Open Book Publishers.

A few years ago I posted about a book available from Open Book Publishers, but I had no idea how wide a net they cast or how many interesting fish they caught. Now Owlmirror has started posting links to two particularly attractive sections of the site: Cambridge Semitic Languages and Cultures (see Owlmirror’s recommendations here) and World Oral Literature Series (here). All pdf’s are free (though you have to pay for physical books), and David Eddyshaw has already downloaded Oral Literature in Africa. Enjoy!

Addendum. Today I found in the mailbox an Amazon package with 50 Writers: An Anthology of 20th Century Russian Short Stories, edited by Mark Lipovetsky and Valentina Brougher; it is a spectacular selection of authors and looks wonderful. Thanks, D20!


  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m finding a lot of good stuff in Oral Literature in Africa.

    The chapter on proverbs is particularly interesting. Among much else, it flags up the fact that proverbs in Africa can be very allusive and nigh-on incomprehensible if you don’t know the context: you can understand all the words and still have no idea what they mean. (Unfortunately a lot of collections of African proverbs omit this vital information. It’s very frustrating.)

    One I do understand in Kusaal, but only because someone actually told me, is

    Ku’om zɔtnɛ bian’ar zug. “Water runs on mud.”

    which actually means “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Finnegan makes the highly plausible suggestion that the vagueness and opacity of sayings like this is actually part of their usefulness: you can get your point across without being too blatant about it, so nobody has to feel offended. “It’s just an observation, guv …”

    A lot of interesting material on the various ways different African cultures actually use proverbs in practice.

    Very interesting chapter on drumming, also explaining why it does indeed belong in an account of oral literature. (The drummer clan are the traditional genealogists and historians of the Dagomba, which makes perfect sense once you know. The Dagomba traditions are more extensive and reliable than those of the Mamprussi, despite the fact that the Mamprussi kingdom is the senior, because the Dagomba drummers are better organised.)

    I also liked the long rant at the beginning of Chapter 12 about Western exoticising and misinterpretation of African oral prose genres.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    The references to Azande culture make it sound horrible. Obsessed with status and performance, continually on the watch for rivals seeking to undermine you. As bad as academia.

    The Zande term sanza means both proverb and spite (or jealousy) and, in addition, refers to the whole range of circumlocutory expression in which there is a hidden as well as a manifest meaning, usually malicious.
    The Azande have many proverbs […]

    Mind you, the references seem all to be to Evans-Pritchard’s classic works from the 1960’s. Perhaps they’ve got better since …

  3. That bit about, “circumlocutory expression in which there is a hidden as well as a manifest meaning, usually malicious,” actually makes a fair amount of sense. Many Azande believed (at the time of Evans-Pritchard’s fieldwork), that it was possible to place a hex on someone else just by speaking too negatively of them. So there were cultural taboos against direct verbal attacks on anyone other than dire enemies.

    By the way, I love the sound of the word “circumlocutory.”

  4. Bathrobe says:

    Why is there a History of the Book section, with only six books? (One of them is
    In the Lands of the Romanovs: An Annotated Bibliography of First-hand English-language Accounts of the Russian Empire (1613-1917)
    , so it must be of interest to someone.)

  5. It would be great to have that anthology in Russian, but I haven’t found anything similar. Is the Anglo-Saxon world better at anthologizing than other cultures? I have also had difficulty finding decent anthologies of short stories or modern poetry in German, other than Reich-Ranicki approved collections.

    Are there no German, French or Russian equivalents of Penguin anthologies?

  6. @Vanya: I just commented to a friend yesterday about the use of “Anglo-Saxon” to mean “English-speaking”:

    It used to be common to use “Anglo-Saxon” to mean “English-speaking,” and apparently that terminology still comes up sometimes in non-English-speaking Europe. It’s largely fallen out of use in the English-speaking world, with the understanding that that most native English-speakers are not primarily descended from the Germanic inhabitants of Britain in the Dark Ages, and using it to mean ‘English-speaking” today could be confusing or even considered offensive. However, I did see an interesting example of it recently. I watched the 1961 film The Guns of Navaronne, in which the main character is played by Gregory Peck. The leader of the World War II commando team in the film is British (played by Anthony Quayle), the organizers of the mission are British, and the explosive expert is British (David Niven, described by TV Tropes as “by a considerable margin, the most English man ever to go to Hollywood”). Other members of the team are local Greeks (with one played by Anthony Quinn, who was Mexican-American but could play just about any Caucasian role; if you do an Google Images search for “Auda Abu Tayi,” it can hard to tell with some of the pictures whether they are of the real Auda Abu Tayi or of Quinn playing him in Lawrence of Arabia) or of unclear ethnicity. However, it is implied by some of the dialogue that Peck’s character is also supposed to be British (and is clearly based on an amalgam of two famous Everest mountaineers, the British George Mallory and New Zealander Edmund Hillary; in the book, the character is Australian). However, Peck uses his regular American accent, which is very, very obvious, especially when he is playing against Niven. At one point, during a discussion about the differences in their methods between Peck and some of the Greeks, he attributes his reticence to kill someone who needs to be killed to his “Anglo-Saxon” background, thus side-stepping this question of whether he is supposed to be British, American, or other.

    The context was my friend pointing out that “Saxon” has a history of use by racists to mean something roughly equivalent to “white.” I think it was somewhat advantageous for them that no listener would have expected all whites to be literally of Saxon descent; the term is merely suggestive, perhaps even metaphorical. So a racist speaker or listener had some freedom to draw the line between ethnic in-group and out-group wherever exactly they found it convenient. It occurs to me that this imprecision over who is white enough to be encompassed is shared between the old endonym “Saxon” and the more current exonym “Anglo.” Depending on the context, I who have no British or Protestant blood, might or might bridle at being lumped in with the “Anglos.”

  7. PlasticPaddy says:

    Have you tried reclam Verlag? Their site search is not perfect (and the production and typography is sometimes basic) but here is a title from amazon:
    I have also seen these sort of books from Fischer klassik or Suhrkamp Insel. …

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    It occurs to me that this imprecision over who is white enough to be encompassed is shared between the old endonym “Saxon” and the more current exonym “Anglo”

    The English are merely “Saxons” in Welsh and Gaelic: Saeson, Sasannaich (though I believe that the latter was originally applied to lowland Scots too, as opposed to Albanaigh, the true people of Albion.)

  9. The Guns of Navaronne

    One -n-, and I automatically associate that title with the Skatalites (though I think I did see the movie long ago).

  10. John Cowan says:

    In New Mexico, Anglo is both an exonym and an endonym, and includes everyone who is neither Native or Hispanic.

  11. Bacha posh in Afghanistan: factors associated with raising a girl as a boy

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