Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the month “November, 2022”

Review: The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence was recommended by several members of The Virtual Silent Book Club, and I am very glad I followed it up!

It s written from the viewpoint of Tookie, the protagonist, who has rebuilt her life after being set up by a couple of friends. However, it also involves coming to terms with a past that Tookie has pretty much blocked out, and how she grows in the process.

Ms. Erdrich’s characters are, however, what makes the book compelling. Tookie, Pollux, Hetta, Laurent, Asema, Flora, een, et al, are not only quirky, but they are memorable and will stay with me for a long time.

Further, in addition to having a mystery to resolve, there is a wickedly funny ghost story involving several of the characters, a slightly twisted love story, a look at the relationship between indigenous people and ‘non-indigenous people, and a good sprinkling of real-life events — all taking place during the year between All Souls Day 2019 and All Souls Day 2020.

Anyway, all that is to say that this is one book you don’t want to miss!

Review: Library: An Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles

Matthew Battles’ Library: An Unquiet History is a most fascinating book. In fact, I could not breeze through it as quickly as I’m used to, but had to stop every chapter or two to digest what I had read.

Battles covers so much more than one would expect — he looks at the effects societies have had on libraries, and that libraries have had on societies. He gives a pretty thorough overview of the varying schools of thought on the purpose of libraries, and a horrifying look at the way various libraries were destroyed — with the numbers of materials lost so staggering it was hard to get my head around them.

One of the more interesting tidbits (to me, anyway) was about the geniza, which is a kind of book tomb.While not a library in the strictest sense, the geniza is a repository for books (until they can be properly destroyed and disposed of) that are no longer usable. The value of the geniza is that it accepts all kinds of written materials – from kids’ coloring books to sacred texts – giving the searcher a much broader understanding of what life was like in that society.

I definitely recommend Library: An Unquiet History to anyone who loves books and libraries.

Review: The Kingdom of Speech, by Tom Wolfe

Most folks I know consider Tom Wolfe a pop culture writer, but forget that he was primarily associated with what has been called the New Journalism. That’s a shame because Wolfe is one of the most engaging authors I have recently read.

My mom was a big Tom Wolfe fan, but I somehow missed reading the books he is most known for (or any of his other works, for that matter). This is a lacuna that I want to correct as soon as possible.

Wolfe is, above all, engaging. While fact-filled, <i>The Kingdom of Speech</i> goes rollicking along like one of the best novels. Wolfe’s tone is casual and invites you to play. The audiobook of this has an excellent reader in Robert Petkoff, who makes even the footnotes sound lively and intriguing. The book reads so well that, in fact, I had to check several times to assure myself that this was non-fiction.

This is a book for anyone who loves language. It doesn’t analyze speech, per se, but is a survey of the development of speech. The book starts with Wolfe reading an article by eight highly qualified evolutionists (including Noam Chomsky) stating that they have, after over a century, given up on determining where speech comes from. This piques Wolfe’s interest, and he begins researching what led these scientists to this conclusion. The journey is fascinating, and I came away with a whole new understanding of how it is speech that drives societies and achievements.

This is definitely a book for those who enjoy learning about other viewpoints, and who also enjoy learning about the infighting that often accompanies new theories. It’s also for those who like a fun read along the way.

Review: Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl

I was not ready for Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning. This is one I should have done in paperback or Kindle so that I could make notes and comments.

The book is not very long, but Frankl raises lots of questions — and this is about things I have been pondering for a long time, so I found it very interesting. In fact, I had conversations about some of the questions he raised with my wife, and two friends over the course of the day. I like books that challenge me and make me think, so this was a Very Good Thing.

I do recommend this if you are of a philosophical turn of mind, but you might want to get it in paperback, rather than as an audiobook.

Review: Like a Rolling Stone: The Last Letter to the Editor: A Memoir, by Jann S. Wenner

Jann S. Wenner’s Like a Rolling Stone: The Last Letter to the Editor: A Memoir, was like looking back at my own life. Okay, I didn’t know quite as many famous folks as he did, but I did know my share, and I had a far more interesting life (’til now) than one would expect a lower-middle-class kid from Richmond Hill, Queens, New York to have.

I’ve always been obsessed by music. All my friends can tell you that. I’m always listening for something new or unusual, and I love to read lyrics. As a kid with a rough childhood and teenage years, music kept me holding on. Also, I grew up at just the right time, as did Wenner: we both came of age when almost every band had something special and worth listening to. People were experimenting; music, especially rock, was changing and growing organically in pretty much every direction.

Wenner does more than capture that, though. He talks about his life – both good and bad parts, He is frank about his issues and decisions, and how he has lived over the years. He engages the reader the way he engaged his subjects at Rolling Stone, with grace and empathy. You don’t feel Wenner is preaching at you; rather, you feel that he is reflecting on a life well-lived.

Whether or not you grew up with Rolling Stone, this is well worth reading.

Review: Little Miss Marker, Tobias the Terrible, Romance in the Roaring Forties, and The Lemon Drop Kid, by Damon Runyon

Following up on my last story, I have been listening to some f the Damon Runyon stories at The Damon Runyon Theatre.

I’ll actually note four stories here: the aforementioned “Little Miss Marker,” “Tobias the Terrible,” “Romance in the Roaring Forties,” and “The Lemon Drop Kid.” They are all delightful, and all deserve a listen, especially “Little Miss Marker.” Whoever the reader is, he has the accent down perfectly, and the stories evoke a New York that most of us want to believe in, even though it never really existed.

And that is the charm of Runyon’s stories: he creates a New York that is vibrant and exciting, peopled with flamboyant characters that make you wish you lived among them.

If you can listen to these stories, you really should. When properly read, they are delightful.

Review: A Piece of Pie, by Damon Runyon

I found Damon Runyon’s A Piece of Pie at the urging of a non-Goodreads friend who knows I love New York stories. So, following her advice, I listened to a radio version from KBOO, narrated by a fellow named Napales Yellow.

It was delightful — the story is about an eating contest between Boston and New York contenders, with the New Yorkers betting on Nicely-Nicely Jones to win for them. Nicely-Nicely, however, cannot take part in the contest, so a substitute is found and the story proceeds from there.

This was definitely a story to listen to, rather than read, as Mr. Yellow’s version of Damon Runyon’s version of a New York accent was spot on, and totally comparable to those in the musical or movie versions of Guys and Dolls where, by the way, most of us first became aware of Nicely-Nicely Jones. The story takes place during the 1920s.

I was rather annoyed that when I tried to find A Piece of Pie at the three library systems I have access to nothing came up — not even other stories by Mr. Runyon. We are losing far too many classics, in my opinion, but that’s for another blog post.

The only problem I have with A Piece of Pie is that I now want to add audio versions of other Damon Runyon works to my ever-expanding reading list. And, if you listen to this and enjoy it, I’m sure you will want to also.

UPDATE & NOTE: While checking around for audio versions of Runyon’s work, I found that The Internet Archive has a page called The Damon Runyon Theatre, which has 52 audio broadcasts of Damon Runyon’s short stories, including A Piece of Pie.

Review: By the Waters of Babylon, by Stephen Vincent Benét

This is a bit complicated.

When I was in seventh grade I first read Stephen Vincent Benét’s short story By the Waters of Babylon. I enjoyed it but the only thing that stuck with me were the words “There was also the shattered image of a man or a god. It had been made of white stone, and he wore his hair tied back like a woman. His name was ASHING, as I read on the cracked half of a stone. I thought it wise to pray to ASHING, though I do not know that god.”

Never managed to remember the name or the author, which is unusual for me, but whenever something brought the great god ASHING to my mind, I would look it up online, and be happy I remembered that much.

That happened again this morning – it came up while talking to my wife, and I looked it up. Having found the title and author, I checked the three libraries I have access to and none of them had it. So I did what any self-respecting bookgeek would do — I did an internet search and found the story on the Internet Archive.

I’m so glad I did. I was just as blown away by it this morning as I had been in seventh grade. The upshot — me being me — is that I now need to read more Stephen Vincent Benét.

Review: Happiness Came With a Cat: My Journey from Brokennesss to Happiness, and the Life Lessons My Cat Taught Me, by Cynthia Star

Cynthia Star’s Happiness Came With a Cat: My Journey from Brokenness to Happiness, and the Life Lessons My Cat Taught Me is an adorable short book about her journey with the cat her daughter wanted, Mr. Jinx. It’s basically an explanation of the insights she gained while first cat-sitting, then owning Mr. Jinx.

As the owner of a difficult cat, I found Ms. Star’s insights to be spot on. My difficult cat is now 19, and beginning to feel her age. I enjoyed very much the similarity between insights I’ve gotten from Kitt and the several cats who preceded her in my home.

Anyway, when Ms. Star gets a cat for her daughter, her life implodes from several directions. As anyone who owns (or is owned by) a cat can tell you, they are the best therapists. And Ms. Star is clearly a keen observer of feline behavior, and very capable of extrapolating how her observations of Mr. Jinx’s behavior is relevant in living her life.

I definitely recommend this book for cat lovers and even those who might be cat lovers if the right cat came along. I also recommend it for folks who are afraid of cats, because it shows how compatible with humans cats can be. I note that I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Review: IMAGINE JOHN YOKO, by John Lennon (mostly curated by Yoko Ono)

Imagine John Yoko is almost too much of a Good Thing. It is chock-full of interviews with anyone and everyone who had anything to do with the recording of the album. It’s also lavishly illustrated, including photos of notes, tech layouts, houses, gardens, people, art, and just about everything that went into the project. The result is a wonderful, huge book that literally took me all 15 of my library’s renewal options to finish. It also required me to clean off a table and put the book on it rather than holding it.

For those of us who remember John, Yoko, the Beatles, and the circus that seemed to be around them at all times, it’s a wonderful look back. I highly enjoyed it and even came to understand Yoko Ono and her work a bit more than I already did. (I had known that in some circles Ono was the “rising star” celebrity and Lennon the “hanger-on.”) In fact, one of the things I came away from the book with was a better understanding of what John found intellectually challenging about her. The book also noted that while John has often said that he took the lyrics for “Imagine” from some of Yoko’s work, it wasn’t until 2017 that Yoko got writing credit for it. Shortly before the announcement, Lennon had noted in a BBC interview that

“‘Actually that should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it — the lyric and the concept — came from Yoko. But those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution. But it was right out of Grapefruit, her book.”

Yoko Ono added to Imagine writing credits
Published 15 June 2017, BBC News

Again, if you love the Beatles, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band, and — most of all — the song “Imagine,” you will want to read this one. It’s definitely worth the time and effort.

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