Posted by dahosek

Dewey Decimal Project: 439.1 WEX Just Say Nu : Yiddish For Every Occasion (When English Just Won’t Do)

As I continue through the 400s, I also strive to avoid having to learn another language. The 430s are German and Germanic languages and I decide on this book, Just Say Nu hich looks like it might not be a real learn Yiddish book to check off this decade.

It turns out that Wex has written something that’s a bit of a neither-nor. It looked from the cover—and the interior justified the impression—like a book that was meant to be a somewhat humorous look at Yiddish phrases and expressions, and it was, but Wex also couldn’t resist writing something that was also meant to be a serious text for learning Yiddish and as a result, the book doesn’t succeed at either goal.

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Beautiful Sentences: Keith Ridgway

She liked art. She liked paintings and video art and photography. She liked to read about artists and she liked to hear them talk. She had been to all the big London art museums already, and she had been to some small ones too, and some galleries. She wanted to be an artist, she thought, she liked how the world looked and felt one way when you looked at it or breathed or walked about, and looked another way completely when you looked at art, even though you recognized that the art was about the world, or had something to do with the world—the world you looked at or breathed or walked about in.

Keith Ridgway, “Rothko Eggs.”

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Dewey Decimal Project: 422 RIC How Happy Became Homosexual : And Other Mysterious Semantic Shifts

As I get into the 420s tNewImagehe books are now shelved in the foreign language section. The 420s are the English language and most of what’s hear are books for ESL learners, so the pickings are slim. I spot this book and the title catches my attention, I’m curious about the transition of the meaning of “gay” and figure this might be an interesting book.

It’s not.

Grouped by category, it ends up being only slightly less dry reading than a dictionary with not especially compelling accounts of the shifts of meaning of various words and phrases. I found it so dull, in fact, that I don’t remember the promised story of the title.

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Beautiful Sentences: Yiyun Li

Instead, we read other people’s stories, more real than our own; after all, inadequate makers of our own lives, we were no match for those masters.
Yiyun Li, “Kindness.”
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Beautiful Sentences: Steven Millhauser

One explanation says that we ourselves are phantoms. Arguments drawn from cognitive science claim that our bodies are nothing but artificial constructs of our brains: we are the dream-creations of electrically charged neurons. The world itself is a great seeming. One virtue of this explanation is that it accounts for the behavior of our phantoms: they turn from us because they cannot bear to witness our self-delusion.
Steven Millhauser, “Phantoms.”
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Dewey Decimal Project: 417.7 MCW The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language

I continue to circle towNewImageards the foreign language shelves, but there’s still some space left in the Dewey Decimal system before I get there. The 410s are linguistics, pretty much indistinguishable by the collection at the local library from the 400s, language. From there I selected this book, caught by the punning title.

Like Harrison in my last linguistics book, McWhorter allows himself into the narrative, but these end up being the weaker parts of the book, when McWhorter talks about such things as his French girlfriend’s dismissal of his use of the first-person plural where contemporary French usage has dropped that conjugation in favor of third-person plural or his difficulty understanding a regional dialect of German.

But outside of these personal anecdotes, McWhorter does a good job of explaining the variety of languages on earth, the shaky distinctions between languages, dialects, creoles and pidgins and how languages influence each other, all of which I found informative just in my usage of English in my own writing.

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Beautiful Sentences: Yiyun Li

You think you will remember every moment, every detail, but the truth is I can’t remember much about it. Can’t even remember how long we were at it.

Yiyun Li, “Kindness.”

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Dewey Decimal Project: 408.9 HAR The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages

When INewImage looked at the 400s, it seemed a big chunk of the books were missing. Pretty much everything from 430 on. They had been there earlier when I had originally scoped out the library and considered the project before me, but now they were missing. A quick walk around the third floor solved the mystery: They had been segregated to a set of bookcases labeled “foreign languages.” This of course raises the question of what the point of having language text books in a library is in the first place—after all, even with renewals, that gives just nine weeks to learn a language, something that few, if any, books would be willing to promise. All of this is a question to be returned to later. The beginning of the 400s is more general linguistics and lives in the stacks of my library where you’d expect it to, between the 300s and the 500s.

The Last Speakers is part memoir and part account of what endangered languages are and why they matter. It’s a delicate balance to maintain, but Harrison manages to rise to the challenge.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 391.6 YAL A History of the Breast

The 390sNewImage comprise “Customs, etiquette and folklore” which had a lot of books about fashion at my local library. I’m not that interested in fashion, but breasts, on the other hand, struck me as something worthy of spending a book reading about.

Yalom writes here about how breasts became eroticized in eroticized in Western culture, which is an interesting statement in itself as it’s easy to forget that the eroticization of the breast is culturally determined and not a human universal. 

Perhaps most interesting is how Yalom manages to uncover what is at best an implicit narrative in cultural history considering such things as depictions of the breast in art to find the story.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 381.45 MIL Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption

The 380s: NewImageCommerce, Communications & Transportation. I was tempted to read something about trains when I got here, but then I spotted this, a book about bookselling (with an implicit critique of capitalism in its title!). As my dream in life has been to retire into bookselling, I thought there could be no better option for this part of the Dewey Decimal project.

Written while Amazon was still a niche business and e-books were a perennial solution in search of a customer base, this is still a fascinating time capsule as independent bookstores underwent assaults first from mall bookstores then chains (with Borders and Barnes & Noble being the big bads of this era of bookselling). 

As guardians of culture as well as participants in commerce, booksellers have long been in a somewhat unique place in society and Miller makes a good case for her dubbing booksellers as reluctant capitalists. Even so, it’s startling to see how many business practices that seem like common sense, even to my distinctly non-business-oriented mind, were resisted by the bulk of booksellers. But given the fact that there are few other businesses which have such a broad and thin inventory (the only other instances that spring to mind are also culturally-oriented businesses: the record [sic] shop and the video [sic] store, both of which, if they still exist today are as anachronistic feeling as a cigar store Indian, although I think I might know where to still find one in Chicago). 

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