A Year in Reading 2014.

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; my contribution is up, featuring my recommendations of Dan Todes’s superb biography of Pavlov, the books by Peter Hodgson and Gary Saul Morson I’ve discussed here as I read them, and three books about soccer.



    When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.

    Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

  2. I was very glad to see the Morson book landed on your list for 2014! I’ll have to check out the Hodgson book, too.

  3. Thanks again for putting me on to Morson!

  4. Brian Hillcoat says

    Since no one else has, I thought I’d reassure AJP Crown that his witty joke is very clever. It took me a good two minutes to see it, but then the penny dropped so suddenly I laughed out loud. Many thanks AJP.

  5. Yes, hats off to AJP “Redding” Reading!

  6. You’re too kind. Thank you Brian.

  7. It only struck me because I went to Reading a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t see the gaol, though. All the turn-of-the-century terraced housing is of red brick, with red terra-cotta tile decoration. I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or whether someone was trying to make a point.

  8. Trond Engen says

    In my second, or third, or fourth, or first, life as a scout leader, I took my troop to a camp in England this summer, where we were teamed up with a group from Reading. Their leader made a serious effort to pick up the essence of Norwegian during the week, and succeeded. Enough to be amused by the apparently irregular pronunciation of the vowels in the name of my hometown, Skien, with [e.e].

  9. Did you discuss the pronunciation of the Reading vowels?

  10. Trond Engen says

    Well, yes, the follow-up was pretty obvious.

  11. WP.en says Skien is pronounced [ˈʃeːən] and descends from Old Norse Skiða ‘straight plank’ (it was already extant in 1000 C.E.), so it looks like an irregular (dialect?) pronunciation with a conservative spelling. WP.nb confirms the local pronunciation [ˈʃeːen] and the pre-1814 spelling Scheen.

  12. Trond Engen says

    Yes, [²ʃeːen] (tone 2) to be precise. Although I’m not sure if the length symbol on the first {e] is meaningful here.

    The first syllable [e] is usually attributed to Eastern Norwegian vowel balance, ref. Stige [²stega] “ladder”, siden [²sea] “since”, and the ending in [en] to Dano-Norwegian spelling and the misinterpretation of final -a as the female definite ending.

    There’s less agreement on the interpretation of the name. It’s more commonly taken to be from the meaning “cleft, divide” than “straight plank”. The most common explanation is that it was given to the narrow strip of land making a natural dam in the river and preventing seafaring vessels from going further inland. Others say it was the name of a stream emptying in the bay just by the embryonic town. I want it to be the name of the river itself, today Skienselva, since there’s some evedince (e.g. in Ottar’s Voyage) that it was considered the border between the free petty kingdoms (“Norway”) and those under Danish overlordship (“Denmark”). Alternatively, it could stem from the fact that (before a more recent landslide) the river up to where the town is situated was remarkably straight and increasingly canyon-like — as if cut with an axe.

  13. Stefan Holm says

    John & Trond:

    You can both be right about Skien. Swedish skida means ‘ski’ but also ‘scabbard’ or (bean, pea etc.) ‘pod’. Figuratively it’s used about something enclosing and protecting an object. E.g. it’s used for the vagina in mammals. I suppose English ‘sheath’ is a cognate.

    The original meaning is ‘a cleaved wood piece’, which explains both the ski and the scabbard meanings (a scabbard was originally made from two pieces of wood). So both John’s planks and Trond’s canyon could be on the right track.

    At least Trond can read all about it in SAOB http://g3.spraakdata.gu.se/saob/ . Do a search on ‘skida’ (subst2) and on ‘skid’ as well!

    While I’m at it: SAOB uses the common’*’ symbol as wild card for a random number of letters but oddly enough ‘.’ (a dot) for a single letter – instead of the more standard ‘?’

  14. Dot is the standard for regular expressions as opposed to file patterns, where ? is used. Hat used to put phrases with dots into his blacklist, which caused surprising and unexpected bans.

  15. Oh, that awful blacklist. Bad times, bad times!

  16. David Marjanović says

    I suppose English ‘sheath’ is a cognate.

    German Scheide “sheath, vagina”.

  17. David Marjanović says

    However: scheiden “separate” looks like it’s related to ‘shed’, except that the d shouldn’t line up like that…

  18. David Marjanović says

    …so there’s a doublet, e.g. Wasserscheide “watershed”.

  19. @David Marjanović: Isn’t “watershed” just a calque of “Wasserscheide”? I don’t have OED access from home, but other online sources give that as the etymology.

    Or am I missing the point?

  20. Other sources like this one.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Oh. I had no idea. 🙂

  22. I looked in the OED, which is agnostic on watershed being a calque. Shed, however, is a mostly-obsolete noun, originally an abstract noun ‘distinction, separation’, later ‘part in the hair (human or animal)’, ‘blood clot’, ‘division of land’. The only surviving meanings are ‘ridge of high ground between two valleys’ (clearly related to watershed) and ‘space between the two sets of warp threads, through which the shuttle passes’. The architectural shed is only distantly related, being a variant of shade.

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