This is the key function that I hope the new site adds, a chance to browse just by book. i.e. if you quickly want to find a philosophy book to read, you can scan this page and see a good 30 books at a glance. Clicking on an individual book will show you what the interiewee has said about it. (In the example the reader has clicked on Plato's Symposium, which then shows in the right hand column)
Here is an example of the interviews displaying in one section (in this case, Philosophy, How to be Good). This is intended to allow readers to browse the interviews we've done. This is because some interviews are partly interesting because of the books a person has chosen, but possibly more worth reading because of what the interviewee has said about his or her subject and in general.
These sections will be familiar to you from the temporary site, but here we tried to display them in a slightly more bookish way...
I'm putting up some photos of the designs of the new site. If you click on this blog entry you'll see a photo of the home page, which will highlight one interview, one book and one section, and then also display all the sections.
Spring is in the air so perhaps I am thinking of gardening a bit too much (short of actually doing any -- even my basil seeds remain unplanted) but for the record, I just wanted to say how much I love what the North Coast Gardening website did with the Five Books concept. Someone has even recommended five books "for the butterfly garden."
Posted by Sophie Roell
One of my key focuses with our new site -- which, hopefully, is only a few weeks away now -- is that individual sections are strong. That means good interviewees and good topics. One of the challenges is that beyond certain fields, I personally don’t have the knowledge to judge whether an interviewee is really a respected authority in a field, or if the topic is one worth doing. Sometimes -- say in the case of our children’s section -- I know I could organize an excellent section if I devoted myself to it, but I simply don’t have the time. As a result, I have started, tentatively, approaching other people to see whether they can take the lead on certain sections. I’m really happy to say that Nigel Warburton, who himself did an interview with us on Introductions to Philosophy, is now actively pursuing a number of philosophy interviews. We’ve had quite an active back and forth about who to cover, what to cover and how to set about it, but starting soon, you’ll be seeing about one interview per month with an eminent philosopher and/or on an important philosophy topic. I hope this will be a good model for getting the site moving forward and providing valuable book recommendations.
Posted by Sophie Roell (email@example.com)
International Women’s Day seemed a good day to bring up one of the enduring challenges faced by our site as we try to identify experts and interview them about books. Just take a look at any of our sections, and you’ll see that with the odd exception like chick-lit or cookery, they’re all dominated by men. I get the feeling one could be more specific and say they’re men of a certain age (middle) and ethnic group (Caucasian), but I haven’t checked carefully on that, so I should probably hold back. This preference for men isn’t the result of an active policy. Our decision-making has traditionally been fairly diffuse, lots of people doing interviews on people they think would be good, without anyone paying any attention to what sex interviewees were. But put it all together, and you end up with nearly 700 men and only 200 women.
I realize that across disciplines I know little about, my instinctive stereotype of an expert is almost always a man. If you say physics, the first person I think of is Stephen Hawking, if you say evolutionary biologist -- or atheist for that matter -- Richard Dawkins is the image that springs immediately to mind. When you say foreign policy I think Henry Kissinger and if you said philosophy…I would probably go with Peter Singer. But interestingly, when I think of my own field, the subject I focused on as a graduate student, the person I actually admire most is a woman.
So why do men dominate so much as experts in the public perception? This is a blogpost rather than a scientific analysis, so I’ll get straight on and tell you that I think, which is that men are just much happier holding forth than women. They like having opinions and telling other people about them. Women less so. A couple of years ago I came across a wonderful not-for-profit called The Op-Ed Project. They’re trying to remedy the fact that 80-85% of opinion pieces in newspapers (97% in the case of the Wall Street Journal) are written by men. Part of their effort is simply getting women to submit these kinds of pieces in the first place.
When you think about it, being willing to be an expert on anything involves a kind of self-confidence that an uncharitable person might call arrogance. All in all, this International Women’s Day I can only hope women, rather than receiving flowers, develop some more of that quality. Which means that if, say, you’re an economist -- a field in which only one woman has ever won a Nobel prize -- please be more ready to hold forth and tell other people what you think and what a great authority you are. Maybe you could even start by doing a Five Books interview?
Posted by Sophie Roell
Dear Friend of Five Books,
Thank you for following us so loyally these past few years. I am writing to let you know that, starting in the spring, our book recommendations and interviews will once again be available through a separate website, www.fivebooks.com. We will remain closely affiliated with The Browser, but the FiveBooks interviews and archive will be separated out to the new site.
Our main reason for doing this is that over the years, while I have much enjoyed conducting interviews and reading what interviewees had to say, when I actually wanted to quickly find a book to read it was difficult within our combined site. For a long time I have wanted to make the site more like a bookshop, where you can pick up one or two random books that have been put on display, or go straight to your favourite section and easily get an overview of all the interesting books on offer. We are also working on the technology to extend your buying options, so you can support your local bookshop rather than just Amazon, as before.
The interviews themselves will continue broadly as before, with a focus on getting leading people in a field to not only recommend their favourite books, but also explain why those books are important. The result often goes well beyond just recommending books, and it is rare that I read an interview without learning something I didn't know before, occasionally something quite profound. In future, we are going to focus particularly on developing individual sections -- so that if you are very interested in, say, gardening or neuroscience, you can go straight to that section and find your favourite gardeners or neuroscientists there, recommending the very best and most readable books in the field. To that end, please do feel free to email us at any time with recommendations of people you'd like to see interviewed. They may not say yes, but we can but ask.
While we build the new site, our interview archive will still be available at The Browser (www.thebrowser.com). I will keep you briefed of developments via this newsletter and we'll also post updates on a new Facebook page we're creating, Five Books. But you can also check our progress directly by going to www.fivebooks.com. For now, it will still route you back to the The Browser, but we intend to launch a barebones test site in the next few weeks, so you can see how we're getting on. Feedback and advice will, as ever, be much appreciated.
With best wishes for the New Year,
Editor, Five Books