Lori's Book Nook

Archive for September 2006

Today would be a good day to comment on the classic SF genre of dystopian lit. You know the books: 1984, A Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale…books about totalitarian governments that use media manipulation and torture, among other techniques, to control their populations.

Why today? If you’ve been sleeping the last couple of days, then you may have missed the scary news that the Shrub, and the USA, are well on their way to bringing the nightmare of the dystopian world view to reality…the Powers That Be can now torture to their cold hearts’ content. Here’s raincoaster on the topic, and Metro.

On a related note, here is Creatrix on the state of art education in the USA — a report that again makes me glad I don’t live there.

Dystopian literature is supposed to be a labratory for what should not be, not a blueprint for the way a government could function…


BookTalk.org, a wonderful on-line book club, needs an influx of new blood.

  • Are you a discerning reader?
  • Do you enjoy intellectual discussion?
  • Do you write in full sentences with decent spelling? [Alternate question: Are you annoyed by the proliferation of ‘text speak’ on the Internet?]
  • When you disagree with someone, are you prone to engaging that person in calm discussion?

Then BookTalk.org is great for you! Flames, ad hominem attacks, and irrelevance are discouraged, while intelligence, inclusiveness, and freethinking flourish. (Silliness is acceptable, but in it’s rightful place.) Tell ’em I sent ya!
And you’re just in time for the next book discussion! This time it is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. [Buy it here, to support BookTalk.org]

I’m looking forward to this one, as it reminds me a little of Margaret Visser‘s The Rituals of Dinner and Much Depends on Dinner, where she investigates the cultural history of manners and various foodstuffs.

Pollan, from what I understand of his book, is investigating how our omnivore status has changed over the centuries as agricultural & social concerns mutated. I’m involved with an upcoming conference on the topic of Food Security, and I believe that this will be a useful book to have in my repertoire.

Type “personal essay” into the Google search bar and you get pages upon pages of links to tips on how to write your college/university entrance essay…and lots of people linking to what seems to be the definitive book of essays, Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. (Oh, and if you’re of the Book Club ilk, you can even find a book club guide at Random House.)

Funny that. Pretty much exactly how I ended up with a copy of the book in my library. I was working on an application to a grad program, and wanted to write something more than the ‘this is what I’ve been up to’ style essay, so I picked up Lopate’s book, and lost myself in some of the essays. Used some of the rhetorical tricks therein, had a couple of grad student friends give it a vicious going over, and was pretty proud of the end result. (It landed me the interview, but I don’t think I was hungry enough for academia in person.)

I like reading personal narrative essays, in magazines, online…if, and only if, they are good. You all know what I’m talking about — I want meaty insight, intense story, thunderclap of recognition…no wimpy stories about lessons learned from your cat/dog/precocious child.

This ramble today was triggered by my StumblingUpon this essay site: Fresh Yarn: the Online Salon for Personal Essays. I haven’t fully delved yet, maybe you can all help me.

Of course we’ve all picked up a Penguin…those pesky little orange-covered books are ubiquitous. And yes, Penguin has a corner on a lot of the classics, unavailable anywhere else. I mean, this is a publishing house with an interesting history, and serious collectors!

But a list of the Penguins you must read before you die?!? A little over the top in the blowing-your-own-horn department, n’est-ce pas?

That said, it is an impressive, if daunting, list.

I’ve mentioned audio before, and classic lit delivered to your mailbox…and now I’ve found a couple more sites that relate.

LoudLit.org, being “literature for your eyes and ears”, has an oddly educational aspect to it:

Putting the text and audio together, readers can learn spelling, punctuation and paragraph structure by listening and reading masterpieces of the written word.

As an ex-ESL teacher, I definitely see the advantages, but it’s not necessarily something I’d put on my front page as a selling point. “Hey kids! It’s good for you!”

Ah, but you read a little deeper, and you discover that the aim is to help those with dyslexia — always a noble pursuit. Supposedly, up to 20% of the population suffers from some form of dyslexia. I know I have moments when I’m really tired and going buggy-eyed looking at numbers…Imagine feeling like that all the time. [Here’s a link for the International Dyslexia Association, and another one for the Canadian Dyslexia Association.]

LoudLit.org has some great public domain works, read by named readers. I don’t recognize any of them (not that that means anything!), but finding a reader you like makes listening pleasurable.

The other link I wanted share today is another get-book-fragments-in-your-inbox, DailyLit. Poe, Plato, Nietzsche…it’s quite an impressive collection. And, you can pick what time of day your segments will be delivered to your box (is that an advantage?).


Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day.

And did you know how many books there are on the subject? Take a look at this Amazon.com page, to see a few beauties.

And if you’re still nervous, here are some tips, on the How to Talk Like a Pirate page.

I’m an amateur myself, so I like the English-to-Pirate translator, here.

I like dictionaries. I have a number of them:

  • Canadian Oxford (a must-have for any Canadian. Includes entries on ‘eh’ and ‘touque’…and one of the best sentences in the history of dictionaries: it’s way out in the suburbs, eh, so I can’t get there by bike)
  • Gage Canadian (two copies, actually. Different editions,combined in the marriage)
  • Websters
  • Collins Cobuild (designed for ESL students, it defines words in full, clear sentences!)
  • Longman Dictionary of Language & Culture (another ESL dictionary) I used this one to help me write my book in Korea
  • a rather cool dictionary called Shakespeare’s Words by David Crystal and Ben Crystal. (Check out the link, as this is the online version, which you can play with for a 7-day free trial!)
  • any number of language dictionaries: Greek, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Welsh, Italian…
  • and, the pièce de résistance, the Oxford English Dictionary, lovingly known as the OED to those in lexicography, and dictionary-philes around the world. My copy is the Compact…20 volumes in 2 books, complete with magnifying glass (here’s a pic of how small the print is!)

Years ago, K.M. Elisabeth Murray wrote the story of her Grandfather, James Murray, editor of the original Oxford University dictionary project, in the book Caught in the Web of Words. It’s a detailed, respectful look at a man, and a process, that took years, and resulted in the most amazing historical document of the 20th Century. (I read it on a memorable trip across Canada by train.)

If you’ve never seen an OED entry, check out the word of the day from the OED website. You’ll see examples of the word used throughout its history, in different contexts, with quotes from historical writings.

Imagine the process. Pick a word. Read as much as possible, as far back as possible, to find the earliest example of the word in written use, and examples of new meanings of the word, tracing its history through the centuries of written English. Gather example sentences that illustrate the word’s meaning clearly, in context. They needed a lot of readers to help. And people did, from all over the world, in English speaking countries. Including one interesting man who submitted more than 10,000 words-in-context — who was also an inmate of an asylum for the criminally insane in the USA. Simon Winchester, author of a number of rather torrid cultural histories, wrote The Professor and the Madman, putting a lot of spin on this man, Dr. W.C. Minor.

Dictionaries. Talk to me of dictionaries.

Book Discussion Pages

Here on the Book Nook you can discuss: The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, as well as the next two books in the Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore and World of Wonders, and if that's not enough for you, see what's up on the forums at BookTalk.org!