Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic, by Elizabeth Little

Things I love: words. Words and I are very good friends, if you know what I mean, which is that I really like learning about them. Where they came from, what they do, how funny they can be. See: my love of a children’s book called Word Snoop. And this book is better, because it is for adults and therefore includes swear words. I am a big fan of a well-placed swear word, and Little clearly has practice in this.

I thought this book was going to be about something like the vagaries of translation, because of the title, which references a terrible transliteration of the words “Coca-Cola” into Mandarin. But actually, that’s just a bit that’s in the conclusion, and the rest of the book is EVEN BETTER, because it talks about verbs and modifiers and nouns and how nouns are pretty set in their ways in English, but how you have to go and decline them in other languages, and how some languages have a really fun time pluralizing nouns, and how the Bantu language family isn’t content with just two or three noun classes (aka genders), no, no, how about 16? Or 22? I kind of want to die just thinking about it.

And Little feels that pain, and loves it! About noun class, she writes, “Grammatical gender often appears to be based on just the right combination of reason and utterly arbitrary dart-throwing monkey logic to ensure maximum confusion,” which is SO TRUE, at least with what I remember of my French.

Little also throws in all these little sidebars of awesomeness, which highlight things that are really neat about various languages. So in a sidebar about noun tense, for instance, Little talks about how the GuaranΓ­ language adds endings to verbs to signify tense. There’s a past-tense marker and a future-tense marker, which is cool, but EVEN COOLER is that you can combine them. Little’s example uses presidents, so with this combination of endings you can get a word for Al Gore: mburuvicharangue, or “what we thought was going to be a future president but then turned out not to be.” How cool is that?

I will grant that this might not be that cool to you β€” my husband certainly gave me funny looks about that last example and others that I shared with him. But if you’ve ever suffered through a conjugation in your life, you will probably find something to like in here.

Recommendation: An absolute must for lovers of words or languages or humorous anecdotes.

Rating: 10/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Another frame story! This is becoming a theme, it seems…

And darn this frame story all to heck. I picked up this book not knowing too much about it except that a) I keep seeing people mentioning it as a pretty awesome book and b) it was published in 2007 and therefore necessary for my Countdown Challenge. So when it started in all epic fantasy with its innkeeper with a shady past and creepy spider things that are not demons but are probably something more terrifying, I was like, “All right. This will be fun.” AND THEN YOU NEVER FIND OUT ANYTHING MORE ABOUT THE SPIDERS.

Ahem.

One of my pet peeves in epic fantasy is this conceit of showing the reader a gun in Act I and then waiting until act, like, XVII to have it go off. This is only meant to be a three-book series, so I suppose there won’t be that much waiting, but UGH.

Anyway, after the whole spiders thing happens, it turns out that one of the characters is some famous scribe who writes down the lives of other famous people, and also that the innkeeper with the shady past is a formerly Very Famous Person now languishing in Do You Remember That Guy land. After the scribe works some psychological magic on the innkeeper, the innkeeper is like, “Fine. I will tell you my story. It will take three days. Hope you don’t have carpal tunnel.”

This book is Day One of the story-telling, and here the story veers away from Epic Fantasy and settles into a more Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire land, with the long rambling stories that don’t really have anything driving them (see: Quidditch World Cup). It is also similar in that most of Kvothe’s story here takes place at an Academy, where Kvothe is like the smartest kid there, but waaay too cocky, and also very poor, and he’s like Hermione and Harry and Ron all rolled into one, with even a vicious Draco to play against.

But… I liked the Harry Potter book. For all the long rambling quidditch and the ridiculous school antics, I at least knew that something was going to happen, and the things that happen generally lead toward that something. The Name of the Wind is just a set of stories about Kvothe’s life, from being a gypsy kid to going to the Academy to trying to track down the thing what killed his parents. But there’s never anything really driving the action, and for all I hoped that there would be spiders in the end, there were not. I’m sure that this is all building up toward something in the second and third books, but I’m the kind of reader who has to have at least some little morsel now, if you’re going to keep me interested for another couple of 700-page books. And I don’t feel like I got that.

Recommendation: Don’t go into this expecting classic epic fantasy, but read this if you have the patience for that sort of story that’s going to ramble on for a few books.

Rating: 6/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007, Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
books i done read
medieval bookworm
reading is my superpower

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The House of Tomorrow, by Peter Bognanni

“This is a point. It has no dimensions. It has no length, breadth, depth at all.”
Jared listened without complaint.
“I don’t know about you,” I said, “But I feel very similar to a point lately.”
“Fuckin’ A,” he said.

That’s a quote from about three-quarters of the way through this book, and I’d say it’s a pretty apt summary of the whole thing. The House of Tomorrow has a lot going on in it β€” you’ve got a kid living in a geodesic dome with a grandmother obsessed with R. Buckminster Fuller, a kid living with a secondhand heart trying to make a punk rock band as good as the Ramones or the Misfits while his mother hopes that giving her life to the church will help her deal with everything, and you’ve got what happens when these two kids meet, which is as odd and comical as you’d expect. But what the book is about, as far as I can tell, is how hard it is to define yourself when everyone around you is trying to make that definition for you. Which is what we humans deal with pretty much every second of every day, but Sebastian and Jared deal with it in a much more entertaining fashion.

An interesting thing about this book is that it reads like YA β€” teen protagonists, coming of age, overprotective parents, etc. etc. But I definitely got this book from the adult section, which I think is spectacular because there are so many books that get relegated to the YA section that need to be read by pretty much everyone, and this would be one of them. I would really like to know how Bognanni managed to get this marketed to adults.

I think what I really loved about this book was the writing of Sebastian, the kid from the geodesic dome. I have read so many books and seen so many movies where a similar character is presented as completely alien and mockable, but Sebastian was so real β€” sure, he has a weird way of talking, but the thoughts in his brain aren’t any different from Jared’s, and you can see that.

At times I felt that the plot was getting a little ridiculous β€” Jared decides that the band is going to play at the church youth group talent show, and somehow a full-scale viral marketing campaign gets hatched, including convincing a record store clerk that the band is the new cool indie thing that he should totally have heard of were he not living under a rock, which seemed a bit unrealistic to me. But then I remembered that I was totally okay with Sebastian living in a geodesic dome and I thought maybe I should cut the band a break. If you’re prepared to suspend your disbelief just a little bit, I think you’ll better appreciate the fun of the novel.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2010, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
The Book Lady’s Blog
Devourer of Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Foiled, by Jane Yolen

I’ve started to really like these graphic novels… they’re often cute and quick and brimming with delightfulness and pretty pictures.

This book definitely had the pretty pictures, but I’m not really sure where Yolen was going with the story.

The plot, as far as I can tell: Aliera is a high-school outcast and a top-notch fencer. Her mother has bought her a new weapon from a tag sale, and it’s pretty awesome except for the giant ruby-looking thing on its handle. Also, there’s a new and also very hott kid in school, who is Aliera’s new lab partner, and Aliera is all tongue-tied around him. He’s weird, but cute, and the crushing is on. And then he asks Aliera on a date and some WEIRD stuff happens. Like, super-weird. Like, I would have read an entire book about the weird stuff and been delighted, but it doesn’t fit with the beginning of the book at all.

Sigh. It’s really pretty! And I can sort of draw some meaning from the story, like that people aren’t always what they seem. But I’m still confused about this book. Maybe someone can explain it to me?

Rating: 6/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2010, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On…

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Invisible Gorilla, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

A few months ago, I listened to a pretty interesting book on CD called How We Decide. I liked it, it was an interesting topic, but by the end of the CD I was all, “I am going to pistol-whip the next guy that says ‘pre-frontal cortex.'”

Basically, you could go to that review, swap out the titles, and replace “pre-frontal cortex” with “illusion” and you’ve got my review of this book.

Don’t get me wrong, it was good for the first five or six hours (out of nine-ish?) that Scott and I listened to it on our drive from Cleveland to Jacksonville. The title story is really the best, and there are a lot of other good examples of people overestimating themselves or being overestimated by people β€” the book is basically about how we think we’re awesome at remembering things or at talking on cell phones while driving, but we are so not.

But then it starts getting old, and THEN the authors go into a diatribe about how you should totally get your kids vaccinated, which I agree with but man, I was starting to think about not vaccinating my hypothetical children out of spite. It was seriously annoying.

Once we weren’t stuck in the car anymore, it was hard to get up the will to finish this book, but we did, and it does end on a good note. But like How We Decide, I would highly recommend getting it in book form so that you can skim the super annoying and super boring parts.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2010, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Physics of the Buffyverse, by Jennifer Ouellette

This is the first book I checked out from my new library system in Florida, so I’m glad it was fairly decent. πŸ™‚ It was on a shelf full of non-fiction science books, which are okay in general, but one look at that title and I was sold. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even though I’ve seen probably only half of the episodes (this is getting slowly rectified through the wonders of Netflix), and I’ve been in an on-again, off-again relationship with physics for a long time, so why wouldn’t I pick up this book?

Now, I’d say you really need to have some sort of relationship with physics to read this book. It’s not so much “The Physics of the Buffyverse” as it is “Regular Physics Explained Through the Use of Events in Buffy and Angel,” which is still cool but by the time you get to string theory, your head might explode, and not because of a scream that resonates as the same frequency as your head (Ouellette’s explanation for the death of the Gentlemen).

Other than that, the writing is solid and Ouellette does a pretty good job keeping the confusing bits interesting. I was just really hoping for some creative made-up physics rather than the “Well, this could never happen, but here’s something similar that could” avoidances, so I ended up disappointed. In the book, anyway. All of the little spoilers Ouellette gives out have made me even more excited to watch Buffy, and even Angel, which I have never actually seen. Let me just run off to my television now…

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Tell-All, by Chuck Palahniuk

What a… very odd book. I’m not really sure what to say about it. I definitely would not have picked it up except that my book club is reading it this month, and I almost didn’t want to read it anyway.

Maybe it’s because I don’t follow a lot of celebrity things and have never read a tell-all book, but I really really really hated all the name-dropping, made even more irritating by the fact that every proper noun was in bold face. It’s mostly spread out, but every once in a while there’s a sentence like, “By now, Lillian Hellman wraps two fists around the invisible throat of Adolf Hitler, reenacting how she sneaked into his subterranean Berlin bunker, dressed as Leni Riefenstahl, her arms laden with black-market cartons of Lucky Strike and Parliament cigarettes, and then throttled the sleeping dictator in his bed.” And then I cry.

The really exciting bit (one might call it the plot) doesn’t come until halfway through the book, but once it starts it’s quite interesting. I was sure the book was going to end one way, and it sort of did but there was more to it that I had not at all anticipated. I like that. But I wouldn’t read this again, or make you read it, either.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2010, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.