Thursday, December 09, 2004

So. I've been writing this book journal for a year, today, and have compiled some 99 entries up until this one--making this my 100th post. Not quite a book a post, at least in the beginning, and I regret not having exact statistics for you about how many books there have been. I'll add a comment about that later.

I'm taking this moment to post for the first time not about books, but about my philosophy of blogging. I want to try to make sense, for you and for me, of what it is this project is all about.

This blog is not for reviews, though many of the posts contain editorial review type comments. It's for first thoughts. It's for my immediate impressions, my reactions, what I'm thinking about immediately after finishing (a book or a section). As such, the writing is far from polished, and is far from trying to argue a specific idea or point.

I'm casting a net with these pages. I'm publicly saying, I'm here and I've read this piece. I'm willing to think about the piece, and I'm willing to talk about it--by offering some initial thoughts, and by inviting comments that might lead to more interesting discussions. A quick glance through the history of the comments will convince you that discussions are virutally non-existant, but the second reason to have the comments--an opportunity for people to reccomend other pieces to me has indeed borne some fruit.

The blog gives me an excuse to write about books, and forces me to be slightly more intentional about what I do read. It's a place to stop the reading, and to begin to reflect about the reading.

I've enjoyed my first year here; maybe by next year, I'll have finished reading the book I had just started a year ago (I'm not as far into it as I might like).

One year ago:

So far today:

from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Biographia Literaria
- I'm in the middle of chapter two.
- It's amazing how interesting STC's footnotes are.
I find that I get lost in their arguments.
By the time I'm done reading one, I've forgotten what he
was discussing before I jumped to the footnote.
Mark Morton, The Lover's Tongue: A Merry Romp Through the Language of Love and Sex, 2003.

Morton is a prof at the University of Winnipeg, and is the language columnist for CBC's Definitely Not the Opera. Herb recommended this book to me back at the end of May, and I stuck in a hold request then. Apparently, it's a popular book.

It's an odd book, really. I love etymology--from the Greek ετυμον (one who discourses) + λογος (words) = thinking about words--so I placed the hold back then, disagreeing with Herb's assessment of a sexual theme. The book is wonderful at exposing the play of words, the way they emerge, adapt, are played with, and are loved. It's fun because Morton obviously loves paying attention to where words come from, and because this is an area of the language where there are a lot of words, even if many of them are of quite recent coinage.

Where the book is lacking is that it's hard to sit down and to read it; it's a book with which the reader is best off dipping into, and enjoying piecemeal. Morton does advocate reading it a chapter at a time, and one might even prefer to read smaller chunks. I found myself smiling and being amused both at the stories behind some words and by Morton's own linguistic exuberance and love of language; for these reasons alone, it's a worthwhile read. I'm not sure, though, that it's one for which I'd pay: for me, it's excellent use of the HPL hold system.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Susanna Clarke, Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell.

M-- recommended this one to me; I can only imagine it was because he'd read only the beginning, and didn't know that the book--which shows such promise in the first hundred pages--rapidly becomes painfully boring thereafter.
Clarke captures the feel of a nineteenth century novel fairly quickly, but her story lacks the liveliness of Dickens, the sensibility of Eliot, or the amusement of manners of Austen. It feels like a work in the style of the masters, and lacks the punch, the zip, the verve. It's just not fun enough.
The story begins with England lacking any magical practitioners. Mr. Norrell fills the void, and takes as a student the only other person capable of performing magic--Strange--and the two perform work that allows England to defeat Napoleon. Norrell's goal throughout is to restore a particular form of magic to prominence and renown, abandoning the wild magic of Fairy and of the mysterious and mythic Raven King of North England. Sadly, the story continues with this, and with just a vague bit of a nemesis.
The problem is that there is no real conflict nor passion. There are opportunities for both, but the staid pace continues seemingly interminably without developing. The nemesis never becomes truly real nor scary to the audience: a sad state of affairs indeed for a work of fantasy.
While an intriguing idea, the book remains imitative in its form, never truly taking advantage of its flexibility. The story is dreary; the novel is unworthy of the praise it has received.