Ooh, I am doing well, 10 books read in July and another couple on the go that I should finish within the month. I’ve even read the two books that my friend Ali lent me only the other day. After a few dismal reading months (though with some great reads), I’ve been making a proper effort to carve out decent reading time, getting up as early as ever but squeezing in a sit in bed with a book if I haven’t got an early work deadline. I’ve also had a few longish bus journeys across town to help with relatives moving house, which has had the side-effect of upping the reading time nicely. So here we go with two non-fiction books, one a present from me to me (but I also bought my father-in-law a copy for Christmas) and one a present from a client!
Julian Holland – “Mapping the Railways”
(13 November 2013)
This did sit on my TBR for a bit (you can see it on the left in the picture), because it’s a big floppy paperback that you need to get close to – sitting on the sofa with my knees up seemed the only way to cope! It’s an excellent book which really did need to be in this format, as it takes us through the history of Britain’s railways, using reproductions of all sorts of amazing and fascinating maps to demonstrate exactly what happened at each stage, alongside informative text and other documents and photographs. Some of the maps were produced for public consumption, and some were produced by firms that wanted to tender (ha ha) for building new railway lines, so some are of things that never even got built. It’s lavishly illustrated, with the whole map, a blown-up section and intricate details included for each section.
It was great spotting places I’ve lived, places I’ve been and friends’ houses. I do like a good map, and I do like a railway, so this was a good match for me! I was perhaps slightly less fascinated by the more modern sections after the Beeching Report, although the parts about the InterCity (I hadn’t quite grasped that it’s not called that any more!) were interesting. Very good on the whole though.
Guy Deutscher – “Through the Language Glass”
(31 December 2013; gift from a client)
I was so chuffed to receive this through the post from a long-term client – I’ve never had a present from them before and this was such a lovely choice (they’re a translation and transcription agency, so it’s a good choice all round).
Subtitled “Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages”, this book makes an optimistic attempt to unpick the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis (the language we speak changes our perception of the world, basically) and the theories of its (myriad) opponents, as well as the development of theories of perception and language that have been circulating since the 19th century. And it does a really good job of this. Obviously, as someone who’s studied English language and linguistics, and works in a wordy field, I was aware of the concepts being discussed, but it describes everything very clearly and this would be a good read for anyone with an interest in how languages work.
The author – who incidentally comes from a non-native English speaking background, not that you’d know it from the construction of his book, which gives him an extra insight into comparisons between languages – doesn’t fully espouse any of the main theories, but instead constructs the idea that, while Nature dictates much of how we both experience the world and talk about it (there’s some very interesting stuff about the order in which words for colours appear to develop in almost all languages), within the constraints of Nature, Culture (or Nurture) has an effect, too, insofar as the way the language we speak works influences what we focus on and some of the things we have to think about. Sound a bit woolly? Well, he provides lots of interesting examples, finding, for example, that speakers of gendered languages (like French with its le and la, etc.) tend to see objects in terms of their gender, and this affects the way they react to objects even when their names are not presented to them. Similarly, someone living in a culture where the language demands that they specify the exact time at which something happened, and when they perceived it, of necessity consider these matters more than someone who doesn’t get constantly challenged to provide this evidence.
While unpicking the work of those researchers who handily found what they wanted in languages and ignored the rest (citing people who claimed languages with a good and complex system of words denoting time had no such words thus no concept of time), he gives a lot of examples from current and new research and makes fewer grandiose claims than he presents ideas and possibilities. The material on colour is particularly interesting, and has some good examples.
An accessible and fascinating book, and I’m glad it came to my attention via my lovely client!
Currently reading: No wicked acquisitions (well, I borrowed two books but as I said, I’ve already read them, watch out for the reviews soon). I’m reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot”, which seems good so far although I’m just at the very beginning, and I’m also exploring “Underground to Everywhere”, a lovely book on the Tube that Verity sent me in my Virago Group Secret Santa parcel. I’ve been trying to read Iris Murdoch’s “Sartre”, which fills in a year in the Century of Reading, but it’s a bit HARD! What are you reading this summer?