Words and Numbers

Now here’s something you don’t see every day: Dictionary Stories. That’s the title of an intriguing little collection of “short fictions and other findings.” The author, Jez Burrows, was looking up “study” in a  New Oxford American Dictionary when he noticed a curiously melodramatic example sentence following the definition: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” Those few words sparked a unique idea. Dictionary example sentences (demonstrating usage of the word in a sentence) could be culled and combined into minuscule stories. The New York Times describes it as “sentences stolen from dictionaries and pasted together into tiny, delightful narratives.” Longmont Library doesn’t have this unusual book but will bring it over from Boulder if you ask nicely.

Here’s something else about dictionaries. They add new words every year. In 2018, Merriam Webster is adding 850 words and definitions, including “wordie,” which is believed to have been first used in 1982, and means what you think it means — a lover of words. Some of the new words have been coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson. You know, the man from Cosmos. He doesn’t like the word “nonfiction.” He advocates redefining “faction” to mean the opposite of “fiction,” because “nonfiction” is a negation of “fiction,” and “a word shouldn’t be referenced for what it is not.” Search his name at the Library’s web site; you’ll be amazed at how many faction books he’s written. His goal is “perfect sentence[s]” which result in “science page-turners.”

According to a recent government survey (if you can believe anything that comes from the nation’s capitol anymore), 9.4% of us between the ages of 15 and 24 read for pleasure or self-fulfillment on a typical day. The percentage increases gradually for ages 25 through 64, and then makes a big hop to 38.3% for folks 65 and older. That makes sense — we of the senior generation have more leisure hours for reading. Aging isn’t all bad!

May your May bring good books and time to read them.

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in May 2018

An International Tour: The South Seas, Korea, Arabia and Tennessee

Did you hear about the discovery of Blackbeard the Pirate’s sunken flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the North Carolina Coast? Incredibly, fragments of paper with still legible words were found wedged inside a breech-loading cannon in the warm waters. After much research, the fragments were determined to be from a 1712 first edition of A Voyage to the South Seas and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711, by Captain Edward Cooke. Sorry — you won’t find a copy of it in the Longmont Library.

You know the saying that something is “lost in translation”? The January 15th issue of the New Yorker ponders how close to the original a literary translator should hold. “Nabokov, who was fluent in three languages and wrote in two of them, believed that ‘the clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase.'” The Korean media has criticized Deborah Smith, who translated author Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian, for embellishing Kang’s spare style with adverbs and other words not in the original. Nevertheless, the novel won the Man Booker International Prize for both Kang and Smith. Our fine library *does* have two copies of this book.

Ever wonder why a periodical is called a magazine? It’s because numerous articles are “stored” therein. The Arabic word for storehouse is “makhzan,” and was originally applied to a place used by the army for storing arms. In 1731, the Gentleman’s Magazine appeared, the first to use the term.

“If you don’t read books you only live one life…. If you read books you live a thousand lives.” So say Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos, creators of the comic strip Baldo. And writers, especially fiction writers, experience similar benefits as they work on stories. Tennessee Williams once remarked, “I always have a roomful of company.” David Samuels puts it this way: “Reading [and writing] requires a loner’s temperament, a high tolerance for silence, and an unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead.”

Doesn’t reading about reading make you want to read?

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in February 2018

Stress Reducers, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve and Running the Books

Here’s something that won’t surprise you. Recently, British researchers studied stressed volunteers by giving them various activities and checking their heart rates. The activities included listening to music, having a cup of tea or coffee, taking a walk, and — the winner which lowered the heart rate by 68% — reading. (One assumes that the reading was not a daily newspaper or anything political.) The least effect stress reducer? Video games.

Since 2011, the number of major general bookstore chains’ physical stores has dropped 32%. Meanwhile if all goes according to plan, Amazon will soon have 13 bricks-and-mortar stores. This does not include any of their grocery acquisitions.

Our library possesses an unusual book with an intriguing title, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. The intriguing premise is best described by the jacket cover: “[Author Ben Blatt] assembles a database of thousands of books and hundreds of millions of words and starts asking the questions that have intrigued curious word nerds and book lovers for generations: What are our favorite authors’ favorite words? Do men and women write differently? Which contemporary writer uses the most cliches? What makes a great opening sentence? How can we judge a book by its cover? And which writerly advice is worth following or ignoring?” There are even more questions answered here, such as which bestselling authors use the most exclamation points or -ly adverbs? If you read every word of statistician Blatt’s findings, your eyes will glaze over. But it is amazing reading.

Another Longmont Library book you might enjoy is Running the Books by Avi Steinberg. It’s about being a young, Jewish librarian in a tough Boston prison. As you can imagine, it is by turns funny, disturbing, and sad.

According to science fiction author Joe Haldeman, the common advice to neophyte writers to “write what you know” has resulted in a glut of “mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.”

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Marcus Tulles Cicero

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in Summer 2017

Libraries, Libraries, Libraries!

Our splendiferous Longmont Public Library has a number of books in its collection which are about libraries. The following very different examples just go to show you.

The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World is not a book to be taken lightly. It is so big and well-endowed, you may want to read it in a cozy corner of the library, rather than wrangle it home in your little red wagon. The color photographs of sumptuous rooms in opulent, historic libraries display sculptures, murals, carvings, gilt, acres of dark wood, marble, and shelves holding ranks of brown books that would surely disintegrate if touched. Not a James Patterson or Danielle Steel among them. Except, of course, in the United States also beautiful Library of Congress, which attempts to stock copies of every US copyrighted book — more than 17 million an counting — plus maps, photographs, drawings, films, audio media, and on and on.

Down Cut Shin Creek is the opposite of the above book. It’s a plain and skinny nonfiction book about the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. The picture are black and white, which is fitting since the setting is the hollows of the Cumberland Mountains during the Great Depression. In the 30s, President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration sent librarians on horseback into the back country to bring books to adults and children. Also fittingly, you can find copies of this little book in both the adult and children’s sections of the library.

If you enjoy cozy novels, you may already know about the Library Lovers Mystery series by Jenn McKinlay. Titles listed in the Longmont Library catalog include Due or Die and A Likely Story. Others are stocked by the Boulder Public Library, and all you have to do is let the Longmont Library know that you want them. Isn’t modern technology wonderful when it works? Anyway, as you no doubt guessed, Ms. McKinlay draws on her own experiences as a librarian to give authenticity to her characters and settings. (It’s hoped that her experiences did not include murders.)

“There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” Bertrand Russell

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in May 2017

Gargantuan Words and Thoughts

Here’s something to discuss around the water cooler. Or not. Publisher’s Weekly reports that ten books had print unit sales notably higher in the first four weeks of this year compared to last year. The one that sold the most was George Orwell’s 1984, a whooping 38,826 year-to-date units. Other unusually heavy sales, all in the thousands, included Orwell’s Animal Farm, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Constitution of the United States, Hannah Arendt’s The Origin of Totalitarianism, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to stick to what you  can make people believe is the truth.” [Small town newspaper in Washington State]

Tuesday, March 21 is World Poetry Day. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) established the day in 1999, to “promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world.” Publisher’s Weekly (again) notes that two poetry books made the bestseller list for April 1, 1916: “The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke, from the British poet famous for his sonnets about World War I (and for his good looks), and the seminal Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, an enduring collection of poems about an imaginary small town.”

Rabelais, who wrote Gargantua in the mid-1600s, and who would be in trouble with Citizens for Unpolluted and Nice Reading today, loved gargantuan words that he surely made up on the spot, i.e., trepignemanpenillorifrizonoufresterfumbledtumbled and squeezed her.” You won’t find that nonce word in Funk and Wagnalls.

Gustave Flaubert, author of the classic Madame Bovary, was once asked who the real-life Emma Bovary was. Flaubert’s wonderful answer was “I am Madame Bovary.” Flaubert also said, “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”

Katherine Hepburn remarked, “What acting means is that you’ve got to get out of your own skin.” A definition of reading a good book, too!

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in March 2017