28 Dec 2012

The Adventure of English

The Adventure of English, Melvyn Bragg

A good amateur's survey of the history of English, better at the start than its rather mechanical surveys of Australian or West Indies vocabularies towards the end. You learn things: for a little background, Old English for example was an inflected language, like Latin, but commerce between two inhabiting tribes on the island of Britain, separated by a political barrier, brought about prepositions like "on" and "for" to replace inflections which two separate races could not hear clearly. Plenty of fun stories and facts, if over-romanticized. But hey, the romantization is a good form for telling the story of a character that has lived 1500 years.

One more thing: especially to one living in francophonia, The Adventure of English reminds me of which words are "really" English, and the game of finding the "English" equivalents of Latin- or French-derived words like "derive," "barrier" or of course "surrender."

30 Nov 2012

The Worm Ouroboros

The Worm Ouroboros, E. R. Eddison

Very good fantasy. Treats its romantic, imagined universe with surprising confidence, unapologetic for its amusing inconsistencies: a setting on a world named "Mercury" lacking the most elementary foundation in the physics of the planet Mercury; a hero race named "Demons" that start the book sporting horns, a feature which receives no mention during later physionomic detailing; and a host of other geologic and temporal inventions that have no ambition for basis in any reality.

I've heard it called "high fantasy:" perhaps the "high" refers to the state in which one's mind must be to accept the textual constructions, but I don't feel it is fantasy at all: just a sort of outpouring of images from fun nights on Hallowe'en, romance novels and war films that finds itself in the same binding.

1 Oct 2012

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

1st of all: Very good book. Immersive, at times tense, then thoughtful. Concentrated.

A concentrated work, concentrated ideas, squashed together tightly, in a tight box. A prison. This Dostoevsky hates the city; it stinks so much. People live unimaginably abominably. Watching them squirm in the hot, dusty ruts is irritating and attractive. The civilized reduced to animals by the heated dirt and bricks.

Gratuitous philosophy. This one thought that; that one thought this, thought and theorized and analyzed his theories and then analyzed his own analyzing, all this in cynical disgust, all going nowhere. One would think the world can only be ended if such text is possible in it.

The entrance is easy; feels like we are the hero. How he gets where he is is minutely studied, observed, hypothesized and understood, such that we can be him, do his deeds even the most sinful. And thus we can follow him even when he goes mad: this is admirable, this concentration from the author, that he can take us so far from our own lives in a vehicle that we feel we can ride.

Very good.

28 Aug 2012


Frankestein, Mary Shelley

Not bad story, but style irritatingly romantic: I mean to the point that I wonder if it was a joke.

17 Jul 2012

Just My Type

Just My Type, Simon Garfield

Feels like it's full of unfinished anecdotes, but even half anecdotes are readable when they're about such a fringe topic.

Verdict: readable.

1 Jun 2012

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald


7 Mar 2012

The Gold Coast

The Gold Coast, Nelson DeMille

Hey, great book.

25 Jan 2012

The Descent of Alette

The Descent of Alette, Alice Notley

I don't usually like poems, but this reads like a story. I like it.

There is also a neat style worth mentioning. Notley uses quotation marks to separate poetic feet, meaning that every few words you get an enclosure in quotation marks, and there are no words free of these marks. So you get a barrage of quotation marks. And indeed, each break between quote-wrapped feet does make you pause, creating a rhythm that the author says is "intended."

Good for her. I'd add that there's an effect of quotation marks that she doesn't mention... that of creating a sense of irony. It's what attracted me first to the book, and what kept me reading.

Les Trois Mousquetaires

Les Trois Mousquetaires, Alexandre Dumas

Nice, though not as good as Monte Cristo.