I hate those little self revelations sometimes. While talking to a friend about the films of Ray Harryhausen, it dawned on me: my entire experience wiI hate those little self revelations sometimes. While talking to a friend about the films of Ray Harryhausen, it dawned on me: my entire experience with Jules Verne has been through the many movie (sometimes TV) adaptations. Some of these are my favorite films. ‘Journey’ and ‘Mysterious’ would be the best examples.
Well, boys and girls – that embarrassing disclosure can be no more.
There is no friggin way I will attempt to critique Verne. Let’s just say: this is a marvelous novel. I can clearly see why adaptations added creatures and extemporaneous characters—the story is slow. But, it is the languid pace, with copious descriptions of the island and everything on it, is part of the pleasure of discovery.
Seems like this was Verne’s attempt to write a Robinson Crusoe type novel – and that’s okay – it works.
There was never a moment when I didn’t trust the prowess of the writer and his strength of his tale.
As a lover of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I think (of course) everyone should read this book—even if you have put it off for a few decades....more
The question of Shakespeare's identity and much more: there is apparently no definitive answer as to whether he was simply himself, someone else underThe question of Shakespeare's identity and much more: there is apparently no definitive answer as to whether he was simply himself, someone else under a pseudo name, or several people under the same pseudo name. Even his portrait that we know him by is questionable. We do get interesting little glimpses of the times and the life of the person who purported to be Shakespeare. We also get glimpses of the stir that Shakespeare created with his work. How could one person, a country person at that, be so sophisticated and knowledgeable about so many important things? His work is so revered that it is studied for authentication purposes almost like biblical manuscripts. Shakespeare, in a word, seems to have created his own weather. This is a brief, but very enjoyable and elegant read by someone who obviously loves this subject and its environment. Sometimes the things that surround something or someone are as exciting as the thing itself. Light, breezy, and vintage Bryson (and that's a good thing)....more
I had much more fun with this than expected. Clearly, it is what it is. I loved that the author pulled from so many different plays, and never repeateI had much more fun with this than expected. Clearly, it is what it is. I loved that the author pulled from so many different plays, and never repeated himself. For example:
“This Force, by troth, I'll never comprehend! It doth control and also doth obey? And 'tis within and yet it is beyond, 'Tis both inside and yet outside one's self? What paradox! What fickle-natur'd pow'r! Aye: frailty, thy name-- belike--is Force.”
“LUKE Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears. Wish not we had a single fighter more, If we are mark’d to die, we are enough To make our planets proud. But should we win, We fewer rebels share the greater fame. We all have sacrific’d unto this cause.”
“Our cause is for the truth, for righteousness, For anyone who e’er oppression knew. ’Tis not rebellion for the sake of one, ’Tis not a cause to serve a priv’leg’d few— This moment shall resound in history For ev’ry person who would freedom know! So Biggs, stand with me now, and be my aide, And Wedge, fly at my side to lead the charge— We three, we happy three, we band of brothers, Shall fly unto the trench with throttles full!”
The author sums it up in the first sentence: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
And then, like he says, the game is up and he has to somehow keepThe author sums it up in the first sentence: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
And then, like he says, the game is up and he has to somehow keep it going for a couple hundred pages. I was unaware the first artificial food substance was made in the early 1800’s. It was oleomargarine—which has been one of the most adaptable and constant fake foods for two hundred years. In the early 1900’s there were so many fake butters on the market the government made manufacturers color their products pink so people would know they were an imitation product.
All hell broke loose after the WWII. So many highly preserved and man-made edible substances had been produced for the soldiers it was only logical the manufacturing conglomerates would want to foster this onto the general public. After all, the machines were already cranking this stuff out. But—and this is important—all if these man-made substances were labeled ‘imitation’ somewhere on the label.
Everything changed in January 1977 when lobbyists successfully coerced the Food and Drug administration to drop the ‘imitation’ requirement in place of ‘nutrients.’ With this change came a massive marketing campaign forcing the public to view food differently—not as a wholesome substance, but as a glob of nutrients. Natural or man-made—we aren’t supposed to think of the difference or care. We compare the nutrition facts on a bag of gummy bears with the same analytical eye we would compare a jar of almonds.
Nutrition labels, food pyramids, weekly news (coffee causes cancer—no, wait, coffee is an antioxidant; no Trans-fat! Now with Omega3) are all designed to keep us in the manufacturers food chain—oblivious to how it is produced or even what really is in it.
And what is in this stuff is, for the most part, deadly.
The author has a very interesting section on milk. The food industry has been trying to synthesize milk for almost a hundred years. They have not been able to do it—which is why Baby Formula has gone through innumerable changes—most because the scientists keep finding out things are missing or wrong.
This book is a common sense look at what and why we eat what we eat. It is no where near as inflammatory as ‘Food Inc.’ which means it takes a subdued more intellectual approach to how we are caught up in the food chain that fills us with artificial nutrients and fake foods. It’s enlightening without being indicative. ...more
I remember, my Freshman year, sitting in the Music Building lounge waiting for my next class when Maryanne came crashing in, with an appropriate amounI remember, my Freshman year, sitting in the Music Building lounge waiting for my next class when Maryanne came crashing in, with an appropriate amount of chaos, announcing to all “Oh crap, I can’t find my Strunk and White.” Everyone else in the room apparently knew what she was talking about, but I sat with a blank stare. A few weeks latter my required English 101 professor insisted we hit the bookstore and buy ‘The Elements of Style.’ We were to treat it like the Holy Grail of grammar, carry it with us at all times, sleep with it, and consider it our eternal faithful lover. This would become the first of many copies of Strunk & White that have come and gone in my life. I think at one time I actually had four copies. Maryanne, made a similar pontification in the same lounge a month later “Oh no, I have lost my Boosey & Hawkes”* which I did understand. It may have sounded more erotic than Strunk & White but certainly less dramatic. For me Boosies and Hawksies came and went, but Strunks and Whites have remained constant.
This year, for my birthday, I received yet another copy. Only this edition is hardback and Illustrated! At first I thought: how queer can this be? It has got to be a mistake. It’s a grammar book! This had to be a novel, a book on fashion, or something sharing a name. Nope. Same Strunk & White – only this time with pictures.
Over the years, I have acquired other books on grammar (even one on Pittsburgh diction—go figure) but none can compare. The Elements of Style is concise, easy to understand and practically perfect. It’s the best. Ever.
And a very clever artist has figured out how to illustrate sentence fragments, misused words, the hyphen, participle phrases and lots of other teeth gritting English stumbling blocks—in a very Magritte sort of way.
Yet, there is one thing, even the most excellent book, won’t be able to do, as, my friends will attest, and this, would be, comma abuse, of which, I am the Master.
Twenty-six year old Daniel Everett left the United States 1977 for the bowels of the Amazon, as a Christian missionary, to study the language of a remTwenty-six year old Daniel Everett left the United States 1977 for the bowels of the Amazon, as a Christian missionary, to study the language of a remote tribe called the Pirahas (pronounced ‘pee-da-HAN’) and eventually translate the Bible into this rare and extremely difficult dialect. Now, Daniel admits, he is old enough for senior discounts and his grandchildren all know the Pirahas. He has also written a wonderful book about the complexities of language, culture, society, survival, death, and most of all life. He and his family lived for more than thirty-five years with one of the most isolated and primitive tribes known to currently exist on the planet. He never did get around translating the Testaments.
Part adventure and part literary detective, Everett doesn’t even try containing his exuberance for language and writes about his discoveries with such joy and wonderment you can’t help delight along with him. What, I think, would ordinarily be a dry treatise on linguistics turns out to be fascinating. Pirahas has one of the smallest set of speech sounds or phonemes in the world with only three vowels and eight consonants (plus a glottal stop). (For comparison, English has approximately forty phonemes; the Hmong have over eighty.) Think of it this way: “a,” then “aa” and then “aaa” “aaaa”—every time raising the pitch in a different place—each with a profoundly different meaning. Only after five friggin years did the author realize that pitch was part of the language and he literally had to begin again from scratch. The Pirahas language has no recursion—which used to be thought essential for any language. (Recursion in linguistics enables 'discrete infinity' by embedding phrases within phrases of the same type in a hierarchical structure. Without recursion, language does not have discrete infinity and cannot embed sentences into infinity. In effect: words placement without meaning.)
But, if this were just a book about linguistics, I would have probably put it down after a couple chapters. The more compelling aspect is the one where a young man takes his wife and two small children to a place where there are no markets, roads, hospitals, screened windows or anything at all we consider civilized. They endure numerous bouts of malaria, typhoid, diarrhea lasting weeks, poisonous insects and reptiles and a clash of culture that couldn’t be any more intense—yet they stay for literally a lifetime. There is one particular harrowing narrative where Daniel literally dragged his sick hallucinating wife Keren through river muck for a week trying to get medical help. He also faced numerous threats to his own life both by the Pirahas and hostile tribes surrounding Pirahas land.
The Pirahas have other cultural anomalies besides language. They live in the now—never referring to anything in the past. Yesterday did not exist, and tomorrow is not considered. They are the only people known not to have a creation myth. They also have no ceremonies, leaders or concept of God. Worship is not part of their existence. This is extremely unusual. They are peaceful and loving, yet have no concept of marriage (the way we think of it), family units, or faith. Yet they see spirits. They see them communally—as solid flesh beings. There were numerous instances where a group of Pirahas would stand on the river bank pointing to an apparently visible spirit not understanding why Daniel saw nothing.
Over the years, the innocence and purity of the Pirahas nature began to rob the author of his own strength of conviction. In one remarkable evening, after years of witnessing to the tribe, the men came to him and asked if he would stop telling them about Jesus. They couldn’t grasp the ephemeral nature of worshiping a man whom they could not see. In fact, they didn’t have a concept or either history or worship. This is extraordinary only because the Missionary agreed in his heart and never proselytized again. Daniel paid a heavy price for this. He divorced from his fundamentalist wife, became alienated from his children and lost his funding.
With new funding from secular sources he continued living with the Pirahas and studying their language. Over the last couple years, he wrote a remarkable book. The adventure of living in the Amazon is as good as any fiction writer could imagine. Yet, there are thought provoking moments deeply meditative on the nature of life, death, humanity and faith.
“The notion that the essence of what it means to be human is most clearly revealed in those features of human culture that are universal rather than in those that are distinctive to this people or that is a prejudice that we are not obliged to share . . . It may be in the cultural particularities of people—in their oddities—that some of the most instructive revelations of what it is to be generically human are to be found.” ...more
After hearing the author on NPR hawking her book ‘Origins of the Specious’ (yesterday, May 9th) I went to Barnes and Ignoble the next day (yah,Curses!
After hearing the author on NPR hawking her book ‘Origins of the Specious’ (yesterday, May 9th) I went to Barnes and Ignoble the next day (yah, that would be today May 10th) all hot and bothered only to find the book was published last Tuesday (May 5th – so far so good) but not in the stores yet (what?). Curses on both Barnes & Slothble and NPR. Foreplay and then dejectulation. But, and you know’d there’ll be one, I didn’t leave the Patricia T. O’Conner section without some memento of my wasted trip. Now I have to add a new shelf to my library because me don’t not usually read grammar books. I am not sure I want to know about spilt infinities and dangling participles (Can’t you get arrested for dangling a participle in public? I always thought so). Me get self conscious and worried from mistakes. Screw it. The book be funny and semi-clever although she shoulda pick on us a more. Be harsh baby, we can take it. According to her talking on the radio, the new book (could I ever get it) be better. Because we all know hows much fun our mistakes be. ...more