In January I very much enjoyed reading John Gallagher’s “Learning Languages in Early Modern England”. As I’m currently trying to learn Spanish from an app, but have also obviously experienced language learning in school and guidebooks and phrasebooks, I had several ways in to this book and found it fascinating. Although it’s an academic tome published by OUP, I found it accessible in its writing (more so than some of the other works it quoted) and it’s also enticingly full of lovely illustrations of old language learning materials, both printed and written by the learners. I found out lots that I hadn’t realised before, and I was also pleased to see an emphasis on the work of women and the “invisible” servants, etc. who aided language learning (and some people who were both).

Examining the period 1480-1720, the book, “offers a history of linguistic competences in a polyglot context, investigating the methods by which they were acquired, used, tested and judged”. The concept of ‘communicative competence’ is important in the book: the way in which a language speaker could adjust what linguists call their register, just as we have a different phone voice to the one we use in a conversation with our friends, and could use the variants of a language that were considered high-status (the French of the Loire, but later Paris, for example). This means that there’s a fair bit of fascinating stuff on how language teaching materials encompassed ways to behave, often shown through the dialogues that constituted the practical examples.

Read my full review at Shiny New Books here.

And just as I knew my review for that one was going up, my next read for Shiny arrived – one from Thames & Hudson’s lovely Spring 2020 catalogue (and I’m so very lucky that Thames & Hudson indulge my requests from their amazing catalogues, and hope I do them proud in my reviews). This one is “A History of Pictures” by none other than David Hockney and Martin Gayford. Of course I’ve already read one of Gayford’s books, the excellent book of pieces on life as a writer about art, “The Pursuit of Art”, which I discussed here in September and reviewed on Shiny here (and I’m not sure why it wasn’t one of my books of the year, to be honest).

This is a new edition, with more works by Hockney featured, and the blurb from the first edition makes it sound unmissable:

They privilege no medium, or period, or style, but instead, in 16 chapters, discuss how and why pictures have been made, and insistently link ‘art’ to human skills and human needs. Each chapter addresses an important question: What happens when we try to express reality in two dimensions? Why is the ‘Mona Lisa’ beautiful and why are shadows so rarely found in Chinese, Japanese and Persian painting? Why are optical projections always going to be more beautiful than HD television can ever be? How have the makers of images depicted movement? What makes marks on a flat surface interesting? Energized by two lifetimes of looking at pictures, combined with a great artist’s 70-year experience of experimentation as he makes them, this profoundly moving and enlightening volume will be the art book of the decade.

It’s published on 20 February and I really cannot wait to get stuck into this one and to review it and share it with you, here and on Shiny!

What brand new books are you coveting or reading?