Bill Bryson writes about the evolution of American English (as opposed to the British variety) in this book about how history, technology, and society...moreBill Bryson writes about the evolution of American English (as opposed to the British variety) in this book about how history, technology, and society have influenced the way we speak in the United States.
Interestingly enough, the language used by those that we would call "backwoods" or "hillbillies," that is, those living in the mountains of the Appalachian region, is the closest to that of the language spoken by the earliest settlers of the New World. The isolation and lack of education of the mountain people have actually preserved the English spoken by our forefathers.
This is not only a book about the history of language, but about the history of the United States. Many of the most fundamental changes in our language were brought about simply because the first settlers were forced to come up with new words to describe things they'd never encountered before. In addition, Bryson traces several of our words to bastardized pronunciations of Native American words that those in England never would have known (had it not been for us).
I found this book to be quite engaging, though quite long. It did take me a while to get through it, but I enjoyed it as I was reading it. (less)
A book conservator is trying to find the human story behind a very rare haggadah as she is restoring it physically.
There really is a Sarajevo haggadah...moreA book conservator is trying to find the human story behind a very rare haggadah as she is restoring it physically.
There really is a Sarajevo haggadah, and it really was saved during the bombing of Sarajevo in the 90s.
As someone who loves books, any books, and who appreciates the rare artistry and history of ancient books, I found the story to be very interesting.
I like how Brooks wove the history of the haggadah into the modern plot, going further and further back in time with each chapter.
Something I realized as I was reading--and I knew this already; I don't know why I forget it--is that the persecution of Jews always repeats itself. I mean, they suffered in every century, at the hands of various religious and ethnic groups. This is a people that has been through hell, and yet through it all, they keep the faith. Amazing!
The book's journey from country to country, person to person, was far more interesting than the contemporary plot, in which the main character fights with her mother, gets involved in an on/off relationship with a guy, and has a stupid mystery to solve at the very end.
I read this book to my freshman reading classes, and they loved it. I chose it because it came so highly recommended, because I already had it on my b...moreI read this book to my freshman reading classes, and they loved it. I chose it because it came so highly recommended, because I already had it on my bookshelf, and because it was short. My intention was to show my kids--who hate reading with every fiber of their beings--that reading can be fun and valuable and interesting. And sometimes, you don't even have to take a test.
I hated the book, hated reading it, hated that I'd tied myself into continuing it.
But my kids ... they LOVED it. For a month, all I'd have to do (most days) was say, "Oh, I guess we won't have time to re--" and they would close their mouths, sit up straight, and smile at me with that creepy Stepford gleam, trying to convince me for just one second that they were model students and they'd never done a single bad thing in all their lives, now COULD I PLEASE READ THE BOOK.
Every non-freshman person who saw this book on my desk would say, without fail, "Ms. Vincent, THAT IS SUCH A GOOD BOOK!!!" and they would go into these rapturous summaries about how much they loved it and I would smile my own Stepford-smile and nod politely and grimace behind my eyes.
So here's the thing: I don't like abuse. I mean, that's a given, right? That most people don't like abuse. And I'm not trying to one-up anybody or imply that my emotions are somehow more deeply felt than anyone else's, but seriously ... I CANNOT TAKE IT.
I don't like graphic violence of any kind, and Dave Pelzer describes his abuse in explicit detail with lots of gross-making adjectives and word images that make my stomach hurt. And I had to read them aloud--TWICE--while I tried not to cry or throw up or have a nervous breakdown. Ultimately, I had to divorce myself from the text while reading, so I could just get through it, and then I had to make a conscious effort not to think about it when I finished.
Also--and this is the part that makes me a bad person, probably--I kind of ... it's not that I don't believe that Pelzer was abused, because I do, or that it was as bad as he describes, because it probably was, but the writing seems a little ... calculated. Like each phrase has been chosen specifically for its emotional heft, like he went through the thesaurus and was like, "Oooh! That'll make 'em cry!"
And, while reading aloud, I found myself skipping over a lot of passages, because they were out of place or went on too long. It wasn't even the parts with the descriptions of the abuse, but the parts where he was analyzing his feelings or looking at the sunset or something totally irrelevant to the story. Like all of a sudden he'd gotten a hankering to be "literary," so he stuck in a couple metaphors and big words to satisfy the cultural elite, or the Pulitzer committee.
Is that mean? It feels mean. I don't want to downplay the fact that I'm talking about a kid who had this really awful childhood. But on the other hand, I appreciate good writing and an author who allows me to come to my own conclusions and who doesn't try to manipulate my emotions. I'm sure I could have figured out that his mom was crazy and and his life was horrible without all the extra emotional manipulation. I mean, geez; I'm not stupid.
Regardless of my personal feelings, I'm really glad my students liked it. It's one of the few things they've shown any interest in all year, and if I have to read TEN books about abused kids, I'd do it, for them.
I don't like the characters. (This was going to be a list, but then I realized that this is the only reason I...more**spoiler alert** I don't like this book.
I don't like the characters. (This was going to be a list, but then I realized that this is the only reason I have.)
Florentino Ariza is a baby. Seriously, his mom gives him whatever he wants, and she tries to make everything all right for him, and he is very, very ... if he lived today, he would be one of those emo kids with the dyed black hair and the eye liner and the journals full of bad poetry (he does write bad poetry, in the book), all "Nobody gets me," and just a grating, time-sucking, high maintenance type. He rationalizes his behavior in whatever way he can, so he never feels that he is doing anything wrong.
I grew impatient with him fairly quickly; I wanted to wring him by his neck and yell, "GET OVER IT!!!" I have no tolerance for that kind of behavior. Sometime during the Seduction of the 600, it says that Florentino Ariza thought that when a woman said no, she really meant something else (that's a paraphrase). This is another thing I have no tolerance for. So, when he persisted in his attentions to Fermina Daza, even after she'd made her own feelings quite clear (TWICE), and she came around to his way of thinking, it justified his behavior. I don't think he should be rewarded for that. I think he should be kicked to the curb.
Fermina Daza was almost likable; I was almost there with her, but then I realized that there wasn't anything really likable about her. She was efficient and organized, she was well-behaved, and she was boring. Why did men love her? What did she have to offer? I DON'T KNOW.
I did like Juvenal Urbino. Of course he dies in the first chapter.
It seemed to me that the book dragged on FOREVER; I kept looking ahead to the end of a chapter and sighing, "Forty-two more pages." (The chapters are long.) Even though two weeks doesn't seem like a long time, it's a long time for ME to be reading a book, particularly one that isn't a thousand pages long and written in Elizabethan English.
I didn't think this was any kind of love story. Like Wuthering Heights, it's more a love-gone-wrong story, or an obsession story; none of the characters really displayed any of the traits that I would associate with love, one which--the chief one, I would say--is selflessness. None of them were willing to put anyone else above themselves, and maybe that's why I didn't particularly care for them, or for this book.
This collection of essays comes from Hornby's columns for The Believer.
He just writes about what he's read. He's not writing book reviews, exactly; h...moreThis collection of essays comes from Hornby's columns for The Believer.
He just writes about what he's read. He's not writing book reviews, exactly; he just tells why he chose to read a certain book,what he learned from it,how he felt about it, and how it compares to other books he's read.
I love reading other people's views on books, and Hornby's style is really great for this type of writing, conversational and casual, like you're sitting with a friend over coffee.(less)
I love Stephen Fry. He has an amazing command of the language, and he is also the voice of my alarm clock (true story).
This is Fry's first memoir (no...moreI love Stephen Fry. He has an amazing command of the language, and he is also the voice of my alarm clock (true story).
This is Fry's first memoir (no others have been published, but I can hope). It chronicles his boyhood up to his late teens/early twenties, or whenever it was that he got out of jail (I KNOW).
It's an interesting read, though it's much too short. I certainly learned a lot about British boys' boarding schools, maybe too much, in fact. Boys are weird.
Fry eventually went on to become a teacher--that's the part I really want to know about--as well as an actor, writer, and all-around super-genius. His sense of humor is dryer than dry, and his writing is beautiful and full of nerdy allusions and big words, which is pretty much what I like to read.
This book is a spoof of some of Shakespeare's plays. Armour summarizes them and makes fun of them at the same time.
I first read this when I was in col...moreThis book is a spoof of some of Shakespeare's plays. Armour summarizes them and makes fun of them at the same time.
I first read this when I was in college, and my best friend and I snickered over it when we discovered it in a local library. (She later stole it.)
At times it is humorous, yes, but it's no longer as laugh-out-loud funny as it was when I was showing it to my non-English major friends and watching the puzzled looks on their faces when they didn't get the jokes.(less)
March 2011. Yup, again. edit: I put this aside for a couple of weeks because I knew what was coming and didn't want to get to that part. I finished tod...moreMarch 2011. Yup, again. edit: I put this aside for a couple of weeks because I knew what was coming and didn't want to get to that part. I finished today, and it was just as devastating as the first time I read it, so my putting it off did not help a bit. I LOVE THIS BOOK.
May 2010 rereading
This is the best book I've read this year, and only the second book that's ever made me cry.
Narrated by Death, the story details the young life of Liesel Meminger in Nazi Germany. This is not a story about Jews or other persecuted people; this is a story of the regular Germans, those who joined the Hitler Youth groups and went along with the Fuhrer's commands.
I liked seeing WWII from a different perspective; everyone tends to focus on Holocaust victims or the soldiers at Normandy (not that these aren't important stories to tell). But what about the people who were on the other side? What did they go through?
Throughout the book, Liesel's reading helps her and her family to learn to think for themselves in a time when that was pretty dangerous. The power of books! (less)
I bought this book after having seen the movie and, as is so often the case, the book is much, much better than the film. While I enjoyed the movie ve...moreI bought this book after having seen the movie and, as is so often the case, the book is much, much better than the film. While I enjoyed the movie very much, I loved this book and flew through it.
Miss Pettigrew has been repressed and oppressed and one day, after meeting Delysia LaFosse, throws her convictions to the wind and decides to enjoy herself. She has the best time of her life, makes tons of new friends, becomes a sort of "fixer" for Delysia and her degenerate crowd, earns the admiration of a host of young people, and possibly finds a little romance of her own ... all in the course of 24 hours.
The subject matter seems a tiny bit racy, particularly when one takes into account that this was written by a woman in the early 20th century, when the Hays Code would have had us believe that nobody drank alcohol, had sex, or said dirty words, when men were valiant and heroic, and women were faithful and timid and believed they were "the weaker sex." That's all shot to hell here, and rightly so.
I love books about heroines who decide to just go for it, to toss away inhibitions and societal restrictions, who learn that the rules they've followed for years are arbitrary and often misogynistic, and who "find themselves" when they'd thought their lives were over.
This is a short, charming read, and I smiled the entire time I was reading it.(less)
If you've read any of the Shopaholic books, you will recognize the title character of this book. She's extremely self-centered, jumps to the most outr...moreIf you've read any of the Shopaholic books, you will recognize the title character of this book. She's extremely self-centered, jumps to the most outrageous conclusions, and is wrong 99% of the time.
But where I love Becky Bloomwood (at least, I love the original BB; she gets increasingly annoying with each new book), I don't have empathy for Vicky Hill. There was never a time when I didn't think, "Wow, YOU ARE STUPID."
I get that the author was trying to go for endearingly clumsy or humorously incompetent, but she didn't quite make it.
I'm not sorry I read the book, but I probably won't pick up the next in the series.
What this book tells me is that every problem in the world can be resolved with sex, even if you specifically say that you don't want...moreummm ... right.
What this book tells me is that every problem in the world can be resolved with sex, even if you specifically say that you don't want it, because your husband just looks at you seductively for, like, two minutes, and you get all hot. Also, that it doesn't matter if your entire family manipulates you and uses your wedding as a publicity stunt for their wedding WITHOUT TELLING YOU. Oh, and that your husband will most likely discover he loves you while in the midst of a heated family battle. And don't forget that, if you meet a guy who seriously DOESN'T TRUST ANYBODY, but especially not his own family, he must be a catch.
Nurse Matilda disciplines bad kids. That's what this book is about. What makes it interesting is HOW she does it.
The kids in these books aren't evil,...moreNurse Matilda disciplines bad kids. That's what this book is about. What makes it interesting is HOW she does it.
The kids in these books aren't evil, but they're pretty badly-behaved. Most of their hijinx are actually fairly harmless; it's just that they're causing trouble with such consistency and in such great quantity that it's hard for other people to handle.
Enter Nurse Matilda, the ugliest woman alive, whose punishments generally force the children to become the victims of their own pranks. When they've learned their lesson, the punishment ends, and Nurse Matilda gets a little prettier.
This edition has three books in one, and they're pretty similar the Mary Poppins and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. (I do like stories about unruly children who get straightened out by the golden-hearted governess.) (less)
This is a thinking book. Initially my first reaction, upon completing the book, was this: "What a bunch of assholes."
After further reflection, I stand...moreThis is a thinking book. Initially my first reaction, upon completing the book, was this: "What a bunch of assholes."
After further reflection, I stand by that statement, but I can see how each of the characters was flawed, and how the individual failings of each character were exacerbated by relationships with the others'.
For me, most of the book seemed to be an attack on Catholicism, which caused so many rifts in the Flyte family. Throughout, both Sebastian and Julia struggle so much against their faith, but then turn to it in times of crisis--even make sacrifices for it when required to do so.
I've read that this is Waugh's ode to Catholicism, but it's not a great one, if it is. The main message seems to be something like, "Run as much as you want, you can't get away from me!" Me meaning Catholicism. I'm pretty sure that's not the way to get people to convert or to ... revert (?).
Each of the main characters, at one time or another, seem to have disconnected, from life, from family, even from themselves. It's hard to believe they have any emotional depth at all; they've suppressed any humanity they may have had. There could be any number of reasons for this: deterioration of the class system, family ruptures, loss of faith, inability to face reality, resistance to maturity. I'm not saying they're good reasons, or justifiable reasons; in fact, most of them are things that everyone experiences, but we all seem to get through it.
That Charles Ryder maintained contact with the Flytes is to his credit; I would have ignored them altogether after having been thrown out of their house. I wonder, though, if his interest came out of genuine affection or out of pity for them. Ultimately, he was just the little boy plugging the dike with his thumb; they were too intent on orchestrating their own destruction to let Charles help them.
Thanks to K.K. for helping me out with Catholicism questions.