Botnik vs Harry Potter


“I’m Harry Potter!” Harry began yelling. “The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!”

When we last wrote about computer algorithms producing works of creative writing, we were talking slightly off-kilter poetry from the ‘mind’ of a program called OGDEN. Now we’re back on the topic again – only this time we’ve abandoned poetry in favour of Harry Potter; the greatest selling book franchise of all time.

Less an advanced computer algorithm and more a simple predictive text keyboard, Botnik describes itself as “a community of writers, artists and developers collaborating with machines to create strange new things.”

In their latest project, the team behind Botnik fed the machine the entire volume of seven Harry Potter novels, and then asked it to come up with a new chapter for the franchise.

The result really is quite something. Titled, Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash, you can read the latest chapter of Potter and co online (which you should do right now).

To give you a flavour of what’s in store, check out the first two pages below:



What seems so glorious about this endeavour is the feeling that for all its clear absurdity – “They looked at the door, screaming about how closed it was and asking it to be replaced with a small orb. The password was ‘BEEF WOMEN,’ Hermione cried.” – there is still some semblance of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling to it all.

While we are a little in awe at the surreal genius of some of the lines Botnik has created, there is nothing fancy about these machines. They are not magically complex. They are simple algorithms built by simple tools. They follow predefined rules of grammar and structure to compose what they perceive as logical-sounding snippets.

The passages do reveal, however, interesting patterns within the lexicon of the Harry Potter franchise. The lines that do make sense, or perhaps don’t feel out of place – “Leathery sheets of rain lashed at Harry’s ghost as he walked across the grounds towards the castle.” – come across this way precisely because as readers we are used to seeing this type of descriptive exposition put down in this type of order. The words Botnik sometimes chooses may not always fit the bill – “he immediately began to eat Hermione’s family” – but they are presented (for the most part) in an order and structure that J.K. Rowling utilises most of all. In this way, Botnik holds up a fascinatingly surreal mirror to the writing voice and style of one of the best selling authors in history.

So, it would be thoroughly fascinating to find out what J.K. Rowling herself made of this quasi-A.I project. Does she see herself in some of the passages of Botnik-Potter? Or, perhaps the more intriguing question focuses on the machine in all of this – and so we might better ask Botnik whether it dreams of Electric Harry Potter.


The best literary stocking fillers this Christmas


With the average Briton set to spend over half their monthly wage packet on Christmas this year, and their American cousins set to spend a similar amount, there’s a good bet a significant amount of this money will be spent on what some may term “tat”.

Of course, we’d hesitate before using the term to describe those gifts, like the Universal Crocs Mobile Phone Case or this Star Wars sun reflector for your car, that will absolutely – without doubt – be used by their respective recipients for countless years to come.

But if you are one of many people keen to lavish gifts upon your loved ones, but fearful of buying them something they don’t really need or want, we have some suggestions for you that have a long shelf-life and extensive usability.

We’re of course talking about books. Not only can they be read again and again, and invite us to explore new worlds and entire new universes, they also help us think differently about the world – and they teach us about wonderful new ideas. As this paper in the journal Science points out, reading literary works cultivates a skill known as “theory of mind”, which is described as the “ability to ‘read’ the thoughts and feelings of others.” So books make us nicer, basically. If there is anything more appropriate at Christmas, then, we certainly haven’t come across it.

So which books should you buy for those special people in your life? Well, surely size comes into it – because they have to fit into stockings of all shapes and sizes.

To help you narrow your options down, take a look at some of our suggestions, below:

  1. How to become a writer, by Lorrie Moore


Taken from award-winning writer Lorrie Moore’s debut short story collection Self-Help (1985), How To Become a Writer is a wryly witty deconstruction of tips for aspiring writers, told in vignettes by a self-absorbed narrator who fails to observe the world around her. The perfect gift for that aspiring writer we all know.

2. The Art of Rogue One


As with last year, December 2016 has been dominated by the cultural event that is the release of a new Star Wars film. To combine your love of epic space sagas with books, this one’s for you. The Art of Rogue One is a visual chronicle of the Lucasfilm art department’s creation of new worlds, unforgettable characters, and newly imagined droids, vehicles, and weapons for the first movie in the Star Wars Storyseries Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In the same format and style as Abrams The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the book gives readers unprecedented access to hundreds of concept paintings, sketches, storyboards, matte paintings, and character, costume, and vehicle designs. 

3. The Philosophy of Beards


One for that bearded gentleman in your lives. This eccentric Victorian book argues a strong case for the universal wearing of a beard – that essential symbol of manly distinction since ancient times. Thomas S. Gowing contrasts the vigour and daring of bearded men through history with the undeniable effeminacy of the clean-shaven. He reminds the modern man that ‘ladies, by their very nature, like everything manly’, and cannot fail to be charmed by a ‘fine flow of curling comeliness’. Gowing’s book is now republished for the first time since 1850, accompanied by illustrations of impressive beards from history. Hipsters, in particular, are sure to love it.

4. Penguin Little Black Classics


80 little books to choose from – one for each year in the life of Penguin Books and each around 60 pages long – give you a wealth of options to choose from. These extracts of wider classical literary works are sure to offer choices to meet all literary tastes. Authors include Karl Marx, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Plato, Caligula, Keats, Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. What’s not to love?

5. The Inevitable Gift Shop, by Will Eaves


The Inevitable Gift Shop, by Will Eaves, is one of those delightful little books that will fit any stocking. As we’ve noted before, it’s also one of those increasingly rare literary finds: a book that is thoroughly unique. Described as ‘a memoir by other means’, it’s not at all plot driven. Rather, this work of collage brings together bits and pieces of memoir, fictional prose, poetry, essay and non-fiction. Interactive, funny, insightful and thought provoking in equal turns, it’s a perfect book to revisit time and time again. It features thoughts, stories and poetry of artificial intelligence, philosophy, nature, and of course, family feuds – without which it simply wouldn’t be Christmas.

6. Harry Potter colouring book


2016 saw the release of the much-anticipated Harry Potter movie spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Loved by adults and children alike, bring a bit of magic into your Christmases with Potter and co, while also getting on board the continuing explosion in colouring books, with the Harry Potter colouring book. Packed with stunning pieces of artwork from the Warner Bros. archive, this book gives fans the chance to colour in the vivid settings and beloved characters of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

7. The Codex Silenda: more than your average puzzle book


If you’re looking for something entirely original and unique, look no further. Created by puzzle designer Brady Whitney, this wooden book has only five pages – but it may well still take you a good deal of time to finish, since you’ll need to solve a complex mechanical puzzle on each one before you can turn to the next.

8. We go to the gallery: the original satirical spoof of the classic ‘Peter and Jane’ children’s series

9780992834913Strictly one for adults only, this hilarious spoof of the Ladybird early learning books of the 1960s sees Susan discovering that God is dead, and John being scared by big, feminist vaginas.” While the artist behind the series, Miriam Elia, ran into legal trouble with Penguin (who ripped off her idea), the book continues to delight readers. We go to the gallery is one of the best presents to unwrap on Christmas morn. Kick the holidays off with some laughter.

And a few others, we’re sure you’ll appreciate


Still looking for other ideas? Well, for people who love books but who have replaced their physical books with Kindles, give them that which their home may now be missing: the scent of leather bound books and library shelves, thanks to this book-scented candle.

You could also consider some of the best indie books of 2016 and support independent publishers and writers in the process.

How about if you’re looking to spice up your romantic life with your partner? Then look no further than the Star Wars Kama Sutra book.

And finally, with a view to next year, how about making sure your loved ones have some poetry in 2017 with this Haiku calendar?

The best-selling books of 2016

best selling books 2016.png

There has been much debate in recent years regarding the future of bookselling, and whether the online retail industry can – or will – replace traditional bricks and mortar bookstores you find on the physical high street.

While we can’t yet answer this question, we can tell you a little about the ways in which readers are using these outlets, and what books they are purchasing from them.

We still await data on what books sold the most copies across traditional bookstores, but Amazon has now released its list of the best-selling books for 2016.

“This year’s best-selling list showcases the variety of Amazon readers’ tastes, from literary fiction to thrillers to memoirs,” said Chris Schluep, Amazon senior book editor, in a press release. “The power of Potter is still strong, and readers of all ages can’t get enough of Hogwarts – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’was the most anticipated book of the year, breaking pre-order records months before its release.”

The full list is here below, with links to Goodreads for your convenience.