A Year in Reading 2019.

Once again it’s time for the Year in Reading feature at The Millions, in which people write about books they’ve read and enjoyed during the previous year, and once again my contribution is the first in the series (“starting with our traditional opener from Languagehat’s Stephen Dodson” is the way they put it). This year I talk about Dorothy Richardson’s autobiographical novels (see this post, in which I introduced her, and this one, which quotes some of her ruminations about language and links to others); I also mention a couple of up-and-coming writers named Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and if you aren’t familiar with them you’ve got some treats waiting for you! There are briefer mentions of novels by Joseph Conrad and Cathleen Schine, as well as a passel of excellent scholarly histories, some of which I’ve discussed here and some not. My thanks to The Millions for giving me the podium, and to those who support them so they can keep doing so.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:

    Any relation to Il Millione?

  2. Do you perhaps mean Il Milione?

  3. David Marjanović says:

    Yes; I knew about the single L, but thought respecting it here would be too pedantic… now I see there’s not necessarily a million in it at all…

  4. January First-of-May says:

    The story I’ve been told is that millione came from Marco himself struggling to think of a word for that number – i.e. that basically he thought “how can I describe such a huge number… oh, right, I’ll just stick an augmentative suffix on mille!”

    I’m not sure if I ever actually believed that story to be literally true, but the general explanation of “he and/or his work was called Millione because millions came up a lot in his travel depictions, while most Italians back then wouldn’t have heard of millions anywhere else” sounded plausible enough.

    This is the first time I’ve encountered the “Emilione” etymology – but if the family really is attested with that moniker, it’s pretty much the only option.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    respecting it here would be too pedantic…

    Too pedantic? How could that even happen? You underestimate us gravely, sir!

  6. I look forward to this post every year! Been meaning to read Pilgrimage for a while now. I’d heard OUP was putting out a scholarly edition, but nothing seems to have come of that. Should break out my Viragos! And now I’m inspired to re-read AK and BK. Best wishes for more good reading in 2020.

  7. Thanks, and the same to you — I’m delighted to have brought DR another reader!

  8. David Marjanović says:

    This is the first time I’ve encountered the “Emilione” etymology – but if the family really is attested with that moniker, it’s pretty much the only option.

    It could still be a pun and mean both things at once.

  9. AJP Crown says:

    “Our traditional opener from Languagehat’s proprietor Steve Dodson” is how they ought to put it. I’ll be buying the 3 vols of Pilgrimage and then possibly The Grammarians even though its cover is a bit too Diane Arbus for me.

    Pedants this morning may have noticed in a Guardian news article:

    Shortly afterwards the 6ft 7in Dean Whyte, who was sat in a nearby seat in economy

    – this, instead of “was sitting”, or the usual airline “was seated”, nearby. The paper’s own style guide has for sit:

    (the horrible “he was sat” is, sadly, a very frequent error)

    but I like it as dialect. The writer is Sean Ingle who may get dispensation to sound colloquial as the paper’s chief sports reporter.

  10. Yes, I think “was sat in a nearby seat” works well there (“was seated in a nearby seat” would just sound dumb).

  11. John Cowan says:

    I think was sat ‘was sitting’ and was stood ‘was standing’ are well on their way to being standard spoken BrE. They still sound weird to Americans (and probably to AJP because Norway). I don’t know how far the construction extends to other verbs, but I don’t think it has generalized.

  12. We discussed “was sat” back in 2013.

    and probably to AJP

    A few months ago he said:

    I notice one can say “I were stood standing,” but not “We was sat sitting.”

  13. I managed at the last minute to avoid repeating my 2014 Year in Reading joke (I link it merely for clarification). Now I stumble into yet another hole in my memory.

    I might start using ‘was sat’. I can still conjugate it, and at the age of 66 there’s no advantage in a prestige dialect. I may start wearing a kilt too (no connection except ‘A New Beginning’).

  14. It was a good joke!

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would happily say (though perhaps not write in a formal context) both “was stood” and “was sat”, and I am extremely prestigious (though perhaps not as much so as AJP.)

    They don’t actually mean precisely the same for me as “was standing” or “was sitting”; they focus on the outcome of a prior event of standing up or sitting down, rather than the ongoing process of going on with the said standing or sitting.

    It may be a Scotticism, I suppose. Never really thought about it before.

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    Body-position/stance verbs have idiosyncratic tense/aspect behaviour in a lot of languages, of course. Many construe “be sitting” (say) as a state rather than (like formal English) an activity. French does this (more or less) too.

    Debout, les damnés de la terre;
    Debout, les forçats de la faim!
    La raison tonne en son cratère;
    C’est l’éruption de la fin!

    Sorry. JC got me going with his Dies Irae allusions in the “Good things from Down Under” thread. It’s a catchy number, and not nearly as bloodthirsty as the Marseillaise.

  17. I wonder if there are any good jokes about the town located just ten miles to the northeast of Reading.

  18. John Cowan says:

    Apparently the -head in Maidenhead is < hythe ‘small landing-place’, and the implication is ‘new wharf’. The OED1 (1898) says “now obsolete except in historical use and place names”, and adduces Hythe, Rotherhithe, Lambeth (originally Lamb-hithe), Hythe Bridge at Oxford, and Bablock Hithe on the Thames above Oxford. However, Tolkien used it so naturally in Fellowship II:viii that I-for-one never noticed: “On the bank of the Silverlode, at some distance up from the meeting of the streams, there was a hythe of white stones and white wood. By it were moored many boats and barges.” This is the point at which the Nine Walkers get into the boats that will take them down Ánduin towards Minas Tirith.

  19. I wonder if there are any good jokes about the town located just ten miles to the northeast of Reading.

    Well, there’s Lord Buckethead, he’s pretty good:

    Some of the more unorthodox candidates in the British general election have captured the attention of election-watchers around the world. Among those to have raised the most eyebrows is Lord Buckethead, who appeared alongside Theresa May on the podium as results were read out for the Maidenhead constituency.

    Buckethead, a self-described “intergalactic space lord” whose real name is unknown, won 249 votes in the Berkshire contest. It is not the first time Buckethead has stood against a prime minister – a candidate with the same name took on Margaret Thatcher in 1987 and lost with just 131 votes. He also stood against John Major in 1992.

    This time around, Buckethead campaigned on a platform of strong but “not entirely stable leadership”. His manifesto, he declared after the results had been confirmed, delivered him a “new Buckethead record”.

    A tweet from David Simon:

    I am delighted to know that in a mythical place called Maidenhead, a British Prime Minister shares a stage with a certain Lord Buckethead.

  20. Theresa May’s the MP for Maidenhead, 13m northeast of Reading. She’s a bit of a joke. – Darn it. Pipped at the post.

    I am extremely prestigious
    Yes, it’s the Richard Burton thing, he condescended. I’m just vaguely prestigious, more like a weather forecaster than a newsreader.

  21. Got in ahead of AJP with the political joke!

    Then there’s the question Moving to Maidenhead/Reading/Slough??, to which one of the respondents responded: “Avoid Slough unless you want to be the butt of many people’s jokes.” This seems to imply that Maidenhead doesn’t inspire many jokes.

  22. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    From LH’s link, a propos of nothing much:

    ‘When I first moved here I worked in Slough which took 30 minutes as it stopped all over.’

  23. AJP Crown says:

    It’s not their fault they often go
    To Maidenhead

    And talk of sports and makes of cars
    In various bogus Tudor bars
    And daren’t look up and see the stars
    But belch instead.

  24. AJP Crown says:

    Stoke Poges, the location of the country churchyard in the title of Thos Gray’s Elegy is very close to Slough. It was lovely and rural when I was there.*

    *50 years ago

  25. @John Cowan: I wonder whether Tolkien modulated his use of archaic vocabulary and construction according to the settings he was trying to evoke. Lothlorien, of course, is the most archaic place visited in The Lord of the Rings; in Imladris, the elder days were clearly remembered, but in Lorien, it was as if the elder days had never ended.

  26. J.W. Brewer says:

    The wikipedia piece on Leatherhead (in Surrey) doesn’t get -head from hythe, but the whole discussion of the toponym etymology is a bit muddled and hard to follow

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Lord Buckethead explained (till 2:44).

    He has moved and is running against BoJo this time.

  28. I am delighted to know that in a mythical place called Maidenhead, a British Prime Minister shares a stage with a certain Lord Buckethead.

    Obama either lost or nearly lost the West Virginia 2012 primary to a prison inmate. The guy was not imprisoned in Reading AFAIK.

  29. The wikipedia piece on Leatherhead (in Surrey) doesn’t get -head from hythe, but the whole discussion of the toponym etymology is a bit muddled and hard to follow

    The Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names says:

    Leatherhead Surrey. Leodridan c.880, Leret [sic] 1086 (DB). ‘Grey ford’. Celtic *lẹ̄d + *rïd.

    (The ē of lēd should have a dot beneath, but that doesn’t seem to be feasible in HTML/Unicode. Fixed — thanks, DM!)

  30. David Marjanović says:

    “BORIS Johnson will face Lord Buckethead in Uxbridge in the December General Election.

    The PM will also go up against a candidate called Count Binface in his West London constituency…”

    doesn’t seem to be feasible in HTML/Unicode

    U+3023 DOT BELOW, in the IPA diacritics section between the retroflex hook below and the diaeresis below: ẹ̄.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    till 2:44

    And 16:18 onwards!

  32. U+3023 DOT BELOW, in the IPA diacritics section between the retroflex hook below and the diaeresis below: ẹ̄.

    Many thanks!

  33. John Cowan says:

    a certain Lord Buckethead

    Back in the 1970s, a man named Don Yarbrough was elected to the Texas Supreme Court solely because the voters assumed he was the much-better-known Don Yarborough, a former gubernatorial candidate. He resigned when his indictment for perjury (which had been made public before he was elected) led to his conviction; he fled to Grenada but was arrested and served six years. Molly Ivins immortalized him as the Wrong Don Yarbrough.

    I wonder whether Tolkien modulated his use of archaic vocabulary and construction

    Absolutely; see these passages from The Hobbit, where a quick look at the vocabulary reveals the contrast, though none of the words in the second passage are outright archaic.

  34. Definitely Tolkien varies the tone of the writing,* although I was thinking of a more specific question about the use of archaic terminology. For The Lord of the Rings, there is even support for the changes in style coming from the frame story. The narrative was written down successively by Bilba, Maura, and Ran (based on the recollections of Maura, Ran, Kali, and Razar),** who bring different styles to the telling. For instance, Book I was probably composed by the first of the three writers after the others’ arrival in Imladris, giving that part of the book the tone closest to The Hobbit.

    * I noticed recently how an author’s distinctive style can come through even in works that are, superficially, written in very ways. As I was reading The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson, I was struck by how strongly the cadence of the sentences reminded me of The Night Land, in spite if the fact that The Night Land is written entirely in a universally derided imitation of seventeenth-century English, full of obsolete constructions and other oddities that were probably never current.

    ** I feel like, since I am discussing the fictional original composition of the story, the individuals involved should be named in Westron, rather than using Tolkien’s “translated” names.

  35. John Cowan says:

    Looking at the Battle of Five Armies passage, I would take dread ‘something to be feared’, the holophrastic Behold! and Alas!, vocative O, the insertion of a vocative between a relative clause and its antecedent, none ‘no one’, the inversions Tidings they had gathered and where was their capital, host ‘army’, and on a sudden to be archaic senses and constructions that go rather beyond the scope of what is usually called “tone”. But because Tolkien works up to them slowly as Thorin & Co. (a name itself simultaneously archaic and modern, as so often) move through the increasingly wild and “archaic” landscape (what Shippey called a cartographic plot), they do not appear bathetic when reached in natural progression.

    The Nero Wolfe mystery Plot It Yourself depends on Wolfe’s discovery that several books with different author names on them are in fact written by the same person based on internal evidence. As Wolfe explains:

    A clever man might successfully disguise every element of his style but one — the paragraphing. Diction and syntax may be determined and controlled by rational processes in full consciousness, but paragraphing — the decision whether to take short hops or long ones, whether to hop in the middle of a thought or action or finish it first — that comes from instinct, from the depths of personality.

  36. @John Cowan: Obviously, not every author will have the paragraphing as a signature element of their style, but some writers definitely do. The example that immediately springs to mind for me is Pearl S. Buck, for the abrupt way her writing could skip around. In The Good Earth, after the end of a meticulously described conversation, the next paragraph might suddenly jump months ahead, to whenever the next significant vignette occurred.

  37. The book covers accompanying the list of books read show the translators of AK and BK to be by the team that you have previously disliked. Or am I getting this wrong?
    I read both works, in translation, while an undergraduate in the early ‘60’s and would like to now revisit them- do you recommend any particular translations?

  38. Is Pearl S. Buck worth reading? That’s an honest question. I know she was a popular writer with the generation of my parents, and my mother has a couple of books by her, but I never got around to read them.

  39. The book covers accompanying the list of books read show the translators of AK and BK to be by the team that you have previously disliked. Or am I getting this wrong?

    I have no input into the images they show; for the Russian books I mention, I presume they pick the best cover images they find of the translated work without much concern for which it is.

    I read both works, in translation, while an undergraduate in the early ‘60’s and would like to now revisit them- do you recommend any particular translations?

    No (I read in Russian, so I’m not familiar with them), but I’ll give you my standard advice: read a page or two of as many as you can find on Google Books or Amazon (Look inside the Book) and choose whichever reads best to you. All translators make occasional errors, and what matters is what you will enjoy reading.

  40. @Hans: Some of Pearl S. Buck’s short stories are, in my opinion, quite good. The strength of her writing is in her realistic depictions of the lives of East Asian peasants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her style is not what you might expect from a Nobel Prize winner; I think the accolades her work received may have had the most to do with her depictions of Asian culture in a way that must have seemed quite matter-of-fact and non-judgemental, compared with the kind of exoticizing treatments that had come before.

    The Good Earth specifically is a narrative about the important events in the adult life of a single Chinese farmer, Wang Lung. While it has overarching themes, there is no single thread of conflict tying the novel together. It is also notable for its very narrow viewpoint. While it is narrated in the third person, the viewpoint is exclusively Wang Lung’s. In fact, I found it quite jarring when the very last paragraphs of the book described something the protagonist could not see, what Wang Lung’s sons were doing (literally) behind their father’s back. I suppose this change serves to introduce the new viewpoints used in the book’s less-well-known sequels. However, while I have a friend who thinks The Good Earth is one of the most profound character studies ever written, by the time I reached the end, I had grown rather tired of the story, and I never considered reading the sequels.

  41. Thanks! Next time I visit my mother I’ll check which books of Buck she has and have a peek inside.

  42. Her second best-known book is All Men Are Brothers, an adaptation of Shi Nai’an’s Water Margin. Anyone here who can compare it with its inspiration?

  43. Please close those parentheses 🙁

  44. Done, and thanks for the close reading! (I actually eliminated a superfluous one.)

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