January 31st, 2010

earthsea

January Books 27) Holy Disorders, by Edmund Crispin

Gosh, it's over a year since I read The Moving Toyshop; here Gervase Fen is embroiled in a mystery of murder and espionage in a West Country cathedral town in about 1940. The book is not quite successful at keeping a consistency of tone (also Crispin, like his male characters, seems a bit uncertain about women), but there are some glorious set-pieces, in particular the scene where Fen and his friend are trying to interview a clergyman who owns a pet raven and keep quoting Poe at each other. Fun stuff.

Top LibaryThing Unsuggestion: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, which I did not like as much.
manga-me

January Books 28) Ta Hsüeh and Chung Yung

This is the Penguin edition of two of the Four Books of Confucian learning, their titles respectively translated as The Highest Order of Cultivation and On the Practice of the Mean. It is a bit of a shame that Penguin chose to stick to the old Wade-Giles transliteration; in the pin-yin more often used today the titles are Daxue and Zhongyong. (Or to be pedantic, 大學 and 中庸.) Although the two books are mercifully short, I found their conservative, paternalistic world view unappealing; a society built on this philosophy could easily become stagnated. I don't have much knowledge of China, and this was probably not a good place to start broadening it (and perhaps it would have been better if not on an intercontinental red-eye at the time).
alphabets

January Books 29) Juba Arabic - English Dictionary, by Ian Smith and Morris T. Ama

I got home to find this waiting for me (would have been nice if it had arrived before I went to Juba) and skimmed through it to get the most important points. Juba Arabic is used as a lingua franca across Southern Sudan (where the official language is [sometimes] English, and most speak their own tribal language). I haven't as yet particularly felt the lack of it in Juba itself, where I stay at an Ethiopian hotel and hire a Kenyan driver, but making the effort is important.

From Smith and Ama's account, it is a pretty simple language (like most creole languages) but has some interesting twists, like interrogatives going at the end of questions ("You did what?" "We are going where?") and surviving without infinitives ("It is good to eat" "Food is good"). I know that some of you are interested in language construction - this seemed to me an interesting example of a language constructed over the last 200 years of Arab-speakers' influence on the region.

Particularly useful - a section listing and explaining traditional foods, though it might not have killed the authors to provide the correct English names of the various types of fish and vegetables rather than just describing them. I was particularly amused that the samak yabis from Bor are named after the former political leader Abel Alier, while those from Nimule are named for his rival Lagu.

The book is also aimed at Juba Arabic speakers who want to improve their English. The very first sentence provided for them is the translation of the Juba Arabic Human azib-o lehaadi huwa worii le-oman sir: "They tortured him until he told them the secret". I winced when I saw that, but then realised that in fact it is illustrating subtleties of translation of the verb azibu, which has a rather less dramatic meaning in the sentence Kelib de gi-azib ana: "That dog is bothering me". I guess context is everything.
doctor who

Doctor Who Rewatch: 05

I was deeply irritated to discover that a draft I had written of this post mysteriously got deleted after I had rewatched (and written up) 23 episodes of the 26 covered here. But sometimes that is the way the cookie crumbles. The thoughts below are therefore not quite as spontaneous, or as long, as I would have liked. But I hope they will be mildly entertaining.

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Incidentally, I am keeping a running tally of things still in the Tardis somewhere: the Fifth Key of Marinus, Susan's other shoe, and Hi-Fi, Steven's cuddly panda.

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This is the first run of stories where the historicals are noticeably weaker than the sfnals, The Smugglers and The Highlanders both being rather forgettable. Clearly the Lloyd / Davis team had little interest in continuing the sub-genre, and it's not surprising that The Highlanders is the last of its kind.

A final point - I am nearly at the end of the longest continuous gap in the video record - from the last episode of The Tenth Planet to the second of The Underwater Menace inclusive, a baker's dozen - and it is pretty infuriating. What a shame it is that the BBC threw so much work away.

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