Friday, September 29, 2006

Shakespeare Searched

Clusty is a fun search engine. It does things differently to the usual (i.e. Google) everyday search engines. One thing it does differently is Shakespeare Searched.

This little package offers you a searchable database of Will's plays and sonnets. Before you fret about the demotion of the works of the finest English dramatist to a series of soulless ones and zeroes, don't: it's not intended to replace authoritative, annotated, scholarly editions of the texts. It just offers another way in.

You can search by keyword or phrase, and limit that search by individual characters or plays. My sketchy recollection of A-level English lit tells me that Richard mumbles something about bread in Richard II: Shakespeare Searched confirms exactly what he says, without me having to dig out a copy of the play and flick through the pages until I find it. Act 3, Scene 2, if you're interested.

Project Gutenberg has been providing soulless ones-and-zeroes online versions of texts, including Shakespeare, for yonks. You could always look at this .txt file of Richard II, hit Ctrl+F and search for "bread", but Shakespeare Searched seems to do the job with less hassle and more style. Similarly, you could try to Explore Shakespeare with Google, and end up with a scanned image of the relevant lines.

Shakespeare Searched is more "webby" than the competition. The Google approach searches scanned images of actual books, and Gutenberg offers the full text of books as typed in by volunteers. Shakespeare Searched gives me a nice, clean web interface and something closer to a proper search engine, and that's what I really like.

There is a permanent link to Shakespeare Searched in Signpost's Drama and theatres list. I'm planning on developing literature and homework areas on Signpost as well, and it would be equally at home there.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Interesting article on reading groups

Apologies for this slightly library-geekish post, but this appeared on one of the library mailing lists today. It's an article about online reading groups which is one of the directions we're hoping to go in with this blog.

In fact, online communities are something of a flavour of the month at the moment: I've just read Train Man by Nakano Hitori, a book which is something of a phenomenon in Japan. The book consists of transcripts of bulletin board threads, posted by the eponymous Train Man and his online friends. Simply put, it's the story of a young Japanese geek (an otaku) who saves a woman from the attentions of a drunk on the subway and is coached in his consequent wooing of her by the posters on the bulletin board he subscribes to. It's already spawned manga comics, two tv series and a film in Japan as well as pages and pages of internet debate.

The odd thing about it is that noone really knows if any of the events actually happened or whether it's an elaborate internet hoax on the lines of the famous lonelygirl15 podcasts.

You never know, perhaps one day the Signpost Blog will scale the summits of internet greatness...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

CD : "Where's Neil when you need him?"

I've just acquired from Amazon "Where's Neil when you need him?" : seventeen tracks inspired by the works of Neil Gaiman, written and performed by seventeen musicians and groups including Tori Amos.

The music is varied, strange and often magical : ranging from the chilling "Vandemar" in doom laden German, to the beautiful and sad "Raven Star" based on the end of "Stardust.

So far (Fifth consequtive listen to the whole album) my favourites are "Wake the White Queen" a Mirrormask song by The Cruxshadows, and Schandmaul's "Magda Treadgold's Marchen" : a German (again) Celtic folk rock take on the dark fairy tale from "The Kindly Ones".

These tracks are all interesting at least, some of them are great, and if you are a Gaiman completist this CD is essential.

Neil has provided an introduction and notes, and the CD art is original stuff from Dave McKean.

Great! (But not in stock in libraries?)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

If, like me, you've spent the last two years avoiding Susanna Clarke's "Strange & Norrell" because it's the size, shape & weight of a house brick, please think again.

It's deep, and rich, and wonderful : the most gripping and immersive read I've come accross for ages.

The language is elegant, precise, and witty : if Jane Austen had written a magical "War & Peace" it might come out like this.

With evocative illustrations by Portia Rosenberg, and extensive and delightfully dry footnotes by the author, it is a book you can live in : it's irksome to have to come back to 2006 to, for instance, work, or eat.

Neil Gaiman says it's "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last 70 years". He's right, as usual.

If you read it & love it, or perhaps want to try something shorter first,Susanna's short fiction collection "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" which is illustrated by the magnificent Charles Vess, is published mid October. I can't wait.

Friday, September 22, 2006

swlrir strikes again

My subscription copy of SFX was waiting for me when I got home last night.

Turning to the page on the SFX Book Club's discussion of Ray Bradbury's Martian chronicles, I had a quick look for comments from our very own SF critic.

It didn't take me long to find what I was looking for. He's featured at the top of the right-hand column. Go swlrir!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Film Club?

After many more months' deprivation than I'd care to remember, I've finally got hold of Season Two of the 'reimagined' (a horrible word, but in this case is shorthand for 'vast improvement on the original') Battlestar Galactica. Not wishing to wax too lyrical about this show but I think it constitutes some of the best science-fiction to grace either the big or small screen in some time. Has anybody else fallen prey to its charms? I've barely seen daylight for 2 days now, sustained as I have been by PepsiMax and Pringles...

One of my colleagues here at Bolton has floated the idea of a library film club; AV loans have been part of our library world for nearly 2 decades, it may be a logical extension of our outreach activities. Were it not for those pesky performance licensing and copyright regulations I'm sure we here at Bolton could make ample use of our fabulous vintage lecture theatre (complete with projection room and screen).

We could even ask Michael to go round with choc ices in the interval.

Friday, September 15, 2006


In an effort to tie the blog in better with Signpost, I've rejigged the colour scheme. The blog now features the same purple-heavy colour combo as Signpost.

Thanks go to Jenny at Trafford for the suggestion. Since Signpost's move is imminent, I've stuck with Bolton's colour scheme in order to give myself an easier life.

So: any thoughts? What should the colours be, for the blog and for Signpost? And what colours would we want to see on a newfangled community information product, if we happened to have one?

Man Booker Prize: shortlist announced

The shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize has been announced.

The list looks to be a good mix of established and up-and-coming authors, which is probably going to make it an interesting selection to read.

Signpost has a Man Booker Prize 2006 section, complete with links to copies at your library. Join in the official forums at the Prize website and leave your comments here.

Happy reading!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The detectives strike back

Just to let you all know that members of 'How Novel' have helped to write a murder mystery evening and are the majority of suspects. Its being held this Friday at 7pm in Blackburn Central Library and its free.

Personally I'm intrigued by how many Preacher quotes they manage to slip into their characters this time round. (Oh, and I'm playing Mrs Nora Charles)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Graphic Novels: September

Yes, once again, I've managed to mess up and organise something that clashes with the meeting tomorrow (September 9th) at Bolton Central Library. I am considering tattooing the meeting dates somewhere about my person. In my defense, tomorrow's fun activity was booked before the meeting dates were rejigged...

This month's theme is the Man of Steel. Superman is a big favourite of mine, so I'm especially cross with myself for not being able to make it. As compensation, here are my favourite Superman books:

Red son
An Elseworlds book about a Soviet Superman. Mark Millar wrote it, the Communist "look" is spot-on and it's the book that got me back into comics, after I read a review in the Observer. Politics, personalities and upscaled imagery make this one of my favourite books full stop, not just a favourite book on the Last Son of Krypton or a fave graphic novel. Brilliant.

Superman for all seasons
This one really moved me. There was something about the way it showed Clark growing up, Jonathan and Martha coming to terms with their son's awesome powers, that appealed to the big softy in me. The approach is a bit nostalgic, even corny, but it's so well-executed that it broke down my anti-schmaltz barriers. It's a Loeb and Sale book, but it's quite far removed from Batman: the long Halloween.

Secret identity
I've mentioned this one before, and it turns out that Blackburn with Darwen Libraries' GN group, How Novel, loved it as well. It's technically not an Elseworlds book, but it has that vibe: an alternate Earth, which knows Superman through comics has its very own Clark Kent. It looks wonderful and the story drew me in.

I've been watching Lois and Clark: the new adventures of Superman on ITV2 (week nights at 7, lycra fans!), which has been, erm, interesting. I watched it the first time around, and yes, it's still that patchy. The HG Wells/time travel storyline ran last week, and this week Clark has mostly been trying to tell Lois that he's actually Superman. Such hijinks!!

So: your thoughts please. What's your favourite Superman book? And what will next month's topic be?

In other news, Judge Dredd's origin storyline begins in next week's 2000AD (Prog 1505). And we've got some Dredd books to get you warmed up!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google News releases Archive Search

Thanks to Bibliothecary for tipping me off to this via email this morning: it took my RSS aggregator a couple of hours to catch up with him.

Google has had Google News for what seems like ages now. I've never really used it, having been content with BBC News and the Guardian website for "proper" news.

Today, the Google News Archive Search was unleashed. You can search for news topics of your choice, and you'll find results going back quite some time. Over 200 years in some cases, in fact. This could be very useful for finding contemporary reports on big news events: the outbreak of war (Vietnam, WWII, the Boer War, take your pick); Thatcher leaving Downing Street; Star Wars; the list could go on indefinitely.

There are some genuinely useful touches here as well. At the click of a hyperlink, you can show your results as a timeline, in chronological order. Those search results include snippets of relevant text, as we've come to expect from Google. And it has the nice, clean interface we've come to expect.

There are even some sample searches to get you started. One of them, Groucho Marx, led me to this letters page from Time. Scroll down about half way for a missive from the man himself. The potential for easy access to articles that could really provide some context.

It's not all good , though. There is a strong US bias, which is explained as a result of the service being in its infancy. Google intends to balance the American sources with others as the Archive Search grows (see the FAQ).

The big blow, though, is that you have to pay to actually read a lot of the content. Admittedly, all of the summaries are free. Time Magazine, the BBC and the Guardian are among the free services searched, and they're all pretty good.

But with the other newspapers, you either have to pay a fee per article, or you have to have a subscription. When media stories about new online resources circulate widely, touting the new wealth of information we can access, they tend not to mention the cost. This makes me sad.

For recent "old" news, your library subscribes to a database I *do* like. It's called NewsUK. Go here if you're in a library; to get to it from home, you need the number on your library card and you need to go to your library's website first. Bolton, Trafford and Wigan all have different pages; scroll down to find the link (there's usually something about external access or similar).

NewsUK includes the full text of all UK national papers, with the exception of the share prices from the Financial Times. It also covers some local papers, including the Manchester Evening News and the Wigan Observer. This coverage goes back, in some cases, to the early 1990s. It also includes the Economist, New Statesman and the Spectator. Try it.

See Signpost's News section for a range of local, national and international news sources tried and tested by your favourite librarians.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tidying up

I've made some ever-so-insignificant changes to the extra gubbins on the blog:

First, I've streamlined the library search boxes in the sidebar. You now get a drop-down menu for each library, allowing a choice between keyword, author and title. It's much neater, it takes up less space and I'm far happier with it. I've also abandoned the Talis deep linking API, as it doesn't allow keyword searching. I've reverted to pointing the search boxes directly at the relevant OPACs, which seem stable enough from where I'm sitting.

Second, I've got rid of the rather optimistic list of feeds, in favour of a single one from Add to any (idea stolen from inspired by Phil Bradley). Add to any allows our (theoretical) readers to add the feed to their aggregator of choice, without having to display a huge and unwieldy list here.

Finally, I've binned the OED search box at the bottom of the page. It worked, which was nice, but that's not really a good enough reason to keep anything. Maybe if it worked for our (theoretical) users reading the blog from home, it would have stayed; but it only worked on internal networks subscribed to the OED.

Monday, September 04, 2006

swlrir's books : August

This month I've mostly been reading...

SF : Philip K. Dick : "Flow my tears, the policeman said"
H.G. Wells : "War of the Worlds"
Charles Stross : "Singlarity Sky"
Koji Suzuki : "Loop"

Fantasy: Terry Pratchett : "Colour of Magic"

Graphic Novels : Mark Waid "Superman : Birthright"
Frank Miller : "Dark Knight strikes again"
Jeph Loeb : "Superman/Batman : Public Enemies"
Dave Gibbons : "PTIC : Rann-Thanagar War"

Crime : Agatha Christie : "They do it with mirrors"

Non-Fiction : David Lloyd : "Short History of Ludlow"

And loads of SFX back issues.

...But I have been on holiday!

What are other people reading right now?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Graphic Novel list, at last!

Hi, Michael, Angelaook :

Finally, I've got round to LibraryThinging my GN collection : check them out here

LT really is easy to use and beats the hours I've spent on Excel in the past.

If you or anyone want to borrow any, just say.

Friday, September 01, 2006

How Novel Reading Group

Hello all,
I run the 'How Novel' group in Blackburn Central Library. We've been going a year now and are interested to find out what other reading groups think of things.

At Christmas we voted Superman: Secret Identity as the best graphic novel of the year. And Star Wars: Vaders Quest as the worst, honestly, it really is chronic.

We meet every 2 weeks and have an e-mail discussion group that you are welcome to join.