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review 2018-01-16 19:49
In the Land of Invented Languages / Arika Okrent
In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language - Arika Okrent

Here is the captivating story of humankind’s enduring quest to build a better language—and overcome the curse of Babel. Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, Loglan (not to be confused with Lojban), and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries. With intelligence and humor, Arika Okrent has written a truly original and enlightening book for all word freaks, grammar geeks, and plain old language lovers.

 

  I think I would really enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and a discussion with this author! She is a linguist and linguistics is a favourite subject of mine. She knows a thing or two about the Library of Congress classification schedules too (or at least the P section of them, linguistics & languages), which appeals to my inner cataloguing nerd. Plus, she is just interested in words and their history and in the psychology of people who strive to build better languages.

I was absolutely gobsmacked at how many artificial languages are lurking out there and how often that particular bee seems to get into someone’s bonnet! Mostly, the creators seems to be altruists—Esperanto was going to be the language that allowed us all to understand one another and prevent future wars. Many of these language developers were hoping to express “pure” concepts and keep prejudice and politics out of things. Unfortunately for them, language just doesn’t work that way! One of the best uses of language is politicking! Also unfortunate is the tendency of these men (and I think we can say that it’s mostly men who attempt this) to be unable to let go and let their languages run free, to change during regular use. Their rigid attempts to control the people using their languages seemed to negate any positive uses for their creations.

I was amused as the author’s type-A, gung-ho attempt to learn Klingon. If I had been at that particular conference, I would have been right at her side competing to my heart’s content! I loved that in her author note at the end of the volume, she listed both PhDs and her Klingon 1st level pin as her accomplishments.

What I found a bit freaky: I returned to work on Monday (having read the book on the weekend) and the very first volume that I picked up to catalogue was written in Esperanto! (I’ve been working on a big collection of materials by and about H.G. Wells and am busy with translations right now.) That little piece of synchronicity was amusing.

 

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review 2018-01-11 20:05
It's All Relative / A.J. Jacobs
It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree - W.W. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.”

That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs’s three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs’s journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

 

I would call this a book about genealogy for people who aren’t really all that interested in the subject. It is genealogy lite. Which is not to say that it isn’t a good book or that I didn’t like it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

I’ve been doing genealogy since I was a teenager and discovered our family Bible, with my great-grandfather’s handwritten records of the family in it. It’s huge & heavy and he bought it from someone in a California train station for 25 cents back in the day. He was a lumberman and his family lived in New Brunswick (and he got migraines—he’s who I blame my headaches on!).

Maybe not the most exciting of stories, but you find all kinds of interesting tales when you start investigating. I haven’t made time for this pursuit for years, but reading this book has encouraged me to get thinking about it again.

I had read in a genealogy book that if you have European heritage, the very furthest apart you can be related to others with similar ties is 10th cousin. Jacobs’ research takes things a step farther: the farthest apart you can be related to anyone on Earth is 70th cousins. Start singing Kumbaya, folks, because we really do belong to the Family of Humankind.

The strange thing is, we do have a bias for treating our family just a little better than others—cutting them some slack when they do things that we don’t understand, for example. What better way is there to increase the kindness quotient in the world than to realize that we are all relatives and all deserve that kind of treatment.

Pie in the sky, I know, but both the author & I wish that it could come true.

Read for the PopSugar reading challenge to fill the “Book tied to your ancestry” choice.

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review 2018-01-06 00:56
Sharon Stone Story: Basic Ambition
SHARON STONE STORY - Douglas Thompson

I have no idea why I picked this up. In fact, it may have been free at a library clearance. 

 

Anyway, I have read enough of the book to know that: 

 

1. The dated (early 90s), sensationalist writing is going to drive me nuts; and 

 

2. The obvious focus of the author on gossip column issues rather than even attempt anything like investigative journalism is not going to make this a serious or even interesting biography.

 

Well, at least it is one book off Mt. TBR.

 

DNF @ 20%.

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review 2017-12-31 15:13
Southern Holidays
A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, & The Thanksgiving Visitor - Truman Capote

Truman Capote's charming, magical memories of his childhood Christmas and Thanksgiving with his mother's Monroeville, Alabama family -- particularly his much elder and much-beloved cousin Miiss Sook, who thanks to her own child-like nature was mother, grandmother and elder sister to him simultaneously; but, most importantly, the greatest source of warmth, love and compassion of his entire childhood.  In the book's second (individually, last-published) entry the Monroeville experience is contrasted with the one (sadly failed) attempt by Capote's father to make up for years of non-parenting, and seeing all three stories published together, the contrast -- and the boundless warmth of Capote's Monroeville home, and of Miss Sook -- is brought out in an even brighter light, (As an aside, it is easy, too, to recognize the place, and the traits of individual personalities, in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which was inspired by the same community.)

 

Since this book doesn't merely include two Christmas but also a Thanksgiving memory, for 16 Festive Tasks purposes I'm going to use it as my book for the Thanksgiving holiday book joker.

 

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review 2017-12-27 18:45
The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel narrated by Mark Bramhall
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit - Michael Finkel

 

This book has me conflicted! I listened to it, narrated by Mark Bramhall, and he was excellent. What follows are my thoughts on this book while trying to avoid spoilers, (even though the synopsis tells a lot already). Perhaps my feelings will become more clear as I write.

 

What I found most fascinating was this: think about how long you've gone in your life without talking to or touching another human being. I'm talking phone calls, internet, or hugs. As the author points out in this book-most of us have gone only a matter of hours. Imagine going for 27 years.

 

Is a person who has a need for quiet and silence sick? Are they autistic? Are they schizophrenic? Do they have Asperger's? The author asks all of these questions-of doctors and regular people alike. I couldn't help but wonder why everyone thought something was wrong with Christopher Knight. Is it so wrong to want to avoid people, noise, news, television, and electronics? Is that abnormal? I guess 27 years with no contact does seem strange, but sick? I'm not sure about that.

 

A number of philosophical views were also offered as well as quotes from many different books about hermits and recluses throughout history. Views on solitary confinement are also discussed, with most agreeing that solitary is a type of torture.

 

Here's what bothers me most: I'm not sure I'm comfortable with what the author did to get the information for this book. While I did find this story fascinating, the hermit himself asked Mr. Finkel to leave him alone on a number of different occasions, yet he persisted-not only visiting him in jail, but also visiting him in Maine once he was released. (Christopher Knight was incarcerated for a time, due to his repeated thefts of food, books and other items.) I'm not sure if I view this as honorable or as harassment.

 

I can't deny, however, that I did keep listening. I loved the parts that were direct quotes from Mr. Knight, because he had such a clear view of how he saw things/nature/people. Did all of these things make sense to me? No, but they sure did cause me to rethink my views on the world and all of its noise and distractions.

 

I will also admit to a bit of envy when Knight spoke of one of his deep winters in the Maine wilderness when there was NO SOUND. Nothing whatsoever. No animals, no planes, no birds, no chatter, nothing at all. It's hard to imagine that.

 

Well, I wrote all this and I'm still conflicted. I guess I am glad that the author pursued Mr. Knight because I did find this tome to be fascinating at times. It's just that I feel Knight's wishes were disrespected and I hate the thought of that; and I hate that I took part in it by listening to this book. Which probably makes no sense at all, but there you have it. 

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