Can you name a book?

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Sounds like a simple challenge, right? Name a book, any book at all.

In the long tradition of asking Americans general knowledge questions on the street and filming their glorious ignorance, I present this video from Jimmy Kimmel.

Before we all laugh and point at the Americans and insult their intelligence, let’s remember that you could do this just about anywhere. Although, Americans do make this stuff easy at times. I’ve previously discussed the reading figures for the US, UK, and Australia. I’m sure those numbers are at least in the same ballpark as other countries, if not outright representative.

Wait, why guess when I can actually use the wonders of the greatest information resource in human history to look that up? Why have an unfounded opinion that I then rant about in indignant outrage, arrogantly assuming I’m right and belittling anyone who does bother to look up the data? To the research!

Let’s start with the data that the above video was citing from Pew Research.

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Source

As we can see, the 24% figure is showing that older, poorer, less educated, men (just), and Hispanics read less in the USA. This isn’t a new conclusion, as data from Pew in 2016 shows. The conclusion around the number who don’t read is also similar to the 2016 results of 26% not having read a book in the last 12 months. I’m not sure you can interpret much change over time in the number of people reading, but numbers might be slowly decreasing (although, look at the uptick in audiobooks as that format has come down in price).

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Source

Now we can look at how the USA sits in terms of reading. I’ve previously discussed how Aussies spend roughly 23 minutes per day reading (ABS figures), or an hour a day if you believe the Australian Arts Council report (I suggested there was possible survey bias in that figure). Below you can see that the NOP World Culture Score puts Australia at 6 hours 18 minutes – which I think makes this an “ALL-YOU bench-press” set of numbers.

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Source: Statista

This chart suggests that the USA is probably typical for English speaking countries, but that many other countries read far more on a weekly basis in terms of hours. Unless reading is code for something else in non-English speaking countries. Maybe they thought they were being asked about how many hours they spent having sex per week.

If we then look at the countries and how frequently they read books you can see in the chart below that they were afraid to include the bars for “didn’t read a book”. The high end has only 14% of Chinese people not reading a book, whilst the low end has the Dutch at 43% not reading (USA comes in at 29%, UK 28%, Australia 38% – I demand a recount!!).*

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Source: Statista

How about the number of books people read, or at least what they claim once they round up?

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Source: Eurostat
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Source
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Source

What this all shows is that there are plenty of countries where you could ask ten people on the street to name a book and have one or two of them fail. You could ask those ten people what book were they reading today and only three of them could. Isn’t that sad? I reckon people would really enjoy reading if they made time for it. I’ve commented before on why I think people don’t read, suggesting that they don’t because they get told to read literature when they actually enjoy thrillers, sci-fi, and romance.

Maybe it is time to change that before someone sticks a camera and microphone in our faces.

*Be careful with my assumption here. Depending on how the question was asked and any other unreported categories, I may be very wrong in assuming the unreported numbers are non-readers.

I love to hate tech articles: internet speed

I love technology. So many cool things have been made during my lifetime that it is hard to believe that as a 30-something I can remember a time before mobile phones, laptops, CDs, DVDs, tablets, and even personal computers. Since I love technology and love to read, it is a no-brainer for me to keep abreast of the latest developments via tech articles, especially since these articles are so woefully out of touch with the average person that they are comedy gold.

The article that tickled my funny-bone this time was all about Google’s new internet service. As part of Google’s plans for world domination, whilst not being evil of course, they are entering the market with an optical fibre broadband rollout in the USA. This video explains the deal with Google Fibre (video a little old now):

The funny part is the article author lamenting his current internet pricing and speeds relative to the service offered by Google:

My $52-per-month plan bestows me with the unheralded power of 30Mbps down and 5Mbps up, a depressing far cry from the (Google Fibre) $70 (and 1 Gbps up and down).

Sorry, not funny ha-ha, but funny sad. According to the reports into global internet speeds, the average US internet user is downloading at 10Mbps, with only 34% of users getting speeds above that (see figure below), ranking them top 10 in the world for speed.

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013
Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013

Meanwhile my Aussie internet is ranked 44th in the world, with average speeds of 5.8Mbps and 9.7% of users having average speeds higher than that.

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013 - Asia
Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013 – Asia

So the tech author was lamenting internet that not only ranks as some of the best in the world, but is also some of the cheapest. In Australia we have some the most expensive broadband in the world (although not as a % of income) and the service is quite possibly far worse than our average speeds would suggest. Just a few kilometres from where I’m sitting, deep in rural Australia, there are people who can’t get the internet. Whilst I have above average internet at work and at home – although that average bar is low enough for an asthmatic 2 year old with no coordination to jump over – the copper network is antiquated and slows the speed of internet down the further you get from the hub. Once you are 20-30 kilometres out of town, the internet is so slow that you are running dialup speeds, which is ridiculous and annoying when most of the web assumes broadband speeds. These slow speeds means that most people not in town have satellite broadband, which is speed limited by the number of users at any one time, is really expensive, and even the top speeds are capped at 800kbps. No, I’m not kidding.

Australia isn’t even in a position to climb the internet rankings in any great hurry either. There were two broadband plans taken to the last Australian election: Fibre to the Home and Fibre to the Node. Since optic fibre (that stuff Google is rolling out) is only going to the node, that means people in cities will have to pay to get their connection upgraded, while we can now expect to see most rural areas of Australia covered by satellite plans (the ones I just told you sucked). Both of these options are more expensive regionally or where the “node” is a long way from the “home”. See the outline below (source):

Access to the internet is a wonderful thing: information at your fingertips, streaming news and entertainment, commerce on a global scale, and lots of porn. Australia is not really in the digital age, limping along with second-rate connections, political plans for second-rate upgrades, and monopolies charging big $$ for second-rate services. Which is why the tech articles are so interesting in the way they show the massive disconnect between the writers, tech services, and the rest of the world.

See other articles: http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/internet/the-rise-and-fall-of-australias-44-billion-broadband-project
http://www.politicalscience.com.au/2010/04/why-we-need-national-broadband-network.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_access

Choosing a location for your story

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As much as I love America, does every crime and thriller novel written have to be set there? Wouldn’t it be great if more stories chose some other locations?

Before anyone jumps on me, yes, I know, there are plenty of stories set in diverse locations. My comment is more about the way writers are so often told that people only want to read stories set in the US, that it has to appeal to the US market. I think we all know that this is a presumption on behalf of the industry for us readers. Let’s try and push for the more challenging locations in the stories we read.

Reading stats for 2012

Hot off of the presses we have two new American reading surveys: Reading Habits in Different Communities and E-book Reading Jumps; Print Book Reading Declines

Actually, the phrase “hot off of the presses” is rather antiquated now. News stories that are breaking generally hit electronic mediums, or in some cases, such as celebrity gossip, they hit the TV and radio mediums. Interesting research or data is normally promoted virally via Twitter and the like. Should we have a new phrase like “just blogged” or “trending tweet” instead?

Back to the survey. While not all of us live in the USA, despite what some American congress-people might say, their trends in reading can be seen as indicative of what is happening elsewhere or is likely to happen elsewhere. The Pew Institute have done a pretty decent survey, it would be great if a few others were done for other countries.

What I found interesting was the growth in e-books and e-readers. There are further breakdowns in the full reports about why the change is happening, but suffice to say, e-books have many advantages over paper, despite paper books still being the most popular reading format.

Ereading-device-ownership

We can see a growth of 9% in people reading e-books during 2012, up from 21% to 30%. In terms of age demographics we can see that most age groups are taking up e-books, although the big growth is still in the middle age (30-49) group.

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The next point of interest was who the readers were and how much they read. We can see that there is still a sizeable chunk of the community that don’t read and another chunk that pretend to read. I’d hazard a guess that light readers read non-fiction and the latest talked about bestseller only. Because they never really read good books it takes them ages to read one book and thus don’t read often.

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Among those ages 16 and older who had read a book in the past 12 months:

  • 8% read 1 book
  • 17% 2-3 books
  • 16% 4-5 books
  • 19% 6-10 books
  • 18% 11-20 books
  • 22% more than 20 books (this is my category)

Book-readers

And my final comment, women are still the readers. They make up a bigger proportion of book readers and they read more books. I have my own hypotheses as to why this is: boys are expected to like sport and reading is the opposite of sport; and reading doesn’t make you look as sexy as playing sport, so boys think you are less likely to get laid if you read. The big change I’d like to see, and this seems to be the case with e-readers and e-books, is for the average reader to read more books in a year, even if it is only so that people read the book before they make the movie of it.

Book Review: Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth

Blood Oath (Nathaniel Cade #1)Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time I walk past a book store I just have to take a wander through and see what is on the shelf. The last time I saw two books that caught my eye, Luther: The Calling and Red White and Blood. I’d never heard of the latter, never heard of the author, Christopher Farnsworth, and this was the most recent in a three book series.

Sadly I’ve been burnt before, so I only walked out of the store with Luther. No matter how interesting this book looked, it was about vampires, politics and secrets, this could have been Twilight in the Whitehouse for all I knew. So instead I contacted my trusty local librarian and asked if they had any of the books on the shelves, they had all three. I’m glad they had them all.

Chris’s writing is witty, fast paced and well crafted. Essentially he has written a supernatural thriller in direct opposition to the sparkly lameness that has infected the supernatural genre. Despite the themes, the line isn’t crossed into horror territory, remaining firmly enjoyable to thriller fans who don’t like the gore aspect.

In short, I won’t be getting to Luther: The Calling, until after I finish all three of Chris’ Nathaniel Cade novels.

View all my reviews

E-book statistics for 2012

I seem to be finding a bunch of cool infographics recently, they are the future of communication (warning, sarcasm may be in affect here). It is always interesting to see what the status of sales, especially e-book sales. Personally, I see the e-book becoming the new paperback within a few years, and I also think that backlists will be all e-books. What will be really interesting is whether authors will be the one controlling their backlists or whether publishing houses will want to grab hold of those. Then it becomes a case of what rates are paid on backlist, because the sunk costs are a frontlist issue, so you would expect a greater author share of sales (although it could be argued that sunk costs are sunk, thus trying to recoup those costs as part of the sale price is bad economics).

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TV Shows From Around the World

I was viewing the new series of Sherlock, written by the fantastic Steven Moffat (Coupling, Dr Who, Jekyl), when a thought occurred to me; would the deli be open to sell me an ice cream at this hour? Sadly it wasn’t, which gave me plenty of time to think about how various countries differ in the way they do TV shows and movies.

I present my musings and gross generalities about TV shows around the world.

UK – Talkies.

The best Dr Who – Tom Baker a close second.

When I think of UK TV in general I think very little action but a lot of dialogue. Not much happens in any one episode of UK TV, but all the characters have a lot to say. The best shows – often written by the aforementioned Steven Moffat et al. – are also witty and intelligent.

A great example of this is Dr Who, the David Tennant version. The Doctor is stuck in a life or death situation – lets say its Darleks about to shoot him – and yet he talks his way out of it. Any other country would have him ducking for cover. Another example is the crime drama Luther. This is more an exploration of the main character and his strained relationships and his commitment to solving crimes.

Example: Sherlock, Luther.
Outlier: The Bill (cookie cutter).

USA – Explosions and cookie cutter formats.

Cookie-Cutter was a term invented for this franchise. 

The Americans are terrific at doing formulaic shows. Their crime shows follow the same patterns each episode, the dramas have a list of top topics – also used for identifying when they have jumped the shark – and all their comedies gradually morph into dramas. They also do gun fights and explosions. More bullets are fired in one episode of US TV than in the entire year of all TV shows from the UK and Australia (NB: made up statistic that is possibly true but I’d have no idea).

As a result they can attract audiences in large numbers to watch things go bang. The longer the show runs the less ideas are used in any one episode as the formulae takes over. In fairness, compared to UK TV, series in the US produce a lot more episodes, so writers would have a harder time coming up with fresh material.

Example: CSI whatever.
Outlier: Justified, The Wire.

Australia – Soapies.

Neighbours, the long running steaming pile of dog droppings.

Aussies can’t produce a TV show that isn’t a soapie. We have tried many times, failing miserably to make the show not morph into a soapie. Sometimes we start off with a great premise and even a few episodes that show promise, but it doesn’t take long before we have just another soapie.

I don’t watch Aussie TV any more.

Example: We don’t do anything other than soapies.
Outlier: The little watched Good Guys, Bad Guys.

Western Europe – Gritty and noir.

Unit One making you squirm.

Americans have recently started (re)making European shows with more explosions. They have realised that there are so many well written shows there that they just had to copy them. Since Americans can’t handle accents and subtitles they need to redo the lot. Of course the Americans are then surprised when there is something lacking in their version.

I don’t know why, but gritty seems like a default position in every drama produced in Europe (Inspector Rex doesn’t count). As a result shows can become very dark, but at the same time are generally more substantive.

Example: The Elephant, The Killing, Unit One.
Outlier: All the same soaps and reality TV that they produce like every other country/region.

Canada – USA shows

We’re in Canada Scully; it’s a conspiracy!

If it is a US TV show, it is likely to be made in Vancouver. My theory for this phenomenon is that American actors and stuntmen on TV shows generally aren’t making enough money to afford decent health care. As a result they like to locate themselves in a country that has proper health care available. Just a theory.

One of the ways to spot an Canadian TV show versus an American TV show is how much shooting and explosions occur during any one episode. At one end you have American shows, at the other end you have Canadian shows, and right in the middle are the Canadian produced American shows.

Example: Stargate, Supernatural.
Outlier: Any show that looks kinda American but hasn’t got people shooting someone every 2 minutes.

Eastern Europe, South America & Asia
I’d like to know more as Australians don’t have many of them on our screens.

NB: I’ve tried to be as intentionally insulting to the various countries with my observations as possible. There is a lot of great TV out there, Australia makes virtually none of it, so I’m bitter, resentful and ultimately jealous.