Friday, October 30, 2009

Linguistics + Bryson = My Kind of Book

Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson

Have you ever wondered about the origins of Americanisms such as "lunch" and "cafeteria"? Or maybe you're interested in words that originated from the movies or sports. Bill Bryson gives you a whirlwind tour of all this and more in his "informal history of the English language in the United States."

Beginning with the Pilgrims and making his way through both chronologically and thematically to recent times, Bryson has a way of highlighting the humorous aspects of history and linguistic quirkiness of our language. Some of interesting tidbits (note: a word that was originally "titbits" and changed in order to be less offensive) I learned included:
  • Englishmen bemoaning Americanisms entering the language is nothing new
  • the Pilgrims had three or four different names and types of mush
  • during the American Revolution, people were not unconcerned with spelling, but merely had more variants to choose from (and even argue about!)

I'll have as much fun recommending this book to family and friends as I did reading it!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

I'm always intrigued by a glimpse at someone's immediate "read" list. It's a sort of slice of life that lets me see a snapshot of someone's interests at the moment. So I thought I'd share my own current reads and (hopefully) soon-to-be-reads:

The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1 edited by Philip Gourevitch
The book I started most recently. A bit unfairly, I started thinking "I've barely read any of these authors, so maybe I will want to abandon it soon and I'll get some of these library books home." But no, even the author of a book I dislike was extremely interesting in his interview. I've been so enjoying the collection that I've spaced it out and have only read about one or two interviews a day. So much for decreasing the library pile.

Made in America by Bill Bryson
The subtitle succinctly sums it up: "An Informal History of the English Language in the United States." I love books about language and I love Bill Bryson's humorous writing style, so this one is right up my alley.

13 Things That Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks has been the audiobook on my MP3 player for the past few days. It's enjoyable and fairly light science in comparison to some of the books I've read this year (Brief History of Time, I'm looking at you).

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
I've been meaning to read this ever since I read and loved The Moonstone as a college student. I finally decided it was time, as well as being an appropriate October read. Strangely, it's the only fiction I'm reading at the moment.

A few more books are on my nightstand calling out to me, hoping not to get returned to the library before I read them, but I'll have to finish at least two of these first.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shakespeare Humor; or, When Literary Criticism Meets Slapstick

Reduced Shakespeare: The Attention-Impaired Reader's Guide to the World's Best Playwright (Abridged} by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor

So, you've watched The compleat works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and wanted to learn more. Oh. You haven't watched the Reduced Shakespeare Co.'s play that hilariously combines, yes, every play that Shakespeare wrote (or at least refers to them)? Well, get thee hence and do it, otherwise this book will not make any sense at all. There. You've seen it? Good.

Right, so after watching the Compleat Works, you now need to read the Compleat Guide to Shakespeare: his life, his works, his movies. And in this hysterical (yet surprisingly informative) guide, you will be treated to one of the most irreverent biographies and literary criticisms you've ever read. They include a short criticism of every play, and then go through movie versions and tell you which versions they think are the most notable (if any exist at all), rating each on a scale of 0 to 5 Bards. In the movies section, they also include those movies that are somewhat loosely based on Shakespeare's plays, such as 10 Things I Hate About You. They're not afraid to tell it like they see it, and I was somewhat gratified to see that they disliked the same two versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream that I detested in college. In fact, the movie section is worth the price of the book, and I'm holding onto my library copy a little longer so I can make a note of the ones I want to see. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

999 Challenge - The End

For previous updates see:

Here's what I've read since:

Award Winners & Honors
9. The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

New-to-me Authors
9. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Books about Books, Reading, and Writing
9. Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff

Nonfiction (Category Completed in May)

Audiobooks (Category Completed in June)

Graphic Novels (Category Completed in June)

8. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
9. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

YA/Children's (Category Completed in June)

Lost Book Club
9. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Lovely Bones (81/81)

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Category: Recommendations

Susie Salmon recounts her murder and over the ensuing years, watches from heaven over her family as they deal with their grief. Having Susie as the narrator gives the reader a semi-omnipotent view of events, as Susie knows who her killer is, can watch the action in two places at the same time, and can tell us the thoughts and emotions of the other characters. Though disjointed at times, some passages of narration are lovely and thought-provoking.

My brother recommended this to me, warning me that the beginning might be a little much for me. It was gruesome, but not as violent as I'd anticipated. As might be expected, the story is a little sad and even though the setup was a little surreal to begin with I found a few elements stretching my ability to suspend disbelief. A really intense read that will stay with me for awhile. 4.5 stars.

David Copperfield (80/81)

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Category: Recommendations

David Copperfield is the narrator of his life from boyhood through young adulthood, an account that in some ways mirrors Dickens' own life. It begins with David's own birth and his Aunt Betsey Trotwood's disappointment that he was not a girl. David's father was already dead, and his mother eventually remarried a man who believed in "firmness." So begins Master Copperfield's tale.

This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years, those classics that I enjoy but only seem to get a chance to read over the summer - and indeed, I spend much of June and July reading the book. The length is daunting and the story starts slowly, which was much of the reason the book took me so long to finish. It was well worth it, however, as I was introduced to some of the most memorable characters - Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, Mr. Dick, Uriah Heep, and my personal favorite Miss Betsey Trotwood - that I have ever encountered. I'm sure I will read it again. 4.5 stars.

City of Bones (79/81)

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Category: New-to-me authors

Clary lives with her mom; her father died in a car accident before she was born. At least, that's what she's always been told. But when she and her best friend Simon go to a club and she sees some people - and something - that Simon can't see, she knows something's up. Finding out the truth will turn her world upside down.

Cassandra Clare's imaginary world, set in New York, is really well-realized with vampires, werewolves, demons, and more. Clary meets the Shadowhunters (also known as Nephilim), a group of people dedicated to killing demons. The characters are wonderfully complex, so much so that even the "good guys" sometimes seem a little nefarious. The fast-paced plot kept me up reading late into the night, and I immediately put the next two books in the trilogy on hold from the library after finishing. 4.5 stars.

The Kingdom on the Waves (78/81)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
Category: Award Winners and Honors

If you have not read Volume I: The Pox Party, please note that this review has **spoilers** for that title.

This second volume in the Octavian Nothing series begins right when the first left off, with Octavian and Dr. Trefusis running away from the College of Lucidity. Their flight through the rain and mud-flats leaves Dr. Trefusis with a terrible fever, and Octavian must find a place for them to stay and a way to pay for lodgings - not an easy task for a runaway slave in Boston, a city under siege during the Revolution.

This is merely the beginning of a long (560 p.) continuance of the story begun in The Pox Party. As the first, it is well-constructed from the voice of the characters to the rough-cut pages and old-fashioned title page and type. The story is an intelligent, complex look at the ideals of liberty and the hypocrisy of those who would cry "liberty" for themselves while condemning others to slavery. Though not for the fainthearted because of length, vocabulary, and descriptions of war, for those willing to persevere the story provides much food for thought. 4.5 stars.

Through the Looking Glass (77/81)

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Category: Lost Book Club

Before starting the audiobook with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I couldn't remember if I'd read Through the Looking Glass before or not. As I listened, I realized I had. I'm even decently sure that I finished it (twice now, counting the audiobook). But I still have no idea what happened. Like the dream it is, the action jumps from place to place and from person to person, and is only loosely connected by the story of Alice crossing a chessboard to become queen. I've tried to like this books, I really have, but it's a losing battle... 3 stars.

Note: Regarding the connections to Lost, interested parties might like checking out They have a rather extensive article "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" that lists more connections that I ever made reading the books (for example, Charlie's wearing checkerboard shoes when they go to the Looking Glass station).

The Little Prince (64/81)

Apologies for a very late post on this - I had scheduled it 'way back in June and now can't find the post.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Category: Lost Book Club

The unnamed narrator crashes his plane in the desert and comes across the little prince, an alien boy visiting earth from asteroid B-612, who has a lot to say about a child's faith and matters of "consequence."

This is a rather strange little story, and I'm afraid to say to much about it without giving out spoilers, since it's only 91 pages long. Imagination, faith, and the inability of most grown-ups to see what is truly important are recurring themes. 4 stars.

In all fairness, this may be stretching the "Lost" category. Though there was an episode entitled "The Little Prince," the book doesn't show up on or on the list of Literary works, so take from that what you will. :-)