Thursday 24 June 2010

Book Swap Proposal and Quirkology Review

A blog post by Tulpesh Patel

I’m a hoarder at the best of times, but I’m even more precious when it comes to books. It’s always been a dream to have my own personal library, big enough that I would need a ladder to climb the shelves. As time’s gone on, The Origin of Species aside, I’ve realized that there are just too many books in the world to spend time reading any of them twice. I’m slowly coming to realize that reading, thinking about and discussing books is more important than having colorful stacks of paper on a shelf. To that end, I’ve become a huge fan of book swapping schemes and I think it would be a great idea to get something like that going for everyone involved in the Birmingham SITP.

For those new to it, book swapping is quite simply a way to share books that you’ve read and pick up one’s you haven’t for free. They usually centre around a communal box or shelf, but they can be set up anywhere where there is a pool of people who enjoy reading. It was “Book Crossing”: that first got me interested in freecycling books and since then I’ve been a regular contributor and beneficiary of the book swap scheme at my “local train station”: (I must have swapped over 20 books over the last year or so), and I’ve campaigned unsuccessfully (and I admit only intermittently) for a book swap to be started at Aston - the box posing a fire hazard and it not being ‘in keeping with the university aesthetic’ are two of my favorite reasons to be rebuffed so far.

With public book swap schemes you’re relying on the kindness of strangers and the hope that people don’t just use it to dump their old Jackie Collins’, although one man’s trashy romance novel is of course another’s literary getaway. Hosting a Birmingham SITPbookswap will be a chance to swap books of a scientific/skeptical bent. Of course, because the scheme won’t be public in the same way as at a train station, the swaps needn’t be permanent, and people can arrange between themselves to lend books out and get them back as they wish.

Given that the regular monthly meetings are already packed with great speakers, it might be an idea to hold a separate event which would make things closer to a traditional book club. It might also be an idea to post reviews of books that people have read, so that even if you don’t have the book to swap and can’t make the meetings, people can still read recommendations and participate in the scheme more generally. I’d like to kickstart things with a quick review of Richard Wiseman’s “Quirkology”:, which loosely ties in with the talk (‘The psychology of anomalous experiences’ with Professor Chris French on July 14) and is a book I’m happy to donate to a new home.


Quirkology by Richard Wiseman

Quirkology is in a way the perfect book swap book as it’s really interesting but I’m unlikely to want to read it again anytime soon. It’s one of the better collections of pop-psychology books stuffing shelves (or Amazon warehouses) at the moment, largely down to Richard Wiseman's obvious love of the work and direct involvement in some of the studies.

There are a number of retreads of studies that you'll have come across if you've read any other pop-psychology (Milgram etc.) but it's a great gateway to some of the methods and fallacies in psychological research, written in an easy, accessible style. ‘Believing six impossible things before breakfast’ is a great, if slightly disconcerting, chapter on the psychology of superstition. The search for the world's funniest joke is probably the highlight and the worldwide eradication of FTSE-itis is very clever, taking full self-knowing advantage of the psychology that fills some of the book.

It’s a good book to dip in an out of, written by a psychologist who’s doing a lot to make science and psychology fun and engaging.

Tulpesh Patel is a Neurosciences PhD student at Aston University working in collaboration with the Birmingham Children's Hospital. He is also founder and Chair of the Aston Humanist Society.

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