Surveillance – Jonathan Raban

Surveillance: A NovelSurveillance – Jonathan Raban

Jess and I had the good fortune to be able to attend a reading by Jonathan Raban on up at Elliot Bay Book Company for the release of his new book Surveillance. Neither of us has had a chance to read the book yet (Jess was finishing up another Raban book and I was working my way through a book I’ll talk about on here later) so I’ll save the book review on it till later, but I was very impressed with him as an author at a reading.

We have an interesting history with reading Raban, with Jess getting his book Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings as a class reading assignment. Falling in love with his incredibly engaging writing style where he took a literal journey from Seattle to Juneau on his boat, but also gave the interesting history of the discovery and settling of the northwest by explorers and those who followed. This is how his travel writing is. The history, along with his own accounts of the journey, and his touching, surprising, sad and happy encounters with people and places along the way.

We read another one of his books, Hunting Mister Heartbreak: A Discovery of America, to each other while walking our son Ash to sleep when he was first born. It helped take the edge off of long sleepless nights and was truly a lifesaver.

He was an engaging reader of his newest book, a novel, set in Seattle and dealing with the ever present surveillance that we already have, but kicked up a notch and how it affects people in his story. He’s British, and has a wonderful accent, and viewpoint on culture. He’s a confident person, but didn’t come across as arrogant. He takes the reviews of his books lightly and with humor, which I think must be a necessity when being a writer otherwise you’d beat yourself up. He answered questions with some thought, and even tried to answer ones that were a little bit from left field with good humor and grace.

One of the most interesting bits of the night? From what it sounds like, Jonathan Raban is a MMORPG player. That’s right, with quotes about how the wilderness of Washington has found it’s way into games such as Everquest and World of Warcraft, as well as discussing the connectedness of these games, I think he’s a writer who has a game playing hobby. It’s interesting to compare this to William Gibson, who until recently wasn’t much of a computer user even though he’s the so-called father of the cyberpunk genre of novels in the 80’s.

Jess and I talked of how interesting it would be to discuss technology and writing and how it’s changed peoples writing styles. Raban has been writing since the 70’s, and from the sound of his talk, very in tune with the internet and computers today, so his view would be interesting to know.

Google’s Moon Shot – Google Books

I’ve had a passing interest in Google Books, Google’s project to scan and make books easy to search through. Amazon and Microsoft and others are working on something similar as well. The problem comes, as it always seems to, down to copyrights. Publishers both love and hate the idea of this project. It can draw users into finding books they want to buy that they wouldn’t have normally, but then they can’t stand to have someone making copies of all of their precious copyrighted work, even if it’s out of print!

Found by a link from, where I seem to find a lot of interesting links these days, is this great piece in The New Yorker – Google’s Moon Shot – By Jeffrey Toobin. It’s great on it’s history of the project, as well as pointing out the ramifications of the lawsuits that Google is facing from authors and publishers.? From the article:

In other words, a settlement could insulate Google from competitors, which would be especially troubling, because the company has already proved that when it comes to searches it is not infallible. ?Google didn?t get video search right?YouTube did,? Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said. (Google solved that problem by buying YouTube last year for $1.6 billion.) ?Google didn?t get blog search right? did,? Wu went on. ?So maybe Google won?t get book search right. But if they settle the case with the publishers and create huge barriers to newcomers in the market there won?t be any competition. That?s the greatest danger here.?

Well worth the time to read.