Ursula's Mobile Thread for 2017, Part 3
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Making a fresh start a little early ....
In case you ever wonder why I say I feel like a polar explorer - this is Little Traverse Bay at Petoskey on April 5.
Hello, I'm Ursula. I currently live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My thread, though, is mobile because I will be moving (again) to Fresno, California, in May. So far during my time in the 75ers (starting in 2012), my husband and I have lived in Denver, Belgium, California, Italy, and now Michigan. It's all thanks to his job - he's a mathematician, which I had no idea would be such a roving profession. I'm an artist and photographer - if you're interested in what I do, you can find links to my shops on my profile. We have a dog - a 9-year-old Australian Cattle Dog named Penny. I have two children: a son who is at UC Boulder (University of Colorado, Boulder) and a daughter who is in grad school at UGA (University of Georgia in Athens).
I read from the 1001 books list, and I have also been reading more current books in an attempt to balance out the male-female ratio in my reading a bit. I get to a decent amount of non-fiction, often on audio.
The Day of Creation by JG Ballard, My Struggle, Book Three by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and listening to Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill
📚📚📚 ... January ... 📚📚📚
Evicted - finished Jan 1 (418 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Wave - finished Jan 2 (audio, 5h 25m) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Waiting - finished Jan 3 (308 pages) ⭐⭐⭐
The Graduate - finished Jan 7 (191 pages) ⭐⭐⭐
March, Book Two - finished Jan 11 (187 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
His Bloody Project - finished Jan 14 (280 pages) ⭐⭐1/2
There Goes Gravity - finished Jan 16 (audio, 12h 17m) ⭐⭐1/2
Tent of Miracles - finished Jan 19 (380 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Half of Man Is Woman - finished Jan 26 (285 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Country of Ice Cream Star - finished Jan 27 (581 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
March, Book Three - finished Jan 28 (246 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
When Breath Becomes Air - finished Jan 31 (audio, 5h 27m) ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Total read in January: 12
📚📚📚 ... February ... 📚📚📚
A Long Way Home - finished Feb 1 (audio, 7h 28m) ⭐⭐⭐
Year of Wonders - finished Feb 8 (308 pages) ⭐⭐1/2
The Unwinding - finished Feb 12 (434 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Interestings - finished Feb 27 (466 pages) ⭐⭐
Total read in February: 4
📚📚📚 ... March ... 📚📚📚
A Bend in the River - finished Mar 1 (278 pages) ⭐
Letters of Note, Volume 2 - finished Mar 6 (368 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Wind / Pinball - finished Mar 6 (234 pages) ⭐⭐⭐
Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty - finished Mar 9 (308 pages) ⭐⭐1/2
Strangers in Their Own Land - finished Mar 26 (351 pages) ⭐⭐⭐1/2
The Sparrow - finished Mar 26 (408 pages) ⭐⭐⭐
Spring Snow - finished Mar 31 (389 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Total read in March: 7
📚📚📚 ... April... 📚📚📚
Hot Milk - finished Apr 3 (221 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Human Acts - finished Apr 7 (218 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
City on Fire - finished Apr 10 (911 pages) ⭐⭐⭐
Ursula, Under - finished Apr 16 (476 pages) ⭐⭐1/2
1984 - finished Apr 20 (326 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Fluent Forever - finished Apr 25 (326 pages) ⭐⭐⭐1/2
The North Water - finished Apr 25 (255 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Things We Lost in the Fire - finished Apr 26 (200 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Total read in April: 8
📚📚📚 ... May... 📚📚📚
Cost - finished May 1 (448 pages) ⭐⭐⭐
A Gentleman in Moscow - finished May 16 (462 pages) ⭐⭐⭐1/2
The Curse of Beauty - finished May 16 (303 pages) ⭐⭐1/2
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks - finished May 17 (365 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Dark Matter - finished May 19 (340 pages) ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Ill Will - finished May 28 ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Total read in May: 5
📚📚📚 ... June... 📚📚📚
Dharma Bums - finished Jun 3 (192 pages) ⭐⭐
Total pages read: 11463
Total time listened: 30h 37m
If you want to check out my stats and best/worst of 2016, you can see that here on my first thread of the year.
By Publication Date:
The Dharma Bums
Tent of Miracles
A Bend in the River
Half of Man Is Woman
Year of Wonders
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks
There Goes Gravity
The Country of Ice Cream Star
A Long Way Home
March, Book Two
His Bloody Project
City on Fire
March, Book Three
When Breath Becomes Air
Letters of Note, Vol. 2
Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
Strangers in Their Own Land
The North Water
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Curse of Beauty
Things We Lost in the Fire
Litsy A to Z Challenge
A: Amado, Jorge, Tent of Miracles
H: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
K: Kerouac, Jack, The Dharma Bums
N: Naipaul, VS, A Bend in the River
Z: Zhang Xianliang, Half of Man Is Woman
1001 Books list
Tent of Miracles
Half of Man Is Woman
A Bend in the River
I finished a book, and I'll post some thoughts soon. But right now it's time for coffee and a doughnut, so it'll have to wait.
Mmmm, doughnut.... I indulged in one today :)
Happy new thread, Ursula!
Happy new thread! Hope you will have some sunny pics from your new home for your next thread.
>1 ursula: Love the photograph up top. Won't see much of that in California.
City on Fire
Sometimes you start a book and you just fall right into it, like Alice down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. That was what it was like for the first 100 pages of this book for me. Hallberg has a kaleidoscope of characters in this novel set in New York in 1977 - a trust-fund baby and former lead singer of one of those legendary barely-made-one-album-and-then-broke-up punk bands and his black schoolteacher lover, the daughter of a pyrotechnician (at the time just called fireworkers) who is having an affair with the husband of the former punk singer's sister, the down-on-his-luck reporter who has started interviewing the pyrotechnician and found himself embroiled in figuring out exactly what happened in a shooting on New Year's Eve, the reporter's neighbor, the fireworker's daughter's friend who has a hopeless crush on her, the remaining members of the punk band with their anarchist tendencies ....
It's all so involving - at first. And then it gets a little bogged down, but I was willing to go with it for a while because the book is, after all, 900 pages long, and that allows for some meandering and there will undoubtedly be some slower parts. Unfortunately, the slower parts make up about half of the book. A few times I thought it was going to get back on track, but nope. The book includes some "interludes", like part of the piece the journalist was working on, an edition of the zine that the pyrotechnician's daughter wrote, etc. I love the idea of these inclusions in principle, but in fact they were not very good and just distracting.
Overall, I still say the book was okay. Certainly not better than okay, but not all the way to awful, either. There's a lot of squandered potential here though. What was desperately needed was a forceful editor.
>6 katiekrug: DOUGHNUT! Okay, it was maybe a lot of sugar all at once. But I've got to keep my energy up - I ran 5k this morning. How does one fuel workouts if not with doughnuts? Hope yours was delicious - mine was nothing really special, just from the grocery store bakery, but that's okay. We had some amazing ones last week from this place we stumbled into in Petoskey. Their maple cinnamon roll was to die for.
>7 charl08: I'm sure I will have lots of sunny pictures. Forget the cold or whatever, I'm looking forward to sun again. So many clouds all the time.
>8 Oberon: Indeed! Although we're close to Yosemite, so I could go to snow voluntarily (this is always the great thing about California, but Fresno is extra close). I'll be more likely to be posting pictures of things melting (possibly including me).
>9 lunacat: Thanks, nice to see you!
Happy new thread, Ursula.
Sometimes you start a book and you just fall right into it,
Isn't that exactly right? xx
>13 PaulCranswick: I love that feeling! It doesn't happen often, and it's not always sustainable, but it's a great experience.
>1 ursula: pretty covers, all of them!
When you list all the places you have lived lately, my eyebrows raise! I have been here this whole time. :)
Happy new thread, Ursula. I love the photo at the top. One more ice-filled photo...
I hope the packing and sorting is moving along for you.
Good comments on the City of Fire book. At 900 pages, I think I'll pass, especially if it was just OK.
> 1 ursula
Have you ever found any Petoskey stones on the beach?
>15 PaulCranswick: I have always meant to read some Chatwin ...
>16 LovingLit: I like it when the covers seem to go together somehow. It happens a fair amount, oddly enough. Haha about the places I've lived. Trust me, if I were to list every move I've made in my life --- well, it would be a long list, although not as far-flung as recently. Don't worry though, I'm going to get on board the staying-in-one-place train now. Wonder what that'll be like! :)
>17 scaifea: Hello and thanks!
>18 BLBera: Things are moving along, definitely. Yeah, good idea to pass. There is some real potential there, but this didn't quite make it for me.
>19 m.belljackson: Nope. This was my first (and last) trip to Petoskey, or anywhere on the lower peninsula. We don't have a car, so getting out of the UP or even the immediate area to any sort of beach/shoreline is not a thing we've been able to do.
Dang it!! I wrote a really long response to your review of City on Fire and poof! It's not here. In summary, it went something like this...>10 ursula: If only you could have been the editor!!! I totally agree. In fact, I will admit, that I totally skimmed parts and still wasn't sure it was worth it by the time I reached the ending.
Happy new thread.
>22 Berly: Sorry to hear it poofed! Yeah, there were parts that felt like a chore, which is a sign that an author has overstayed his welcome! There were some great characters though, and some interesting ideas. I would be interested in something more reined in from him.
Congrats on the new thread and DH's new job! I suspect you won't miss the tunnels of snow at all.
I am so far behind - most of my comments are from your previous thread.
LOVE your book journal. So creative!
And I also enjoyed the comments on Strangers in Their Own Land. I may not get to it this month, but it is on the RLBC schedule for a bit later in the year. I may just wait and read it them.
I finally finished Human Acts for an LTER review. I agree. Super tough, but it great book.
Good luck with all the packing!
>24 streamsong: Last thread, this thread ... it's all the same thing in the end. :) Thanks for the congratulations!
I actually will miss the snow. I will not miss freezing rain, rain at 36 degrees F, ice, or hiking over sidewalks with snow up to mid-calf! Or wind. Holy criminy, the wind here.
I appreciate that you enjoyed what I said about Strangers in Their Own Land - these books are far outside of what I would normally read but I'm actually enjoying the experience. Once upon a time, I was interested in social issues and politics and all of that but I fell out of it for oh, I don't know, maybe 20 or 25 years. Between the books and the fact that Morgan and I started subscribing to the NY Times, I've been doing a lot more reading and thinking about these topics.
Well, this morning I went on my first outdoor run since October. Apparently all the time on the indoor track and treadmills at the gym paid off though, because I had personal bests both for a mile and for 3k. Feels good to be getting outside again, especially before going to Fresno, which will undoubtedly be like Padova - where I was running at 6 AM because it was only 75F then. :)
>25 ursula: You wait and see if you truly will miss the snow! My kids would miss snow if we didn't have it but I would simply be angry that I spent so much money on a snowblower that wasn't being used.
>27 Oberon: You know I'm a Californian, right? I've had plenty of time without snow in my life. :) I've also had about 6 winters of living in places with significant snow (although "significant" is different in the UP!), and a couple more in places where it snows in many years, but just a little. (Edited to add: Morgan just reminded me about my time in Kansas as a kid - that brings the total to more like 12 winters.)
I like snow a lot, mostly because I don't mind the cold, I don't have to shovel/snowblow it, and I hate the alternative, which is winter rain.
>28 ursula: I confess that I didn't know that. I hate the cold so I think once you are nicely settled in California we can work out a house swap arrangement and you can come live on my frozen lake from November through March and I will "suffer" in the warm weather of California.
>29 Oberon: Well, I understand that it might be hard to know/remember where the hell I'm from after all this moving. Sometimes I forget too. :)
I might want to trade, but only if you can get someone else to take care of the snow for me! I cannot overstate how much I hate wintertime rain. Well, I'm sure I'll be complaining about it, even though Fresno gets a whopping average of 12 inches of rain a year.
Yay for personal bests on the runs!! And soon to be no snow. Happy weekend. And Easter, if you are into that. ; )
Stopping in to blow off a little steam about 1984. I've made it about halfway through and now Winston has gotten his paws on the book (the book) of the resistance against the party and we readers have to suffer and read part of it along with him. Dear lord, I want to quit again. Yawn, boring, flipping ahead on the kindle to see if this part is going to end anytime soon.
>31 Berly: Yes, definitely a yay! (And then I broke that again yesterday ... can't go on like that forever but I'm feeling good at the moment!)
No Easter here, but there is a weekend - a rainy one, grr. But we got out on Friday when it was nice so it's not as bad as it could be! Hope you have a good one too.
Well, I decided to reward myself since I was feeling "blah" about everything I had as a possible bedtime read and so I've started Book 3 of My Struggle by Knausgaard. Ahhhh ... I do love sinking into these books.
>35 banjo123: So far most of 1984 hasn't been that boring, just lacking in subtlety. But this manual for the revolutionaries is tedious. Reading is definitely personal!
>37 LovingLit: I was thinking the same thing. I must need to reread it because I don't recall the book in the book at all!
>37 LovingLit: I know we watched the movie in high school, after we were supposed to have read the book (obviously, I didn't make it through). I don't remember a thing about the movie, either.
>38 charl08: Morgan tells me this will end soon. He didn't remember it at first either but when I said that in this part Winston is reading it out loud to Julia, that jogged his memory and he said "I don't mean to spoil anything, but I can tell you that you're almost through it then". Maybe that'll jog yours too? Normally I hate spoilers but I'm relieved by the news so I don't mind.
Nope. I can't even claim to have read it years ago, and forgot, as it was one of the classics I'd missed and read to feel as though I was caught up!
Thanks for trying though! :-)
I realized today that I really should come up with some sort of one-sentence answer for when people say, "Oh wow, you lived in Italy for year and a half? How was that?" or like I got today, "Tell me about living in Italy."
Invariably, I get a deer-in-the-headlights look as the entire experience swirls in my head and I try to think of what part might interest the person asking. And then I go, "uhhh... well ... it was interesting." I mean, broad question doesn't begin to cover it.
I'm tempted to just quote Dickens - "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
>40 charl08: Ah well, I did try! Also, he lied. It's still droning on and on.
"In the crucial years, the fact that the Party was not a hereditary body did a great deal to neutralise opposition. The older kind of Socialist, who had been trained to fight against something called 'class privilege', assumed that what is not hereditary cannot be permanent. He did not see that the continuity of an oligarchy need not be physical, nor did he pause to reflect that hereditary aristocracies have always been shortlived, whereas adoptive organisations such as the Catholic Church have sometimes lasted for hundreds or thousands of years. The essence of oligarchic rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors. The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood but with perpetuating itself. Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same."
This is not scintillating reading for me.
Okay, I'll stop complaining now and try to soldier on until it gets back to the actual story instead of the dull-as-dirt textbook.
I like the idea of using Dickens to answer the question. Then you can judge people based on whether they get the reference or not ;-)
>41 ursula: You need to come up with some anecdote that sums up your time there. That or keep one of your favorite photos from being there to show people.
Looking for a place to live is so. fun. *sigh*
The policy on one of the houses we saw listed was "dogs allowed - under 15 pounds, outside-only dogs."
Hahahahaaha. You're going to leave your 10 lb. Shih Tzu outside all the time? Your 6 lb. Chihuahua? I guess it solves the problem when it gets eaten by something.
>46 ursula: good to see your spirits are still up!! (or is it a case of 'if I didn't laugh, I'd cry'?)
Keep up the house-hunt!
>47 LovingLit: Spirits are up. :) And also, gotta laugh so you don't cry is in there somewhere.
Morgan's coworker recommended an apartment complex that one of the other people had moved into when she originally moved into town - with her two 70-lb dogs. But that was a couple of years ago and at the moment, the reviews for that place are abysmal. We're trying to find a house instead anyway, but it was nice for the moment we thought we had a pretty sure backup plan.
Funny thing about Russian (if languages don't interest you, feel free to skip):
There was a conversation a while back on scaifea's thread about the verb "to be" and how it's (almost) always irregular in a language. Russian skips that by just not using "to be" in the present tense. I'll let you imagine that for a moment.
So, if you want to say your brother is a doctor, you simply say "my brother doctor". In written communication, they use an em dash to fill in the hole where "to be" would go.
Мой брат — врач.
If you want to define something, like "an apple is a fruit", it is instead "apple this fruit".
Яблоко — это плод.
Fascinating Ursula. Language and translation has always intrigued. If there is one thing I'd do differently if I could start over, it's learn several other languages at an early age.
I know it costs more, but using a realtor can sometimes help with the pet situation. We found a lot of places would say No Pets or limit the size of the dog, but our agent would use his contacts with other agents and could negotiate for us - we paid a slightly higher security deposit and agreed to a "pet fee" increase in our rent.
That said, we then had to shell out an extra month's rent to cover the agents' fees which wasn't awesome.
>50 Caroline_McElwee: Learn them now! There are advantages and disadvantages to what time in your life you start learning a language, but if that stuff they said about learning before 12 or whatever were true, no one would ever speak any other language.
One of the things that is always interesting is to see where the sorts of mistakes people make in English come from in their native languages. Italians like to use articles for everything - "This is the my dog," because that's how it's structured in Italian, il mio cane.
On the other hand, Russian doesn't have articles at all, and you'll hear native Russian speakers in English saying "I have dog". (Although that construction doesn't really exist either, and how they express possession is a whole other thing I should write about!).
>51 katiekrug: If only. We have to pay for the move and be reimbursed for expenses, so with renting a truck, paying for gas, hotels, food, and then first, last and deposit on a place .... in a way another $2000 is just a drop in the bucket, but in another way the bucket doesn't have $15000 in it. :)
Reading The Idiot and there's lots of lovely stuff about languages. Including a rather wonderful story in English supposedly a translation of a story to help students to learn Russian. It also means that I want to learn Turkish now!
>49 ursula: *Ears prick up at language talk*
You know, Latin does that a lot, too. Just leaves the verb 'to be' out whenever it feels like it can and get away with it. Very compact language, Latin.
>54 charl08: Turkish seems like an interesting language! I can't imagine putting it on my own "to-learn" list (not that I have such a list, actually), but I can recognize its appeal.
>55 scaifea: Didn't know that about Latin (unsurprising, since I know very little about Latin). Leaving out "to be" sometimes, or I suppose even often, maybe makes a little sense? Russian has banished it entirely. It's weird. But one less conjugation to learn, I guess. :)
Okay, I'm going to finally get around to writing something about the last book I finished.
I picked it up because I have been scouring the library's shelves for books written by women that are not romances or mysteries. This leaves (un?)surprisingly few books to choose from. So there was this one, and it had my name emblazoned on its spine! I picked it up and the first words on the inside flap are: "In Michigan's Upper Peninsula ...." This was a no-brainer to check out.
Unfortunately, not much of the action actually takes place in the UP. The supposed main story is about a little girl named Ursula who falls down an old, unmarked mine shaft. Her father is Chinese American, and her mother Finnish American. This is important because the book immediately leaves Ursula to her unknown fate and takes us into the far-distant past, first to an ancestor of Ursula's father in China and then to one of her mother's ancestor in what will be Finland. Hill continues the pattern - alternating chapters between the parents' ancestors and someone from the present day. Ursula's actual story - falling down the shaft and the rescue attempt - only bookend the story.
Overall, I'd rank this one as "disappointing," in spite of the glowing blurbs on the back about this "exciting adventure", "a recipe of both prodigal and precise imagination", "extravagant and absorbing", "a kind of a prose miracle, a page-turner of a tale about an imperiled child, a story built out of beautiful language." The concept is interesting, I guess - going back to look at how the various accidents of fate result in any one of us existing at all - but it requires a lot of research and imagination to accomplish. I became suspicious of the research in the second section in China, which takes place in the late 1500s. She says something about how at the time, Shakespeare is writing but the Chinese man doesn't know anything about him (okay), nor anything about England (implying he doesn't know of its existence). Her justification for this seems to be that the Chinese think their empire is the center of the world and nothing outside it matters. Well, yes ... but Marco Polo visited China in the 1200s and they had a lot of trade with the outside world so I am not sure that this guy would have no idea that a place like England even existed 300 years later. And then she talked about the outsiders as being "barbarians", which the Chinese called them because that's what they thought their languages sounded like - "bar bar bar". This is totally a fact about the origin of the word "barbarian", but it does not come from the Chinese at all. It's a term of European origin (Greek specifically). I feel like she ran across that story and couldn't resist putting it in - in totally the wrong place.
Then there's imagination - she had plenty, but I think maybe she should have reined it in a little. This could easily be titled "How Infinitely Miserable Your Ancestors Were". Seriously - one of the stories involves a woman in a leper colony. And how she ends up is worse than you're even imagining.
Anyway: ambitious but not successful for me. Also, not enough UP. :)
Oh and then after all that, I totally forgot to talk about the weird writing:
"While Isak and Marjatta and Jaako and Stiina have huddled in the cramped quarters of the ship, with the odd smells of spices and pickled, dark music of the Romany Gypsies who are their neighbors..."
That's the only one I marked, because it was near the end of the book and I'd had about enough of it, but there were all sorts of odd little phrases like that, where you weren't sure whether that was the adjective she meant to use or if it was supposed to be modifying something different.
Oh, a typo surely (or do I mean hopefully?! ) Sorry that one wasn't better. Any clue what your new library system will be like?
>59 charl08: Not really. Looks like there are 12 branches in the city, 34 in the county. That seems like a super-low number of branches for a large city but it could go either way - Denver has a ton of branches (for a city half the size, it has twice as many libraries) but the central library is the only one worth anything. We had a branch around the corner from our house and it was awful - essentially one room, mostly (80%) children's, DVDs and large print, and it was open something like 3 days a week.
The Fresno main library has okay hours, open every day at least. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's all about.
>57 ursula: I've been waiting for your review on this one Ursula, and we are in accord. I read it when it first came out and was also disappointed in it, despite a couple of good reviews.
>57 ursula: - I have this one (somewhere) but haven't read it. Perhaps it will be purged once I begin re-shelving my books...
>63 katiekrug: Yeah, I don't think there's a whole lot of reason to read it, unfortunately. Having a moderately interesting idea doesn't mean much if the execution is lacking.
I did it! I finished 1984. Overall, it wasn't as bad as I remembered from my previous attempts (which were a looong time ago). I will say that I discovered the source of my frustration with the long excerpts from Goldstein's book, and it ended up being a plot point, or at least acknowledged (
The rest of it was pretty good overall. It's a little hard reading a book like this when you've had a decent number of years to absorb all the iconic references to it - I think that if one hadn't heard so much of it pretty much everywhere, it would have more impact. That's hardly Orwell's fault, though - a prisoner of his own success. The ending is a good one.
It was also interesting to have my reading of 1984 overlap with listening to Beyond Belief: My Secret Life inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. Scientology is like a real-life 1984, with the public humiliations, the recitations of slogans, the emphasis on words .... I watched Leah Remini's series but this provides more information about the way the kids are (or were, I don't know if it's changed) raised and "educated". The parallels are striking.
Great comments on your reading, Ursula. Too bad your namesake book wasn't better.
How many days before you leave? It must be getting close. If you stop by Minn., let me know.
>67 BLBera: Right? There aren't that many things that involve my name, I hate for them to be disappointing!
Not sure ... within the next month. We're trying to find a place to live, so it will somewhat depend on the date it's available. We'll be leaving no later than about 5/20 though.
Well, I have a spare bedroom if you are passing through southern Minn. I might even be able to give you a glimpse of the transparent man. :)
>69 BLBera: Thanks! I suspect we will be missing Minnesota on this trip, but we haven't finalized anything yet. I'll keep you posted.
Saturday morning there was the Friends of the Library spring sale, and I toddled into town to check it out.
Isn't right before moving the perfect time to buy books?! I mean, I probably have a single box of books to move, even with these additions, but it's the concept.
Another morning spent in the dentist's chair. The process for the crown turned out to be more painful than the root canal. But anyway, at least it's done.
There's also a rant in me about the state of health insurance and how dental and vision are separate and have different rules as if they aren't part of your health, but I don't have the energy for it at the moment. Suffice it to say that our "co-pay" was nearly a month's rent, and then they'll bill us for whatever out of the rest the insurance doesn't cover.
This how-to book on language learning was an impulse check-out from the digital collection of the library. There are a lot of theories out there about the best ways to learn a language, and a lot of them disagree with each other on various large points. For example, how important is grammar? Do you need to study it or should you try to just pick it up by listening and trying to use the language yourself? What's the best way to learn vocabulary? Pretty much everyone is familiar with "spaced repetition" for flash cards, but what's supposed to be on those cards anyway, and how do you decide what words to learn when?
The author is (was?) an opera singer, and so comes from an interesting perspective on language learning. He's one of the few polyglots out there who has a good reason for learning multiple languages. His line of work also means that sounding good in a language is extremely important, and unsurprisingly, he says learning the sounds of your chosen language thoroughly and well is the first order of business. I'm not sure I entirely agree with all his suppositions on this point, but I do agree that in Italian, at least, people are more likely to understand you with a good accent and atrocious grammar than the reverse. It just removes one layer of confusion - they can tell you're pronouncing the words right, you just maybe have the wrong words. If you're not sure what they're trying to say, then you have to run through many more possibilities for what it could be before finally arriving at the right wrong word. ;)
His book was published in 2014 and one of the nice things about it is that he's all about the learning helpers available on the internet, so he has solid recommendations for programs that are out there to be experimented with. Interestingly, one of his favorite tools is Google image search, and he has come up with several intriguing ways to use it - the most basic being to find images for your flash cards (he says the cards should always have what you want to learn on one side and an image on the other, never the English word). The more advanced uses involve using it to help you construct useful sentences.
The positives were: his personal anecdotes about languages and his experiences with them, and his techniques, many of which were intriguing. The negative: it was definitely set up for "busy people", with a lot of repetition - the section headings told you exactly what they were about, then there was the section, then a bullet point box with the "key points." And some sections were very short so it kind of drove me crazy. The other negative: he's selling something. He refers often to his website, and there he sells things like pronunciation trainers and professionally translated word lists, etc. I don't begrudge the guy, really, but he frequently referred to things that were "available on my website" without mentioning "but not for free."
Anyway, if you're thinking about learning a language but find the idea a bit overwhelming and/or the thought of the old-style textbooks makes you want to cry, check out this book for some very solid ideas on how to do it.
>78 ursula: The idea of using pictures instead of translations sounds really good to me. The more we can get out of our word by word translation, the better.
That said, I keep saying I'll take a Spanish immersion weekend here in New York, to revive my school-learned Spanish, but I haven't done that yet. I'll look around on the internet to see if there's something that might help me get off the ground.
>76 ursula: I smiled when I read that you didn't find much competition on literary books. Our book sale started today but I won't be going until half price day on Saturday. I always find plenty of the more literary books left on the tables with less fluff to sort through. Fellow "book snobs"!
>79 ffortsa: It helps stop word-by-word translation, and also just associating word to word is not the best way to get something to stick in your mind. Words aren't that interesting and our brain doesn't tend to retain them like that. If you use a picture of your cat, or your dream house, you're more likely to actually remember those words.
I'd be both terrified and excited to do some kind of immersion program!
>80 Donna828: Haha, I'm glad I'm not alone in that! I felt like maybe it could come across sort of snobbish, but hey - it's the truth. 90% of the traffic was at the mystery table, the arts/crafts cart, and the general non-fiction. I miss the Denver library sale, it was huge and went all weekend like that too. This one is, of course, tiny and lasts for 4 hours. :)
>57 ursula: Ursula's actual story - falling down the shaft and the rescue attempt - only bookend the story.
I think I would find that disappointing too. When I start a story, I hate it when the story jumps about from time and place to all over the show. It frustrates me, and a book will have to be very good for me to forgive it that.
>78 ursula: I do agree that in Italian, at least, people are more likely to understand you with a good accent and atrocious grammar than the reverse.
Interesting!!! I can't think what the rule of thumb would be in regards to that for English. My experience of trying other languages is that I can usually tackle the accent OK, but not the grammar. Or the vocab ;)
>78 ursula: That sounds interesting. I had seen elsewhere that you learn a word much faster from an image than from straight text flash cards. Someone else (I forget who) suggested that any image will do, and so you can create a flash card with the English translation on the revers and any unique image, and you will learn it much faster that way. It makes sense really, but still I am really bad at creating those kinds of flash cards. No doubt I am slowing myself down with my indolence :)
>82 LovingLit: Usually I'm good with jumps, but the fact that her name was in the title and that I was excited to have a book set here (her family lived in Sault Ste Marie, although the mine shaft was elsewhere in the UP) really made it disappointing.
As for accents and English - I can only speak for myself and where I have spent most of my life, and in the bay area of California I think we're pretty used to hearing English spoken with a foreign accent - lots of different foreign accents. I can remember once when I was working retail though when I had a Japanese couple in the store and I felt horrible but I literally could not understand a single thing they said. I've heard English with a Japanese accent before! But yeah, their accents were so strong (and I have no idea how their grasp of the language was) that I just couldn't get anything out of it.
Sometimes if you are trying to get an English word across too, it can help to say it in the foreign accent. It makes you feel silly most of the time but it can make a difference!
>84 ursula: There was a viral clip of a British football manager who went to work in the Netherlands, and he had gained a Dutch accent, and people (British comedians, at least) mocked him for picking it up - but I could totally see that it might have helped people he worked with understand him.
I like the idea of images for flashcards. I think I'd need some help being imaginative with images for concepts rather than physical things. Not even remotely artistic or creative!
>83 sirfurboy: Exactly. He suggests Anki for making electronic flashcards. I know a lot of people swear by them, and you can find your appropriate images on Google images and then plunk them into your Anki flashcards and you're done. They take care of the spaced repetitions for you. I know a lot of people have used them but I never did for Italian. I am investigating right now for Russian though!
>85 charl08: I of course can't think of any offhand, but there were lots of English words that Italians would recognize, but not when spoken with an American accent. They sometimes hear these words, but almost never spoken by a native. Also, they have a funny habit of taking just part of a phrase and using it as an Italian word. "Social" is a great example of that, meaning "social media." They say, essentially, that someone posted something "on the social."
He has ideas about how to deal with abstract concepts. A lot of it has to do with figuring out what is meaningful for you personally. Does "the economy" mean stock symbols, dollar signs, a shady-looking guy in a suit? :) Plus, if you can get a sentence/mental story to go with it, you're more likely to remember.
Also, he talks about searching for concrete words in the language you're learning because (and this is a no-brainer, but something I hadn't really thought about before) the most common images for "dog" may very well be of different breeds or contexts than "собака" (Russian for dog), and that helps you remember it. If you are used to seeing all pugs and French bulldogs when you search in English, but get wolfhounds when you search in Russian, that gives your brain an association that helps the word stick.
I love this conversation about language acquisition. I think after learning a second language, the third is easier as well. Definitely pictures make things easier to remember.
My daughter teaches in a Spanish immersion program. What is fascinating is how quickly kids learn language. We should start all students in kindergarten.
>88 BLBera: Kids learn language super quickly. Aside from brain plasticity, their major advantage is that they're not afraid of making mistakes. They talk how they talk, someone corrects them, they learn to say it the right way. As adults, we're often handicapped by not wanting to seem stupid. On the other hand, adults have the advantage of understanding how language works, so they can make connections in ways that kids just can't. I think that's one aspect that makes subsequent languages easier to learn - even if the structures and usage are different, someone saying "this is a verb. This is a direct object." will mean something to you. Of course, it depends on your level of grammar awareness how far that goes.
Morgan told me the other day that he realized from listening to me talk about Russian, and his experiences trying to learn Italian, that he has some form of language anxiety. He's used to seeing math anxiety in his classes, but he realized that it stresses him out just hearing me talk about indirect objects, cases, word order, etc. And he's not even trying to learn it, just a passive listener!
>89 ursula: I think you are right about kids not being afraid to make mistakes. That is key. I am less sure that brain plasticity is really a thing. If you think about it, kids take a very long time to become fluent in a language. They start learning when they are born and are still making mistakes all through their primary years.
Also, we often say that kids pick up languages easily, and that is because we think we, as kids, learned easily. However I think that is wrong. I think we simply forgot how hard it was to learn our first language.
Grammar and such like can give adults a head start into language, so that they can actually acquire it faster, but it is this ability to just launch in and make mistakes that gives kids the edge. They are not fluent but they speak the language much more quickly than most adult learners.
Other advantages they may have are immersion in the language (perhaps adults are too good at finding ways not to be immersed in the language) and also their propensity to read or watch things over and over again. Now that may be what you mean by brain plasticity of course. It is not the brain so much as the fact that kids goals differ from adult goals, and that they are predisposed to watch or listen to things repetitively.
On the issue of grammar anxiety: that is very understandable as some grammars just seem to be so complex that they are not really useful. A lot of grammar is, in my opinion, not really very necessary. I don't care if a verb is intransitive or ditransitive. All I need to know is what I want to say. "I give him the book". Of course, in German I would need to break that up into direct and indirect objects so as to work out the cases, but I still did not really need to realise that the verb was transitive, did I?
Someone once said to me the best way to learn a language is just to start reading small articles in that language. That works pretty well for me - you quickly learn important and recurrent vocabulary and the basic structures begin to stick before you ever have to worry about grammar. Everyone is different though, but for those who hate or fear grammar, Michel Thomas or Paul Noble audio courses are excellent starting points (if available in your target language).
On Anki flashcards: I have seen these recommended before and downloaded the application for my Mac. I have not yet taken the plunge and bought the expensive iphone app. The expense is not huge and I won't begrudge it, but thus far I have not been overly impressed with the review scheme. I have used Memrise, and Anki feels basic compared to that. It may be the iphone app is very much better though - I just don't have the information!
What Anki does allow is the picture cards. Memrise allows graphical hints but they are not part of the review, so I should probably look again at Anki. Or, I suppose, I could actually use paper... *gasp!*
Thanks for an interesting discussion and good luck with the Russian. Oh and I have been tackling Greek this year. I have some way to go with it though - it is harder work than Italian.
>90 sirfurboy: Yes, one thing the author of Fluent Forever said is that you have to realize that if you had someone speaking a language at you for hundreds of thousands of hours, you too would become fluent. :P That kind of exposure is hard to replicate - even if you are in a country that speaks another language, you won't have people speaking directly to you and trying to make themselves understood while you smile blankly at them. You just can't imitate that experience of being a baby. Something interesting he mentioned though, was that each language seems to have its pattern for learning that you just can't break out of, whether you're a child learning or an adult. And this is even if, as an adult, your book or course presents material in another way. There was more to it, but his example had to do with English and how we learn first the basic verb - say, "fall" - and then we will master the gerund "falling" before we master the third person "falls". And that it doesn't matter if the verb is regular or irregular, that pattern still holds true. Just some weirdness in how the brain makes connections.
As for grammar, there are lots of different schools of thought out there. For me, I like grammar. It's a framework that helps me make those connections. I am not made uncomfortable by explanations about indirect objects, intransitive or reflexive verbs, etc. However, I wouldn't say that I can read a grammar explanation and just go "oh, okay then!" and I've learned it. But the way a language is structured is actually of interest to me. In that case, grammar can be a good thing. But if you aren't that sort of person (and lots of people aren't), trying to cram that sort of information in probably isn't going to help and will hurt if you're like Morgan and freeze up every time someone says "direct object". I get frustrated by the no-grammar approach because I don't like trying to figure out patterns on my own. It is annoying to me to try to figure out why this word is in this form here and that one there, or placed here in one sentence and there in another one. But for some people, that's what makes it come alive - the constant search to find the patterns.
Reading or listening to/watching things can be good. But "comprehensible input" is the key. There has to be enough there that you can already understand or it's questionable how much you get out of it. Reading something with dictionary at hand and looking up every second word is annoying and there are just too many new words to have them stick. (I know you said "small articles" and that may be doable.) And watching or listening to something where you don't understand most of it means you start tuning it out and quit getting a benefit. You hear the rhythm of the language but not much beyond that. Some people suggest watching things with subtitles in your target language, but this author is against that.
I just started using Anki (on the computer) and I think I love it. Image flashcards are pretty easy to make, and I see that you can embed sound too. I don't entirely like Memrise because I find the "reminders" are often useless or annoying to me. (I've used it plenty, though.)
Good luck with Greek, I imagine it's as much of a leap from Italian as Russian is. I'm dealing with grammar that I can't relate to at all (the six cases for nouns, the lack of "to be", the endless different verbs of motion (did you arrive on foot or by transport? are you going to a house or a museum?)) and it's like I'm feeling around in a dark room. But even though Italian was easier, there were aspects of that there too so I keep going and have faith. :)
The North Water
It's a book about a whaling voyage up into the Arctic where it seems everyone has secrets. The story starts out on land with some depravity and murder, and it builds from there to a sort of Cormac McCarthy on ice. (This comparison occurred to me at some point in the book and it is apt, but also hilarious to me because I imagine a sort of "Disney on Ice" production of Child of God or No Country for Old Men.) I don't think I really want to reveal anything about the plot, so I'll just say it's a tense book all the way through and surprised me a few times.
However, if you aren't up for reading about a lot of death, you should skip it. At some point I started keeping a tally of people and animals that were specifically mentioned as dying and it was a lot. Especially for a 250-page book. Some deaths are ugly, some are graphic, some are both (again, think McCarthy). I enjoyed it overall but it's certainly not for everyone.
... off to google Anki. Thanks Ursula - this really is fascinating. I tried to learn a west african language nearly ten years ago, and it was intriguing to me the differences in the way my teachers presented the language. I had to explicitly ask for teaching on vocab for emotions, for example. They just didn't think that was particularly important for a basic learner...
>93 charl08: Some of the West African languages are tonal (i.e. they make a distinction of meaning based on the tone register, like Mandarin does). I would love to learn one of them, although there are too many languages so I will have to accept it is unlikely I will.
>91 ursula: Yes, all interesting stuff. By short articles, I mean literally a paragraph or two to start with. A whole book is impossible without having a much larger vocabulary (at least it was impossible for me. I tried and gave up on about page 2).
For reading in a language for pleasure, I think you need enough language to get the gist without a dictionary. As for watching movies with subtitles: what I would like is to watch them movie with the subtitles in the target language, the same language as the movie. This should be possible as in English, at least, movies often have subtitles for the hard of hearing, but it can be quite hard to find movies in other languages that do the same.
One interesting experience was a Belgian movie I watched that was bilingual French and Flemish (i.e. Dutch). The French parts had Dutch subtitles and the Dutch parts had French subtitles. That kind of worked for me!
>90 sirfurboy: sirfurboy
Your idea to read short articles in a language you are learning works well for people who sign up for the AARP Bulletin - it's offered in both English and Spanish. Some of the articles overlap so
speakers can read first in their native language and comprehension goes smoother.
>94 sirfurboy: Yeah, that's what I meant, movies with subtitles in the target language. He does not think this is a good idea. I didn't use subtitles in Italian myself so I can't really form much of an opinion on it. (Now, I find them mostly annoying because I have to consciously try not to read them.)
>93 charl08: I can imagine that that would be strange. There are so many things that can be learned about a culture through language, and thinking beginners don't need to talk about emotions is maybe one of them!
>81 ursula: I am totally a visual person, good with faces but horrible with names. Which is why I have such a hard time here on LT remembering everyone's user name and linking it to their real name. since we hardly ever get to meet in person. I actually have a list of the people I talk to here and I have downloaded their facial pictures (if I can find one) or some other picture that represents some important aspect of their personality or life. THEN I can remember who is who!!
Enjoying all the language acquisition discussion...
Okay, I'm back. I just did a couple of quick replies right when I got back from the gym because I'm an impatient type.
>93 charl08: Here are a couple of my Anki flashcards, after the reveal of the correct answer:
It's nice because you can choose the images you want, looking for a train in Moscow or a street in St. Petersburg or a Russian car, etc. The theory is that as you spend time looking for just the right image of the поезд, or the cutest свинья you can find, you're helping connect what it is in your mind to the process of finding that picture and your brain has more to hang onto.
>94 sirfurboy: I love tonal languages! One day I'll get back to Mandarin, but it isn't a thing to think about right now, knee-deep (or is that neck-deep?) in Russian.
I used to live in Belgium though my Dutch never got beyond the extremely basic. I remember cases like that, where it would be subtitled in Dutch or French as appropriate. Since my French was non-existent, it didn't help me. ;)
>95 m.belljackson: The English edition of Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words has the English and Italian on facing pages. I didn't read the English part but I'm excited to use it in the future as a means to test out my abilities to translate. It's not often that you have that sort of opportunity, both the original and the professionally translated version (unless you get your hands on foreign editions of books you already own in English or vice versa). I used to read the articles in the Trenitalia free magazine for the same reason - some of them had both Italian and English versions.
>98 Berly: I am not entirely sure what I am, which is why the flashcards are sort of a grand experiment for me. I am visual when it comes to directions and that sort of thing - I can often describe what something looked like when I was standing in a place (this is about as useful as it sounds ... thank goodness Morgan is patient with me when I say things like "No, this isn't the right street, when I was standing there looking for the store, there was a door on the left and there's a window here. Also, there were bigger trees."), and I'm okay at connecting faces and names, but I don't think it's really my learning style. I need to write things down to really set them into my memory. So I guess maybe visual/tactile. Auditory is my enemy, talk about "in one ear and out the other"!
The lesson on adjectives started off with: "In Russian, adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in gender/number and case. Out of 24 combinations only 12 forms are different."
Oh, good. I'll only tear out half my hair, then.
Things We Lost in the Fire
I got this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I was a bit skeptical because it's short stories and I feel like most of the time I just don't mesh well with the format. However, these were definitely attention-getters. The stories are all set in Argentina, and they all have at least dark undercurrents, if that darkness isn't right on the surface. The desperate world of the poor is just as shudder-inducing as any of the more supernatural horrors Enriquez touches on in her stories. Some of them are essentially straight-up horror, but most are terrible to read in other ways (by which I mean the reactions they provoke, not that the quality is terrible!). A number of the stories are deeply, deeply disturbing and I would not give this book to anyone who might be triggered by the tales - there is a lot to be triggered by: self-harm, eating disorders, psychological disturbances, image issues. These stories will stick with me for quite a while, I'm sure.
>99 ursula: I'm a visual learner too, I think. The flash cards look great! I'll look up Anki and see if I want to use it to recoup my Spanish.
and >98 Berly: That's a great idea, to download the names with pictures. I'm terrible with names too, and I've been working since Portland to remember everyone's face and name.
>90 sirfurboy: interesting! Great thinking points there...immersion is a terrifying prospect for the person being immersed in a language foreign to them. It would be so hard first off.
When I visited family friends in Chile, they spoke to me only in Spanish, and I assumed they didn't seek English. I only found out at the end of my stay that they both spoke fantastic English, and I had struggled and bumbled my way through with them in Spanish my whole stay! It certainly improved my Spanish though :)
the right image of the поезд, or the cutest свинья
Even I feel like I am learning Russian right now!!
>102 ffortsa: I used to be really, really good with names. And then somewhere along the line .... Now, I have to consciously work at it, especially if someone has a pretty common name because I tend to just think "ah, Mike, okay. Makes sense." And it's the makes sense part that seems to trigger my brain to do an instant dump of that information.
>103 LovingLit: Forcing yourself to use only the new language is the best way, of course. It's uncomfortable and awkward, but you learn so much faster. The author of the book suggested something I often thought about doing - his suggestion was tell them you're from Albania and you don't speak English - "no one speaks Albanian."
Even I feel like I am learning Russian right now!!
Pronounce them, I dare you! :P No, I'm kidding. But that is definitely the point, to use those words as much as possible instead of their English equivalents, even if you're using them surrounded by English words.
>105 BLBera: Things We Lost in the Fire touches something primal in most of the stories - I don't know if a happy day is enough, or if it's even required. I always wanted to read the next story, but I was also always surprised by how much of a punch to the stomach the next one would be. It's an interesting book.
Counting down? Eh, kind of. I mean, we've got to be out of the house here on the 25th but we're still looking for a place in Fresno. There's one we're interested in that isn't available for our friend to even look at till the 18th so it's kind of put a little more limbo into the whole process. So far our other options are one that the friend called "habitable" and one that they are working on remodeling, which seems like it will be nice but the landlord told our friend he'd be done with it in 2 weeks and the friend thinks he is insane. (The pictures of the work in progress also point to insanity.)
I love your shelves, Ursula. Just out of curiosity, are they arranged in any kind of order? favorites on the top or some such thing?
By the way, I met another Ursula last week.
>108 BLBera: Nope, no sort of order. Top shelf has a few already that I was not too fond of!
Another Ursula? Who knew? :)
I've only ever run across one other one, she was the waitress in a diner in some out of the way place in northern California.
She also told me that she didn't know any other Ursulas. I told her to read Life after Life :)
Well, I went for a record-breaking 5k run this morning, which feels awesome. I'm unsure what the situation will be for running in Fresno - it'll be hot, of course, but I managed that in Italy by running verrrry early in the morning. But more to the point, it's not a very safe place so I don't know if I'm going to be stuck doing a lot of indoor running or what. Now we're going to start packing up some stuff.
Other tasks on the agenda: writing my comments on the last book I read and answering some snail mail. Oh, and studying Russian, of course.
I picked this up at the library on my quest to choose female authors. I thought I recognized the title from somewhere, so I went with it. As it turns out, much to my surprise, it was put on the 1001 Books list in the 2010 edition. I was about 100 pages into the book when I discovered that, and I was so surprised because I was considering abandoning it as a waste of paper.
The story is about a family: Mom Julia, her elderly parents, her ex-husband Wendell, and their two early-twenties sons, Steven and Jack. Julia's parents are falling apart a bit - her mother is descending into Alzheimer's and her father has lost his commanding place in the family and doesn't know what to do about it except to dig in further. The discovery that Jack is addicted to heroin turns everyone's world upside down.
The reason I almost abandoned the book is that none of these people talk like actual human beings. Julia and Wendell are probably baby boomers, who claim to have taken some drugs in college, but they talk like people from an afterschool special about the dangers of drugs. "Is Jack taking heroin?" "Jack, are you taking heroin?" Wendell claims that the intervention specialist he talked to told him that he should try to pick Jack up early in the morning, before he has a chance to take any drugs: "'Use,' they called it." Have these people never seen a movie? Phrases like "doing heroin" or "using" are treated as if they're not in common usage everywhere. Fine, I guess you're supposed to think that these parents are just so freaked out that they can't form sentences like normal people. But Steven, the 24-year-old brother, says that Jack is not "sniffing heroin, he's using needles." Sniffing? Are we in the '50s? (Did they use that term even then?!) No one ever, ever, in the entire 400+ pages, says that Jack shoots up, even after they've supposedly become so well-versed in drugs after research and discussion with the rehab guy. The person who seems most hip and most able to understand the situation? The doddering grandfather, because he was a neurosurgeon and knows a thing or two about dopamine receptors.
In the last 50 or so pages the book takes a turn for the somewhat more realistic and people more often behave like humans than bad actors in a DARE video. I am about 98% baffled why this is on the 1001 Books list - in addition to the unreal characters, the writing is weirdly repetitive. The other 2% is the part that realizes that some baby boomers who were adding to the list though it merited a spot because it talks about the untenable position many of them were finding themselves in 10 or so years ago, with aging parents needing care and children who also needed care, even if they were technically adults.
>92 ursula: I like that comment about McCarthy on ice, Ursula. That one skated to be one of my favourite reads last year but I agree it won't be for everyone.
Have a great weekend.
We went across the border to our sister city in Canada for a few hours on Saturday - there is a bus that runs every hour between the two places. It's comical how different the border procedures are entering each country.
Entering Canada: *hand over to driver, he hands them out window to guy in the booth* "Who is Ursula? Hi! Where do you live? What are you going to Canada for? How long do you plan on staying? Bringing in any alcohol, etc? Okay, have a good time."
Re-entering the US: The border agent enters the bus, instructs me to sit down (I was standing because I thought I was going to hand our passports to the driver, so when the agent got on, I just handed it to him and stayed where I was). Then he looms over us the whole time.
"So, where do you live? Why did you go to Canada?"
"To wander around."
"How long were you there?"
"A few hours."
"Where do you live in the Soo, specifically?"
"By the university."
"What do you do there?"
Morgan, professor; me, artist.
"What do you teach?"
"And you, you don't have a job?"
"Art isn't a job?"
"Well, okay ... but I mean, no one pays you?"
"Do you have a car?"
"Okay, so that's why you're taking the bus, then?"
"How many hours did you spend there?" Then he waited while we did the math, and looked at me like I was an alien when I checked my watch to figure it out.
*looks at passport* "California, hm?"
"So, did you buy anything in Canada?"
"No, we didn't find anything that interested us."
"Wandering around, huh? What did you see?"
"The waterfront, mostly. It was our first time there."
"Yeah, they have a nice boardwalk, don't they? How long have you lived in the Soo?"
Then he looked inside our bags.
Every response was meant with a searching look and a questioning echo. We went through this before, in a car with colleagues (Morgan said I was going to get in trouble for lying and saying it was our first time there - of course, I had forgotten the other time and besides, we didn't get to get out and actually see the city at all with them, they took us on a tour of the grocery stores, haha), and they asked how long you were there, where you lived, if you'd bought anything, but jeez, this guy. He acted as if every answer was either a lie or the weirdest thing he'd been told all month, and waited for us to reconsider every answer.
>118 ffortsa: In this case, we were the only ones on the bus. I've never ridden it before, but Morgan has, and he said they did not check his bag before or want to know specifically where he lived, etc.
>117 ursula: Now imagine you had a hijab on.
Sigh. I really, really dislike border security. We came back from watching the Women's World Cup in Canada two years ago and got a similarly intrusive search. They even walked around the minivan and just opened up the trunk and started rummaging around. Maybe there are stats out their to prove me wrong but I have a hard time imagining that there are that many people smuggling drugs and other contraband across the US/Canada border in expensive minivans with three children (including a sleeping 2 year old) as props to conceal their illegal activity. Besides, it was in North Dakota. If I was actually trying to smuggle something in I wouldn't have gone to one of the 18 official crossings when there is 300 plus miles of border.
To me, this is one of those things that we pay way too much for and is only effective at pissing people off.
>120 Oberon: Yeah. Morgan went through the border before, going from a math conference in Toronto to one in upstate New York. They were driving a rental car, and like the beginning of a joke, an American, an Irishman, a Belgian, and a Turkish woman pulled up to the checkpoint ....
It took them a while to get through, and there was much questioning, particularly of the Turkish woman. A car full of mathematicians. I find it difficult to believe that this would be the best cover story someone could come up with. ;)
My experience was always that the US border security was way more persnickety that the Canadians. Though last time we were in Victoria, everything went pretty fast.
Beth, I would say not the read Things We Lost in the Fire on a happy day, because that would ruin the mood of the day. Better to read it when you are already feeling disturbed, and then you can just be more so? Nice review, Ursula, I read it a few months ago, and you captured it.
A car full of mathematicians. I find it difficult to believe that this would be the best cover story someone could come up with.
But maybe they were doing the *Forbidden maths*...!! :-D
Had a bit of a sigh at passport control here - the EU nationals fast track won't be my thing for much longer. Unless I can work out how to get an Irish passport. (Unlikely, too far back)
Just keeping up here. Bummer about the long US border interrogation. Sigh. Congrats on the record breaking 5K run!! Whoohoo!
>122 banjo123: Definitely, and that includes Canadians re-entering their own country. I belong to a group that meets every couple of weeks, and some of the members are Canadian. They are always saying that they don't get the sort of interrogation when re-entering Canada that Americans get re-entering the US. And, of course, they get the aggressive questioning treatment too when coming into the US.
I agree about Things We Lost in the Fire, although I read it one-story-a-day, so I was just a little bit disturbed every day for a week and a half. ;) I don't know about reading them all in one or a couple of sittings. At least they are different enough from each other that they wouldn't feel like a blur.
>123 charl08: Oh yeah, I forgot about the Forbidden Math! ;) I can imagine it's not a pleasing prospect to be facing being in the "other" line when going anywhere in the future.
>124 Berly: It's just the way of the thing, I guess, but I'm glad we didn't do it any more often, honestly. I don't have a lot of patience for that sort of thing. And thanks! I haven't had any other decent days since to get out and run in the outside but there should be some coming up, which is also a "yay"!
Here's a little look at the difference between Russian printing/type and cursive.
I know that there are some differences in the way that our letters are formed in print and cursive, although I can't think of anything really glaring - maybe capital Q? Z's? But in general, I feel like it's mostly just a softening of the pointy bits. (I know, it's hard to judge when you grew up with it.)
In Russian, however ....
First off, I don't claim that my handwriting is great. I'm obviously just learning. But if you look at the first sentence (in type: Я работаю как лошадь), you can see that the upper part of the Б actually points in the other direction in cursive, that т becomes m, and that д becomes g.
The second sentence is just to show the little "hooks" that are required to start off some letters (я, л, м) because otherwise they look like other letters. And at the bottom is the word "or", showing the hook on the л and also how some words start to look like meaningless scribbles very quickly.
>127 ursula: Yikes. I guess I'd been aware that the print and cursive were different but not to quite such an extent. My boyfriend and I are scheduled to go to a wedding in Moscow in November, and I'm now quite intimidated by the thought of getting around/reading signs etc!
>128 lunacat: - I got completely lost on the metro in Moscow when I was there several years ago. If I recall correctly, many of the signs were only in Cyrilic. Above ground, I didn't have as many issues, but this was a while ago, so things might be different now.
>128 lunacat: If you are so inclined, it might be worth it to learn the sounds of the Cyrillic letters. There are a decent number of words that sound like something recognizable (either in English or a romance language) once you sound them out. So, a word like киоск which just looks like KNOCK with a backwards N - if you know the и is an "ee" sound and с is "ess", then you realize this sounds like (and is) a kiosk. фильм is terrifying-looking, but pronounced "film." :)
Or, just make sure you mostly venture out with someone who knows where they're going. :D
ETA: I mean, it's not that simple to pronounce everything, there are a bunch of arcane rules about the ways vowels are pronounced depending if the stress is on that syllable or not, and no discernible way to figure out where the stress is. And that's without mentioning г, which can be pronounced like a hard G or like a V, depending (on something). But it might help in some cases.
>129 katiekrug: Hello! Thanks for that, I was wondering how much would be written in English as well as Russian. Being able to sound out places would be useful in that case.
>127 ursula: Firstly I have to say that your handwriting looks beautiful. I am not qualified to say if it is correct but it is still beautiful :)
Secondly, this all sounds a lot like ancient Latin cursive.
English uses the Latin alphabet, right? And we can all read Roman inscriptions on tombs and monuments (even if they do shorten everything). So what does Roman cursive script look like?
Here is an example from Wikipedia dating to the reign of Claudius:
Good luck reading that!
>131 sirfurboy: Thanks! My handwriting in Russian is definitely prettier than it is in English, although I make lots more mistakes in Russian.
That Roman cursive looks like one of those things where you feel like you should be able to read it, but you finally have to admit you're getting absolutely nothing.
Moving update: Here's a thing you don't like to hear when you're looking for a place (it goes right after "Oh, that place that was posted online 4 hours ago is already rented") - "Sorry, but we stop putting people on the waiting list for a place when the list reaches 50."
>121 ursula: A car full of mathematicians? - now that just wouldn't add up!
I found the border security arrangements at the airports in Atlanta and Jacksonville bizarre to be honest. Getting in was a pain and an unfriendly pain. Having to use a machine to put in plenty of data and then feed in your passport to verify. I thought it was complicated but smooth not realising then you have to join another queue for border checks proper at passport control. The chap there was extremely discourteous refusing to make any eye contact whatsoever and asking his questions / giving his directions (both hands checked electronically!) in grunted monosyllables. Not the way to introduce the world's last superpower to an amiable visitor.
Going out however I couldn't believe the lack of care. A cursory check of my passport when I went through the gate in Jacksonville but no check or baggage security thereafter in Atlanta.
Have a great weekend, Ursula.
>134 PaulCranswick: CBP (Customs and Border Protection) agents in the US have a reputation for being unfriendly, rude and unprofessional, to US citizens and especially to people entering from other countries, which apparently has gotten worse under the new administration. Interacting with CBP agents on my return to the US from abroad is nearly always my least favorite part of my international trips, as they generally make me feel as if I'm either a traitor for leaving the country, or a potential threat to it. I remember one of them barking at me with a hateful glare while asking me "Are you glad to return to this country?" It was all I could do to not reply "Not if I have to encounter @ssholes like you." Going through UK Border Patrol is a vastly more enjoyable experience, as those officers are professional, courteous, and often friendly, and even the stern Spanish and French staff are not as bad as their American counterparts.
>134 PaulCranswick: Haha ...
I remember doing the machine plus human thing when we re-entered the US this last time.
I honestly can't remember how it is or should be going through airports either here or in the EU when leaving the country/conglomeration of countries. I am pretty much always in a complete daze and/or just focused on getting where I'm going. I figure it's like having kids - some amnesia is useful or one might never do it again.
I do remember having to go through another checkpoint after we picked up the dog at JFK, I'm assuming because of the dog. He asked if we had any meat or meat products with us and at the same time Morgan was answering "no", I was asking him "Where are Penny's duck treats? I can't find them." But then I located them and fed her one.
Since the employee clearly had no actual interest in the answers to his question, he didn't notice/care and it wasn't a problem but boy did we laugh about that later.
Worst immigration experience, hands-down, was Moscow, followed closely by Baku, with our friendly neighbors to the north in Calgary coming in third. *shrug* It doesn't bother me. None of them are employed by the national tourism board so I don't really expect a warm and friendly greeting :)
This comment has really not increased my confidence about going to Moscow :/ although I have been through immigration (internal, so even more confusing) in Beijing. That was a nightmare experience and I didn't understand a second of it. I suspect Moscow will be similar. I wonder if anti-anxiety medication will be advisable or if I need to be on my toes ;).
This was several years ago, Jenny, so maybe it's improved? I went through Beijing the same year but we had some kind of special service that handled everything, so it was actually rather pleasant!
>140 katiekrug: Given the UK's current relationship with Russia, I doubt we'll be welcomed with open arms. It might be a grin and bear it experience. It was 14 years ago (good god, when did that time go) since I went through Beijing so maybe that has also improved!
I'm just about done reading this non-fiction book, The Curse of Beauty, which I picked up randomly at the library. It's subtitled "The Scandalous & Tragic Life of Audrey Munson, America's First Supermodel".
She was an artists' model in the early part of the 1900s, and sat for many famous sculptures. In fact, the majority of the statues at the International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 were modeled on Audrey. What a weird thing, to have many replicas of yourself facing each other everywhere! Anyhow, she was serious about modeling and she broke a lot of taboos about the nude form, etc. And she had an unlucky life in a lot of ways - never managed to find a man, apparently went crazy .... But wow, this author could have used an editor. The bio says that he is "the former New York bureau chief of The Times of London newspaper", and was most recently a correspondent in Rome. I don't know anything about that paper, but this book is written as if he were the bureau chief of the National Enquirer. The title of the book comes from (I kid you not) a gypsy prophecy Audrey got about her life and the book matches up the events to the prophecy every chance it gets. Everything is written in the most sensational way possible. One of her suitors was "superrich but supercomplicated." Supercomplicated? Couldn't he have said "super-rich and equally as complicated" so as to preserve some sense that I'm reading a somewhat serious non-fiction book? He could also have used an editor for some of his sentences (a lot of them, really) and punctuation. On one recent page, I find gems like "Newspapers immediately launched a manhunt for the cad presumed to be responsible for the near-death of America's first supermodel. To no avail." and "Prohibition was forced, but the jazz age was in full swing behind closed doors, in the speakeasies. Woman had won the right to vote and began to dance the Charleston and wear cosmetics." [sic, all of it]
In addition to that, he goes off on tangents about nearly everyone he mentions, starting with their birth. I don't know if it's just an interest in including every bit of research or a need to pad out the book, but sometimes I forgot what on earth we were actually supposed to be focusing on here. In addition to that, he jumps back and forth and sideways in time at the beginning of the book (presumably to cram in a bunch of interesting details to tease you on to the rest of the story), and it's very confusing at times.
So why did I read the whole thing? (I'm assuming I'll finish these last 30 pages) I guess kind of the same reason someone let this guy publish this mess - it's a story about an interesting era and a woman you've probably never heard of who spent some time on top of the world. Also, my attention span is kind of trash with the move coming up so a good book might be wasted on me right now.
>143 ursula: Well, you attention span may be trash, but I wouldn't know it from your review! Excellent job. : )
Good luck with all things move-related. Have you found a place yet?
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks
I ran across this graphic novel browsing the Denver Library's ebook collection, and I put it on my wishlist and waited for the one copy to work its way through the few people ahead of me. I can't remember if I put it on hold before I started learning Russian or right afterward, but either way it's mostly a coincidence that I'm reading about Russia and Ukraine while studying Russian. Further coincidence: at first I assumed the author would be Russian (or Ukrainian, I guess), but early on he mentions learning some new Russian words. Turns out it was translated from Italian - too bad I couldn't get my hands on that version! Anyway, he went to Ukraine and then to Russia, interviewing people about their lives and experiences. The Ukrainian notebook talks to people who survived the Holodomor genocide (forced starvation by the Russians). The Russian notebook talks about Anna Politkoyskaya, a Russian journalist who investigated the situation in Chechnya and was ultimately murdered. In addition to talking about her and another journalist murdered by the Russian government, this book details some of the events of the Chechen war. "Harrowing" is a good word for the contents of both notebooks, maybe moreso because they're mostly focused on the stories of individuals, either through their own words or the words of their surviving family and friends.
The art style is varied, and there are occasional pages of just text, which provides space as well as more detail than you might get with a regular layout.
And I was pleased to be able to read the occasional Russian words scattered around, like in the first layout above. The text says "I had worked in unhealthy conditions for too long. And I didn't exactly eat as I should have." The Russian words that make up the panels say "Work", "Factory", and "Disease".
>145 ursula: These look great, Ursula. Off to check to see if my library owns a copy.
>145 ursula: The Russian word for factory looks like the Greek one:
ΜΠ is pronounced as a B.
Of course it also looks Italian... but in the Greek the lettering is very close too.
>147 sirfurboy: Yeah, when I originally learned the Russian word and sounded it out I said "hey, it's just like Italian - fabbrica!" And the Russian alphabet is based on the Greek one, so if you have a familiarity with that, it's probably helpful. (I do not.)
Hope the house search is going well Ursula. Does Morgan have a teaching schedule yet?
>117 ursula: I find it hard to think back to the time I was stamped into the US in Chicago, for a 4 hour stopover. They literally just stamped my passport for a x-day/week visitor visa when we were due to gat back on the plane in a few hours to go to Mexico City. We took the train into the city, got a beer at a bar by the water, and then went back to the airport and got on the plane. Pre-9/11, of course.
At that time, my London friend who was originally an asylum seeker from Sudan- yes, called Mo(hammed) - had just been turned down for a visa to visit the US with his Kiwi girlfriend, based on him supposedly being a flight risk. This was in spite of him living in the UK ten years and having had the same job in that time, and a letter from them stating as much.
>134 PaulCranswick: >135 kidzdoc: when I gained entry back into the UK - I had 2 year working holiday visa and had come and gone twice before, but this time my 2 years was up- I took the ferry to France and came back the same way. The border people were so friendly. We talked about cricket, I stated that I was just coming back in to arrange my things and head back to NZ, and he stamped me in. Incredible!
Just popping in to see what's up...you must be busy with RL!! Good luck. : )
>151 LovingLit: Nice. I had another pleasant encounter with a UK Border Patrol agent at Heathrow Terminal 3 this morning, after my flight from Atlanta landed there. He asked me what my weekend plans were (although I'm sure part of the reason was to see if I could come up with a coherent answer), including the play that Rhian, her husband and I are going to see tomorrow night, and when he noticed my occupation on my landing card he asked what kind of physician I was and where I worked. After he stamped my passport he smiled and wished me well. These British officers do a very nice job of asking pertinent questions in a relaxed conversational manner, which makes the interview process infinitely more enjoyable than encountering the unfriendly and occasionally hostile CBP agents in the US.
I am sort of back. We found a house, after staying a few days in a hotel in Fresno. But it is a good house, I think, and it's in a good place (for Fresno).
Morgan won't start teaching for real until August - he knows what classes he will be teaching but I don't think he has the schedule yet. He will do a short summer class in July (it's something like 3 weeks long).
Hurray for the new house Ursula. >156 charl08: someone had to ask :-)
I did see a promising-looking used bookstore in the old downtown section of Clovis, but I didn't go in. Honestly, with a box of books from each of the places we had stuff (Michigan, Denver, California), I'm a little uncomfortable with the number of books in the house at the moment, so I don't expect to be shopping for any anytime soon. (Yes, I buck the trend of LT and don't like to keep a lot of books in the house.)
"...don't like to keep a lot of books in the house."
I may be coming around to this way of thinking. I've spent most of the day alphabetizing and shelving my fiction, and I'm only in the Cs :-/
>159 katiekrug: Yeah, I definitely don't miss those days at all. Did you make it to the Ms? :)
I have two (laughably small) bookshelves which are each about 2/3 full with the books we have and it's freaking me out a little.
I took a break. I'll finish up the Cs at lunchtime, I think. Part of the issue is that half my books are int he attic bedroom so I have to troop up there and carry them down in batches. I guess it's a good workout....
>161 katiekrug: That might make it seem more of a pain, definitely! Since I moved to a one-story house and also no longer live on top of a hill (I haven't seen a hill yet, in fact), I'm ending most days with 0 floors on the fitbit. Oh well. :)
Okay, so I read a few books in the time I was gone.
Not my usual fare, but this science fiction-y thriller about multiple universes was hard to put down. I had a couple of quibbles that I no longer remember, and although it felt like he painted himself into a bit of a corner, he managed to get out of it reasonably well. It was a real page-turner.
>158 ursula: and >159 katiekrug: First, congratulations on finding a house, Ursula. That must have taken a lot of stress out of the move.
Next, yeah, I'm thinking about all the books we have too. It's a very slow process for me, deaccessioning books, especially as I haven't read a lot of them yet and don't like to give up on them. Kindle helps, as does the library now that I'm retired and can get there more often. Once in a while I see something on my Kindle and rush over to the bookshelf to see if I've given the hard copy away yet. Reading on Kindle is not the same as on paper, but for a lot of books, that doesn't make that much difference.
I'll need to write something better for this book eventually, because it's an LTER and I will have to try to post something to the book page that I'm not totally embarrassed by, but I want to at least get something out there for now.
The novel is about Dustin, a psychologist who has a past that not too many people know about - when he was 8 years old, his family adopted a 14-year-old boy (Russell, they called them "Rusty and Dusty" for extra cuteness and brother-bonding). Rusty was troubled, as might be expected, and eventually their parents and aunt and uncle are killed on a family camping trip and Rusty is found guilty of the crime. The book goes back and forth between the past and the present day, in which Dustin has been seeing an unusual patient - a cop on suspension for reasons unknown who wants to discuss a theory he has about deaths that have been going on in the area.
It's twisty and turny, questioning the reliability of memory and the faces people present to the world. I read it while we were driving cross-country, and I read the majority of it in just a few days. It's a little long (400+ pages) and I think it lost some steam near the end, but overall I really enjoyed it.
Then after we arrived, I started Girl Waits with Gun.
I tried, but after a few of the short chapters, it was annoying the living daylights out of me in the same way that those Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters do and I abandoned it. I continued past the part where I first wanted to give up, but life is too short to read something that I don't even get any pleasure out of hate-reading.
>164 ffortsa: It unfortunately didn't take any of the stress out of the move since we had hoped to find one before we arrived and instead it took 4 days of staying in a hotel! But yes, had it continued longer there would have been much more stress! :)
I used the library essentially exclusively for Kindle books because I have a history of being terrible at returning physical books. But while we were in the Soo, I did check out physical books too and managed to never get a late fee (in spite of walking in all kinds of weather!). So we'll see if I use the paper books from the library here too - it does open up the options quite a lot since many things are still not available electronically. And yeah, the experience is different. I don't mind it, really, but I also don't like always reading on the Kindle; I like to be able to switch formats and have at least one of each going at the same time.
When I originally got rid of my many books, I let go of everything I "intended" to read and only kept a few that I committed to reading in the near future. Then I got rid of all the read books aside from ones that were nice and had made an impression on me in some way. Now on the rare occasions I buy books, they're beat-up used editions that I can read and pass along somewhere with zero guilt. One day I want to have nice editions of some books, but I am not too attached to books as physical objects anymore.
Congrats on finding somewhere to live...phew!! And I am still at a point in my life where I love tons of books everywhere, but I could see when I downsize someday having to say goodbye. I'll use you as my inspiration when I get there. : )
Yay! You found a house. Pictures?
I had fun building my library collection for this house with many built-in shelves. When DH comes to his senses and admits that we're getting too old to keep up with a 3-story house and one-acre lot, I will be sad to downsize my books but at least I won't feel the book guilt when I snub my own books in favor of the library's shiny new books!
>168 Berly: Phew indeed! :)
>169 Donna828: I haven't taken any pictures of the outside yet, and the inside is still a work in progress, so nothing at the moment - but soon! (I mean, the inside will still be a work in progress, ie mostly without furniture, but at least it won't be covered in boxes and stuff.)
The Dharma Bums
I read this because I have a friend who always cites this as a transformative book for him, and also because I'm supposed to read On the Road for the 1001 Books list, but I've never been able to get more than about 20 pages into that. I figured this one might be good prep work.
It's so pseudo-enlightened, so pop-Buddhist, so "look at what a free spirit I am" but without any of the exhilaration that should come from that. Every once in a while our thinly-veiled protagonist stumbles upon a moment of communing with nature and doesn't ruin it with either his supposedly profound thoughts or his clumsy writing, but those moments are few and far between. Aside from that, it's just so male. I obviously grew up reading books by men, written for men, about topics men find interesting, and I have still rarely felt that a book so thoroughly disregarded me and left me out. The women who wander through the narrative are ciphers - a free love girl who sleeps with all of Kerouac and his friends, a few hangers-on in love with his friend, a woman who is the stereotypical earth mother raising barefoot children, or Kerouac's own mother who is essentially only seen briefly, doing the dishes.
Morgan's comment to me about The Dharma Bums as I became more and more reluctant to pick it up again: "Jeez, you're taking longer to read that than he took to write it."
>172 ursula: Won't be reading that one.
Have a great Sunday evening, Ursula.
Hello, Ursula. Long time since visiting. Good luck to the restart in a new location. I cannot imagine trying to move.
>171 ursula: yeh- On the Road was a bloke-fest in the same way you describe. I feel like in my old age (almost 42!!), I am tiring of that particular gang of writers (the blokey ones).
Hope the move is going well. I think I would have given that book the heave ho...
Started a new thread, I just wanted to say thanks to those who dropped by >173 PaulCranswick:, 174, >176 Caroline_McElwee:
Moving is not a lot of fun, no matter how much of it you do it (or maybe it does matter, as perhaps there is a finite amount of "fun" that you deplete with every move - in that case we're well in the red). Next time we're getting movers.
>175 LovingLit: I guess I hadn't realized quite what Kerouac was going to be like. As I said, you read so many male-centered books that I think in some ways you quit noticing, so to break through that it has to be notable.
>177 charl08: It was small and light and I kept it in the cab of the truck to read in hotel rooms. :) Besides, I had a single box of books to move. One didn't make a whole lot of difference! It will be departing the house soon though!
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