Literacy Inflation

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For some time now, I have been feeling that America’s– and in fact the worlds– need for literacy is becoming more and more urgent.  Increasingly, there is a separation between what people say and what they mean, possibly because they don’t pause long enough to discover what it is that they mean.  In his article In Defense of Literacy, Wendell Berry makes the point that we as a nation are inadvertently destroying our own language by assigning it meaning that it was never meant to represent.  He says, “We will understand the world, and preserve ourselves and our values in it, only insofar as we have a language that is alert and responsive to it, and careful of it.  I mean that literally.  When we give our plows such brand names as “Sod Blaster,” we are imposing on their use conceptual limits which raise the likelihood that they will be used destructively” (Berry).  Berry is here pointing out that although language is one of the most effective ways of communicating with others, and even sometimes with ourselves, we can turn it against ourselves if we’re not careful.  We are becoming a nation that doesn’t see any reason to consider the implications of our words, and ultimately, doesn’t see a reason to think.  This careless misuse of words is more dangerous than most people could ever imagine.  Our words are assigned specific definitions by us, and as long as we use them correctly, their value is maintained, and we have control over them.  However, the value of a word is only what we give it.  As soon as we deviate from this set definition, the word becomes something different from what it was originally meant to be.  It could take on an entirely different definition, or it could, through mass misuse, lose its original definition entirely and thus be lost from our language.  In other words, our words are a finite resource and we are losing our ability to control them.  For example, the word “love” used to be used to give voice to extremely passionate or deep feelings, and thus, everyone knew where they stood when they used it.  However, in today’s language everybody “loves” everything.  They can appear to harbor strong and powerful feelings for just about anything: what they had for dinner, a new friend they just met a few minutes ago, or a T.V. show they barely tolerate.  In this way, when they try to describe something that they bone-deep love, they are at a loss.  They have to try to skirt around the issue and take sentences to explain what should have only taken one perfectly well-placed word.  This word, created to be of service to them, has been squandered and no longer retains its value.  Just in the way that too much money being put into the government renders its value useless, so does flippant usage of language decrease its worth.  This language inflation demands you use more words, like paper money, to service you, and sometimes the words decrease in value enough to no longer be useful at all.  Mark Twain once said “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug” (Twain).  And although the difference between his two examples is decidedly marked, we must heed his warning, lest we allow language to become master over us, and force us into the role of complacent inferior.  In expressing ourselves we must strive for absolute perfection and precision or risk the loss of the only language we have.

*Sorry I haven’t posted for so very long!  I was in Europe, then I was just generally lazy, then I was moving into college at Messiah!

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My Life in France by Julia Child

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WARNING:  THIS BOOK MAY INDUCE A SEVERE INCLINATION TO VISIT FRANCE, COOK FRENCH FOOD, OR WATCH JULIE AND JULIA.  PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

I’m only halfway through this book, but I’m so delighted with what I’ve read so far that I thought it safe to review it.  I’m usually not a big fan of non-fiction or memoirs, because they can often be really dry and dull, so I’m a little surprised to be enjoying this one as much as I am.  I wasn’t really expecting anything great from the writing, as I think of Julia Child primarily as a great cook and television star.  I was pleasantly surprised once more to discover that she could actually write.  Julia’s style is a comfortable, confiding one that makes the reader feel as if they are having a long chat with her over coffee.  She’s excellent at painting a picture of France, not through descriptions of famous landmarks and big happenings, but through descriptions of cafes and restaurants, encounters with people, and recountings of the little adventures that make up life.  She radiates joy and warmth, and her engaging, larger than life personality jumps off the pages, making the reader feel as if they know her personally.  She manages to capture the very essence of Paris without needing to talk about it, and her simple, down-to-earth style effortlessly conveys exactly what she means to say without taking pages to do it.  Her buoyant spirit and good humor spill over into her writing as she describes her little mishaps with cooking, her drafty unequipped French kitchen, and the journey to getting her revolutionary cookbook published.   Her passion and excitement for perfecting her recipes and her enthusiasm for France and all of its people make it impossible not to fall in love with her from the first page.  Join Julia on her meandering journey through the side streets of Paris and the adventures of her life there in her heartwarming, humorous, and compelling memoir My Life in France.

 

 

 

My Desert Island Books

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As I am a major nerd, sometimes I consider what books I would read if I could only read a certain number for the rest of my life, like if I was stranded on a desert island or some equally unlikely situation.  I sit on my bed facing my bookshelves and try to pick only 10, which soon turns to 20 or 30, and before you know it I’m picking my top 80 books, which might sound ridiculous to anyone who’s not a reader.  With much difficulty, I pared my list down to 20 books, which is the best I can do.  I’m not sure why I would have time to grab 20 books if I were on a sinking ship or plane, but these are the one’s I’d reach for if I could.  So if you need something to read this summer,  here are my top 20 best of the best.

1) Les Miserables (this would be the book I would take if I could only have one, because I feel that I would never get tired of its interesting and complicated storyline)

2) The Count of Monte Cristo

3)The Goose Girl

4) Enna Burning

5) River Secrets

6) The Night Circus

7) Ella Enchanted

8) Book of a Thousand Days

9) Skybreaker

10) The Tale of Despereux

11) Wives and Daughters

12) The Fault in Our Stars

13) Edenbrooke

14) Jane Eyre

15) Wuthering Heights

16) The City of Ember

17) The Mysterious Benedict Society

18) Princess Academy

19) Anne of Green Gables

20) The Complete Works of Jane Austen (yes, I know this is sort of cheating, but there was no way I could only pick 20 books otherwise, and I do actually have this book)

Well, sorry for the short post this week, but I’ve got an all day Jane Austen marathon to watch 🙂  Have a great week!

Once Upon a Prince

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Well I think we all know why I picked this up.  The cover is just so pretty!  I couldn’t help it,  I can’t resist books with pretty gowns on them.  Unfortunately, this has led to some bad book decisions, where the book turn out to have shoddy writing riddled with errors, or is much less classy than the cover suggests it should be.  (Seriously, I don’t care if you’re going to try to write a trashy book, but don’t try to trick the lovers of classy and beautiful things into reading it)  Anyways, fortunately for me, this book was neither shoddily written nor lacking in class.  This is the kind of book that you pause before reading, just to feel the thrill of anticipation you get going into a weekend, or at the top of a roller coaster, or at the beginning of a good book.  It’s nice to read something lighthearted and fun that isn’t dirty, and I think summer is the perfect time for fluffy chick lit like this.

Everything in Susanna Truitt’s life is going according to plan.  She has a job she’s pretty happy with at a local landscape architecture company, and is engaged to a great man who’s serving in the marines.  So what that they’ve been dating for twelve years, and he’s never proposed, or that she’d originally wanted to design grand and famous gardens before her long-time fiance talked her back down to reality?  She’s comfortable in the life she’s living, and she doesn’t need any of the happily-ever-nonsense the stories are always talking about.  So when her fiance takes her on a romantic beach walk only to tell her that he can’t marry her, her world is turned on it’s head.  It’s just her luck that while she’s driving away from the scene, struggling to wrap her mind around around what just happened and pick up the shattered pieces of her well planned out future, her car breaks down.  She tries to shoo off a helpful stranger who sees her on the side of the road, and in spite of her protestations, insists on coming to her aid.  The man who, unbeknownst to her is actually Prince Nathaniel of Brighton, finds Susanna’s easy going manner and strength refreshing, and the two strike up a friendship.  Although Nate finds himself wishing that they could be more than friends, he knows that as the Crown Prince of Brighton he cannot marry a foreigner, even if she could let go of her plans and go off with a complete stranger.

I enjoyed this book.  I felt that there was chemistry between the two main characters and I liked how they helped each other through their problems and supported each other.  I would have liked to get a little more character development from the story, as opposed to plot development, but overall I did like the story, and found it fairly immersive and cute.  It may just be the beach read some of you are looking for!

** I was provided a free reviewers copy of this book from Booksneeze.  I was not paid to write a positive review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

When Harry Potter goes wrong

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Currently there’s a sign on my door which reads “I’m reading Harry Potter.  If you need me, come back next week.”  Although I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter for the first 16 or 17 years of my life, I have now starting reading the books for the second time, have seen all the movies, would like to go to Hogwarts in Orlando someday, and have considered buying a Hufflepuff house scarf, although I’ve heard they smell weird.  So even though I have a healthy appreciation for Harry Potter, many people still insist upon pointing out to me that they love the books and movies more, which I don’t try to argue with.  For the most part, it seems that Harry Potter is a love it or hate it thing.  People either yell “Literally, that was my childhood! (like, literally.)”  or they look totally horrified when they hear that I like the books, and try to tell me that Harry Potter is a pack of lies.  Personally, I don’t feel that Harry Potter in and of itself is inherently wrong.  Although I’m glad that my parents didn’t let me read them as a child, because there’s some bad language and I might not have understood that everything wasn’t true, I’m also glad that I’ve read them now.  Because now I can understand that they’re just fiction, and I think that’s where much of the world is getting a bit confused.  You see, I think that the problem with Harry Potter isn’t the content, so much as the importance we give it.  I think it’s fine to enjoy reading the books and watching the movies every couple of years, or even every year, if you really love it.  But the problem comes in when you start developing an unnatural dependence on it, to the point where you don’t talk about anything else, or can’t go to sleep without listening to the fourth book on tape every night.  To me, Hogwarts is a good place in which to hunker down when you’re feeling scared or upset, but it’s only a temporary refuge, not someplace you’re meant to hide in forever.  The whole point of Hogwarts is to equip students to face whatever’s out there, and that should go for us muggles too.  We shouldn’t spend our whole lives limping in the shadow of some fantasy story, cool as it might be.  As Dumbledore would say “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” (J.K. Rowling, 157).  Go out and have some adventures of your own.  Make Harry proud.  Don’t worry, Hogwarts will still be waiting for you when you get back.

The Woman in White

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Isn’t that cute?  I’m wearing white in the picture.  Yeah… So I finished reading The Woman in White this week, and found it highly entertaining.  Although it’s a classic, I found it very exciting and easy to read–it read almost like a soap opera, a crime drama, or an action movie at some parts (an action movie set in the 1800’s).  So if you want to seem highly intelligent by reading classic literature in your spare time, while you’re actually just breezing through a mystery novel, this book is the way to go!  I found this book to be a very engrossing and fast read, which is sort of perfect for summer–you can feel good about yourself because, if you’re anything like me, you probably want to read some sort of classic this summer, but you don’t want to have to sort through any James Joyce or something equally tiresome and pompous (spoiler alert, I’m not a huge James Joyce fan).

The book opens on our hero, Walter Hartright, who in walking home one night encounters a hysterical and mysterious woman dressed strangely all in white.  He helps her secure a ride to her destination, but is unable to find out her name or where she is headed.  Mulling this over, he heads for home again, only to overhear two policemen talking about a girl who has escaped from an insane asylum and realizes that he has possible assisted a criminal or dangerous personage.  Which is very bad.  This sets of a chain of seemingly unconnected events which will make Walter’s life a lot more exciting, to say the least.

This book has suspense, intrigue, espionage, murder plots, a love triangle, several cases of assumed and mistaken identities, death, arson, love, and one of my new favorite characters in all of literature (Marian Halcombe).  Overall, it’s sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats, and it’s very easy to get through.  The writing style is beautiful, and reminds me of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.  If you’ve been contemplating reading it, please do.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the book:  “One of the rarest of all the intellectual accomplishments that a man can possess, is the grand faculty of arranging his ideas.  Immense privilege!  I possess it.  Do you?”

The Tale of Despereaux

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I would like to be able to tell you all that I’ve had a very productive week in which I made great progress on my summer reading list, and just generally accomplished many things.  If you would like to believe that story, I’d advise you to stop reading this blog post right now, and go on with your happy delusion.  Unfortunately, I’ve been celebrating summer by flopping around in bed for the last week, and wearing the same sweatshirt for more days than I would like to admit.  I’m not really sure what happened, but I do know that I didn’t finish any books this week.  Consequently, I’m reaching back into my repertoire of books I’ve already read to find something to talk about this week.  Thinking back on what books stood out to me over the years made me think about the first favorite book I ever had.  My mom read The Tale of Despereaux to me when I was in second grade, and although I couldn’t understand all of the language, I remember thinking that it was beautiful.  I’ve been hesitant to review any children’s books on this blog, because they are seldom very intellectually stimulating, and can be immature and well, childish (which makes sense for the target audience).  This book, however, transcends the stereotypical children’s book mold, allowing the story to be accessible to children and the quality of the writing to be something that adults need not condescend to read.  The style is unabashedly whimsical, yet is carried out in a distinctly un-childish manner that makes the reader forget they are reading something that came out of the children’s section.  Although many of the ideas, such as that of right and wrong, are easy for kids to understand, the book is peppered with large words, entwining story lines and complex emotions that are delicately layered to create a story that covertly encourages goodness and beauty of spirit more than any book of it’s genre that I’ve read.  The world would be a better place if everyone read and understood this book.  The writing is enchantingly beautiful, and the narrative style makes the reader feel as if they are being whispered a very important secret by candlelight in the dead of night; simultaneously comfortable and thrilling.  The story is exciting and surprisingly thoughtful, managing to maintain it’s dignity and even to embrace the fairy tale-like whimsy usually overdone in books of it’s genre. This story will draw people of all ages in, as it calls to the bit of magic in the souls of all of us.

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