TITLE: The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
AUTHOR: Mark Forsyth
DATE PUBLISHED: 2011
"The Etymologicon springs from Mark Forsyth's Inky Fool blog on the strange connections between words. It's an occasionally ribald, frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language, taking in monks and monkeys, film buffs and buffaloes, and explaining precisely what the Rolling Stones have to do with gardening."
I have no idea what I just read, but whatever it was, it was entertaining, amusing, irreverant and fairly interesting. ;) If you have an interest in the origin of words, this book might just be for you.
TITLE: The Phantom of the Opera
AUTHOR: Gaston Leroux
TRANSLATOR: David Coward
EDITION: Oxford World's Classics
"First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows."
This is another one of those foreign language (French) novels that has a dozen awful translations with omissions and additions. The new translation by David Coward is supposed to be true to the original. I found no complaints with the style of the translation and the notes to be quite helpful. The story itself is a love story/Gothic horror that differs a fair amount from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical production. Interesting and entertaining.
TITLE: The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch
AUTHOR: Thomas Thwaites
DATE PUBLISHED: 2011
"Where do our things really come from? China is the most common answer, but Thomas Thwaites decided he wanted to know more. In The Toaster Project, Thwaites asks what lies behind the smooth buttons on a mobile phone or the cushioned soles of running sneakers. What is involved in extracting and processing materials? To answer these questions, Thwaites set out to construct, from scratch, one of the most commonplace appliances in our kitchens today: a toaster.
The Toaster Project takes the reader on Thwaites s journey from dismantling the cheapest toaster he can find in London to researching how to smelt metal in a fifteenth-century treatise. His incisive restrictions all parts of the toaster must be made from scratch and Thwaites had to make the toaster himself made his task difficult, but not impossible. It took nine months and cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store. In the end, Thwaites reveals the true ingredients in the products we use every day. Most interesting is not the final creation but the lesson learned.
The Toaster Project helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture and the ridiculousness of churning out millions of toasters and other products at the expense of the environment. If products were designed more efficiently, with fewer parts that are easier to recycle, we would end up with objects that last longer and we would generate less waste altogether. "
The Toaster Project was an attempt by Thwaites to build a modern appliance, in this case a toaster, from scratch. Starting with digging up the required ores and fabricating plastic and electrical cables etc from the raw materials. The concept of this book is incredibly interesting, but the author failed in his attempt to build a toaster from scratch, without making use of modern equipment such as a leaf blower instead of the usual old-fashioned bellows, a microwave instead of a furnace etc. I also got the impression that the author got bored with his project halfway through and lost interest. The writing isn't all that eloquent or explanatory either, with a half-hearted attempt at reflecting on the cheap consumer culture. The book is amusing and does make a valid point, but this was a missed opportunity to write a great book to explore modern consumer culture, the advance of technology and the creation of the modern age.