May Book Buys

May was a prolific month for book shopping!

May BooksIn May I bought The Turn of the Screw and the Aspern Papers by Henry James. The Turn of the Screw was nowhere near my radar as a book I would want to buy and read. But, on learning about alternative interpretations of the story, my interest was strongly provoked.

Last time, when showing my April Book Buys, I ranted again about science education. This month I bought another book along those themes. Simon Singh is one of my favourite popular science writers and I have a bunch of his books. His book Big Bang is a New York Times bestseller, one of my favourite non-fiction books and, I believe, is a model for how science should be taught in school.

In May, I bought his book Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial, co-authored with Edzard Ernst. As the blurb says:

It is honest, impartial but hard-hitting, and provides a thorough examination and judgement of more than thirty of the most popular treatments, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, reflexology, chiropractic and herbal medicine. In “Trick or Treatment?” the ultimate verdict on alternative medicine is delivered for the first time with clarity, scientific rigour and absolute authority.

The book is cheekily dedicated to Prince Charles.

After Singh wrote an article related to the book, he was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for libel. At the time, British libel laws were notoriously backward. It was usually up to the defendant to prove that they did not damage the plaintiff rather than the other way around. As a result, cases were rarely won by the defence. But Singh won his case in what some might call a major victory for science over woo. As Wikipedia notes:

Occurring at a time when skeptics were beginning to make use of social media such as Twitter and social gatherings like The Amazing Meeting and Skeptics in the Pub, it brought together a large community of science-supporting geeks and resulted in unprecedented media coverage of chiropractic and the questionable claims made for it. At one point the so-called “quacklash” resulted in 500 formal complaints in 24 hours to the BCA and, before the case closed, a quarter of all members of the British Chiropractic Association were under formal investigation.

The case is even credited with being among those that resulted in a change to British libel law, Wikipedia again:

BCA v. Singh and several other high-profile cases prompted three organizations (Sense About Science, Index on Censorship, and English PEN) – all concerned about free speech and scientific debate – to join forces in the Libel Reform Campaign. On 25 April 2013, Defamation Act 2013 received Royal Assent and became law. The purpose of the reformed law of defamation is to ‘ensure that a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of reputation’. Under the new law, plaintiffs must show that they suffer serious harm before the court will accept the case. Additional protection for website operators, defence of ‘responsible publication on matters of public interest’, and new statutory defences of truth and honest opinion are also part of the key areas covered by the new law.

The efficacy of alternative medicine will be an increasingly important issue in society. Recently a Canadian couple were convicted for “failing to provide the necessities of life” after their son died from bacterial meningitis – an illness that is readily treatable with antibiotics and can even be cured if caught early, but here the parents preferred to treat their son with diluted maple syrup, juice from frozen berries and a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horse radish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root.

Such convictions are currently quite rare. It is usually agreed that the parents right to enforce their beliefs on their children overrides the child’s right to access a proven, effective and safe medical treatment. Things get increasingly murky where traditional practices of indigenous peoples are concerned. But hopefully things will change as they have in other areas where parents have been found to not always be the best advocate for their own children’s health and safety.

Moving on, I’m not sure what to say about Good Omens. It sounds very funny, possibly blasphemous and right up my alley! I did not get the cover I wanted. The older editions have two alternate covers, one of which I liked more than the other. Unfortunately, I got the other one – such are the perils of buying from some online oulets. Newer editions that you find in book stores have a completely new cover that I don’t care for at all.

For my daughter I bought two books this month. The first is a very short version of Alice in Wonderland. It is a ‘push, pull, slide’ book published by Campbell. We had earlier found The Jungle Book version, which my daughter loves, and wanted another. The second is The Dark by Lemony Snicket. Best known for A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Dark is about a boy confronting his fear of the dark.

That was all I was planning to buy this month but, as is so often the case, I ended up buying a whole lot more!

A colleague of my wife told us there was a local Sunday market with an impressive second-hand book stall. It’s always nice when you find something new right under your nose. And I splurged!

The market was what you’d expect. Stalls of local produce and folk art. Food stalls selling churros and dumplings. Lots of toys, especially of Marvel characters, all of which looked to be inauthentic and in breach of every copyright and trademark imaginable. And there was a lot of woo – people selling miracle remedies and pain relief either by tea, herbs, honey, crystals, magnets, etc, and doing plenty of business.

But in the centre of it all was a very respectable second-hand book store.

I bought Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, A Streetcar Named Desire and Other Plays by Tennessee Williams (the other plays are Sweet Bird of Youth and The Glass Menagerie), Three Novels by Raymond Chandler (the three novels are The Big Sleep, Farwell, My Lovely and The Long Good-Bye), The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Acharnians, The Clouds and Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray and Cranford and Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell.

All for $38 total! If only I had space for them all! And yes, I have never heard of a library and I say nuts to e-books.

I also found a hardcover, first edition, of Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, but I did not buy it. Unfortunately, it seems to have been someone’s retirement present so it had a handwritten note on the inside cover and a bit of a coffee stain on the page edges. A shame.


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