Just ♥ Words—rural juror

Friday, 08 July 2011 10:03

rural-juror2In a 30 Rock episode, Jenna stars in a movie, but no one gets the title—"Rural Juror." Jenna keeps calling it "rurur jurur," a hilarious combination of words, which made me want to try a few of my own—Worry Weary ... Arrow 's Error ... Fear of Furor...

Okay, not as funny as Jenna's, but then Tiny Fey's not exactly writing this blog. Still, it got me to thinking about the act of speech, a complicated process that depends on how we shape our hard and soft palates, open our glottis, move our tongue, shape our lips—and the order in which we do it all.

 We perform these oral gymnastics with ease in our native languages, almost instinctively, because we've been doing so since childhood. And that's what makes tongue twisters so much fun: they confound our ability to perform our usual verbal gimmicks. Selling sea shells, Peter Piper's pickles, and the wood chuck chucking. Say them fast and you trip up—because you can't move your tongue to the proper position fast enough.

My favorite piece of linguistic trivia isn't quite a tongue twister, but it's close enough to have actually altered the way we say a common word or two.

Don't You Just ♥ Words?
—Thunder—

Old English for thunder was thunner—an awkward word due to its phoenetic demands. Say it quickly...and you'll know why the "d" slipped in. It has to do with a slight mistiming—as we move our tongue from the "n" to the "r," says linguist Charles Barber.

This transition calls for two simultaneous movements of the speech organs: (1) the nasal passages are closed by the raising of the soft palate, and (2) the tongue is moved away from the teeth to unblock the mouth-passage. [If there's a mistiming], if the...nasal passages are closed before the tongue moves, a "d" will be heard....

Thus the "d" found its way into the word because it was easier to say. Thunder was was first noticed in the 1300s, but it took another 300 before it was accepted as standard English.

Thimble and bramble
are two other words affected by a similar phonetic mistiming, says Barber. They both acquired a middle letter "b."

End of lesson, end of blog post...except to reference Charles Barber's The English Language: A Historical Introduction, Cambridge UP, 2000, p45.

 

Book Club Blues—food fight

Friday, 01 July 2011 09:30

bcblues-6Is food a competitive sport in your book club? It's strange, but we finally got all of our LitFood recipes back up on the New & Improved website...when I got this email:

Our group meets at each others' homes, and whoever hosts serves dinner. It was fun at first. But now the meals are so elaborate that it's like a competition. I feel I'm being judged, and I dread when it's my turn to host.

Not good. But not uncommon either. In a NY Times article on book clubs a couple of years ago, this very complaint turned up. Food should be part of the fun—not the focus. Besides, lots of people who love to read..don't love to cook. So here's something you might try:

Talk about the issue openly...do other members feel the way you do?

If so, make the meal a joint venture, everyone contributing. Those who really love to cook could bring the main dish. My feeling is that hosting is already a lot of work—getting the house ready and laying out glasses, silverware, dishes...to say nothing of the post-meeting clean-up.

If others don't feel as you do, ask to be let off the hook. Suggest a compromise: you could host more often if others bring the food...or you could take care of wine or hors d'oeuvres for a couple of meetings. (Those things you can buy.)

If no compromise is forthcoming? You gotta go girl. Find yourself a new club, one with a more casual, easy-going hosting style.

 

Hey...you talkin' to me?

Saturday, 29 January 2011 10:41

me-bookEver get that “ah-ha!” feeling when reading? You come across a passage that practically shouts, “Hey, pal. Pay attention—this is YOU we're talkin' about.” It’s eerie, sometimes unnerving.

One of the narrators of Nicole Krauss’s Great House describes herself in a lengthy passage…and I felt an itch of recognition, a not very pleasant itch either…so I won’t quote it here.

But I love that books can do that…make us see ourselves…recall feelings and experiences…and put them into words! It’s uncanny.

Question for Book Clubs
Was there a particular character—or moment—in the book you’re reading now that gave you a sense of self-recognition? What about in other books? If you’ve come across those passages, can you recall how they made you feel?

 

Just ♥ Words—Janus

Wednesday, 12 January 2011 10:04

janusMy friend Gordon showed up again with more word fun—this time Janus words. Since it’s January, named after the Roman diety Janus—who faced both backward and forward, looking to the past and to the future—we’ll take Gordon at his words.

Janus words are self-antonyms, or contranyms. They're spelled the same. . . and pronounced the same, but they have opposite meanings.

 

Don't You Just ♥ Words?

Cleave — to stick together; to cut apart
Clip — to hold together; to cut off
Custom — the norm; unique
Dust — to remove dust; to lightly sprinkle
Fast — held firmly in place; moving quickly
Oversight — to watch carefully; not noticed
Quantum — tiny, in physics; very large, as in ”leap”
Sanction — to approve; a punitive action
Temper — to harden; to soften

This is just a smattering. There are lots more.

 

Take that—you g#*&~! book

Tuesday, 23 November 2010 00:00

throw-a-bookYears ago a friend came across a sex scene in Nelson DeMille’s Gold Coast—a couple playing a masquerade to juice up their sexlife. It was so offensive to her she tossed the book across the room—all of which she proudly announced to our book club. (The offending passage involves Lady Godiva...on a horse, of course...very funny. There's an even funnier pirate scene later on.)

What about you? Ever throw a book? I nearly did the other night. In my case, it had to do with the book’s heroine—dense, bratty (her own words turned on herself), and stubborn, in a very stupid way. It was all the more irritating because the book had started out with such promise.

What makes a book toss-worthy? What gets us so riled up that we want to throw it across the room? Is it anger … revulsion … disappointment … fear? And what sparks those emotions?

What's a toss-worthy reason?

graphic sex or violence?
offensive language?
gross injustice?
irritating characters?
predictable plot lines?
unrealistic coincidence?
just plain bad writing?

But here's the thing...isn't it wonderful how literature evokes such passion? Think about it—books come to us as nothing more than tiny black squiggles on a flat white page…which we use to create meaning…which in turn inspires powerful responses. Astonishing…when you think about it.

 

Featured Book Club — from the Big Apple

Wednesday, 17 November 2010 09:15

booker-prize-bookclubCheck out LitLovers newest Featured LitClub—a brainy group of New Yorkers, who tackle the Booker Prize awards list (winners and nominees). That’s some impressive reading!

They also have a great idea for any book club—a Book Swap. The group organized a Swap at a library in SoHo (SoHo…ah, how cool izat?) in conjunction with a Peace Corp veterans book club. It proved so successful the library wants to make it a seasonal event.

The two groups are also considering a joint read and discussion. The Peace Corp group reads international books, which ties in beautifully with the Booker Prize list. *

* Britain’s Man Booker Prize is awarded to English-written novels by authors from the 54-member [British] Commonwealth of Nations, plus Ireland and Zimbabwe. Commonwealth nations include countries in Africa, the South Pacific, and the Carribbean, as well as Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand.

 

Harry Potter—Confessions of a former skeptic

Saturday, 23 October 2010 12:22

harry-potterIt’s late in the game, I know. But I just finished reading all 7 Harry Potter novels. I’d avoided them up to now because...

1. They’re for kids
2. I don't like fantasy
3. Way too much hype
  4. I’m swamped with a long list of “must-reads.”

Turns out, I was misguided—on all 4 counts. Apologies to the millions of HP fans—I’m now one of you. ICH BIN EIN HARRY POTTER-ER!!!!

Some thoughts on Harry Potter books

  1. They're complex—Seven long novels with interlocking plots, details, secrets and characters. How did Rowling keep track of it all? Post-it notes?
  2. They're funny—Portraits that talk and leave home to vist to their neighbors; books with titles like “Which Broom” and "One Minute Feasts–It’s a Miracle!” and much more.
  3. They're mythological—Represent the archetypal hero's journey; peppered with parallels to Greek, Druid, and Norse mythology.
  4. They've got rich, long sentences—All of us, kids and adults, can work on our ability to read long, complex sentences. And Rowling gives us some doosies…stretching out to 50 words! F-I-F-T-Y words! They’re long, lovely things!

Granted, the writing on occastion is clunky, storyline overplotted, and villains cartoonish—but all of that’s incidental considering the totality of Rowling’s project. I’m enthralled…and surprised that I am! If you haven’t read Harry Potter…do!

For book clubs, we have Reading Guides for all seven…with discussion questions.

 

Video Games—as good as books? Part 2

Saturday, 16 October 2010 14:00

video_games2In my last post, I raised the issue of whether video games might someday inspire book-club-like-groups. Here’s a follow-up…

Jeff, my nephew showed up at our house (after I’d written the first post) with “Rain,” an adult mystery video game. As I watched him play, I found myself caught up in the story—unable to pull my eyes away from the screen, let alone leave the room to fix dinner.

The graphics were good, the storyline engaging, and the interactive nature allowed Jeff to make decisions on the part of his characters. And different decisions led to different outcomes.

What was surprising was how invested I was in the characters—yet I wasn’t the one holding the joystick!  Jeff was the one holding the joystick—and he clearly cared about his people. After all, they could act only through him.

It's a bit like writing and reading a novel at the same time. Playing these games, you're both author and reader of the same work. How cool is that?

Prediction? I bet 10-15 years from now people will be meeting to talk about video games—just as we do about books. Given time, the plots and characters will grow more sophisticated and complex—with rich possibilties for discussion. We’ll talk about why we made the choices we did, why we developed the characters we did … and how outcomes varied from member to member.  

Exciting but worrisome. One wonders about the future of BOOKS—stats on the number of folks who read them is increasingly dire. So one asks (well, I do) as wonderful as technology is, is it leading us backwards?

 

Video Games—as good as books? Part 1

Monday, 21 June 2010 10:02

video_games1Tim Bissel is a grown man—a writer and professor of writing—who's obsessed with videogames. In fact, he considers them a budding art form.

In his new book, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Bissel says the games are “as gripping as any fiction" he's come across”—and, get this—that Grand Theft Auto IV is ”the most colossal creative achievement of the last 25 years.” That's quite a claim.


What excites Bissel, really excites him, is the interactive nature of games, the idea of...

turning narrative into an active experience,
something which film [and literature] is
unable to do in the same way.

So it got me to thinking about the history of the novel and film, both of which were once were considered upstarts—having to prove their artistic worth to skeptics. Right now, Bissel isn’t impressed with the “literary” skills of the video game designers. But given time, won’t those skills—dialog and characterization—develop just as they did in fiction and film?

And consider this—literary fiction is the only art form that allows us to slip the boundaries of our own skin and enter another’s. When we identify with literary characters, we think and feel as they do…we BECOME those characters for the duration of the book. But we’re still passive participants, only along for the ride.

Now think what it might be like, say 10-15 years from now, to enter into a book or film’s action … to particpate actively … to affect its outcome. How will that work? I don’t know, but … I’m getting out my daughter’s old joypad to practice!

Questions for Book Clubs
Have fun—consider what a book club might be like 20 years from now. Will we all come with our little laptop video games? Will we discuss what actions each took…and how we changed the direction of the plot?

See Part 2 of this post.

 

The Novel is Dead?

Sunday, 06 June 2010 12:05

flying-booksJeeesh! Long time since I posted anything on this poor lonely blog. Why so long? Turns out, I’ve been reading...a lot.

Which brings up an intriguing comment by Jonathan Franzen in the Sunday New York Times Book Review (6/6/10).

Haven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement...that novels belong to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster?

As an old English professor friend of mine likes to say, novels are a curious moral case, in that we feel guilty about not reading more of them but also guilty about doing something as frivolous as reading them

Okay, so it’s tongue-and-cheek. Or not. Still, I’m wondering...

Questions for Book Clubs

  1. Who’s “we”—as in “haven't we all secretly"? And why is it a secret agreement? Because nobody wants to talk about it?
  2. Does he really think the novel (printed and digital...or just printed) is on its way out? If so, what will replace it: graphic novels...or the Internet...or video games?
  3. Are novels "frivolous"? Has anyone told book clubs yet?

 

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