My recent passion has been the psychology of language, or how it has come about. I find this so interesting and if I wasn’t pursuing history and Spanish in college, I’d probably do something on language studies, and mostly how they effect physical and social aspects of life, as well as a broad range of others. What I’m talking about is philology, or love of language. It is completely fascinating to me that a person can be born and grow up speaking a different language than a person one hundred miles away. It’s baffling to me that people can think in other languages, or even dream. The concept of language itself is mindboggling. Today, I’m focusing on a book by Seth Lerer called Inventing English, a book that covers the development of my native language from its beginnings to its ever changing ‘end’. I say ‘end’ because English is always changing. It all began in the Indo-European areas of lower Europe and east central Asia, where civilized life originated from. The influence of these languages led to Germanic cognates in central Europe. Language was very important during this time because it determined your origin, class, and level of education. Runes were used excessively in the area now known as the United Kingdom but it gave way to the basic letters we use today. An example from the book on the basic foundation of English was “Oc was heom naht parof, for hi weron al forcurs oed and forsworen and forloren” meaning, “but it mattered nothing to them, for they were all already cursed, and perjured, and lost.” What amazes me is how someone centuries ago could understand the first quote and that we could not today. Later on, the influence of the French language entered into English, giving us new words and pronunciations. The Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century was procured through the interaction of different dialects, resulting in a systematic change of an entire sound system. Later on, during the time of the Enlightenment, English became more expanded: the largest influx of new words came in 1625, with a total of at least 6000 new words being added that year to the vocabulary of millions. Language continued to be an important part of people’s lives, with dictionaries being made to clear the confusion of multiple pronunciations and spellings. Dialects and native origins also played a bigger role; when colonists came over to America, they picked up native words (for example, I live in Iowa, which is a native American word, and there is evidence of their influence everywhere, from the Wapsipinicon River to Sioux City). Dialects became a part of literature, especially that of Mark Twain, who used the dialect of Africans to enrich his novels and give them character. Margaret Mitchell did the same with her Civil War era novel, Gone With the Wind. As the years went by and technology advanced, especially with the introduction of the telephone, and most recently, texting, language has become a bit more difficult. The author brings about the point that war can change languages and pop culture or slang has a big influence on what we say. In regards to texting, which can be fairly vague, different arguments can be brought up: one can say that sending little written messages can keep us in contact with each other, but others say that it makes us isolated and afraid of confrontation. Overall, the complexity and structure of any language is always changing: what we say today could be said differently by our grandchildren. This book was tremendously interesting and really helped fuel my passion for learning about language.
This is a topic I feel that we as a society need to address: why does every celebrity think they need to write an autobiography about their childhood and their rise to fame? Like, I know you’re famous and you must have a fan-base if you are taking the time to write a book about your life, but sometimes it’s just not necessary. Half of the people that write them are ones I’ve never even heard of. It’s like it’s trendy to do among the celebrities or something. Most of the autobiographies being written now are either by dubbing actors and actresses who are barely out of high school or old ones that no one remembers or cares about anymore. Examples are Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and Vanilla Ice. These people are still very young and have a lot of life ahead of them so for them to write a memoir when they did is kind of ridiculous. Also, some celebrities write autobiographical sequels, as if their life story was too much to fit in one book. Maybe it is a marketing gimmick so they can make more money, not like they need to. Whatever the case, I’m sure there are celebrity autobiographies that would be better to read. People who have lived a long time and are well-known figures in society or have done good things, people like Michael J. Fox or Malala Yousafzai. Others like Tina Fey and Oprah Winfrey would probably be pretty interesting as well. There are also well known classic writers that have written autobiographies like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf. These are the autobiographies would should be reading and supporting. I think we will continue to see autobiographies written by undeserving famous people but we will probably continue to read them. Our society is centered around fame and it’s not something we can easily give up.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just give it all up to travel and find out your purpose in life? That is exactly what Santiago does in The Alchemist. This is a simple story of following your dreams, finding your purpose, and falling in love. How can one fit that into a 167 page book? Well, Paulo Coelho does it. Santiago (referred to as ‘the boy’ through the entire book) is a shepherd in Spain. He has a recurring dream that has led him to believe that he can find treasure if he travels to the pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he meets people that help him discover his path in life, or his Personal Legend. The whole story reminded me of Arabian Nights because of the setting and the word choice, but I think the latter is because it was translating from Portuguese. Some parts of the story which one would think are very important were done subtly, with little grandiosity. For example, in the beginning of the book he is in love with a girl who only visits his town with her father once a year. He plans on visiting her but the day this is supposed to happen, he leaves for Egypt and randomly meets another girl named Fatima and falls in love, completely forgetting the girl he first set his sights on. This made some parts confusing but it was honestly surprisingly stunning. It was fantastical and realistic all at the same time. The book also had it’s far share of good quotes that made the reader feel magical. I don’t understand why I haven’t heard much about this book before. The back cover is overflowing with praises about it’s enchanting story and it’s Wikipedia page boasts that it is one of the most bestselling book in history. Anyways, in the end the story exposes Santiago and the reader to the greatest and eternal alchemy of all-love. So go ahead and find your Personal Legend and follow the omens of your heart.
Recently for an AP Lang project (I’m starting to notice that all the reading I’m doing lately is usually because it’s required and that makes me really sad) I went to the library to look for a nonfiction book that I could possibly write an essay on. Being really into history, I saw a book called A Short History of Nearly Everything and I was instantly intrigued. The book is by Bill Bryson and it is literally what the title says it’s about. I could end this blog post here, but it has to be a minimum of three hundred words so I’ll continue. Honestly, I don’t normally just pick up books because they look or sound interesting so that fact that this book somehow did that to me is amazing. I’ve only read the first few chapters but what I have read is really just awesome and I can tell the rest of the book is going to be as well. It begins with the beginning-the creation of the universe and moves on to talk about stars and supernovae and the like. From just skimming through the book, I can see that he talks about humans and historical events. It’s basically like a mini textbook that it written for people to actually absorb and understand, because let’s be honest, who actually understands textbooks completely? I am just all-around excited to read more of this book, and that was definitely nerdy but I think we’ve established that already. Also in AP Lang we are doing the last author study of the year and Bill Bryson was on the list of options but unfortunately I did not get him because the selection for authors could be comparable to the hunger games. I ended up with my second choice, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Have you read anything by either Bill Bryson or Ta-Nehisi Coates? If so, what did you think?
*UPDATE*: Today I asked if I could possibly be switched to Bill Bryson for the author study, and it happened! I might add some Ta-Nehisi Coates to my list and read his works eventually. I’m excited to read Bryson (for a reason). Just kidding, you shouldn’t need a reason to read.
Everybody wonders where they are going to go when they die. Christians believe that if they believe in God they will go to heaven when they die. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, that their soul will continue in another living organism. These concepts of life after death are interesting and can also be controversial. Author Mary Roach turns away from the spiritual aspect of life after death and does in-depth research on the physical in the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In this book, Roach introduces the reader to what happens to their physical bodies after they take their last breaths. Some bodies are naturally donated to the science and medical field so students can learn more about how the human body functions. Others are used for unorthodox purposes, like crash test dummies, or even to prove a point about the crucifixion of Jesus. This book was astoundingly factual with a whole lot of comedic relief from some of the more gory sections of the book. The author used footnotes to enrich what she was talking about and I feel that I learned a lot while reading it. It takes a lot of complex writing to make the reader feel nauseous from gore and laughter at the same time. I’ve never been into morbid and gory books but this one was definitely an exception. In my previous posts I have talked about how I really like historical novels, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. This book also involves the historical side of cadavers and I found that really interesting. Now before you judge me for being interested in dead bodies (I’m Hayley, not Hannibal) read the book. I never thought a book about cadavers would be hilarious but this one proved me wrong. Basically, if you are looking to read an educational but hilarious book about dead people, this would be the one to go with. This book has also been considered kind of controversial because of the lighthearted way Roach talks about the dearly departed. I liked it however because we as a society always make death a serious event, at least in America. In Mexico, they celebrate Día de Los Muertos, where they are happy that the deceased had a good life with great memories. If you have read this book, what do you think about the author’s nonchalant perspective on depicting the dead?
Recently for a project, I read Blue Zones by Dan Buettner that discusses how to live longer. Everyone wants to live life to the fullest, and to do that you have to live for a very long time, or so some think. The author traveled to some pretty remote regions of the globe to find centenarians, or people that were 100 years of age or older. The four places discussed were Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California. These places have a high concentration of centenarians and Buettner set off to discover the secrets to these people’s longevity and to see how they’ve managed to stay alive so long. Overall, he discovered nine basic things in life that help you live long: 1.) Move a little everyday, get your muscles working 2.) Find your purpose 3.) Find a routine that helps you distress 4.) Stop eating when you’re 80% full 5.) Eat lots of veggies 6.) Drink wine in moderation 7.) Belong and believe in a faith 8.) Keep your family close 9.) Establish a group of close friends who encourage good habits and lifestyles. These nine things were all found to be a part of centenarians lives around the world, recurring habits that they all practice in their own way. More information about Blue Zones can be found at their website http://www.bluezones.com/ which has tips on how to make your life more like on of a centenarian along with quizzes and checklists that you can do for further life improvement. One thing I didn’t really like about the book was the author’s style of writing. To me, the book should’ve been presented as research, but the way the author wrote made it sound like he was trying too hard to write something like a memoir. Other than that, the book was interesting, especially knowing there are a small number of people who have had the privilege to live for so long.
After you’re done shaking your head at my really lame title, you can read the rest of this post about one of my favorite paintings. You may be thinking that this blog is all about books, and that’s where you’re wrong! History is my favorite subject and I’m playing on going to college and majoring in secondary history education. The book I’ve been reading is based off of the mysterious painting by Vermeer called Girl With a Pearl Earring. It was painted in 1665 and the figure depicted is unknown. No one knows if she was related to the artist, or if he even knew her at all. Vermeer’s infamous color scheme of blue and yellow stand out in the painting. The book by Tracy Chevalier is based on this well-known painting, her mind creating a story surrounding the origin of the painting. The mysterious girl is now Griet, a simple Dutch villager who is called upon to be a maid for Vermeer and his family. Vermeer takes a liking to Griet and paints her for a patron that lives in the area. What I love about this book is that it is historical fiction. To create a story out of just one painting takes a special kind of talent. To give curious readers a glimpse into the past is a gift. What I love about this painting is the mystery behind it and the simplicity of the figure. Chevalier’s novel put my curiosity to rest and I am satisfied with the story she has created to put meaning to this painting. Vermeer himself was mystery: he never let anyone into his studio and he only painted thirty or so works. He is well-known for his blue and yellow color scheme that colors the simple figures doing household work in his paintings. He is known to have implemented the technique of camera obscura to create his realistic paintings, with the light always coming from the left, the colors blending to look real. The device is actually a small, dark room that projected an image through a small opening upside-down, showing an image that the artist can clearly see and trace. It was this technique that made Vermeer’s paintings realistic and he himself a master of color. I think more stories based on paintings should be made to give us an idea of the time period and the people that lived then. It would help us understand and appreciate art more as well as history.