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What’s a good book?

There is a competition to find the best Irish book of the last decade.  It’s a nice idea. It gets people reading. It gets people talking about books. It’s publicity for the authors and publishers.

But the question is – what’s a good book?  What exactly is it that makes a book good?  Is it based on sales, on popularity, on critical (who are the critics?) acclaim, the best plotlines, characterisations, or fine writing, or a mysterious undefinable something?

I can’t claim to have all read the entire 50 titles on the short list. This means I couldn’t possibly be an objective judge. I wonder how many people have read all 50 in all their entirety?  There are titles in there that very likely would not be companions on a typical bookshelf.  I can’t imagine a Seamus Heaney fan having much in common with the Cathy Kelly club?  Maybe I’m being too presumptive.They are, after all, on the same list here.

A problem with these types of polls is the Recency-Effect. This competition has a ten-year span. People are more likely to remember those books published in the last 2 years than in the early part of the decade.  I myself am guilty of this.  2 books stand out for me on the list and both are relatively recent. The first is Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture – a book that had me falling our of the bottom of the bed, wrapped in the duvet.  It’s such a beautiful compelling read that you can’t put it down even at 4am when you know you should be sleeping.  The other is Let The Great World Spin by Colm McCann. This has its harrowing moments but is astounding inside the lifes and loves and adventures and entanglements of its characters.

Another example of the recency effect is the last-book-read situation.  I’ve just put down Not Untrue & Not Unkind by Ed O’Loughlin. Let just say that I won’t be quite so dismissive of journals reporting from war-torn under-developed nations anymore. This is a book that made it to Booker longlist and won many plaudits. Yet it is not on this Book of the Decade list.

I know what I like in a good book. I know what I don’t like. I can’t see myself reading either of the sports books books on the list. Are they great books?  Am I depriving myself of greatness by not reading them. Should they be on the list?  I don’t know.

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Golden Spiders – you decide

The Golden Spider awards are held annually to honour all that is good in the world of the Irish web. The shortlists and winners are a useful class exercise for my ebusiness students. I give them the various category lists and get them to evaluate the sites based on various criteria identified by various gurus as being important. It usually produces much fun and interesting insights.

Like all award ceremonies there is a “you decide” vote where Joe Public gets to have a say in the winner. This allows power to the people on the democratic web. It’s also a way for students to feel they are part of the real world, carrying out activities that have an influence (however small) on actual events. Its lends a spark of reality that class activities don’t always have.

The public vote category in the 2009 Spiders is number 17 “Best Social Networking & Community Website”.  The nominees are –

  • www.IGOpeople.com is a relatively new social networking site. You can sign up as an individual (I), a group (G) or an organisation (O). Edward de Bono is a prestigious executive board member. You can ‘connect’ with like (or not-so-like) others or jump straight into conversation with others. It seems to be attracting a number of well known organisations and people conversing about a wide range of issues.
  • www.irishabroad.com is a site aimed Irish expats, descendants and any person wishing to travel to Ireland. They claim to have a whopping 240,000 members. This looks a very practical site with plenty tips for those with a business or leisure interest in the county.  Not a bit of oirish in sight.
  • www.kotalk.com I don’t know much about this one, it looks like it might be a younger persons Bebo.
  • www.lonely.ie looks a dating site with a little life-coaching built-in
  • www.nimble.ie I remember reading about the lauch of this site some time back. At the time I wondered how there could be room for yet another mainstream social networking site. But this one seems to have survived and grown, they claim to have 133,000 members.
  • www.pix.ie the Irish flickr. I hear lots of good things about this site, and I get ribbed by certain people for doing the flickr thing and not the pixie thing. The problem is that I’m not a prolific enough photographer nor do I have the time to keep the 2 accounts up to date.
  • www.politics.ie is an interesting discussion site with threads for all sorts of political goings on. It seems to be very popular with 9 comments in the last minute that I logged in. So you want to get your twopence worth on “Ireland’s a disaster, get out now while you can”, off you go.
  • www.thumped.com is a popular music and entertainment site. If you want to post a review or announce a gig, or just see what’s a fun thing to do on a Friday night, then thumped is the place to go to.

As to which is the best, I think I’ll leave that to the students. The criteria are: website which has maintained your interest, enhanced your knowledge, opened up new communication avenues and had the biggest impact on your life”.  That’s an interesting set.  All are purely subjective which is normally a no-no but is the correct set of criteria for a public vote. Joe Public doesn’t feel the need to be a web expert. Instead they draw on their experience of using the sites. Collectively, the most popular site should stand out.

Having said that, I’m still not sure at all which I might vote for.