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 Post subject: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Sat Jan 04, 2003 1:27 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2001 11:01 pm
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Location: Jamaica, Queens, New York
Well, CD friends, it is now the 2nd week of the intersession for Cal State students. One of the topics I enjoyed from last summer break was about light vacation reading, so I’m wondering if a winter reprise “Light Winter Reading” might not be in order. Or, since not everybody gets a winter lull for reading, perhaps I can disguise this topic as “New Years Reading Resolutions.”

I’ll start off with one of the texts for the English/Linguistics class I just finished. Its “The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way” by Bill Bryson from Perennial 1990. Of all the cockamamie things, why am I suggesting a linguistics book? Its well written, informative, and most of all, amusing, on that most prosaic but essential of topics, our own language.

“Mother Tongue” covers the development, spread, and idiosyncrasies of English told with wit and backed by scholarship. For example, I already learned from a lower division lit survey class that though Old English words (derived from the Germanic dialects of Europe) comprise only about 1% of vocabulary still in use, those remaining are among the most fundamental words in the language—man, wife, child, brother, sister, live, fight, drink, love, sleep, eat, house, etc. But, I did not realize before about the relationship between levels of formal diction and social history. For instance the Norman Conquest brought not only a triumphant French nobility, but also the influence of the French language to Anglo-Saxon Britain. The vocabulary derived from the French ruling classes became the language of civil discourse and polite society. To use Bryson’s example, we feel instinctively drawn to an Old English hearty welcome rather than a Norman cordial reception.

But, there’s more. Bryson is hilarious on the evolution of language. We—meaning English majors like me—have a prescriptive sense of the language, meaning we teach the language as if it was a fixed, perfectible entity (probably because most of us are destined to be teachers … cursed to correct verb complements and distinguish s-type from p-type adjective clauses for the rest of our lives). But, English has been remarkably versatile and perhaps nowhere so in its vocabulary, one of the richest among languages (perhaps 450,000 words to German’s 180,000, etc). To take an example from Chapter 5 “Where Words Come From,” words are adopted, created, or evolved in surprising manners. “Pea” for instance is a word created erroneously by false analogy from the word “pease” (as in the nursery rhyme “pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold.” “Pease” was thought to be plural count noun requiring a singular word “pea” to denote a single item; however, etymologically, “pease” could be both plural or singular).

Bryson is perhaps more amusing in its discussion of the globalization of English. Some words have become well nigh universal—airport, passport, hotel, bar, soda, jeans, know-how, sex appeal, no problem, etc. The Japanese for example have been particularly industrious: erebata—elevator, nekutai—necktie, bata—butter, sarada—salad, chiizu—cheese, bifuteki—beefsteak, shyanpu setto—shampoo and set, etc.

Estimates at how much of the world speak English range as high as 300 to 400 million claiming English as a first language; but as anybody who has read some fairly garbled program notes from visiting foreign dance troupes realize, there is difficulty in distinguishing between people who claim to speak English from those who actually can. This really is a fun book.

But, I’d also like to put down a book from my own wish list, though its actually a re-reading: “Count Zero” by William Gibson available in paperback (1987). Though I’ve no idea if it’s true, I’ve heard that Gibson started “cyber-punk” as a genre and technological sub-culture and coined such terms as “the net,” “the matrix,” and “cyberspace.” Even now in these jaded days of technological languor and social apathy, on my prior reading I found it to be an exciting and imaginative adventure. What other author can evoke a sense of fin-de-siecle ennui, a somewhat grungy subculture based upon equal parts dazzling technology and elicit drugs, corporate and fine arts intrigue? The art of Joseph Cornell (“Cornell boxes”) and even voudoun (voodoo) magic appear in the novel. “Count Zero” is the middle book of the trilogy “Neuromancer,” “Count Zero,” and “Mona Lisa Overdrive.”


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Sat Jan 04, 2003 3:06 pm 
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Location: San Francisco
I think I've read just about everything Bill Bryson has written (or published, I should say). The Mother Tongue was very entertaining, but not as funny as his travel writing, and rightly so, since it was mainly meant to be informative.

My most recent bit of light summer reading was a romance novel. I don't usually go in for that stuff, but I was in Walgreen's, looking for something to read on the way home, and I saw the title Bronze Horseman, and there on the cover was the famous equestrian statue of Peter I, in St. Petersburg. The story takes place on the eve of and during the siege of Leningrad during World War II. Ignoring the obvious warning signs - the synopsis and a quote from a review ("Extraordinary...right up there with The Thorn Birds and Gone With the Wind") - I bought the book.

It turned out to be one of the worst-written books I've ever read. I hate it when characters don't behave at all the way real people would in the same situations. But I kept reading, because I've been to St. Petersburg, and there was a map of the City (I love looking at maps). Also, I'm a compulsive book finisher - I have to know how it all turns out.

The perpetrator, by the way, is Paullina Simons, apparently a bestselling author.

<small>[ 05 January 2003, 03:16 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Sat Jan 04, 2003 4:16 pm 
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Location: Santa Barbara, CA USA
I'm trying to make my way through Nijinsky's diary. It's not light reading, but it's not exactly heavy either, as much as it is just weird.

--Andre


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Sat Jan 04, 2003 8:05 pm 
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Location: San Francisco
Andre, it's a bit easier making your way through the new film Nijinsky, which is based on the diary.

I'd like to throw in a plug for Bowling for Columbine, which I saw today. It was great, and terribly funny and upsetting, and makes me want to move to Canada.

<small>[ 04 January 2003, 09:13 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Sun Jan 05, 2003 12:30 pm 
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Location: Jamaica, Queens, New York
Djb and Andre, thanks for your "suggestions" ... hmmm... perhaps I should have labelled this thread "Worst Written or Just Plain Weird Winter Reading" -- ;)

Well, I almost hate to admit what I actually am reading right now. I got the reading list for the Victorian lit seminar I registered for spring term. I'm reading "Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell on paper and listening to "Villette" by Charlotte Bronte on audio-book. Neither are what I'd call "light," "worst written," or "wierd" though. They're OK but seem sort of slowly paced. But, there's many juicy class, political, and gender based issues tucked away in there.

<small>[ 05 January 2003, 01:31 PM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Sun Jan 05, 2003 2:56 pm 
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I saw most of one episode of the Masterpiece Theatre version of Wives and Daughters recently. Reading a bit of the book online just now has led me to believe that Gaskell is no Jane Austen. She seems to dwell on descriptions of appearances of people and things. That can be interesting, but I don't think it necessarily makes for great literature. However, it's interesting enough (so far) to make do for my next bit of reading, especially since I can read it for free.


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2003 4:40 pm 
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I said before that I'm a compulsive book finisher, but one book I read several times when I was a kid, but never all the way to the end, was Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl. I noticed it's online, at the same site where I found Wives and Daughters, so I think I'll finish it before I start anything else. I'll have to figure out where I left off, though. I'll have to eat plenty of protein before I read it, because Alcott's style is nauseatingly sweet!


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2003 9:24 pm 
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Location: Jamaica, Queens, New York
Djb, speaking of book finishers, I finished "Wives and Daughters" finally. I took a look for a few minutes at the Masterpiece Theater version on PBS but it wasn't quite what I expected compared to what my mind's eye saw these past few nights. Masterpiece Theater's Hollingford and Hamley has this gorgeous, golden PBS glow and the characters seem a little too Victorian. The girls especially seemed somehow too accomplished. From the novel, Molly Gibson and Cynthia Kirkpatrick seemed like they should have been younger and more unrefined... more sit-com-ish. Cynthia more like Cordelia Chase from the Buffy/Angel universe, etc.

O yes, this reading was no Austenian experiece. But, it wasn't without its various pleasures--chief among them a fairly biting sense of the irony of class, dynastic, and family tensions. O well, on to Dicken's "Dombey and Son."


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2003 11:45 pm 
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Today I started reading "Wives and Daughters" and, having seen two episodes of the Masterpiece Theatre production, can only envision the characters as looking the way they do in that production.

I had to briefly read through "An Old-Fashioned Girl" to figure out how far I got before. Seems I wasn't able to get past the beginning of the Chapter titled "Six Years Afterward." Since I was pre-adolescent when I first read this, and since "six years afterward" meant the characters were now grown up, I guess that's why I lost interest before.

As cloying as Alcott's style was, it was refreshing, after reading "Bronze Horseman," to read a book by someone who had good language skills and whose characters behave logically.

<small>[ 10 January 2003, 12:46 AM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2003 12:42 am 
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Location: SF Bay Area
I see, Jeff. You really didn't mean "light" as in content but "light" as in the weight of a paperback versus a hardbound novel... Well, I have been trying to re-finish a couple of James Joyce's this winter... Don't ask me why but I keep returning to the familiar.

However, I have been inspired by a moderator -- whose initials are MEHunt -- to tackle all ten books in Tolkien's History of Middle Earth... It'll be a race to the finish! ;)


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2003 1:03 pm 
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Joined: Wed Apr 11, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 8612
Location: El Granada, CA, USA
Okay, for those of you who would like a DANCE book to read...From the Chronicle book review.

Quote:
A brilliant leap of imagination
Exuberant account of dancer Nureyev's life seems as true as biography

Reviewed by Sarah Coleman

Dancer

By Colum McCann

By any measure of radiance, dancer Rudolf Nureyev's star shone bright. Born to a dirt-poor family in a remote town in the Urals, he rose to fame with the Kirov Ballet, got the world's attention when he defected from the Soviet Union,
became a sensation when he danced with Margot Fonteyn and drew endless publicity for his life of flamboyance and sexual excess.
more...


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2003 1:28 pm 
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Location: Santa Barbara, CA USA
I just got two more books on my reading queue: Suzanne Farrell's autobiography with Toni Bentley, and Charles Joseph's Stravinsky and Balanchine book. This is in addition to the Nijinsky book, and, for something completely different, Miliken & Miliken's Race Car Vehicle Dynamics (heavy in content as well as mass).

--Andre


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2003 7:34 pm 
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Lol, Andrew! That "Race Car Vehicle Dynamics" should be on everyone's bookshelf!
Has anyone read "Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner?


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2003 8:03 pm 
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Location: Jamaica, Queens, New York
Hold on there, Maggie, before you diss mechanics of vehicular motion. Isn't physics relevant to dance? I seem to recall that Kenneth Laws wrote a book on the physics of dance. I think it's called "Physics and the Art of Dance: Understanding Movement." I may even have a copy though night classes probably prevented me from reading it.

What would help me is a book on automotive physics that gets me to the theater on time.


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 Post subject: Re: Light Winter Reading
PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2003 8:48 pm 
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Location: Santa Barbara, CA USA
Jeff,

I have the latest printing of the Laws Physics of Dance book, and have read it, but haven't gotten around to writing up my impressions of it, yet.

Maggie,

I know now more about tires than I can ever shake a stick at, and it's only the first chapter! :)

--Andre

<small>[ 10 January 2003, 09:49 PM: Message edited by: Andre Yew ]</small>


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