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McMcEwan’s genius son; JFK birthday surprise; 5 reasons to spurn e-readers

November 9, 2010

Ian McEwan: Could this bloke get any smugger? Alas, yes.

Too many fascinating news bits today: Ian McEwan’s genius spawn cures the common cold! A lucky fellow in Arkansas discovers a JFK autograph in a birthday book! PCWorld (of all places) says you don’t need a digital reading device!

First, the best news for cold sufferers: Ian McEwan’s son, Will, a 26-year-old post-graduate researcher at Cambridge, has co-written a scientific paper “that could point the way to a cure for the common cold,” reports the London Telegraph.

Of course, in the way of this kind of piffling news story, it’s not enough that Will may have discovered some new detail about the cold virus or the immune response to it.

Oh, no: Will’s discovery that the immune system can fight the virus even after it has infected human cells proves all previous researchers to have been blind cretins.

“They say in their paper something like: ‘We’re redrawing 100 years of dogma on viruses’,” says the proud Pa, adding: “It’s quite strong stuff. I said: ‘Are you sure you want to say that?’ ”

The brief Telegraph story begs the question of why, if the immune system can attack the cold virus inside of cells, it needs Will to notice, instead of just going about its microscopic business.

My guess: We’ll never hear about this again, and people will continue to get colds and recover as they have since, I don’t know, the Pleistocene.

And it’s not as if McEwan, already the most over-rated novelist in the solar system, needed an ego boost.

“We’re in a state of complete exultation,” the author, 62, said. “It started as a hunch, but they’ve very quickly had extraordinary results at the genetic and molecular level.”

But I must not let my antipathy for McEwan (Saturday remains tied with Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men as the worst novel I’ve read this millennium) put me in the churlish position of rooting for a disease. So: You go, Will. Cure the common cold.

Second: A man in Little Rock, Arkansas, received a used copy of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 book, A Strategy for Peace, as a birthday present. Tucked between pages 62 and 63, he found a Kennedy business card with the president’s signature scrawled across it, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Paul Vitale says he had an opportunity to show the signature to Ted Sorensen shortly before his recent death. The Kennedy speech writer said it looked authentic.

Vitale’s friend bought the book online for $4.95, making it next to impossible to determine its provenance. The book is secreted in a safe deposit box, pending authentication. Once he knows how much it’s worth, Vitale plans to do some unspecified “good” with it.

What do you bet this is another story we never hear anything about ever again?

Finally, PCWorld magazine has named “5 Reasons You Don’t Need An E-Book Reader.” Of course, this being PCWorld, none of them have to do with the innate superiority of printed books — an unimprovable technology — but only with techie considerations.

Go to the magazine for details, but here they are in brief: 1. You can read both Kindle and Nook books on your IPhone or Android–who needs a dedicated reading device?; 2) e-readers are too expensive for what they do, compared to more costly but also more versatile tablet computers; 3) they are useless in the workplace where, again, a tablet would better serve; 4) they are harder on the natural environment than printed books; 5) most business materials are better delivered to a tablet or full-sized computer.

Is it just me, or do 3 and 5 sound identical?

Not being a gadget geek myself — the prospect of reading a book on an electronic screen gives me a sense of howling existential despair — I find none of these reasons compelling or interesting except for No. 4.

But like Churchill in World War II, I will take my allies where I find them. Yay, PCWorld!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2010 12:14 pm

    Chauncey, I hope you hear more cheerful news in the future, although I’m entertained by your rants, even when I disagree. Yes, Saturday was a dud but I liked Atonement. And I don’t care who cures the common cold, let’s just have a cure.
    I remain divided as to my experiences with my nook. I still prefer books, but I like gadgets. My nook is an expensive yet convenient portable library. My back feels better these days. Happily (or unhappily), the price of most e-books I want is still too high. I won’t pay more than the price of a discounted hardcover, gently used paperback, etc.
    I have no opinion on the JFK book.

    Cheers, Nancy

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 9, 2010 4:27 pm

      My only opinion of the JFK story is — why not me? I’d do some good with a JFK autograph, and I’ll you that, good for me, anyways.

      Many friends disagree with me on the McEwan question. “You must read Atonement,” they say. “You must read Endless Love.” But I operate on the three strikes principle (in books, in love, in everything), and after Saturday, Amsterdam, and The Innocent, McEwan is out. Too many books, too little time.

      Increasingly, friends disagree on the digital reader question, though most, like you, do so with some degree of ambivalnce. P.J. Parrish wrote just a week or so ago to say that while she still favors printed books, her Kindle was a lifesaver during her recent trip to France.

      I’ll grant you the convenience of an e-reader (and yet I can’t recall lugging books around as something I ever thought of as a burden). But as I say, the prospect of reading a book on an electronic screen gives me that feeling of existential meaningless I imagine comes right after the zombies have dragged me to the ground and just before they start to rip open my flesh with their fetid teeth.

      Thanks for the kind words about my rants. It’s good to know I’m not the only one enjoying them.

  2. Bobbi permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:47 pm

    Well, I haven’t cured the common cold, but I can outdo the JFK story. Seriously.

    I have a copy of The Strategy of Peace that my then-husband bought me about 20 years ago for fifty cents — and, yes, it has JFK’s autographed business card glued to the inside of the front cover. 🙂

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 9, 2010 7:12 pm

      Color me impressed — but also a bit skeptical. Too such similar stories — I wonder if every copy might have come with a JFK (pre-printed) autographed business card? If not, great story. Actually, great story either way.

      • Bobbi permalink
        November 10, 2010 12:29 pm

        I wouldn’t be surprised if every copy came w/ a card, but the signature doesn’t look pre-printed — there’s a very tiny smudge on mine. Of course, that doesn’t mean that JFK necessarily signed it himself, only that somebody did.

  3. November 9, 2010 6:19 pm

    I just discovered a new reason I don’t, at heart, like Kindles. Well, two reasons:

    I am about half-way thru a book on my Kindle right now, a book that started out with great promise but now is going down hill fast. If it were paper, I’d be able to look at the remaining pages and see at a glance if it was worth going the distance. No can do with a Kindle. Yeah, there’s this little percentage gauge at the bottom but it’s just not the same.

    And you know what else? I miss being able to dog-ear the damn page. Because I have a dog whose ears bend like that and it bothers me that someday, young folks won’t know what that image means.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 9, 2010 7:15 pm

      Oh, PJ I love you so. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than abusing a book — dog-earring the pages, jotting notes in the margin, dozing off and dropping it on the floor. Once I drove from Virginia to Florida with a copy of Robert Olen Butler’s Severance in the trunk with a bottle of wine my girlfriend had bought. The bottle overheated and exploded, drenching the book. I finished the damned thing anyway, and, if I haven’t lent it to someone, it’s still on my shelf somewhere.

      • Bobbi permalink
        November 10, 2010 4:26 pm

        And, to link the Kindle conversation w/ the JFK one…

        I’m trying to picture a writer, say Laura Lippman, sitting at Barnes and Noble, patiently autographing dozens of e-books. With personal notes, of course. 😉

  4. November 10, 2010 11:52 am

    Just got this email alert from Publishers Weekly:

    As sales in the traditional trade segments plunged in September, e-book sales jumped 158.1%, according to the monthly sales estimates released by the Association of American Publishers. Sales for the 14 publishers that reported e-book sales hit $39.9 million in the month, and were up 188.4% in the first nine months of the year to $304.6 million. In contrast, sales in the three adult trade segments, adult hardcover, trade paperback and mass market paperback, all fell by more than double digits with the adult hardcover segment experiencing the biggest decline with sales down 40.4% at the 17 publisher who reported sales to the AAP of $180.3 million. The only other segment to post a significant sales gain in September was downloadable audio with sales from the nine reporting companies up 73.7%, to $7.7 million. Sales of audio CDs fell 42.6%, to $11.6 million, in the month at the 22 reporting companies.


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