15 February 2020

Recently Read

Once again I am joining Quick Lit, a monthly meme on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. The creator is Anne Bogel, who explains that Quick Lit is where "we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of the month". So today I'm offering reviews of 2 novels and 2 novellas.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Little, Brown and Company, 2012

This was a selection for my library book club, and not something I would have picked up on my own. However, I did like it, especially the poetic style of the prose. Powers was in the army in Iraq and this story is about a young man serving in Iraq in 2004, presumably somewhat autobiographical or at the very least realistic. It is more about the soldiers' reactions and mental states and not a glorification of war's carnage. The short chapters have dates and places noted but are not in date order, which is a bit confusing as you try to piece together the story of Private Bartle's struggle to stay alive. It's a book that stays with you.

The Prodigal Tongue by Lynne Murphy
Penguin, 2018

I'm an Anglophile as well as a word- and language-lover, so the full title of this book drew me in immediately -- "The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English". I loved it, but have struggled about how to review or summarize the contents. Yes, it's about differences in vocabulary, but also of mindset and culture. For instance, I never knew the Brits thought so ill of American words and expressions.

So here's the publisher's blurb:
Professor Lynne Murphy is on the linguistic front line. In The Prodigal Tongue she explores the fiction and reality of the special relationship between British and American English. By examining the causes and symptoms of American Verbal Inferiority Complex and its flipside, British Verbal Superiority Complex, Murphy unravels the prejudices, stereotypes and insecurities that shape our attitudes to our own language.
With great humo(u)r and new insights, Lynne Murphy looks at the social, political and linguistic forces that have driven American and British English in different directions: how Americans got from centre to center, why British accents are growing away from American ones, and what different things we mean when we say estate, frown, or middle class. Is anyone winning this war of the words? Will Yanks and Brits ever really understand each other?

Murphy also writes the language blog Separated by a Common Language: Observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK. Her very active and interesting Twitter account is @lynneguist . The book also has a blog: https://theprodigaltongue.com/ .

Ethan Frome / Summer by Edith Wharton
Borders, 2006

Having enjoyed "The House of Mirth" and "The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton, I  decided to read a lot more of her works. This book contains two of her novellas, the well-known "Ethan Frome" (1911) and "Summer" (1917). Both stories take place in tiny New England villages near the end of the 1800s and show the hardships, poverty, and stifling culture of those rural outposts. In both stories people who feel themselves different than the rest try to escape but fail. Wharton makes you care about her characters, flaws and all. I liked the writing style, but these tales are somber and quite sad in the end.

I've owned this book for quite a while, so now it's part of my 2020 Mount TBR Challenge.

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