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Another busy week in which my Google Reader threw up more than I could blog about, so here’s a quick digest.

  1. Publisher Melville House is releasing a hybrid of book and ebook. Point your smart phone at a barcode on the book’s back to get what they're calling “illuminations”: essays, extracts, maps, cartoons, recipes, photographs, paintings that relate to the text. Great, but I worry that more and more at our fingertips means less and less in our heads. An illuminated book might spell a darkened intellect.

  2. Speaking of darkness, “It was a dark and stormy night” seems to me a fine way to begin a novel, but the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest, named for the author who pioneered this opening gambit, disagrees. Its annual challenge to better (worsen?) this corker has produced some great (awful) first lines.

  3. Speaking of opening gambits, according to this article the junk we've left in space includes some zany 1970s attempts at intergalatic diplomacy. My favourite is the Pioneer probes’ golden plaques, which advertise our whereabouts in space, and have a picture of a naked couple raising their hands in a gesture (we assume) of friendship. You have to admire their wild optimism.

  4. Speaking of optimism, I’ve noticed that when you type “synonyms for...” into Google, it suggests “nice,” “good,” “happy,” “amazing,” “beautiful” as the words you’re most likely to be looking for. What does this say about our state of mind? Or our vocabularies?

  5. Speaking of vocabularies, I'm thinking of taking a leaf from Darryl Campbell, who rejects book review cliches in favour of more imaginative superlatives. Among other things, he advocates using past presidents as adjectival modifiers: a book might have “Taft-like excess,” “Cleveland-esque genre-bending”or “Clintonian eroticism.”

  6. Speaking of presidents, as well as a shiny new debt ceiling, and a new credit rating, America has a new poet laureate. A small reassurance that poetry matters, even if money matters more.

  7. Speaking of money, in yet another example of the soulless insensitivity of banks, my bank won't let me put exclamation marks in the description field for a funds transfer. I protest against this stifling of creativity, emotion, exuberance, this suppression of a simple expression of human joy, in my transferring of funds.

Thank you and good night.