Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tracking a meme

Robert Lemos in Wire News.

It was an experiment by comparative literature graduate student, Scott Eric Kaufman, to measure how quickly a simple idea would jump between blogs covering different academic disciplines. It was a scientific experiment to track the 'meme' - a quantum of cultural thought popularised by evolutionist and author Richard Dawkins.

Wired News says: "The idea that Kaufman decided to track was his blog post on the experiment itself ... The post languished on his site for a few hours and then got picked up by a colleague's blog. After that, the meme took flight in a way that surprised the literature student: Almost 50 blogs, including a number of science forums, linked back to the post in less than three days ..."

"The success of the experiment is all the more revelatory in that the meme in question is hardly new or novel ... In the end, Kaufman's experiment might prove less about how any particular meme moves through the web, and more about the attention span of the internet. Just two years after a nearly identical experiment, enough bloggers believed the experiment to be new and relevant that the meme traveled quickly and widely."

Full report:,72207-0.html?tw=rss.index

Who will criticise the critics?

Shinie Antony writes in

Everyone is a critic. There is no formal training school for writing literary reviews. No formal standards. But we know all about that. We can clearly see from some of the reviews in our newspapers, that often the writer has not even read the book, or else what goes for a review is merely a synopsis of the story. The prerequisite of reading a book before doing a review is also probably one reason for the lack of local book reviews in our local papers, it being easier to source a review of a foreign book using Google.

Shiny Anthony writes: "Okay, we know where Indian writers come from. They come from the West. But where do critics come from? What are they made up of really? And, more importantly, who will criticise the critics?"

And on book reviews she says: "... Either they are all-out gush or a nasal nasty. A book page is the newspaper's cover-up of its corporate concerns with a pseudo-cultural cough. The space so sacred that nuances are martyred in the marvellous new world of cut-paste editing and the ensuing sloppy scribbles served sunny side down."

Methinks she should be grateful for the pseudo-cultural cough. The local newspapers don't even pretend. But this I like: "A book is a body of thoughts. A critic is meant to ponder upon these thoughts, not parade his paranoia and prejudices, however arresting they may be. Books are to be picked up just like people, listened to and enjoyed or be cast aside with finesse."

Full report:

Bloomsbury: a one trick pony?

From The Times. Without a Harry Potter book for the year 2006, reports say that Bloomsbury's earnings are down 75%.

The company said this in a Stock Exchange statement. Bloomsbury said that profits before tax "may be in the region of GBP5 million" - well below the anticipated GBP20 million to GBP20.5 million.

Other titles by Bloomsburys have been The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseni, and The Blunkett Tapes, the diaries of David Blunkett, the former Cabinet minister, for which Bloomsbury is said to have paid an advance estimated at GBP400,000. Both titles are reported as being sold at a 40 per cent discount on the Bloomsbury website.

But I like this interesting bit: "There have also been problems with "reference rights sales" - deals under which the company sells on the rights to the reference books that it owns to third-party publishers." Bloomsbury should learn from 'best' practices of Malaysian businesses. Sell to your own companies at inflated prices!

Full story:,,9071-2499926,00.html

Literary paradise lost in Australia

Peter Holbrook writes in The Australian lamenting the death of 'imaginative writing' in Australia, and about the latest news is 'that the University of Sydney will soon possess the sole remaining chair in Australian literature' and how it 'signals a genuine crisis in our literary culture.'

"I suspect … that the formal study of literature generally is imperilled at most levels of the educational system. How much classic English literature of any kind is now vigorously and creatively taught by well-trained experts anywhere in Australia?" he says.

It is not just classics by English speaking writers that appear to be imperilled. "... I doubt Euripides, Dante or Chekhov are faring any better."

He ends with a warning: "For if the formal study of great literature, ancient and modern, is neglected, the outlook for literary creativity here is dim. A significant literary culture needs educated readers, discriminating and cosmopolitan critics, informed editors and sound scholars. Every substantial creative writer was once an enthusiastic reader. No readers, no writers."

Full story:,20867,20922771-7583,00.html