Filed under dewey decimal project

Dewey Decimal Project: 478.2 SHA Essential Latin: The language and life of ancient Rome

It’s been a long time Essential Latinsince I studied Latin, but I figured that it’s been long enough that a refresher will be welcome, but short enough that the refresher won’t be redundant.

Sharpley incorporates a bit of cultural background alongside the language lessons which provides a nice supplement. This is generally connected to the Latin readings that compose part of each chapter which are perhaps the most notable aspect of the text—each chapter includes a number of short Latin passages (typically 1–3 sentences) with supplementary vocabulary following each. On occasion, the passage is slightly bowdlerized to make it more accessible to the student, but it’s an opportunity to actually read classical texts. Unfortunately, there is an unspoken assumption that the student will learn that supplementary vocabulary alongside the regularly enumerated vocabulary of each chapter which meant that, since I failed to do this in the early chapters, the Latin readings in the later chapters became increasingly inscrutable.

My only other complaint was that Sharpley has a tendency to skip over some aspects of grammar central to the lesson, choosing instead to point the student to the appendix where the appropriate declension or conjugation is completely enumerated. I can understand the urge to keep the page count from ballooning unnecessarily, but forcing the student into the back of the book like this feels a bit like a gratuitous economy.

Overall, with some minor adjustments, this would be an excellent introduction to Latin and I would love to try rebuilding my Latin from a more grammatically comprehensive text than this is.


Dewey Decimal Project: 464.342 DIO Las Puertas Retorcidas

The 460s are Spanish anNewImaged Portuguese. I was hoping to find something in an intermediate reader since I have at least a decent reading knowledge of Spanish. I thought Las Puertas Retoricidas would be that book, but it turns out it’s a somewhat absurdist story at the service of teaching little lessons of vocabulary and grammar. As such it seems like it could be an effective tool for its target audience (I’d guess middle school students). I skipped the lessons for the most part and just read the story, which did little to stretch my vocabulary and nothing to stretch my understanding of grammar.


Dewey Decimal Project: 458.242 ADR Italian in 32 Lessons

As I worked my way through the 400s, thNewImagee inevitable could no longer be postponed: I’m going to read a language textbook (for most of a year, it turns out), “learning” Italian.

I picked Italian in 32 Lessons primarily because it was a slender volume and I figured I could work through 32 lessons in a reasonable amount of time.

Well, the first thing I realized is that the book does not provide a guide to pronunciation. Sure, I know a little from eating pasta, but this seems essential to a language guide. Then as I worked through the book, I found that a lot of the early exercises were repetitive and somewhat pointless and it was frequent that vocabulary was used in an exercise that wasn’t introduced until a later chapter. Given the lack of any comprehensive vocabulary list in the book, this was especially problematic.

I did manage to pick up some rudimentary Italian skills from the book, but overall, it seemed a poorly conceived and executed book. 


Dewey Decimal Project: 447.09 GEN Merde Encore!

The 440s NewImagebring me to French. I’m still not up to actually learning a language and this book is thin and looks promising. It turns out that it’s mildly more interesting than reading a dictionary. I kind of hoped that literal translations of some of the expressions would have been provided, but I guess more functionality with French than I have is assumed.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).