The Bookshelf: Miscellany VIII.

For those who have truly waited until the last minute, or for those who give New Year’s presents, here are some books that escaped my attention when I made my last such post:

1) Sociolinguistics: A Very Short Introduction, by John Edwards. This won my heart right off the bat by having a dedication in Irish: “Do Dorren agus d’Oisín Ó Siochrú, beirt a bhfuil grá mór agus cion agam dóibh.” It is indeed short, a little over a hundred pages, with chapters on Coming to terms; Variation and change; Perceptions of language; Protecting language; Languages great and small; Loyalty, maintenance, shift, loss, and revival; Multilingualism; and Name, sex, and religion.

2) Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, by Ammon Shea. Stan Carey of Sentence first has an excellent review, saying “It is light yet scholarly, explaining disputes in a clear, informed and entertaining fashion and proceeding in each case to a sensible conclusion.” I’ve been greatly enjoying dipping into it.

3) I’ve just started The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst, which jamessal gave me a while back; he wrote me: “this book, unlike The Stranger’s Child, really picks up at the end, so there’s even more enjoyment than merely some of the best prose fiction written in some time,” and I loved The Stranger’s Child (see this post), so I have complete confidence in recommending it. Thanks, Jim!

4) Another book I’m in the middle of is A History of War in 100 Battles, by Richard Overy; any fan of military history will know Overy’s name, and this is even better than I expected (having been bowled over by his Russia’s War) — the introduction alone is worth the price of the book.


  1. Merry Christmas!

  2. Many thanks! Unfortunately, it’s warm and drizzly here in Hadley, but we’re enjoying the day nonetheless.

  3. Well, Hat’s already expressed my enthusiasm for The Line of Beauty, but I did also have a lot of fun last night revisiting the old post on The Stranger’s Child. Great thread.

  4. Belated thanks for bringing Overy to my attention. I picked up a copy of Russia’s War at the end of December and look forward to sitting down with that one sometime soon. Looks like it has the potential to be great.

  5. Let me know what you think!

  6. I’ve read the book back in 1998 and I recall a quote which might be of interest to us here.

    “The war exposed many of the enduring features of Russian and Soviet culture. Soldiers were brutal because much of their experience of life was brutal and harsh. Their resilience and stubbornness, the toughness of both men and women, were the product of a bitter climate and extreme conditions of work. The coarser side of Russian life was evident in the routine of the labour camps or the discipline of the regiment or the factory.

    Yet ordinary people could also display a traditional sentimentality, founded in a powerful sense of both history and place. Some idea of how universal was that respect for the past, the feeling of rootedness, of belonging, can be gleaned from one among many stories of the war years told by the writer Ilya Ehrenburg.

    In the retreat of 1941 before the German onslaught, the curator of the Turgenev Museum in the city of Orel packed up the contents and placed them in a railcar. The centrepiece was a worn sofa upon which the famous writer had thought great thoughts. At every station the curator was faced with an angry crowd of refugees struggling to find space on the train to take them eastward. Each time he explained that the jumble belonged to the great Turgenev, and each time the mob relented. 8

    This is a story that can be understood only in the wider context of a popular attachment to art that cuts entirely across boundaries of class or education. It fits ill with any idea of primitiveness. Locked away in the horrors of the Gulag camps, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn could still recall a man who sang to him snatches of Schubert. 9 The almost universal love of poetry has already been remarked. “

  7. That’s a great quote; thanks for posting it.

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