Alphabooks: N is for Number

N: Number of Bookcases You Own

At present: 5.

Always and forever: not enough.

IMG_3779IMG_3798IMG_3800IMG_3823

Admittedly, I have the bad habit of using my bookshelves for both books and for everything else; before taking these pictures, I cleared away 3 picture frames, 11 skeins of yarn, 2 candles, 4 maglites, and heaven knows what else.  I also have some problems with placement; the three smaller bookcases are in my bedroom, while the two floor-to-ceiling bookcases have been relegated to the basement.  That will change over the summer, but for the past year or so, those books have sat largely untouched by virtue of being further away.

And speaking of things that are further away… well…there are still books of mine at my parents’ house.  Two small bookcases’ worth.  I’m hoping to take inventory over the summer.

How many bookcases do you own?

Alphabooks: L is for Longest

L: Longest Book You’ve Read

I haven’t yet finished Les Miserables, Moby Dick, or The Count of Monte Cristo, but several possibilities occurred to me nonetheless.  Brothers Karamazov is lengthy (824 pages, or 877).  So are Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (768 in hardcover) and David Copperfield (768 in paperback).

    Brothers KHP Order of the PhoenixDavid Copperfield hard cover

But after some dithering over the variations in editions (since publishers will not be so good as to tell me how many words each book has), I’m fairly certain the longest book I’ve ever read is Anna Karenina: some 864 pages of Anna cheating on her husband with Count Vronsky and suffering all manner of social awkwardness in the course of it.  Happy people need very little description; unhappy people are unhappy in their own verbose way.

Anna Karenina(Okay, so it’s much broader in scope than that.  The thing is so long because it’s a microcosm of Russian existence, or something of that sort: all the social pressures against Anna’s divorce, everything that follows around an affair, faith, Levin and Kitty’s happier marriage, how peasants act, illness, how politics works, how much parents care for their children, etc., etc.)

…wait.  Wait, I just realized: I’ve read two other microcosmic books, and they’re probably tied for length:

George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.  Take out Anna and Vronsky, and sub in some other people in pursuit of love.  Scarlett O’Hara is looking in all the wrong places, though I daresay some folks in Middlemarch get it right.

              MiddlemarchGone with the Wind 1936

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read? 

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read and adored?

Alphabooks: F is for Fictitious Dates

F: Fictional Character You Would Have Dated in High School

First of all, I just want to note that if I were to write my own alphabetical book prompts – which I might do, eventually, because why not – “F” would never have brought to mind “characters worth dating.”  I’d write about Favorite Dead Persons or Food That Sounded Delicious or Flawed Narratives or Funny Plot Devices or Flamboyant Minor Characters before I’d get to dating.

I’m also left wondering why this prompt stipulates “someone you would have dated in high school,” specifically. Am I meant to be picking from YA books, here?  Is there meant to be a hint of nostalgia for who I was then, and for the sorts of people that appealed to me at that point?

At any rate.  Rhetorical questioning of Ze Prompt aside, two particular characters come to mind.

Ron Weasley
of Harry Potter fame, by JK Rowling
My freshman year of high school involved a massive crush on Rick, the guy whose locker was next to mine.  He was tall, gangly, freckly, and had strawberry blond hair.  Hair color (mostly) aside, Rick was exactly as I pictured Ron Weasley to look, and I rather fancied myself as his Hermione Granger counterpart.  True, Rick was always more studious, with better handwriting and a wide poetic streak.  But he had all of Ron’s loyalty, amiability, and (eventual) self-assuredness.

Dave the Laugh
of the Georgia Nicholson books, by Louise Rennison
I might be about to perjure myself, given that the guy I did date in high school was not really comfortable with my family as it was.  The beauty of Dave the Laugh is this: no matter how loony, strange, or embarrassing her parents, her pre-school-aged sister, or Georgia herself might be, they are all comfortable with Dave the Laugh.  They can be themselves, in all their mad glory; Georgia doesn’t trip over herself because of Dave’s looks (like she does with Robbie, Masimo, et al.), or hide her family away, because Dave understands who they are and appreciates it.  And while he himself can be strange (or, in fact, quite mad), he’s also kind, caring, and enjoys making Georgia laugh so hard her nose spreads all over her face.  Not what I went for at 16, buuuut, well, I should have.

Alphabooks: D is for Drink

D: Drink of Choice While Reading

On one hand, I can and do drink anything whilst reading: water, a gin and tonic, chocolate milk, ginger beer,Cupboard Gatorade, coffee, wine, whiskey, pop, or any given cocktail.  If I’m already drinking something as I pick up a book, or if I get thirsty whilst reading, any beverage will do.

But then again, that is a scandalous falsehood.  For tea is the obvious drink.  Our kettle’s always on the stove, cabinets of tea and mugs directly above it.  The mugs big, solid, and so abundant that there’s always some standing ready no matter how many I’ve left, empty or nearly so, in my bedroom.

Tea typesOn one hand: any kind of tea will work.  Black, green, herbal; English Breakfast, Earl Grey, or spiced orange; blends like Lady Londonderry, Monk’s Blend, Enchanted Forest, or my Sherlockian teas (especially John Watson and, surprisingly, Anderson).  Harney & Sons Royal Wedding tea is delightful.  Cuppa Joy is delicious.

But then, which do I reach for first, and last, and most often in between?  What do I actually make when I need a break from a story, and sip as I sit back down?

Tetley

Generally, Tetley with heavy whipping cream and a bit of sugar.

Creamy teaYou know that Melpomene and Urania would both commend cream tea to you!  It is a most august and wondrous tradition.

What’s your go-to reading refreshment?

Happy Birthday, YouTube

YouTube has been in existence for 10 years now.

This makes me wonder if there’s a way to convert solar years to internet years, because ten years on the internet is pretty much forever, right?  There are times when I have to stop and ponder the fact that, in fact, this particular service has not existed as long as I have, that the entirety of my childhood and most of my adolescence were spent without it.  Not to mention that which has followed in its train: widespread GIFs.  Vines.  Videos on Facebook.  Videos EVERYWHERE.

Then there’s the plenitude of it.  That one site can be the place to listen to music and share performances, to give DIY instructions, to find TV shows or movie clips, to document one’s family, to vlog, to share cat videos…

How did we exist without a convenient spot for cat videos for so long?!  The mind, it boggles.

Other folks, in celebration of ten years of cat videos, have made lists of YouTube’s most-viewed offerings.  While I’ve nothing against the surprised kitty, Sweet Brown, David after the Dentist, or NyanCat, I figured I’d share a different selection.  These aren’t quite “videos you must watch to be my friend,” but they’re close.

And like unto it (kind of):

British ads are better:

Here’s a viral throwback:

And then there’s this delight:

Honorable mentions go to Axis of Awesome’s 4 Chords; Eddie Izzard’s Death Star Canteen sketch (with Legos!); OK Go’s song So Here It Goes; and In Demand.

What YouTubes have you made all your friends watch?

Alphabooks: A is for Author

A: Author You’ve Read the Most Books From

I’d had the thought that, in order to keep myself from being too perfunctory about it, I’d avoid talking about books or authors I’d discussed in previous years.

So I sat awhile in uffish thought, before consulting GoodReads, my library checkout history, and my bookshelves.

All this to find that some things don’t change, and no one’s managed to shift my all-time favorites from being all-time favorites.  Especially not the champion of them all: C.S. Lewis.

Not pictured: Screwtape Letters and Surprised by Joy, which (shockingly) I do not own.

Not pictured: Screwtape Letters and Surprised by Joy, which (shockingly) I do not own.

From the Chronicles of Narnia, to his apologetics, to the Cosmic Trilogy, to his poetry and essays – I’ve read some 27 books of Jack’s, and still have a few more volumes of letters and essays awaiting me on my shelf.

Allegory of Love is at the bottom right.

Allegory of Love is at the bottom right.

Runners-up include Neil Gaiman (15.5, if Good Omens is ½ and the 10 sections of Sandman as separate volumes); Dorothy Sayers (13); Jim Butcher (11.5 at present); Orson Scott Card (11); Shakespeare (11 plays I’ve read; more that I’ve seen); and J.K. Rowling (10).

What author have you read the most of?

Alphabetical Promptings

Back in the Egotistical heyday of 2011 and 2012, we set up a couple of challenges for ourselves.  2011’s challenge gave us fodder for every single day of May; 2012 split up 10 weeks between 5 of us.  We’d schemed a bit in 2013 to follow a similar paradigm with different themes, but alas, the engine of thought never quite sputtered to life.  2014 likewise lay fallow.

But recently I found an alphabetical list from Perpetual Page Turner, and thought it was just the thing for this spring.  My plan is to respond to a prompt every weekday of April and May (more or less).  Feel free to join me; since you can be as brief or as detailed as you like, you may only require a single post!

Here are the prompts:

A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From
B. Best Sequel Ever
C. Currently Reading
D. Drink of Choice While Reading
E. E-Reader or Physical Books?
F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School
G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance
H. Hidden Gem Book
I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life
J. Just Finished
K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read
L. Longest Book You’ve Read
M. Major Book Hangover Because Of…
N. Number of Bookcases You Own
O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times
P. Preferred Place to Read
Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You/Gives You Feels
R. Reading Regret
S. Series You Started and Need to Finish
T. Three Of Your All-Time Favorite Books
U. Unapologetic Fangirl For…
V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other
W. Worst Bookish Habit
X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book)
Y. Your Latest Book Purchase
Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late)

Book stack

Review: Righting the Mother Tongue

I’m not sure where I found this book originally, but it called out to me and my word-loving sensibilities.  Let it stand as a point in favor of libraries: you can have all the fun of impulse book-buying without any issues of budgeting (well, except your time) or storage (aside from the temporary tsundoku by your bed).

Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling is David Wolman’sWriting the Mother tongue journey through history to figure out just how English spelling became so confusing, whether it’s possible for it to be simplified, and what might become of the language in future.  Wolman himself grew up with siblings whose competence in spelling left his ability far behind – not to mention the frustration that attended his classroom attempts at words like “different,” “restaurant” and “license,” words from various forebears with diverse paradigms.  He heads on a road trip through various parts of England and America to discuss language shifts with a number of experts.

I was, for the most part, already familiar with a lot of his journey: the Wessex dialect of Old English spread on account of Alfred the Great’s influence; monks, clerics, and scribes set about copying manuscripts and Bibles; the Norman conquest brought an influx of French words, used mostly by the higher class.  Then there was a bit of an English resurgence, due in part to the popularity of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible.  Gutenberg’s printing press and its movable type meant that printing houses chose spellings that worked best for their margins, as opposed to the scribes who would tailor their wordwork for the ease of whoever was buying (and reading) it.

Chapter 5, which bridges the gap between the advent of printing and the publishing of Johnson’s dictionary, was the most illuminating section for me.  It noted that self-appointed tastemakers and language-shapers in the 16th and 17th centuries favored this or that construction/spelling and set it apart as most “correct,” so as to distinguish the polloi from the more educated, stylish elite.  For example, they included more Greek and Latinate terms, and, occasionally, tweaked certain words to more greatly resemble their fellows: rime became rhyme to match rhythm, delit became delight to match right and might (which had themselves undergone a shift, from pronouncing the “gh” to leaving it silent).

Then follows Samuel Johnson’s codification of English in his Dictionary of the English Language: In Which the Words Are Deduced from Their Originals, and Illustrated in Their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers, To Which Are Prefixed a History of the Language and an English Grammar.  Spelling was far more settled by this point (1755), and the dictionary cemented it further.

The chapters following that detail some history of American English, including several different parties in the past 200 years who wished to render English spelling a simpler matter.  Even today, the Simplified Spelling Society fights for a more efficient system.  Admittedly, the members of said society aren’t quite sure which system to utilize instead…but they all agree that English has a lot of “booby traps,” spelling-wise, that students have to spend a lot of time learning to navigate.

For my own part, that navigation was easy.  I grew up with the luxuries of educated, involved parents; plenty of reading material that taught me how words looked; and a fairly good memory for reproducing words, especially if I knew their etymology.  Wolman addresses this in a chapter on the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

Manning says she sees words differently now that she’s a Bee parent.  She had never thought much about all the other languages that influenced English spelling or the different parts of speech, but as her daughter developed a love of words and started studying for the Bee, Manning found that there was much more to spelling than just remembering what letters go where.  “It’s those clues and weird little histories that you pick up – that’s what makes it interesting.”

…an orthography that is perfectly reflective of pronunciation may not be ideal.  In isolation, words with silent or extra letters may strike people as inefficient, and at times they are.  But in other cases, they help our brains draw dotted lines between words with related meanings, such as sign and signature, condemn and condemnation, dough and doughnut, or bomb and bombard.

After deftly navigating the arguments between prescriptivists, who wish to prescribe, or lay down rules, for ‘proper’ spelling and grammar, and descriptivists, who prefer to record how people are in fact using language from day to day, Wolman goes on to examine how we treat orthography in the 21st century.  Nowadays, everyone’s computer or mobile device is outfitted with an spellchecker, which some suppose renders spelling irrelevant; does it matter if I forget the first “r” if my computer underlines “irelevant” with a red squiggle?  If we all disregarded the red squiggle, would the spelling change?  Wolman spends some time on the history of spellcheck before turning to Google and its suggested spelling function:

The last thing Google people want is to be perceived as setting rules or boundaries around what users do.  A company as big as Google already has enough trouble dispelling fears of Big Brother-esque practices.  “The question, ‘Do you mean?’ is deliberately ambiguous,” said Norvig.  “What we’re not saying is, ‘Here’s how you spell.’”  In this way, Google can be authoritative without being authoritarian, providing a snapshot of what’s out there in cyberspace without presuming to correct your English.

Chalk Google up as descriptivist, I guess.  I lean toward the prescriptive side myself, though not as heavily as I did before reading this book.  Reminding myself of the centuries of change English has already undergone makes me a tiny bit less likely to castigate someone’s spelling as wrong! …but see what I do next time something says “there” instead of “their.”

Overall, Righting the Mother Tongue is a fairly interesting book on the history of English orthography, a discussion of of spelling reform, and some description of the cognitive side of reading and writing (which helps account for the difficulties some people have in these activities).  While he examines the weirdness behind certain words – the now-silent “g” in “right,” the “h” in “ghost” or “rhubarb,” the in-and-outs of “aisle” and “isle” – Wolman spends more time on the shaping of the English language as a whole:

“Language is people,” Crystal told me as we stared out at the River Avon.  Words are not the flesh of thought entirely, for we also think in pictures, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings.  But words are an essential part of the flesh of society and cultural intercourse.  They are products of human innovation, folly, power, preference, and change.  For that reason, correct English is nothing more than a phantom.  That doesn’t make English any less expansive and glorious, but the idea that there is clearly a right or a wrong way to go about the business of pronunciation, grammar, or even spelling, flies in the face of language’s true machinations.

English has grown and shifted before, an organism that changes with time and the people who use it.  It is not petrified or ossified, but living: it will continue to grow and shift and, perhaps, look quite different in a generation or two.