Big words, small words. For writers.

Dear reader – and especially writer. Because this post is intended for writers for a change.

What’s this odd title, you may wonder. Because you know the difference between BigwordsSmallwords

If you wonder about this then read on. Or better, read on anyway. This post originates in a little exchange I had with Ksenia Anske that I had not so long ago. We both are writing in English and for both of us English is not our native language. She’s Russian, I’m Dutch. We talked about learning new words and how to memorise and use them. There’s hardly anything wrong with that, right?

Then I started thinking broader. We’re writing in what is not our native tongue, but that also means that we (and you!) are writing for people for whom English is not their native tongue. And that thought brought the big words back to my attention. Big words are the ones that sophisticated, mostly well-read people like yourself know. You have seen those words before:

  • Intransigent (uncompromising, stubborn)
  • Debilitating (weakening, crippling)
  • Vociferous (loud, noisy)

Stuff like that. And there is a lot more of them. Of course, for most native English speakers these words would not present any problem. At least I assume so much although I have seen some shreds of evidence that this isn’t always the case.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Let me now turn the tables. You have mastered a fair amount of Russian and you pick up a book by your favourite Russian author, e.g. Dostoyevsky. And you try to enjoy the book. But then you run into these big Russian words that require a dictionary before you can enjoy the book. Words like калі ласка or здратвуите. (Bear with me, I have no idea what they mean as I only know a few Russian words. These are specifically for demonstrative purposes.) Would you still try to enjoy the book by your favourite Russian author? Or would you try to find a good translation in English so the reading isn’t so difficult?

Either way, what I want to say here is that using big, clever words isn’t always the smartest thing. Of course, it will show that you know them, but I suddenly realised (and this happened while I was waiting in line at the supermarket actually) that you should also take the grasp of words of your readers into account. If you plan to write for Harvard graduates only you can throw in the occasional profligate sycophant, but if you want to create something that all the world should be able to enjoy then keep in mind that all the world should be able to read your work without eating dictionaries for breakfast every day.

This doesn’t mean you should abstain from big words. Make things a bit interesting and challenging. Just don’t go overboard on them.

(By the way, a profligate sycophant is an extremely wasteful and highly immoral person who sucks up to others. I looked that up for you.)


Pride. Pride? Yes. Pride.

Pride. Pride? Yes. Pride.

Yes, dear reader, it doesn’t happen often but today I feel the need to convey this. I’m proud of the books I’ve written and what they mean to many people.

I get e-mails from people around the world who tell me that my books make their life better. Among them are people who suffer from illnesses, and my books help them. There are also people who appreciate the books I write because they simply (is that really simply?) put them in a new world where they can experience new things.

I am proud of that. Happy for them. I am also proud that so many people buy my books and ask for more. It tells me that I’m doing something right. And even when I’m not getting rich of it financially, that’s fine. The emotions that come from the mails, letters and comments of so many people are worth so much more than money can ever be.

Maybe the only way I can put it is this way:

I may be a 5 star writer, you are a 10 star audience!

A new e-reader

Dear e-reader,

No, I don’t consider you a device but this is mainly directed to people who, like I do, like to read on an electronic device. An e-reader for electronic book-readers.

I have acquired a new one. It’s the Onyx Boox T68 Lynx. My old Sony PRS-350 is getting a bit dated, the screen’s getting a bit blotchy (travel abuse, sorry screen) and since Sony stopped making e-readers I was on the look-out for other options. They are plentiful. There ‘s the Kindle paperwhite and the Kobo Aura HD, for instance. In places I am sure I can still get a B&N Nook Glow which also is a nice device. Still I decided on the Onyx. My main reason for that is that it’s an Android device. This has the benefit that I can install my favourite reading app (Moon Reader+) on it. Moon Reader+ syncs where I left off reading via Dropbox so regardless of (Android) device I pick up, I can read on where I stopped the last time.

Onyx Boox T86 lynx

I chose an e-ink device because it’s the primary device for reading when I go on vacation, and reading outside is a must then (weather permitting).

Outside, E-ink beats any LED or OLED screen with ease as far as I know, although the new Samsung Nook seems to do a good job too. I have a regular Android tablet on which I read at home, but outside it’s hopeless. I’ve tried. The Onyx has a built-in light so reading inside is no problem either.

I’m impressed by the clarity of the screen and the time a charged battery lasts. After about a week it went from 100% to 80%.

A real book. Is it what you hold in your hands?

Dear reader,

Many a question’s being asked about what is a book. A real book. I think that’s a valid question, and also something that only can be answered from the right point of view. Books

A book always used to be something made of paper, with a cover around it, and words inside that smell of ink.






The digital revolution bestowed the e-book upon us, with a cover around it that looks like a little machine (e.g. e-reader, tablet or even a smartphone), and the smell of ink is absent for now (but wait for it, technology will catch up on that!).

So what is a book? Is it the medium that carries the story, the paper, the ink, the weight that comes with it? Or is it the story that’s conveyed, regardless of the medium it’s read from? Do you read a book or do you read a story? I think it’s fair to say that both options are true and real, and books are books, be they paper or e. As for the weight that comes with a book… e-readers have weight too and that can be a blessing for people who have problems holding up the big paper tomes.

There will always be paper books. There will always be e-books. And that’s the grand thing. Stories appear on both media, so you can take your pick. There is no absolute in what’s the best. The absolute could be your personal preference, and that’s not even a fixed point because there are people who appreciate a heavy, smelly book when they’re at home, but who take their e-reading device along when they travel (for instance when they don’t want to risk damaging the paper version).

The choice is yours.

Do E-Readers Really Present a Threat to Airplanes?

By Dan Eldridge from Teleread

The increasingly heated national debate surrounding the use of personal electronic devices on airplanes has been chugging along steadily for years now. And yet thanks to the laudable effortsof the New York Times‘ Nick Bilton, the conversation has once again become news.

As many of you are undoubtedly aware, a now-legendary Bilton piece appearing in the Times in late March—in which he criticized the F.A.A.’s  rules against using e-readers and tablets during taxi, takeoff or landing—actually resulted in a somewhat positive governmental response: The F.A.A. promised to take “a fresh look” at the issue.

Frequent fliers everywhere, of course, have long been equally befuddled and frustrated by the confusion surrounding the PEDs-on-planes regulation: Most of us, I’d like to believe, would be only too happy to stow our Kindles and iPads during the required periods … if only we knewwithout a doubt that such devices could indeed cause interference with an aircraft’s electronic transmissions. But we don’t know that.

In fact, in an Aero magazine article published in March 2000, Boeing admits that after undertaking several investigations, it “has not been able to find a definite correlation between  [personal electronic devices] and the associated reported airplane anomalies.”

* * *

Here’s another reason this issue is so endlessly frustrating: The vast majority of passengers who discuss it, or journalists who write about it, seem to approach the issue with their minds already made up. And yet because the F.A.A. itself doesn’t seem too terribly clear on the hows, whys and wherefores of its own regulations, it’s understandably difficult for those of us who are paying customers of the airlines to take the inconvenience laying down.

I found Kate Bevan’s recent piece in the Guardian to be especially even-measured. (My earlier reference to the Aero magazine article, by the way, came directly from her write-up.) Because she so smartly points out the logic behind both sides of the argument, I’d consider it a must-read for anyone who might be even slightly interested in the topic.

Meanwhile, Nick Bilton and scores of other journalists, bloggers and consumers are continuing to press the issue. I think it’s a fair guess to suspect that it was the ceaseless barrage of noise coming from both the media and the airlines’ consumers that eventually forced the F.A.A. into announcing its upcoming investigation.

Just five days ago, for those of you who may not be aware, the F.A.A. distributed a press release announcing plans for an “industry working group to study [the effects of] portable electronics usage” on aircraft. This almost certainly would not have happened if no one had discussed the current regulations–or debated them–in the first place.

And here’s where you come in. According to the aforementioned press release:

“As the first step in gathering information for the working group, the FAA is seeking public input on the agency’s current [personal electronic device] policies, guidance and procedures for operators. The Request for Comments, which will appear in the Federal Register on August 28th, is part of a data-driven agency initiative to review the methods and criteria operators use to permit PEDs during flights … Comments can be filed up to 60 days after the Federal Register publish date.”

To view or download the actual 14-page Request for Comments document, click here(PDF)

So if this is a situation you would personally like to see resolved at some point in your lifetime, please: Write about it, blog about it, mention it on your favorite social networking sites, discuss it in online forums, discuss it with fellow passengers and airline employees during your next flight–whatever it takes.

What is remarkable about this sentence?

I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly, perplexing, handwriting nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intelectuality counterbalancing indecipherability transcendentalizes intercommunication’s incomprehensibleness.”

What is it about this twenty-word sentence that marks it out from the ordinary?

No, there’s something other than the fact that it makes some sort of sense and the original writer had a remarkable vocabulary and a tendency to verbosity.

Read more

The Science of Storytelling

Dear reader,

Brain training



Via Lifehacker I found this very interesting bit of information:


The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

A good story can make or break a presentation, article, or conversation. But why is that? When Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich started to market his product through stories instead of benefits and bullet points, sign-ups went through the roof. Here he shares the science of why storytelling is so uniquely powerful.

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented “sandwich,” the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.

What’s interesting about this is that you are very likely to never forget the story of who invented the sandwich ever again. Or at least, much less likely to do so, if it would have been presented to us in bullet points or other purely information-based form.

For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. Recently agood friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, and I wanted to learn more.

Here is the science around storytelling and how we can use it to make better decisions every day:

Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie, or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

It’s in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

(There is more in the article, if you are interested in that, please follow this link to the original post.)

New Survey Reveals Library Borrowers Are Also Buyers

from The Digital Reader, by Nate Hoffelder

A number of the major publishers dislike library ebooks because they fear that each ebook checked out is a lost sale. While this new survey data suggests there is some substance to that fear, the survey also shows that library patrons who borrow ebooks also buy them.

Back in June and July of this year, OverDrive sponsored a survey which was  conducted by the ALA. Library patrons were polled via the virtual library branch website OD operates on behalf of partner libraries, and asked about their borrowing, buying, and reading habits. A total of 75,385 people responded to the survey and they came from a broad spectrum of education, age, and income.

But in spite of the broad spectrum, the majority of the respondents fell into certain categories. The respondents were overwhelmingly female (78%), earned more more than $50 thousand a year (75%), were in their 40s or older (72%), and were college educated (73%).

This concentration is particularly noteworthy because it is similar to the data presented by Bowker in their annual surveys.  Educated, well-paid women are the dominant book buyer in the US, though not quite to the same degree as shown in this survey.

The survey includes questions on a number of topics, including how, why, and how often patrons use the library, but I am mainly interested in the questions on buying ebooks.

The respondents reported buying an average of 3.2 books a month and reading them on an ereader (83%). The survey data also showed that for most patrons both borrowing and buying of ebooks had increased over the past 6 months (60%, 44%), or at the very least held steady (33%, 44%).

But it’s not all good news. It looks like there is some truth to the belief that library ebooks cut into retail sales. A solid majority of library patrons (64%) said that they had never bought a book after checking it out of the library.

Of course, that number does not mean much until and unless we get data on browsing in bookstores (both offline and online) which could tell us how many samples are read without leading to a sale and how many books are picked up and then returned to the shelf. Then we would have something to compare that 64% to.

The reason I want to compare browsing vs buying behavior is because I want to see how borrowers compare the the book buying population as a whole. Putting the 2 surveys together would tell us whether library patrons buy more or less books than the average consumer.

I suspect library patrons buy more the average consumer, but the survey data I would need to prove it is available in an $800 report from Bowker. Sorry, but that’s just not worth it for me.

Survey (PDF)

image by twechy

New Survey Reveals Library Borrowers Are Also Buyers is post from The Digital Reader

All Hallow’s Read

Dear reader,

With Halloween approaching it is time to focus on something to read for that time. Here is the advice of none other than Neil Gaiman:

So what is All Hallow’s Read?
All Hallow’s Read is a Hallowe’en tradition. It’s simply that in the week of Hallowe’en, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book.

If you want to know more about All Hallow’s Read, please visit this website.