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Saturday, January 23, 2010

2009 in 2010

Some conversations that came out of my Top Eleven Fiction Reads of 2009 list led to some early 2010 reading:

After loving The Road so much, a friend suggested we read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and I did quite like it. Cowboy is not one of my key genres, and I would not seek to read the complete trilogy, but this book quite rocks. I think the old writers are falling away in popular culture, maintained mainly in literature courses: writers like Hemingway and more so, in this case, Steinbeck, and also even Faulkner, but here is McCarthy filling that category for a modern reader. I enjoyed decoding the Spanish, and I felt that it was quite new and quite American to have so much unglossed Spanish - it is nearly an official second language. I really love his "donts" and "cants" without the apostrophe, but he doesnt drop all such markings. I wonder how he decided?

I am just clearing the way through The Time Traveller's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, (yawn) to get to some of the other books on my pile. I wanted to have read the complete list of top wish-listed books on LibraryThing, and I have long wanted to read this - it should press a lot of my buttons, but I find it amazingly banal. When last I checked, only Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel, remains to be read from that list, and it has not yet fallen into my lap. Interestingly, I have read zero of the books on the currently-being-read list on LT. Hmmm.

Speaking of official second languages, favourite books of 2009, and the to-read pile, I have been planning to try reading in French, just for a kick. As a Canadian, with many years of school French behind me, not to mention something of a moral obligation to be there in French, plus having mastered reading in Italian as an adult, I thought it would a suitable reading challenge. I found a couple of other readers interested in tryingThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery in the original French (l'Élegance du hérisson). I loved it in English, and it fits into the "possible to read" zone of a second language: not too hip, not too archaic, not too wordy, not too academic, not too long, and not too stupid. It's almost surprising what a small space this is. Ideally one would not re-read a book for this purpose, but on the other hand, it will probably help to have read it already in some of the tough spots.

I'll keep you posted. If you want to try too, let me know, and we'll talk.

Le souci se soucie de la difficulté de ce projet:
On a pris trop de manger?


  1. I was interested to see that you describe 'l'Élégance du hérisson' as not being wordy or academic. I thought that the English translation was both and I struggled to understand it in places.

    I was wondering if the wordiness was a translation problem. What do you think? Is it much simpler in its original French?

  2. I have yet to read it in French, but although the philosophy bits were slightly academic, that language is almost the same in English as it is in French, so it doesn't actually scare me.

    I would not call it wordy - it was quite short and even spare, I thought, rather than ornamented with words.

    I even think there is a relationship between the style of the book and the Japan-ophilia of the characters (not to mention that of the writer, who now lives in Japan). Beauty from cutting away distractions, plain-ness (maybe I should say simplicity) but not dullness. I love things Japanese too, and have even practiced a little of the modern ikebana to explore creating that effect.

    I will be getting the book and reading it in French soon. I'll be sure to report on that in my blog. Stay tuned.

  3. On just a little further thought, the words were interesting, and perhaps even challenging, but there were not too many of them. It is the too-many effect that I would consider wordiness, rather than the complexity of the individual words. Maybe that's also part of the explanation of why we seem to have judged it differently. That's why ikebana is beautiful (according to me), just a few flowers, but in a radical shape.

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