Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Dear Committee Members

 So last night I opened up (as much as an ebook can be opened) Dear Committee Members (DCM) by Julie Schumacher. And at 5am this morning I finished it!

I didn't even know of Ms. Schumacher. I subscribe to a weekly newsletter from the Folger Shakespeare Library (they publish the best paperbacks of the Bard's plays, btw). A couple weeks ago they mentioned their virtual book club would be covering The Shakespeare Requirement (TSR) by Ms. Schumacher on 6 September. 

Looking at TSR on Goodreads, some reviewers mentioned it being helpful to read DCM first, so I checked it out. Available on my neighborhood library's ebook collection. w00t! So I downloaded it. Ugh, first thing I noticed is it is epistolary. Not a big fan of those types of books. Put it aside. At 180 pages, figured I could read it quick as 6 September got closer.

Thus, I tried it last night. Read 87 pages right through. Didn't want to put it down but the Land of Nod called me. Woke up at 3am unable to sleep and thought, Why not? Two hours later I was finished.

Such a fun read! I am a big fan of what are called Oxford novels, those set in that famous British school. Lucky Jim, Decline and Fall, Porterhouse Blue, Pictures from an Institution. This one is not set in Oxford but in a small college in New England. No matter, hilarity ensues. I'm also a big fan of reading characters who have to deal with bureaucracy, and this book was full of it. 

Now I am ready for TSR. Can't wait to start it. And best of all: not a book of letters!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Day of Europe, or: ways of learning during COVID

 The Universala Esperanto Asocio (UEA, the international Esperanto association) is celebrating the Day of Europe today with live Esperanto briefings and talks. This is a continuation of the on-going #MondaFest2020. 

Silver lining talk here, but one good thing of the current way of doing things is all the online access to Esperanto speakers. For a language lover & learner, this really is beneficial. The talk I'm listening to now, along with many, many more, are all on UEA's Youtube channel UEAviva

And tomorrow UEA will be celebrating the Day of Africa, so I'll have another opportunity to listen to Esperanto speakers. 

Which reminds me, silver lining part du: many academic associations have migrated their annual conferences online. In some instances, the conferences are free. I've already signed up for a few: Slavic Linguistics Society; the Foundation for Endangered Languages; an Interlinguistics Symposium; Mars Society. Not sure I can make all of them, maybe just a lecture here or there, but that's okay. Learning is learning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

War & Peace

 I've started War & Peace. As I wrote earlier, I had seen a bunch of book bloggers plan to read the novel over 2020, a chapter a day. Unfortunately, I hadn't seen that till around March. But I'm on a long trip now and figured, why not read two chapters a day? Get 'er done in six months instead! So I started it on Sunday. It's so good!


I studied Russian and Russia's history for years and years. I was never much into reading classic books though. About 20 years ago, the wife and I decided to start (for us both) or reread (for her) classics we should have read already. Books like Moby Dick, Don Quixote, 1984, East of Eden. But I'd never really read any Russian classics. 

My first Russian classic I read in 2006: Crime and Punishment. What an awesome read. (If you haven't read it, move ahead to the next paragraph.) What a writer Dostoevsky was! How in the world did I feel for Roskolnikov by the end? The guy was a horrible murderer. Amazing writing. 

When we first lived in Moscow, I decided to try The Master and Margarita. Боже мой! A new favorite! Couldn't believe how good that book was. I'll have to reread that one soon. Been over 10 years. 

As for W&P, I did try it back in late 2000. It was my gym read back when I would sit on the bike for 30 minutes to an hour. I got halfway. It just got to be too much and, even with my Russian knowledge, I still had to look back to the dramatis personae often. 

But since then I've spent almost five years in Russia, traveling the country, meeting the people, learning more. There's something to be said for having first-hand experience. Recently I read the terribly unrealistic Charm School by Nelson DeMille. But what was great about it were the descriptions of Moscow, a city I miss. I had the same feeling when I read the incredibly original vampire story The Night Watch. And of course, Metro 2033. All of these books had Moscow as a setting. (I felt the same reading Cannery Row after living in Monterey, California, three times.)

So this time, I intend on finishing War and Peace

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Dangerous Language

 An historian decades ago wrote an awesome book called The Dangerous Language. Ulrich Lins did research in German and Russian archives (along with some other nations in Eastern Europe and Asia) to discover how totalitarian regimes dealt with Esperanto and Esperanto speakers. Bottom line: not well.

The book was written in Esperanto and has been translated into, I think, a dozen languages now. It's also been revised in the last few years. I'll probably get a copy of that one and (re)read it. 

Lins is a great author in this subject area. Dear reader(s) of my blog know that I have interest in this area, along with Esperanto with respect to the two world wars. Thus the great books Antaŭ unu jarcento and Mi stelojn jungis al revado. Both great. But last year I found out that some Esperanto historians had put together an homage-book (festlibro or memorlibro in Esperanto) for Lins's 75th birthday. I had to get a copy, of course.

En la mondon venas nova lingvo [A new language comes into the world] is broken into four parts: I) The suspicious language, II) Life and actions of Esperantists, III) Traces from the historical processes, and IV) Ideas and practices on Esperanto and other interlanguages [conlangs]. I read the first part last year and picked the book back up this week to read part II. So many articles in this book's 700 pages. Many of them great. All of them fully referenced and peer reviewed. And of course, each one is leading me to more books and articles I need. 



Saturday, August 8, 2020

Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith

If you haven't read any Martin Cruz Smith, you should. Let me suggest Gorky Park. You've probably seen the movie with William Hurt as Arkady Renko. The movie was excellent, in a 1970s/early 1980s sort of way. The book was great. I thought it couldn't get better. I was wrong. Number 2 in the Renko series is Polar Star. And holy crap is it awesome. 

The Polar Star is a Russian nee Soviet fishing vessel, responsible for collecting tons of fish caught by other boats, processing the fish into fillets or meal, then freezing the resultant tons till the ship returns to the USSR. It's a big ship. Sadly, I hadn't realized the book had cross sections of the ship and the main American ship at the beginning of the book. The one time I wish I would have had a physical copy. 

The best part of these books is how well MCS writes the Russian soul. The Russian soul is something that Russians talk a lot about, and brag that no one understands. It doesn't take long to understand. You just have to live with it for a while. (Like, about five years, right Mike?!) Smith certainly has it down pat. I recognized Russian traits in all his characters. 

If you read this book and think, several times through the story, "Dammit, Renko, tell him the truth!" you really must understand that Renko is Soviet. He's also Russian. Defeatism, hopelessness, acceptance of crappy situations, is all a part of life there. I would tell you that several years ago I read in Russian press a phrase that was quite popular at the time, and might still be: "Life is hard. Thank God it's short." That is so Russian. 

The book was expensive at $12.99 for the Kindle version, but well worth it. I've already downloaded Renko #3!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Language(s) update

I've pretty much put my Croatian L-R on the back burner. Haven't been in the mood. If or when I start that up again, I'll start over at step 2 (read the book in the L2). 

Doesn't mean I haven't been languaging. I've kept my Esperanto up and as I've spoken about before, I'm still doing weekly assignments for my Coptic course. 

This week, had COVID not happened, I'd be in Montreal at my first-ever Universala Kongreso (UK). For those not in the know, the UK is the annual gathering of Esperanto speakers. Usually thousands show up for a week+ of seminars, gatherings, social events, concerts, plays, opera, skits, excursions, general get-togetherness. I attended the US/Canada annual congress last year as it was in Boston and it was a really good time. And such an immersion experience that I literally forgot all my Russian when trying to speak to a Canadian Esperantist who's originally from the Soviet Union. Seriously, couldn't produce one syllable of Russian. It was weird. 

The UK comes to North America maybe once a decade, so it was sad that it didn't happen this year. (Yes, I understand there are more pressing & important issues out there. This is my blog, though, so I'm allowed to be selfish.) Thankfully, UEA (the international Esperanto organization) and the local organizers in Canada agreed to moving the Montreal UK to 2022. The attendance charges have been "forwarded" to the 2022 UK! 



In place of an in-person UK this year, they decided to do a virtual one. Stupid me, I forgot about it till yesterday. Which sucks as there was a lecture on Esperanto and WWII, which readers of this blog will know is a great area of interest for me. (Here's hoping they'll make the videos available afterwards.) But today I "attended" a couple gatherings and it was great to hear Esperanto again. And I've found a bunch I want to attend tomorrow, and this time I've set alarms in my calendar so I won't miss them!

So, dear reader(s), there's the update. The future might hold another language, but who knows. For now, Esperanto and Coptic are enough!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Some year-long reads

Unlisted in my Current Reads section of Goodreads are the books that I spend an inordinate amount of time reading. Like, a year or more. What does this mean? Let me explain. 

Last year in my Goodreads I marked as Read the book The Intellectual Devotional by Kidder & Oppenheim. If you don't know these books, they are styled on the religious daily devotionals. These Intellectual ones cover a different topic for an entire year. Or at least, 52 weeks. I finished the first one last year and about a month later I started The Intellectual Devotional: American History. (I'm now on week 19.) I won't be done with that one until early next year, thus I don't list it in my Current Reads. But when I finish next year, I will be sure to list the inclusive dates. 

Another book I'll be reading for a year or more is Thomas Lambdin's Introduction to Sahidic Coptic. I'm taking a student-led course at Glyphstudy on the language, and currently it is scheduled to take three years to complete the 30 lessons. Well, I won't promise to stick with it for three years, but I'm about 12 weeks into it now (and we're finishing lesson 3 this week...very slow!), which beats the last Glyphstudy course I started in Middle Egyptian two years ago! Anyway, I'll not put the book in my Current Reads list until I'm either close to done or close to stopping the course. 

Some folks this year have begun a chapter-a-day mission to read War and Peace. Some English translations of the book have 361 chapters, so perfect for one chapter a day. Here in a couple of weeks I'll be starting the book, aiming for two chapters a day. Again, I probably won't list it in my Current Reads until I'm close to done. FWIW, I began the book back in 2000 and got about halfway, but lost interest. I hope to finish it this time. Having been a Russian linguist and lover of (some) Russian lit, I really need to read this book. Maybe sometime later I'll read it one chapter a day but in the original Russian? 

Speaking of the chapter a day idea, I'm considering reading a Dickens in the future (after W&P) along those lines. I'm interested in The Pickwick Papers or maybe David Copperfield. There's lots of chapters in those books, so maybe that'll be a future book project.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Is it time?

Is it time for another Stephen King? The wife and I were talking today about the seemingly over-reaction to the threat of Isaias's winds coming this way and we thought of Storm of the Century. I had forgotten about the movie, but never read the book. My wife read the book and loved it. 

Got me thinking. I'm not your usual King reader. I've only read four of his, and only two of them I could say are typical ones that every King reader has read: The Stand and The Dead Zone. Loved them both. Tried Misery years ago and just couldn't get very far. However, Under the Dome and Sleeping Beauties I absolutely loved. Pretty much, I love all four of his I've read.

(As for the TV/movie adaptations, the miniseries for The Stand is still watchable and one of my favorites. All the actors were great! The Dead Zone was just magnificent; I just rewatched it last year after finishing the book. Under the Dome, however...yuck. They managed to ruin it. Boo.)

But should I read more? We got to talking and I think I've settled on Needful Things as my next King read, whenever that'll be. 

Currently, I'm reading Money for Nothing as the August read for the P.G. Wodehouse Book Club on FB. And when I say reading what I mean is listening to the book on Audible. Love the speaker and his American accents. In book form, and by book form I mean Kindle, I'm reading the Arkady Renko #2 Polar Star. Damn I love Martin Cruz Smith. Great writer. And in the non-fiction world I'm reading Nancy Mulvany's Indexing Books, for my class on back-of-the-book indexing.

The Double, by Jose Saramago

 This is my first Saramago that I've read. My wife loved  Blindness . I couldn't get into it years ago when I attempted it. But this...