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From footnote 17 to Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook (Penguin Classics), excerpted from Lovecraft's correspondence. He's describing one of his neighbors, from when he lived here.
[O]nce a Syrian had the room next to mine and played eldritch and whining monotones on a strange bagpipe which made me dream ghoulish and incredible things of crypts under Baghdad and limitless corridors of Eblis beneath the moon-cursed ruins of Iskatar.

Blatant racism? Plum-purple prose? Random imaginary place names? Lovecraft himself provided us the perfect template for mocking him. God bless you, H.P., wherever you are...
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... and commentary written about them. (In the spirit of wynand.) See also books I read in January.

Saussure, Course in General Linguistics. A classic of the field, I'm glad to have read it, and can easily recommend it (despite its age) to anyone with an interest in either linguistics or semiotics. It's frustrating how he seems to be on the right track when he says "The system united as a whole is the starting point, from which it becomes possible to identify its constituent elements" but then insists that grammatical rules are like chess, leading to years and years of generative grammar.

Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America. Bought this on harvey's distantly remembered recommendation and loved it, especially the first section, Trout Fishing in America proper. (Didn't care much for the poetry, it really just seemed like his verse except with line breaks thrown in.) Vivid, spins off into imaginary worlds in a seamless way that I admire.

Nabokov, Short Stories. Started this last year, actually, only to finish it in February. The later stories were generally less enjoyable than the earlier ones, subverting my expectations. It's interesting to see Nabokov develop the techniques that allow him to so breezily discard time and space in his novels, and to see the Pnin character, embodied in various portly, bald, ineffectual fellows, pop up again and again.

Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle. Enjoyed this immensely, especially the bits about Bokononism and the invented language/country/politics. I kind of wish it had lasted longer, though.

Nabokov, Pale Fire. My new favorite book.

dawkins, montgomery, chopin, lakoff, foer, mitchell, more vonnegut, rowling, gaiman, lovecraft, thompson, leguin, capote )
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1. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I finished it a few days ago. It left me heartbroken. The atheism of the series will most likely be bowdlerized in the forthcoming film, which is a shame. These are three of the most spiritual books I've ever read.

2. Mathematics Elsewhere by Marcia Ascher. Ascher only makes a half-assed attempt to appeal to lay readers, so I had to skip over most of the technical stuff. Still, this book is jet fuel for the anthropological imagination. I wish someone had told me in high school that mathematics could be like this, that it can be about people, not just charts and graphs. (Read Piman's review of the book that he wrote a few months back, which is how the book ended up on my wishlist in the first place.)

3. L'été meurtrier ("The Killer Summer" or something) by Sebastien Japrisot. It is a testament to Japrisot's skill that I didn't just give up after a hundred pages or so - reading what amounts to a thriller in French can be frustrating when you have to look up two new words per paragraph. Nevertheless, a fun read. Un long dimanche de fiançailles is next in the Japrisot parade - I'm anxious to see which of his baffling narrative techniques they had to flatten in order to bring the book to the big screen. (I did like the movie quite a bit, btw.)

4. Apparently, Chomsky and his Minimalist Program friends now think that the only human capacity specific to language is recursion. In this paper (warning: MS Word document, slightly technical but lots of fun), Steven Pinker and Ray Jackendoff offer a convincing rebuttal. I'm not a big Pinker fan, but it is satisfying to see him so soundly refute the gross simplifications of his mentor.

March 2016

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