Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner

I enjoy language.  I enjoy reading books which play with language in unique ways.  I also find myself wishing I had access to more languages (think how many more books I could read then!)  I saw this book while browsing the shelves at my library and thought it sounded interesting.  I was right, it was an interesting read.

I appreciated the ideas and suggestions presented.  Some of it is obvious, but had not occurred to me.  Other things were brand new.

I love the fact the author reminds us about pronunciation and how important it is to know which sounds are in your target language before speaking it.  I played with a few language apps last year, but quickly realized I couldn’t make the right sounds.  I did not know how to correct that.  Now I understand much clearer why I was struggling and I have a few resources to access for improvement.

The concept of learning a language without translating is somewhat obvious, but not the way I previously thought.  to me pictures and correlations as opposed to English words most certainly will make the new words stick better.

The availability of technological aids addressed in this book was astounding.  I am looking forward to spending some time creating my own flash cards and working towards acquiring my next language.

When Montezuma Met Cortes by Matthew Restall

When Montezuma Met Cortes: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History

Mr. Restall has certainly done a lot of research on this subject! I, on the other hand, have not.  I reserved a copy of this book because the title sounded interesting and this is certainly a topic about which I know very little.

I liked his term “mythistory”. The idea we conflate stories so often that they have truly become our history is one I have reflected on often.  History is written by the victors, but does that make it accurate? Does that mean the vanquished have no story?

I have to say I found much of this book pedantic and difficult to read.  I have already stated I am not well-versed in this topic, so perhaps it was too academic a work for this reader.

I appreciated the author’s approach to his research as a mystery with multiple layers: what really happened, what appears to happen, and how the historian figured out which is which.  He then spends much of the book offering up the “old” story, negating it and replacing it with a new version of what really happened.

Two of the myths I do recall from my time before reading this book were that the Aztecs  regularly performed ritualistic and barbaric human sacrifices, and that Cortes was believed to be and treated  as a deity when he arrived in Mexico.  The author’s refutation of each of these stories was interesting and rational.

As this author has dedicated so much of his life, time and energy to studying Central American history, I will be seeking out his other titles when I am next seeking further knowledge of this region.

Books about Nature

As I have stated earlier, winter is not my best season.  I am an outdoorsy woman, so I suppose it is not all that surprising that at the end of a cold, dark winter, I would find myself gravitating toward books relating to nature.  I recently found myself reading three of these books very close together: The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren,  and The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals-and Other Forgotten Skills.  Each of these book was unique, but they seemed to play well together.

I am not sure how The Beak of the Finch hit my radar, but it did.  When planning my books for the quarter, title came to the top of  the list.  So, I checked it out from the library and sat down to read it.  Overall, I found it to be a very focused and detailed account of Finch species in the Galapagos.  I did not find this book to be very engaging.  Much more scientific than my usual fare.  However, while I was reading this, Lab Girl became available on Overdrive.  I began listening to this title when not reading the finch book.  The two stories, one of birds and one of trees, interacted well together.  Consuming them simultaneously, increased my enjoyment of each.

The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs was an impulse pick up at the library.  I frequently wonder about the generations who lived without our technology.  Once upon a time, people actually had to pay attention to the natural world to assure they planted crops at the right time, in the right place, and they had to keep all of that knowledge available.  I can just barely check the weather to put on appropriate clothing for the elements.  Imagine my delight when reading about observing the clouds and noticing the shifting winds to help predict storms and changing weather patterns! There was a lifetime of knowledge in this book and I will not remember it all after a single reading.  As I play and explore in the upcoming months, I will have an opportunity to experience some of the phenomena of this book and share it with my nieces.

All three books discuss evolution and how things fit and work together.  By reading each of these, I have new knowledge and a greater appreciation of the nature around me.  Each book also helped me to focus on different aspects of my surroundings to clue me in to what is happening.

One Last Strike by Tony La Russa

This has been a brutal winter for me.  The temperature stayed low far too long for my liking.  But the promise of spring is in the air.  The birds are chirping, the trees are blossoming, spring training games are on the television and my phone is blowing up with news of player trades and hopes for the coming season.  That’s right, folks, spring is coming!

To prepare myself and to get excited about the season, I re-read Tony La Russa’s awesome memories of his 2011 season with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Tony had an amazing MLB career and I count myself very lucky to have been living in St. Louis during part of his tenure with the team.  I credit his baseball prowess with my own love of the game.  I had been to games in other cities in which I lived, but prior to my Cardinals experience, I didn’t fully appreciate the specialness of baseball.  Having fallen in love with the sport in their city, I will always be a St. Louis Cardinals fan.  (Aren’t I lucky they make it so easy?)

Tony’s book focuses a lot on his last season as coach, but he also manages to weave history throughout the pages of this delightful book.  The story of the fateful season is fraught with tension and I loved reliving the insanity that was September 2011 right into the post-season.  I am sure sportswriter Rick Hummel helped to make this book special.  For a work of non-fiction, I found it completely readable and enjoyable.

I know there will be people who have no interest in reading this book (Braves fans, Phillies fans, people who don’t like baseball), but for me and I am sure for many other baseball fans, this was a fantastic way to get excited about the upcoming season and the end of winter.  The 2011 season epitomized why we watch the game: There is no sure thing and anybody could be the winner, even if you are 10 1/2 games back in August.

May spring bring bright days and plenty of rally squirrels!

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

I picked this up at my library off the librarian recommendation shelf.  I recognized the author’s name and the title piqued my curiosity.  I love reading and learning about how others read and what they admire, expect, watch for to help make my reading more informed.

Ms. Prose spends an entire book evaluating paragraph after paragraph of classic literature.  She looks at word choice and placement to examine the make up of a story by it’s core parts rather than to take in the whole story and place it into the context of the world in which we live or in which it was written.

When speaking of her MFA students, she wrote: “they had been encouraged to form strong, critical, and often negative opinions of geniuses who had been read with delight for centuries before they were born” (p. 10).  This quote and the following paragraph and a half struck me as I find myself more like her students.  I am definitely more in the context/deconstructionist cap of readers than the close reading camp she is encouraging.

While I may have learned  to read in a way that is different than her recommended method, I do think there are benefits to both. I am glad I picked up this book and can imagine visiting it again. Spending a few weeks with this author’s ideas and working through the examples and exercises she offers would be worth my time.

The fact she spends so little time on plot was also an obvious omission to me.  Regardless of the story to be told, the delivery of words is the most fundamental to this style of reading.  If you can choose the right words, to create the best sentence to form perfect paragraphs, your story will resonate with readers.