June 22, 2017
by Neelima
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Is English Normal? @ Link Wanderlust

Have you ever thought that English is not a normal language? John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University, seems to think so. He comes to this conclusion by comparing the Anglo-Saxon language with other languages.

Some reasons that make English so odd are that it excludes many features that language usually displays like applying gender to nouns, third person singular present tense peculiarities,  the usage of ‘do’ which is actually very Celtic, and the fact that it has accommodated thousands of loan words from various languages. The essay is humorous and written with the understanding and insight of a linguist. For instance, McWhorter is able to identify how the Scandinavians actually spoiled Old English and in the process made the language easier.

“Thus the story of English, from when it hit British shores 1,600 years ago to today, is that of a language becoming delightfully odd. Much more has happened to it in that time than to any of its relatives, or to most languages on Earth.”

It’s not often that you get to read a humorous piece on the history of the English language. Don’t miss reading this one! Here it is: English is not Normal.

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June 19, 2017
by Neelima
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Light and Letters @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 7)

Shruti continued with the Jerry Pinto theme. She spoke about Em and the Big Hoom at one of the BYOB Parties. She then found another book on mental health issues compiled by Pinto called A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind. He wrote the foreword for the book as well. What he found difficult about the process was getting the stories right. It’s one thing to tell a story and quite another to put these painful real-life incidents into print. So he kept checking the facts, making sure that the people whose stories were published did not have to compromise with their emotions. So there was a very human side to the making of this book.  Even arriving at the title was extremely difficult. Shruti outlined many painful incidents in the book. Reading the stories of those whose family members faced mental health crises, she was inspired to appreciate her every day as for some people the every day is filled with impossible battles that can not be won, just endured. It is difficult to read this book in a stretch, she says, and also a tad disturbing.

Arup got a book called Letters to a Young Poet by the renown poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The book comprises ten letters Rilke wrote to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year-old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. The duo corresponded about all matters poetry and it Kappus who eventually compiled and published the letters three years after Rilke died of leukemia.

Here is the content of one letter:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself.

More letters here and more books in Part 8.

June 15, 2017
by Neelima
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Dostoevsky’s Earlier Novels @ Link Wanderlust

Anyone who has read Dostoevsky would be surprised to know about how this writer made his literary beginning. In At the Firing Squad: The Radical Works of a Young Dostoevsky, Matthew James Seidel looks at the books that came before the great writer emerged. His first novel called Poor Folk is about poverty and probably the first social novel of its time in Russia. The next novel of his that made a mark was The Double. The premise is interesting and he sets up the hallucinatory worlds of his subsequent characters.

This was about the time that Dostoevsky was arrested as he was part of a group called the Petrashevsky Circle. He clearly thought that he would be executed but it was a practical joke that the Tsar played sometimes, and the arrested men were spared, only to spend time in Siberia as punishment.  Read this story if you want to know who Dostoevsky was before he created  works like Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov that would immortalize him.

June 12, 2017
by Neelima
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World Order and Reader’s Digest @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 6)

Pratyush talked about controversial politician cum articulate author Henry Kissinger’s World Order. The book charts out in chapters dedicated to different parts of the world how the concept of world order actually evolved by trial and error. While once city states were in perpetual conflict, a time came in the history of each region when order became a necessary evil. Even now there are conflicting ideas of what world order means and maintaining peace among differing ideologies is a balancing act hard to attain. In China, the emperor tied the threads of disparate parts of the nation. In  Rome, the idea of civilization being the factor that controlled what was called barbarism took hold, giving the Senate a higher moral ground and justifying their conquest. Again in the US, the perception is that democracy and free speech have guided its policies.

An interesting discussion ensued about how controlling the port of Antwerp led to the creation of Belgium. Abhaya saw a parallel to this in the dispute between Maharashtra and Gujarat over the cosmopolitan Mumbai. The conversation also went on to how in ancient India, states followed a policy of collaborations based on concentric circles. Who was the closest to the circumference of your state was watched with suspicion and those further away were considered as allies. Kissinger’s interpretation of world order was a fresh breath of air for Pratyush and he recommends the book.

Sunny brought along a light book yet again, this time a collection of stories by Reader’s Digest or what is called the Readers Digest Select Edition.  The Reader’s Digest magazine evokes many memories, especially for those who read the editions all through the 70’s and the 80’s. Those who have read it have enjoyed Humor in Unform, All in a Day’s Work, etc. Book excerpts were usually published in the last section. I dug up an interesting history of this once fascinating digest. If you wish to ‘recall the glory days of the Reader’s Digest’, check this link.

This particular edition, an Australian one, of abridged books comprised The King of Torts by John Grisham, A Week in Winter by Marcia Willett, The Last Detective by Robert Crais and Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray.

John Grisham tells the story of a young, ambitious lawyer, Clay Carter, who succumbs to the lure of money and becomes a tort lawyer, highly successful in suing large companies. But his success doesn’t last. Marcia Willet deals with a family tragedy and how the character Maudie Todhunter handles it. Robert Crais tells the story of his protagonist Elvis Cole, featuring his personal and professional relationships in his cinematic fast-paced style. Jeanne Ray talks about the changing dynamics of familial power and how baking turns a failed business into a successful enterprise.

Sunny added a self-help takeaway from this edition. Since the books dealt with professionals like disgruntled lawyers, troubled detectives and failed businessmen, he mentioned how important human interaction and validation of your peers is at the workplace. After all, we are more than professionals and not the algorithms that the readers had discussed. He also talked about karma at the workplace, how you can be the King of Torts but how it will come back to you again as karma is real.

More books in Part 7.

June 8, 2017
by Neelima
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One Hundred Years of Solitude @ Link Wanderlust

Once upon a time, fifty years ago,  there was a book called One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was an obscure book by an unknown author published by a press called Sudamericana Press but some books have an unforeseen destiny.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude went on to sell over 45 million copies, solidified its stature as a literary classic, and garnered García Márquez fame and acclaim as one of the greatest Spanish-language writers in history.”

The story How One Hundred Years of Solitude Became a Classic by Alvaro Santana Acuna chronicles how this happened. The acquisitions editor of the Argentine press knew that Marquez did not have a great publishing history and Marquez himself was nervous. Yet this was a time of great literary ferment in Latin America- take Borges, Vargas Llosa, and Fuentes. Social realism was losing its flavor and writers were beginning to appreciate the fantastical novel though it is argued by some that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a social novel at best, a story of Latin America. Why does the novel continue to retain its popularity?

Some of it has to do with interest in climate change, besides the quality and texture of the reading experience the book presents. Read the article, and read the book if you haven’t yet.