3. The Story of French

Still working my way through the 2020 Christmas stack! I don’t have too much to say about this one; it was a very fun read about a topic I am not at all informed on. I feel both expanded and entertained by the material. The book covers not just French-in-France but French worldwide, with its long history of accretion and dispersal via diplomacy, colonization, and post-colonial exchanges.

From the fall of Rome to the rise of cable TV covers a lot of ground, and the book is necessarily light. It is also, I should mention, not a linguistics book, so if that’s your main interest, this will not suit you. There are a lot of examples of dialect drift, slangs, creoles, and ongoing evolution in how the language is used (as of the book’s 2006 publication), but they are included by way of illustrating the historical context, not as the main subject.

(I have been trying off and on for years now to learn French–not out of any particular utility, although I would like to visit the country some day, but a sense that one really ought to speak at least two languages. As with most efforts I undertake, I am making slow progress.)

Highly recommended for the casual reader.


1. Gathering Moss

My daughters, being raised in a place where they simply assume that all rocks have names, christen their own: Bread Rock, Cheese Rock, Whale Rock, Reading Rock, Diving Rock.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss

If you had asked me a week ago what I thought about moss, the answer would have been that I don’t, really? It has been there on the borders of my perception, duly admired on boulders and fallen trees, occasionally to be touched for pleasure at its unique texture. I’ve spent moments contemplating the millennial process of reducing stone to earth, and then walked on.

It turns out that there is a great deal to know about moss, and this book warmly invites you to spend a few hours in their miniature perspective. Kimmerer’s eye is keen but gentle, and I felt embraced by this book of essays, by the memories she shares of the human-scale world woven into the ways of this other, very small and green.

She explains the science deftly, but also tells you about walking barefoot through peat bogs and a summer spent waist deep in a river studying cliff-dwelling moss; you keep one foot in the physical world the whole time. The past and present of her Native ancestry, the present of her scientific studies, and questions about the future shared by humans and forests intertwine around her ancient subject. Mosses are old and biologically simple–but is anything alive simple? There is an enormous and populous world below the limits of our vision, and usually beneath our feet, brimming with creatures living out the same relationships of predators and prey, facing the same reproductive challenges as any other part of the biosphere.

Although this is a slim book, just 160 pages, I wouldn’t recommend rushing through it. Like its subject, the book rewards slow consideration and repeat visits.

This first read of the new year was a Christmas gift from my mother–I can’t remember where I saw it recommended, unfortunately. To make it easier to keep track of my reading this year, I thought I would try numbering the posts. We’ll see if it takes!

On the subject of current events, I can either write a book (I’m sure someone already is) or resort to “smdh”. Will stick with the latter, as I already have a book to write. It’s on schedule so far, one week in.


Recent Online Reading – Dec 2018

While we meander toward the end of the year, wrapping up projects and shopping for the holidays, here are some links that you might appreciate:

That’s it for today!


Review: In the Land of Giants

One recent evening when the commotion at home grew overwhelming, I escaped for an hour to the Medford Public Library. It’s a modest collection, but on a rainy weeknight the place was well populated — there was a t-shirt upcycling activity going on in the young adult section, and I had to hunt around to find an unoccupied table quiet enough to work at. I was ostensibly there to figure out what I was going to do with the fairy book revision, and I jotted down a few thoughts. I also wandered through the stacks, remembering other libraries I have known.

In my aimless travels through the British history shelves, I happened across Max Adams’ In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages. The subject dovetailed too neatly with the recent Arthurian research for me to overlook this bit of serendipity, and even though my “to read” pile is more fond aspiration than achievement these days, I optimistically checked it out.

I’m not done with yet, admitted, but I am greatly enjoying the read. It’s a quirky book, part history, mostly travelogue, and potentially very dangerous to the pocketbook, because if you don’t immediately want to book a plane and go hiking through the quiet back country of the islands, I consider your humanity suspect. Given that I am already prone to looking at hills and lakes and wondering what the people who lived here a thousand years ago thought about them, I am entranced by the prospect of having so many clear physical markers of ancient human presence dotting the landscape.

The only real negative is that my knowledge of early British history is spotty, and my grasp of the landscape on the kind of intimate scale showcased here is nonexistent; it’s easy to get a bit lost in the names. Expert readers will not suffer from that problem. Even then, however, there is an abundance of physical detail to immerse oneself in, to bring one’s mind to focus on the simple, immemorial experience of walking long distances. It can be difficult sometimes to connect with the minds of those who lived so long ago, but by literally putting himself in their footsteps, Adams gives our imaginations a map.


Recent Online Reading

Most of what I read in any given day is for my day job, but sometimes I come across things that might be interesting for a wider audience. So, on this chilly Friday, a selection of what I’ve been looking at lately:

Going to be a little bit of a strange week ahead chez Stevenson – spouse is away helping as support staff for Viable Paradise again, so I’ll be spending a lot more time at home than usual, putting kids on buses and trying to find ways to use all of the apples we picked last weekend!

2018-10-13 15.42.51

Maybe I’ll even get some writing done….