Monday, October 23, 2017

Mother Tongue by Christine Gilbert

I picked this book up because language learning is something that interests me, even if I'm not very good at it. Mother Tongue is Christine's account to achieve 'a level of fluency' of Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish by spending about 6 months in China, Lebanon, and Mexico.

Since Christine only studied Spanish before the experiment, I was quite skeptical about whether this could be done. After 6 months of intensive Japanese, I could get around and go on a holiday, but I definitely would not describe myself as having achieved 'a level of fluency'.

To spoil the book (look away now if spoilers irk you!), the effort to learn Chinese was a failure, Arabic was much more successful and Christine probably had the most success with Spanish.

Interspersed with her account of how she tried to raise trilingual kids is her research on how we learn languages. I was pleased to know that Professor Cook, who is 'one of the foremost respected second-language acquisition academics in the world' recommends immersion + formal instruction in learning a foreign language, which is how I learned Japanese.

There are also plenty of musings on language and culture in the book, as Christine learns and considers the impact of culture on learning a language, whether being bilingual means that you're automatically bicultural, and if living overseas automatically means you have to either live like a native or in an expat bubble or if you can find your own balance.

I found this to be an interesting read. Christine was very honest about her failures and this led me to celebrate her successes with her. While the reason for this experiment was to make her son bilingual, I felt that there was more focus on her language journey. I think that resonated more than me than a story on how to teach your kids a second language would, but if you're a parent looking for ways to raise bilingual kids, you may not find many ideas here.

If you're interested in learning a new language or you're learning one, you may be interested in this book. I really enjoyed reading this and it made me more determined to make sure that I don't forget my Japanese after I move back.

Quotes I liked:

"If you learn another culture, it changes you. I mean, it'll start with trivial things like words for new concepts that you didn't have before. I don't think that you start off wanting to change, you start off wanting to learn, and the learning itself changes you." 
"[Y]ou have to fall in love with the culture to learn it."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bookish Mystery - Meanderings of Memory

A week or two ago, I noticed that I was approaching 1500 posts for this blog. I thought it would be nice to do something special for that post and stumbled across this bookish mystery soon after.  Coincidence?

Yes, probably but what a happy coincidence it is.

According to the Wikipedia article on this, Meanderings of Memory is a lost book. Despite the fact that it was cited as a "first or early source for over 50 entries" in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the current OED editors (and presumably by extension, everyone else) have not been able to locate a copy.

This mystery came to light in 2013, when a staffer involved in the ongoing revision of the OED sought to verify the earliest citation of the work but couldn't find the source (Meanderings of Memory). After looking at the original archival slips, it appears that these citations were from someone called Edward Peacock, who by all accounts was a credible source.

Unable to find the book, the OED posted an open appeal for information (this was before they found out that who the contributor was). While it is possible that the book never existed, Edward Peacock's other contributions were reliable, and the book has been found in several catalogues, making it unlikely to be a hoax.

Meanderings of Memory is supposed to have been written in 1852 by someone named 'Nightlark' (which was probably a pseudonym). Veronica Hurst, the chief bibliographer hypothesizes that based on the language, Meanderings of Memory may be a "flowery" book of poetry "five to ten pages long". It's also possible that the reason why a surviving copy doesn't exist is because the book was pornographic or published through some unusual method.

Both the comments on the OED appeal page and a Reddit thread throw up some interesting theories, such as the possibility that Edward Peacock was Nightlark. Another theory I read suggests that since the Latin epigraph of the book (which we know from the catalogues) reference a Philomena, who in Greek mythology transformed into a nightingale, this could mean that Nightlark was a lady poetess. If you're interested, I would suggest reading both pages for more information and theories.

I'm not sure if this is a mystery that will ever be solved, but it's certainly one of the more interesting bookish mysteries that I've come across!

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Note, I read this a long, long time ago (in 2012) but I found new things on a second read, so here's another review (though truth be told, my first review was longer). 

I am so pleased that I managed to get this one sale (for only 300 yen!) I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth book in the Tiffany Aching books, which in turn is part of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I actually found the Discworld series through Tiffany Aching, which is why her books hold a special place in my heart.

When I Shall Wear Midnight starts, Tiffany is running herself ragged as the witch of the Chalk. But along with the advent of Roland, her former maybe-beau's impending wedding, Tiffany finds that someone - or something - is poisoning the minds of people, inciting them to hatred against wishes. With the help of the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the cause of the poison and face what may be her greatest enemy so far.

I found this book to be lots of fun, especially since Granny Weatherwax, Granny Ogg and Ankh Morpork (which means the Watch) all make an appearance. Even the King and Queen of Lancre appear (though I'm not so familiar with those books). If you're familiar with the Discworld series, you will definitely appreciate seeing all these characters together.

Plus, any book with the Nac Mac Feegle is sure to be fun. I loved reading about them and any scene with them had something that made me chuckle. They even get to find a long-lost family member in this book!

On a slightly more somber note, I thought that this book was a great exploration of how hate spreads. The hatred of witches was explained through the following saying:
"Poison goes where poison's welcome."
And I think it rings true. For hatred of something/someone to take root in someone, there must be something (maybe fear, maybe prejudice) that made the person susceptible to hatred. This is a poison that only works in the right environment.

Overall, this was a fun and surprisingly deep read. I enjoy seeing this older version of Tiffany, though in my mind she is forever that nine-year-old girl who rescued her brother from the Fairy Queen. I am tempted yet reluctant to read the last book in this series because it is also the last Discworld book. There are some things that I would prefer not to end.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrig

I requested this from NetGalley because the blurb mentioned myths, a crow king and basically sounded like a modern day fairytale. The actual comic was a bit different.

The story starts when Morrigan, her mother, and her brother move to a small town. Morrigan is upset because this move was for her mother and brother's new project, and she reacts by acting like the 14-year-old girl she is. But when the crow king from the myth turns out to be true, Morrigan finds that she is the appointed scarecrow princess meant to stop him.

The first thing I didn't like was the drawing style. I realise this was on the cover and really is a personal thing, but it didn't grow on me at all. I suppose the rough style could be reminiscent of Morrigan's prickly character and the dark nature of a fairytale, but it just felt unfinished most of the time.

The second thing I didn't like was the pacing. I think this is actually the main reason why the book disappointed me. Everything was wrapped up in this one volume and that means things had to move at a quick pace. Morrigan must grow up, she must meet (and then quarrel with) friends, there must be a twist, etc. I suppose if this was spread over a few volumes, the story could have had enough room to breath, but as it is everything felt rushed.

And there is one more thing: the ending section of the story was weird. (Spoiler alert!) At the end of the book, after what felt like sexual talk from the crow king, Morrigan and the crow king have a heart-to-heart conversation (as much as two enemies can) while the two of them are completely naked.

Let me remind you that Morrigan is a 14-year-old girl and the crow king, while not explicitly given an age, appears to be an adult.

It feels like the more I think about the book, the more I dislike it. It's a real pity because the premise had a lot of promise and I think if the story was given more room to breathe (and remembered that the protagonist is a young girl), it could have been a great story. But as it, it's just disappointing.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

(To be honest, I'm still not sure about whether I'm going to give this one or two stars on NetGalley, but the more I think about the fact that a fourteen-year-old girl was unnecessarily sexualised, the more I lean towards a one star.)