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Inspirational Reads

Reading is Fun, Kids

January 24, 2009

I went through and looked at my little sidebar thing about the books I read last year. In all, I finished 13 books. How the Irish Saved Civilization fell behind my bed and I'm too lazy to fish it out, so that one remains unfinished. Y: The Last Man is a very well-written and thought-provoking graphic novel series, and I only bought the first five books and read them, thus leaving me in the middle of that story, as well. I'll (hopefully) finish those up this year.

Of the 13 books I read, I reviewed some of them here. Others I was--again, shocker--too lazy to review. The two best books I read last year, however, I didn't review. So, I'll give you a quick run down now.

The best fiction book was, by far, The Children of Húrin, which is another one of those "prequel" stories that Christopher Tolkien found in his dad's basement or something. I'm a big J.R.R. Tolkien fan, but I've always struggled trying to make it through The Silmarillion, which is supposed to be the history behind the making of the world and the rise of the dark lords and the coming of Sauron to Middle Earth and all that. Maybe someday I'll read it, but I've always found it terribly boring, too boring to slog through. Happily, though, The Children of Húrin is more like The Lord of the Rings and less like The Silmarillion. In fact, I would actually think it would make a better movie than The Hobbit, but that's just my opinion. I won't go into the details here, but most of the story follows the life of Húrin's son, Túrin, as he battles against the forces of evil trying to overtake the land. Typical stuff, but there's a twist at the end. Ultimately, Túrin fails in this endeavor, but that's not the bad part. This is less like some of Tolkien's other works and more like a classical Greek tragedy. It started out slow, but at the end became a real page turner...or as much a page-turner as any Tolkien story can be. If you're a fan of Tolkien or just enjoy a beautifully-written story that ends in tragedy, I highly recommend this one.

My favorite non-fiction book was The Mother Tongue, which is Bill Bryson's exploration of the English language. As is typical with Bryson, he takes a bit of a sarcastic angle toward the history of the English language and how it has become what it is today (or what it was ten years ago, when the book was originally published). Essentially, our language is a whore, willing to spread it's legs for any other interesting word that we find and can use; we take that word in and make it ours. All of the awesome, less of the syph, none of the guilt. No other language is as quick to adopt new words as is English. Also, no other language is built in such a way that it makes it possible to just create words but, at the same time, have their meanings inherently understood by the audience. The awesomality of that has a certain difficultitude about it when trying to explainerate it.

As someone who prides himself on having a pretty good grasp on the English language, usage, grammar and vocabulary, I still learned a lot from this book. Like the fact that, despite our language not being a Romance language, asshats throughout the centuries have tried to turned it into a Romance language. Not like the Normans when they invaded England and brought all of their "qu" words to the language (though we don't really use many of their "qu" words, without the Normans, we would spell "queen" as "kwene" and "quiet" as "kwyet" and "q" would probably serve the purpose of "ck", and that would just be kwere). I'm talking about asshats who arbitrarily decided "well, there's no split infinitives in Latin, so you can't have a split infinitive in English!" Never mind the fact that, in Latin, the infinitive form of the the word is one fucking word!

I could go on, but I'm trying to keep this post short. If you're a fan of Bryson's...well, you've probably already read it. If you're a casual fan of his, maybe you haven't, but you should (how's that for a glowing recommendation?). If you're just a fan of language and how it has developed over the years--like how someone just decided we didn't need all these extra letters, so let's start dropping them, thus creating judgment, acknowledgment, ax and adz, as opposed to their more traditional forms--I'd say read it. Or, if you'd just like another reason to laugh at the French--they actually have laws governing the "purity" of their language--this is another must read.

I've already finished two books this year (well, I started one late in 2008, but still...) and I'll be writing up reviews for them shortly. Until then, go peruse the local bookstand or, if you want to help me out in a cosmic sort of way, head over the Ampersand and buy a copy of one or both (they're both available in paperback) and enjoy away. Next time my wife gets a direct deposit slip, I'll pretend you had something to do with it.


Scope said...

I were teached that "Readin' is FUN-D-MENTAL."

SouthernBelle said...

Ooh, I love Bill Bryson. I don;'t think I've read that one but I have "Made In America" which is the history of American English language. Not as easy to read as some of his travel books but I like words & etymology so I enjoyed it.

Frank said...

Bill Bryson is by far my favourite author. I just got done reading "A Short History of Nearly Everything" a month or two ago. Excellent science book for non-science people such as myself.

Mel O said...

The last book I finished this past year was Are you there, Vodka? It's me Chelsea... I wonder if that changes your opinion about me??

Sassy Britches said...

A Walk in the Woods--Bill Bryson--my absolute favorite book of all time.

Scope said...

For those of you interested, here's a couple of books on English by a college prof. of mine. He wasn't per say, my prof. in any classes, but 20 years later, he still remembers me. (And Facebook desperately wants us to befriend.) He's the Executive Secretary of the American Dialect Society, so he's often quoted on stories about words like "gianormous" entering the language.

Anyway, two books are:
America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America
The World in So Many Words: A Country-by-Country Tour of Words That Have Shaped Our Language

I confess that I have not read these books, other than snippets, but if you're into this kind of thing, here's a couple more avenues to explore.

Hap said...

One of the people at work recommended "Alphabet Juice" by Roy Blount Jr., and I got the book "Watch Your Language (Mother Tongue and Her Wayward Children)" by Robert Gorrell at a used book sale at work. I've only read the latter, and it seemed pretty good.

I haven't read a whole lot lately that isn't in journal or magazine form. I like David Foster Wallace's essays. I'm sorry that he's not around anymore.

Gwen said...

I was going to point you to the same books as Scope. I actually had the privilege of being taught and mentored by Dr. Metcalf and I think that is the reason I love words as much as I do. I have added the Bryson book to my to-read list. Thanks!

red said...

That Bryson book sounds good. I'll have to check it out. I remember being shocked to learn English is actually mostly derived from German...not the Romance languages. That, like, blew my mind...and confirmed I am a total dork.

Fancy Schmancy said...

We could really use you at the Book Nook Club