Check back here for “Opening the Book” Q&A’s with the authors and insightful words from the editors of these fantastic New Voices!

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11. “Ray Rhamey's book stands head and shoulders above”

Mastering front 100WshadowA new review from Amazon for my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling:

5 stars A Must Read

As a fiction writer, I'm always searching for craft-related books, always trying to glean something useful for my next story. I would say Ray Rhamey's book stands head and shoulders above many such books I've read.

Among many topics presented here, the author discusses POV shifts, elements of story, description techniques, and, of course, language. The beauty of it is that the reader is not expected to grasp such concepts based on definitions alone, as we have a multitude of examples resulting in ease of flow and many aha moments.

For anyone who wants to improve and make his/her writing compelling, there is no better guide than Rhamey's Mastering the Craft.

This is not a dry, pedantic `how to' book on writing. It is an entertainingly easy to follow guide on not only what to do, but just as importantly, what not to do.

Signed paperbacks are available on my website (discounted price, free shipping), both Kindle and the paperback are available on Amazon.com.

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12. Their blood cries out to God

Not long after the beginning, Genesis tells us that there were two brothers. One killed the other. “And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground’” (Gen. 4:10). This is the Lord’s response when the murderer denies knowing where his brother is and asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We humans are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; and yet we have been disowning and killing each other since the beginning.

On this day seventy years ago, the last prisoners were liberated from Auschwitz. On this day today, we commit to remembering the more than six million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others who were rejected and murdered by their fellow humans. Their blood still cries out to God from the ground.

When we remember the Shoah, always but especially on this day, we must focus our energies on remembering those who we have lost. Those who murdered them dehumanized them. Let us defy that curse and celebrate their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and experiences – the fullness of their humanity.

Let us sit in the memory of those who we have lost. Those of us without memories of our own must humbly seek welcome in the memories of others, to the extent that they are knowable. When we cannot know what the people who perished were like, let us grow in our awareness of our ignorance. We can never fully understand what we have lost. Let us mourn both what we know and what we know we cannot know.

The words of the victims themselves offer the clearest hope of seeing and remembering through their eyes, of knowing what the Shoah was and what it destroyed, even as it defies human comprehension. In 1947, writing from Sweden, poet, refugee, and future Nobel laureate Nelly Sachs offered words of caution to her fellow humans: “We the rescued beg you: Show us your sun slowly. Lead us step by step from star to star. Let us quietly learn to live again. Otherwise the song of a bird or the filling of a bucket at a well could unleash our ill-sealed ache and wash us away.”

There is beauty in the world. There is hope. There is joy to be found in the midst of the ordinary. But there is also great darkness within those around us and even, at times, within ourselves. We have killed our brothers and sisters since the beginning of humanity, it seems. We are each other’s keepers. We learn to keep each other in the present, in part, by keeping the memories alive of  those who have gone before, especially of those who were the victims of immeasurable evil.

This remembering can be no mere intellectual exercise of memorizing facts and figures. As heirs of the memories of the victims, we must take their legacy personally. Some felt anger and indignation, a few even hate, but for many the overwhelming response was one of sorrow. Entire communities, villages, towns, families, clans, cultures, and sub-cultures that once thrived are now gone.

The Talmud teaches that “anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9). In the Shoah, more than six million worlds were wiped out. Let us mourn their loss. Let us seek to remember. Their blood still cries out to God. Let us listen.

Image Credit: Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay. CC by NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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13. Dark Horse Gives Nathan Drake The Art Book Treatment

By Davey Nieves

The pantheon of PlayStation has a rich library of quality games, but few have impacted the art of storytelling like the UNCHARTED franchise. Developed by Naughty Dog, the studio behind The Last of Us, the UNCHARTED series is this era’s Indiana Jones. The series protagonist, fortune hunter Nathan Drake has achieved mascot like status for the PlayStation brand. With the success of previous entries The Art of The Last of Us and The Art of Naughty Dog, Dark Horse Comics and Naughty Dog are launching The Art of the UNCHARTED Trilogy in April 2015.

The three games which spanned the life of the PlayStation 3 console fill this book with never-before-seen art from Naughty Dog spanning UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune, UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves, and UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception, with insightful commentary from the games’ creators, this epic volume is an incredible opportunity to own a piece of UNCHARTED history.

“With each UNCHARTED game we make we strive to set a new bar for video game art, design, and tech,” said Erick Pangilinan, art director at Naughty Dog. Over the course of the last decade there hasn’t been a game developer that has raised the bar with each outing like Naughty Dog. Combine this with Dark Horse Comics eye for building gorgeous bookshelf prize collections and this feels like a book that could itself be a treasure in the game’s history.

No word yet on whether or not The Art of The UNCHARTED Trilogy will have any glimpses at the series highly anticipated fourth console installment Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End which is also set to release sometime in 2015 on the PlayStation 4.

unnamed 2 Dark Horse Gives Nathan Drake The Art Book Treatment

 

Available in April, The Art of the UNCHARTED Trilogy retails for $39.99 and can be preordered now from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

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14. A brief history of Data Privacy Law in Asia

The OECD’s Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (1980) were an early influence on the development of data privacy laws in Asia. Other bodies have since also been influential in the formulation of data privacy laws across Asia, including the 1981 Council of Europe Data Protection Convention, the United Nations Guidelines for the Regulation of Computer Data Files, the European Union’s Data Protection Directive, and the APEC Privacy Guidelines.

This timeline below shows the development of data privacy laws across numerous different Asian territories over the past 35 years. In each case it maps the year a data privacy law or equivalent was created, as well as providing some further information about each. It also maps the major guidelines and pieces of legislation from various global bodies, including those mentioned above.


Featured image credit: Data (scrabble), by justgrimes. CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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15. A Small Buffet

Just a few things tonight. First, the silly.

The folks on the east coast of the US who are being bombarded by a blizzard should totally have an army of awesome Japanese snow robots that scoops up snow and poops out snow bricks perfect for building snow forts. I’m sure there will still be plenty of snow leftover for the epic snowball fight that all those snow forts will require.

Next, Books as obstacle course, which Javier Marías makes sound rather appealing. The walls of his parents’ apartment covered in books with art hinged to the shelves, what a magical place it sounds!

Remember Dirty Chick? The book is now available on audio read by the author. You can have a twenty minute sample listen at SoundCloud. It’s from the beginning of the book when she is taking care of her parents’ chickens and duck and the duck sexually assaults one of the chickens. It will give you a good flavor of what the whole book is like.

Finally, can books change the world? Sure they can! Darwin’s The Origin of Species anyone? What about 1984? Or Jane Austen’s entire oeuvre? Rick Kleffel offers Nine World-Changing Books from 2014 (via). I’ve heard of some of them, others not at all. And there are several I’d really like to read and a few I’m content just reading good essays about them by others who have read them. Are there other books from 2014 that should be on the list? Are there books there that shouldn’t be? Is there a book from 2014 that changed your personal world? I had a number of books that rocked my world in 2014 but none that changed it. Still, several large book-quakes are nothing to sneeze at.


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16. Review: What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

I read this after listening the fabulous Bookrageous Podcast which read and discussed the book for their book club and then interviewed the author. It is a fascinating look at what is happening inside our minds when we read. The author, Peter Mendelsund, is a book designer for Knopf in the US but also has […]

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17. Is London the world’s legal capital?

2015 may be a watershed year for one part of the UK economy—the market for legal services.

Much is made of London’s status as the world’s legal capital. This has nothing to do with the legal issues that most people encounter, involving crime, wills, houses, or divorce. It concerns London’s pre-eminence in the resolution of international commercial disputes— those substantial business disputes, often involving foreign parties or contracts performed abroad, which might in principle be heard anywhere. That an English court is everyone’s court of choice in such cases has long been an article of faith, at least for English lawyers.

English law is often chosen as the law governing commercial contracts, even those having little or no connection with England, because it is valued for its certainty and commercial approach. So whether, say, a German company is liable for failing to perform a contract in Kazakhstan may depend on English rules. If English law is to be applied, however, it is perhaps obvious that this will be done best in the English courts. Those courts are also widely respected for their impartiality, for the quality of the judges, and for their experience in commercial matters. The quality and expertise of English lawyers, confirmed in a recent survey, and the availability of remedies unknown elsewhere, notably injunctions to prevent foreign proceedings and to freeze a defendant’s foreign assets, are also powerful attractions.

The assumption that London is the market leader in commercial disputes is also reflected in the numbers. Since 2008, when cases arising from the economic downturn began to emerge, more than 1,000 claims have been made each year in the London Commercial Court (housed in the state-of-the-art Rolls Building). But it is the nature of these cases, not the quantity, which is striking. 81% of those started in 2013 involved at least one foreign party, and 48% involved no party from the UK at all. The message is that the Court is not just a national court, but an international court favoured by litigants from around the world who could no doubt have taken their dispute elsewhere.

The effects of this dominance are significant. English law is recognized as setting the standard in resolving business disputes, and English judgments (and the work of English writers) are widely read around the world. The economic value of such disputes is also considerable, and the resolution of such cases is a major invisible export.

But London’s profile in resolving transnational disputes cannot be taken for granted. Even if the parties’ obligations are subject to English law, how their dispute is handled may not be. Whether a court can hear a case at all (the issue of jurisdiction) is in large part governed by EU law. Cases may ultimately be resolved not in London, but by the European Court in Luxembourg, under rules less flexible, and less commercially attuned, than the English courts have traditionally used. This matters because jurisdiction is at the heart of most commercial cases.

The threats to London’s prominence are also home-grown. The much prized certainty of English contract law has become less secure as the courts have toyed with requiring parties to comply not just with a contract’s terms but with an ill-defined duty of good faith. The courts have also become increasingly intolerant about failure to meet procedural deadlines, a hard thing to achieve in complex cases, which undermines (or may be seen to undermine) their traditionally flexible, common sense approach to litigation. They are also less willing to allow lengthy arguments about which country’s courts should hear a case, a particular issue when so many cases have little connection with England, which for the parties at least is usually the heart of their dispute. Most striking of all, the government has proposed charging premium fees for using the Commercial Court, significantly increasing the cost of litigation, partly to reflect concerns that the taxpayer should not be subsidising a court largely used by foreign litigants.

Some courts have sought to limit the fallout from this new approach, at least when it comes to contractual certainty, and managing cases inflexibly. There are also signs that the government has back-tracked on the controversial proposal to penalize commercial litigants with higher fees, given concerns that London’s dominance in the legal marketplace would suffer. But the genie is out of the bottle, and lawyers have become uneasy about official commitment to London’s role as a legal hub.

Such doubts, justified or not, are a dangerous thing in a competitive market, and London certainly faces increased competition from overseas courts. New commercial courts established in Dubai, Qatar and Singapore, generously funded by the state, may threaten London’s traditional dominance.

Neither the English courts nor Parliament can resolve the uncertainties of EU procedural law—short of leaving the EU altogether. But any damage done by making English law less certain, or by over-regulating civil disputes, or by exposing litigants to additional costs, is avoidable. Whether such self-inflicted injuries can be avoided and whether the English courts remain competitive depends, however, on making a choice—a choice for the courts and for politicians. Whether or not London is the world’s legal capital, do we want it to be?

The international standing of the English courts is unlikely to be featured in most people’s New Year’s resolutions. But for the courts and government perhaps it should.

Image Credit: Courts Closed. Photo by Chris Kealy. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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18. 8,669,000 graphic novels were sold in bookstores in 2014

saga volume 4 8,669,000 graphic novels were sold in bookstores in 2014
Graphic novels were one of only two print fiction categories whose sales were up in 2014 (westerns were the other), according to Publishers Weekly’s Jim Milliot in a piece called The Hot and Cold Categories of 2014. GNs were up 13% according to Bookscan. The article also includes a chart of all categories, and reveals that 8,669,000 graphic novels were sold in 2014, up from 7,659,000 in 2015. For comparison, 33,524,000 general fiction books were sold.

Children’s books categories were nearly all up, with “science fiction/fantasy/magic” leading the way with a 38% gain. The kids categories don’t break out comics, unfortunately.

13% growth is a pretty healthy number, especially compared to drops in other categories and the growth of ebooks—the figures cited above are solely for print.

When you consider that Bookscan counts only 70% of book sales—and only counts 10% of some graphic novel categories, we’re looking at an even healthier number.

The chart that accompanies this piece is actually pretty fascinating. More GNs were sold than fantasies or science fiction, for instance. I doubt many people would have guessed that was true. Comics are more mainstream than ever, and don’t you believe anyone who says otherwise.

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19. Working in the intensive care unit: an interview with Dr. Robert Stevens

When patients are discharged from the intensive care unit it’s great news for everyone. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean the road to recovery is straight. As breakthroughs and new technology increase the survival rate for highly critical patients, the number of possible further complications rises, meaning life after the ICU can be complex. Joe Hitchcock from Oxford University Press’s medical publishing team spoke to Dr. Robert D. Stevens, Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to find out more.

Can you tell us a little about your career?

As a junior doctor in the intensive care unit, I observed that prowess in resuscitation is a double edged sword. We were getting better and better at promoting survival, but at what cost in the long term? I decided I would dedicate my career to the recovery process that follows severe illnesses and injuries. Currently, my team has several cohort studies under way in human subjects with head injury, stroke and sepsis. We’re looking at their long term outcomes and also imaging their brains. I have a laboratory in which we are studying a range of neurologic readouts in mice following brain injury. We’re looking at the biology of neuronal plasticity and studying stem cells as a treatment to promote recovery of function.

What is Post-ICU medicine and what does it aim to achieve?

Medicine is increasingly a victim of its own successes. People are surviving complex and terrifying illnesses, which only years ago would almost certainly have been fatal. This means there is an ever-growing population of “survivors”. Like survivors of cancer, survivors of intensive care bring with them an entirely new set of clinical problems, demanding new approaches. We propose Post-ICU Medicine as an umbrella term for this new domain of medical practice and research, which is specifically concerned with the biology, diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and disabilities resulting from critical illness.

What do you mean by the “legacy” of critical illnesses?

The “legacy” of critical illness refers to what people “carry with them” after living through a life threatening illness in the intensive care unit (ICU). It is the sum of consequences, both physical and mental, some temporary others permanent, which unfold in the weeks, months and years after someone is discharged from the ICU.

In what ways might a patient’s post-ICU experience differ from public/idealized expectations?

There is a widely held perception, or perhaps an anticipation, that acute and severe illnesses, such as sepsis or respiratory failure, are a zero-sum game: You may die from this illness, but if you survive you have a good chance of recovering completely and of going on with your life as if nothing had happened. This notion has been turned on its head. We know now that the post-ICU experience presents physical and psychological challenges for a high proportion of patients. Even the most fortunate, those we might regard as having recovered successfully, often acknowledge problems months after they have left the hospital. They report that they feel weak, have difficulties concentrating, are impulsive, anxious or depressed. When tested formally, they are often score below population means on tests of memory, attention, and functional status.

Clinicians in Intensive Care Unit by Calleamanecer. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Clinicians in Intensive Care Unit by Calleamanecer. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Have you observed patterns in the way patients recover?

I do not know that there are any easily classifiable patterns. There are countless possible trajectories of recovery which we are only beginning to characterize with some degree of scientific rigor. In reality, just as each patient is biologically unique, so too is his or her recovery. One of the main tasks of Post-ICU Medicine is to identify and validate markers (e.g. genetic variants, protein expression) that allow us to predict and track recovery patterns with a much higher level of confidence and reliability.

 How do you assess and treat patients who have a multitude of Post-ICU conditions, psychological and physical?

Ideally, a single provider would be able to follow and treat patients in the post-ICU period. However, the range of different problems — neurologic, cognitive, psychological, cardiac, pulmonary, renal, musculoskeletal, digestive, nutritional, endocrine, social, economic — which these patients present with, are beyond the scope of even a very knowledgeable practitioner. Some groups that specialize in post-ICU follow up care have adopted a different approach, in which patients are evaluated by a multi-disciplinary “Recovery Team” with a wide array of minimally-overlapping knowledge and skills. The latter may include internists, specialists in rehabilitation, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, neurologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists, and social workers. Patients recovering from critical illness are evaluated periodically and referred to the different members of the Recovery Team depending on clinical symptoms and signs. While evidence is mounting regarding the benefits of integrated post-ICU Recovery Team approach, such interventions area resource intensive and costly and are not currently available to the vast majority of recovering post-ICU patients.

Is it possible to accurately predict patient rehabilitation and recovery trajectories?

This is the “holy grail” of post-ICU medicine, and even of critical care medicine more generally. We desperately need discriminative methods to predict recovery trajectories. Current predictive approaches rely on multiple logistic regression models often using a mix of demographic and clinical severity variables. These models are terribly inaccurate, to the point of being quite useless in the clinical setting. New approaches are needed which analyse large biological datasets – patterns of gene and protein expression, changes in the microbiome, changes in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, alterations in brain functional and metabolic activity. The great hope is that models emerging from these more sophisticated data sets will allow individualized or personalized approaches to outcome prediction and treatment.

If recovery is considered a gradated process, when is a patient “cured”?

The World Health Organization states that physical and mental well-being are a right of all human beings. It is likely that the insults and injuries suffered in the ICU can never be completely healed or cured. However, the good news is that some ICU survivors achieve astonishing levels of recovery. We need to study these individuals – the ones who do very well and surpass all expectations for recovery– as they seem to  have biological or psychological characteristics (e.g. resilience factors, motivation) which set them apart. Knowing more about these characteristics may help us treat those with less favorable recovery profiles.

What might the post-ICU medicine look like in the distant future?

I believe that mortality will continue to decline for a range of illnesses an injuries encountered in the ICU. The key task will be to maximize health status in those who survive.  I expect that major discoveries will be made regarding organ-specific patterns of gene and protein expression and molecular signalling which drive post-injury recovery versus failure — and that this knowledge will enable novel treatment strategies. I anticipate that important advances will be made in the regeneration tissues and organs using stem cell and tissue engineering approaches.

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20. Immoral philosophy

I call myself a moral philosopher. However, I sometimes worry that I might actually be an immoral philosopher. I worry that there might be something morally wrong with making the arguments I make. Let me explain.

When it comes to preventing poverty related deaths, it is almost universally agreed that Peter Singer is one of the good guys. His landmark 1971 article, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (FAM), not only launched a rich new area of philosophical discussion, but also led to millions in donations to famine relief. In the month after Singer restated the argument from FAM in a piece in the New York Times, UNICEF and OXFAM claimed to have received about $660, 000 more than they usually took in from the phone numbers given in the piece. His organisation, “The Life You Can Save”, used to keep a running estimate of total donations generated. When I last checked the website on 13th February 2012, this figure stood at $62, 741, 848.

Singer argues that the typical person living in an affluent country is morally required to give most of his or her money away to prevent poverty related deaths. To fail to give as much as you can to charities that save children dying of poverty is every bit as bad as walking past a child drowning in a pond because you don’t want to ruin your new shoes. Singer argues that any difference between the child in the pond and the child dying of poverty is morally irrelevant, so failure to help must be morally equivalent. For an approachable version of his argument see Peter Unger, who developed and refined Singer’s arguments in his 1996 book, Living High and Letting Die.

I’ve argued that Singer and Unger are wrong: failing to donate to charity is not equivalent to walking past a drowning child. Morality does – and must – pay attention to features such as distance, personal connection and how many other people are in a position to help. I defend what seems to me to be the commonsense position that while most people are required to give much more than they currently do to charities such as Oxfam, they are not required to give the extreme proportions suggested by Singer and Unger.

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Saving lives, by Oxfam East Africa, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So, Singer and Unger are the good guys when it comes to debates on poverty-related death. I’m arguing that Singer and Unger are wrong. I’m arguing against the good guys. Does that make me one of the bad guys? It is true that my own position is that most people are required to give more than they do. But isn’t there still something morally dubious about arguing for weaker moral requirements to save lives? Singer and Unger’s position is clear and easy to understand. It offers a strong call to action that seems to actually work – to make people put their hands in their pockets. Isn’t it wrong to risk jeopardising that given the possibility that people will focus only on the arguments I give against extreme requirements to aid?

On reflection, I don’t think what I do is immoral philosophy. The job of moral philosophers is to help people to decide what to believe about moral issues on the basis of reasoned reflection. Moral philosophers provide arguments and critique the arguments of others. We won’t be able to do this properly if we shy away from attacking some arguments because it is good for people to believe them.

In addition, the Singer/Unger position doesn’t really offer a clear, simple conclusion about what to do. For Singer and Unger, there is a nice simple answer about what morality requires us to do: keep giving until giving more would cost us something more morally significant than the harm we could prevent; in other words, keep giving till you have given most of your money away. However, this doesn’t translate into a simple answer about what we should do, overall. For, on Singer’s view, we might not be rationally required or overall required to do what we are morally required to.

This need to separate moral requirements from overall requirements is a result of the extreme, impersonal view of morality espoused by Singer. The demands of Singer’s morality are so extreme it must sometimes be reasonable to ignore them. A more modest understanding of morality, which takes into account the agent’s special concern with what is near and dear to her, avoids this problem. Its demands are reasonable so cannot be reasonably ignored. Looked at in this way, my position gives a clearer and simpler answer to the question of what we should do in response to global poverty. It tells us both what is morally and rationally required. Providing such an answer surely can’t be immoral philosophy.

Headline image credit: Devil gate, Paris, by PHGCOM (Own work). CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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21. Have we become what we hate?

In 1971, William Irvin Thompson, a professor at York University in Toronto, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “We Become What We Hate,” describing the way in which “thoughts can become inverted when they are reflected in actions.”

He cited several scientific, sociocultural, economic, and political situations where the maxim appeared to be true. The physician who believed he was inventing a pill to help women become pregnant had actually invented the oral contraceptive. Germany and Japan, having lost World War II, had become peaceful consumer societies. The People’s Republic of China had become, at least back in 1971, a puritanical nation.

Today, many of the values that we, as a nation, profess — protection of civil rights and human rights, assistance for the needy, support for international cooperation, and promotion of peace — have become inverted in our actions. As a nation, we say one thing, but often do the opposite.

As a nation, we profess protection of civil rights. But our criminal justice system and our systems for federal, state, and local elections discriminate against people of color and other minorities.

As a nation, we profess protection of human rights. But we have imprisoned “enemy combatants” without charges, stripped them of their rights as prisoners of war, and tortured many of them in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

As a nation, we profess adherence to the late Senator Hubert H. Humphrey’s dictum that the true measure of a government is how it cares for the young, the old, the sick, and the needy. But we set the minimum wage at a level at which working people cannot survive. We inadequately fund human services for those who need them most. And, even after implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we continue to be the only industrialized country that does not ensure health care for all its citizens.

As a nation, we profess support for international cooperation. But we fail to sign treaties to ban antipersonnel landmines and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And we, as a nation, contribute much less than our fair share of foreign assistance to low-income countries.

As a nation, we profess commitment to world peace. But we lead all other countries, by far, in both arms sales and military expenditures.

In many ways, we, as a nation, have become what we hate.

Image Credit: Dispersed, Occupy Oakland Move In Day. Photo by Glenn Halog. CC by NC 2.0 via Flickr.

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22. Not so Bookish

This has not been the bookish weekend I had hoped it would be. Well, there was some bookishness yesterday but it wasn’t the fun relaxing kind. I had to finish up reading a nonfiction book of comparative literature for a Library Journal review that is due by tomorrow. The book is called An Ecology of World Literature From Antiquity to the Present Day by Alexander Beecroft. It’s an interesting way to compare literatures but is entirely aimed at an academic audience so wasn’t exactly easy-going fun. Finishing it took far longer than I expected and left little time for more pleasurable reading. Then of course today I had to take the time to write the review. I only get 200 words, which is not so very easy to stick to when assessing an academic book. But I managed with about five words to spare. We’ll see what my editor thinks.

After yesterday was a wash on my own personal reading I thought I could indulge today but that didn’t happen either. The morning was given over to chores of various kinds and the afternoon got eaten up with switching to a new phone and mobile carrier. Bookman and I discovered recently that our mobile carrier was charging us for phone and unlimited texting as much as AT&T would charge us for iPhones with a small data plan. So we switched. I finally have a “smart” phone. Since I have an iPad and a Macbook they all sync up which is kind of convenient. Of course the switching has not gone as smoothly as it was supposed to. Getting our phone numbers switched over to the new phones from the old carrier is still a work in progress and we’ve been promised it will be completed within the hour. Fingers crossed. And of course I’ve had to transfer phone numbers from my old phone to the new and choose ringtones and set up my morning alarm clock and all the other stuff that an iPhone requires one to set up. But it will all be good, right? I won’t regret finally giving in and getting rid of my not-smart phone? That question mark tells you I am not entirely certain on the matter.

My ban on placing hold requests at the library is going pretty well. I have been really good at resisting, though it has not been without pangs from time to time. I did borrow a few cookbooks, however. Since these are not books one sits down to read for hours over the course of a few weeks, I decided it was allowed. They are all vegan cookbooks I have never heard of before. Of course I started with the dessert, Lickin’ the Beaters: low fat vegan desserts and Lickin’ the Beaters 2: vegan chocolate and candy. Recipes for chocolate donut holes and gingerbread chocolate cookies just seemed so much nicer to swoon over this weekend than recipes from North Africa and India. I’ll drool over those next weekend.

I’ve had so many book finishes lately I now find myself in the middle of a good many books and nowhere near the end of any of them. I am enjoying each one and don’t have that “I’m not getting anywhere” feeling I often get when I find myself in this kind of situation. The only thing this time around I’m having trouble with is coming up with post topics since I have nothing to review. I’ve managed so far but I don’t yet know what the week ahead holds. We’ll see. If posting is spotty you’ll know why!

On a side note, all those seeds I ordered last weekend got delivered on Friday. I didn’t even open the packages because well, snow-covered garden. It would just be too depressing to have to look at those colorful seed packets.

Enough pointless rambling for one day. Our phone numbers still haven’t transferred, there’s another what the heck is the problem phone call to be made.


Filed under: Books, Cookbooks, Personal

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23. Thoughts in the necropolis

One of Glasgow’s best-known tourist highlights is its Victorian Necropolis, a dramatic complex of Victorian funerary sculpture in all its grandeur and variety. Christian and pagan symbols, obelisks, urns, broken columns and overgrown mortuary chapels in classical, Gothic, and Byzantine styles convey the hope that those who are buried there—the great and the good of 19th century Glasgow—will not be forgotten.

But, of course, they are mostly forgotten and even the conspicuous consumption expressed in this extraordinary array of great and costly monuments has not been enough to keep their names alive. And, of course, we, the living, will soon enough go the same way: ‘As you are now, so once was I’, to recall a once-popular gravestone inscription.

Is this the last word on human life? Religion often claims to offer a different perspective on death since (it is said) the business of religion is not with time, but with eternity. But what, if anything, does this mean?

‘Eternal love’ and ‘eternal memory’ are phrases that spring to the lips of lovers and mourners. Even in secular France, some friends of the recently murdered journalists talked about the ‘immortality’ of their work. But surely that is just a way of talking, a way of expressing our especially high esteem for those described in these terms? And even when talk of eternity and immortality is meant seriously, what would a human life that had ‘put on immortality’ be like? Would it be recognizably human at all? As to God, can we really conceive of what it would be for God (or any other being) to somehow be above or outside of time? Isn’t time the condition for anything at all to be?

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Entrance to the Necropolis. Photo by George Pattison. Used with permission.

If we really take seriously the way in which time pervades all our experiences, all our thinking, and (for that matter) the basic structures of the physical universe, won’t it follow that the religious appeal to eternity is really just a primitive attempt to ward off the spectre of transience, whilst declarations of eternal love and eternal memory are little more than gestures of feeble defiance and that if, in the end, there is anything truly ‘eternal’ it is eternal oblivion—annihilation?

Human beings have a strong track record when it comes to denying reality.

One fashionable book of the post-war period was dramatically entitled The Denial of Death and it argued that our entire civilization was built on the inevitably futile attempt to deny the ineluctable reality of death. But if there is nothing we can do about death, must we always think of time in negative terms—the old man with the hour-glass and scythe, so like the figure of the grim reaper?

And instead of thinking of eternity as somehow beyond or above time, might not time itself offer clues as to the presence of eternity, as in the experiences that mystics and meditators say report as being momentary experiences of eternity in, with, and under the conditions of time? But such experiences, valuable as they are to those who have them, remain marginal unless they can be brought into fruitful connection with the weave of past and future.

From the beginnings of philosophy, recollection has been valued as an important clue to finding the tracks of eternity in time, as in Augustine’s search for God in the treasure-house of memory. But the past can only ever give us so much (or so little) eternity.

A recent French philosopher has proposed that time cannot undo our having-been and that the fact that the unknown slave of ancient times or the forgotten victim of the Nazi death-camps really existed means that the tyrants have failed in their attempt to make them non-human. But this is a meagre consolation if we have no hope for the future and for the flourishing of all that is good and true in time to come. Really affirming the enduring value of human lives and loves therefore presupposes the possibility of hope.

One Jewish sage taught that ‘In remembering lies redemption; in forgetfulness lies exile’ but perhaps what we it is most important to remember is the possibility of hope itself and of going on saying ‘Yes’ to the common, shared reality of human life and of reconciling the multiple broken relationships that mortality leaves unresolved.

Pindar, an ancient poet of hope, wrote that ‘modesty befits mortals’ and if we cannot escape time (which we probably cannot), it is maybe time we have to thank for the possibility of hope and for visions of a better and more blessed life. And perhaps this is also the message that a contemporary graffiti-artist has added to one of the Necropolis’s more ruined monuments. ‘Life goes on’, either extreme cynicism or, perhaps, real hope.

Featured image credit: ‘Life goes on.’ Photo by George Pattison. Used with permission.

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24. Public health in 2014: a year in review

Last year was an important year in the field of public health. In 2014, West Africa, particularly Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, experienced the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history, and with devastating effects. Debates around e-cigarettes and vaping became central, as more research was published about their health implications. Conversations surrounding nutrition and the spread of disease through travel and migration continued in the media and among experts.

We’ve chosen a selection of articles that discuss public health issues that arose in 2014, their effects on the present and implications for the future.

Header image: US specialist helping Afghan nomads by Sfc. Larry Johns (US Army). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. The Sound of Things to Come

Last week at the book festival was so much fun. The venue was gorgeous – one of the best libraries I’ve ever visited – and the organizers were so thoughtful and generous. It was definitely my favorite festival so far. Plus, I got to meet some awesome authors who’ve written some great books. Thanks to […]

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