Reread Jan 2014I’m managing to read a bit more at the moment and am slipping behind with my reviews a little – but here are two non-fiction books that I added to my pile for my Month of Re-Reading. One of them was sadly a bit disappointing. One of the purposes of the Months of Re-Reading was always to check whether I do in fact still need to keep certain books, authors or even genres, but I’ve already weeded out one author this month, and now I fear I’m about to remove another! Oh well, I’ve had some cracking reads, still too …

Simon Elmes – “Talking for Britain”

(26 December 2006 – from my parents-out-of-law for Christmas)

I was partly inspired to read this by passing my language and literature shelves every time I go in or out of our bathroom, and partly by a conversation with my father-out-of-law where he mentioned that he has been re-reading the popular science books I like to give him for Christmas. This book is a survey of the dialects of the United Kingdom, informed by a 1980s survey and older works on the particular dialects and then a new survey done in 2005.

It did have a lot of interest and was a worthwhile re-read. However, I did feel that it wasn’t able to go into enough detail, as of necessity the chapters had to cover a wide geographical area and many variations between, for example, rural and urban speech. For example, in the chapter on the South East, London was lumped in with all of the rural accents of the Home Counties, and I felt that Kent, for instance, didn’t really get much of a look-in at all. Conclusions were drawn and comparisons made that linked the chapters at times, but there were no general conclusions about language change and spread. I did also wish that the examples of transcribed speech used the standard phonetic alphabet rather than an approximation of the accent made up with the common alphabet. I do accept that this was all done to make a book that could actually be handled and enjoyed by an ordinary reader, and it’s also interesting to note that I must be even more obsessed with language than I was before I started working with the English language all day, every day in my job!

Having put down all those criticisms, there was much to enjoy and it was a good basic introduction, with the interest of words for the same things being extracted from regional speakers in each area, giving a good point of comparison and indication of how much general terms have spread and where regional terms still hold strong. I was particularly pleased to note “coupy down” for squat in the West of England section – I have always used this (especially, I’m afraid, for the kind of squat necessary to the archaeologist, field-walker, rambler or birdwatcher out in the wild) and wasn’t sure if it was my own or a family phrase, as no one else seems to understand it. But there it was, resplendently inherited from my Dorset forebears, just like my Spanish colouring! All in all, an entertaining and lively read.

This is what I thought of it when I originally read it in March 2007:

“A wonderful book looking at the dialects of each region in turn, historically and now, with a short glossary at the end of each section. Well and engagingly written and endlessly fascinating.”

Tim Moore – “Frost on my Moustache”

(31 March 1999)

Narrative of Moore’s travels in Norway, Iceland and Spitzbergen in the footsteps of Lord Dufferin. I like this kind of ‘in the footsteps of … ‘ book, and thought I remembered really loving this book first time round, but I struggled with it more than a little this time.

Although it is funny, it’s a bit TOO funny, even silly, and trite. It’s sub-Bill Bryson (or at least I hope it is and I haven’t gone off BB, too) with too much flailing and vomiting and not enough solid information or deeper entertainment than a man being a bit silly and making a fool of himself. There were some genuine laughs, but too many laboured puns and foolish moments took away from the balance of the book for me.

I will keep it because of the bits set in Iceland, but I’m not sure about the others of his books that I still have (I didn’t fancy the latest one at all).

What I thought of it when I last read it in May 1999:

“Very, very funny book about the author’s rather unwilling journey in the footsteps of Lord Dufferin, Brysonesque in the best way – self-deprecating, insightful and laugh-out-loud funny.”

Oh dear – have I become humourless in my old(er) age?


Currently reading: I just finished the wonderful “The Crowded Street” by Winifred Holtby and am starting on “Mansfield Park” again, now, as I do like to get an Austen in during each month of re-reading …