Mildly Malevolent

"So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information." --George Orwell

"Anbody can make history. Only a great man can write it."--Oscar Wilde

contact info:

ecohn-at-uchicago-dot-edu

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Friday, June 06, 2003

One of the more frustrating things about attending grad school in the social sciences or the humanities is that can be hard to find time to read the books you want to read when they're not closely connected to your studies. After all, how can you justify reading a novel when you should be poring over hundreds of pages of documents describing the investigation of party members for drunkenness, rudeness, and corruption? (Sometimes, of course, it's best just to do something frivolous and not even to try to justify it: I'll be reading the new Harry Potter book in two weeks, even if I really shouldn't.)

That's why it's sometimes nice to be forced to read a book you otherwise wouldn't have gotten around to. This quarter my Russian class read a novel by Viktor Pelevin, a contemporary Russian writer. The book's called "Generation P" in Russian or "Homo Zapiens" in English: it's the story of a lit student-turned-copywriter who gets involved in all sorts of bizarre goings-on following the collapse of the USSR. (Fly agaric, the goddess Ishtar, Che Guevara, and an elaborate virtual reality version of the Russian duma are all involved.) Should you feel inspired to read all about the protagonist's exploits, there's an English translation available on the web. I guess the book's American publishers care about copyright law as little as the Russians do.

Now if only my classes required me to read some of the other books I've been eager to get into!

Thursday, June 05, 2003

For many years, I've had the somewhat eccentric opinion that the world would be a happier place if more people enjoyed arguing about grammar. After reading this article, I should amend that view: the world would be a happier place if more people enjoyed arguing about grammar for grammar's sake.

Update. A random question: who are the better writers about language? I tend to like Barbara Wallraff's Word Court column in The Atlantic. I've liked other Geoffrey Nunberg articles I've read. I think that William Safire is a pompous oaf, and Richard Lederer has always been far too cute for my tastes. Are there other writers I should know?

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Another interesting tidbit from the BBC: according to one recent survey, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is now more popular in the U.K. than the Harry Potter books. Pullman, for those of you who don't know, is the author of a series of novels that begin in an parallel universe where history has taken a slightly different path, people are accompanied by incarnations of their conscience known as daemons, and a rebellion against God is about to begin. The trilogy has been optioned for a movie (Tom Stoppard is sometimes rumored to be working on the screenplay), and we should expect big protests if it ever hits the silver screen. (The Weekly Standard published a critique of the books a couple years back, and less sensible conservatives will likely take the attack several steps further.) Pullman likes to fashion himself as a sort of anti-C.S. Lewis (see this Atlantic article, for example), and, like his critique of the Chronicles of Narnia, his fiction is well worth reading, but sometimes a little over-the-top.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Now it's time for another installment of "I love the British media!" According to this article, a recent poll of 1900 British women found that Fitzwilliam Darcy was the fictional character respondents would most like to go on a date with. (Amusingly enough, James Bond was second and Superman was third.)

Some reactions: Are the British into weird poll questions, or do I just not know much about similar American poll results? What would the result of a similar U.S. poll look like? (Something tells me that Mr. Darcy wouldn't fare quite so well over here...) A word to the wise: if you're a British man desperate for a date, become a detective. (Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, and Sherlock Holmes came in fourth, fifth, and seventh in the poll, respectively.) Becoming a superhero isn't a bad idea either.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

I decided today that the English language needs a new word--an adjective describing things with a special, indistinct quality that's simultaneously kind of amusing and kind of scary. Before 9:00 this morning I came across two things that inspired this nameless feeling in me: the first was a link and the second was a spam email. The latter was especially interesting: "Everybody knows the Law," it declared, before urging readers to meet at the courthouse at 10 a.m. (carrying big sticks) to round up treasonous "dictator judges" for execution. The message's grammar amused me.

In any case, I'm very glad not to be a London theatre-goer, or a dictator judge.