Friday, August 5, 2011

Some books I've been reading.

I think this is probably a cliché for a beginning blogger, but here's a list of books I've been reading or have recently finished.

Linguistic Fieldwork: A Practical Guide. Claire Bowern.
The author is a respected field worker whose field research centers on languages of Northern Australia. In this book she provides a beginning linguistic field worker with helpful advice, not only on how to get data from language consultants, but also how to get along as a stranger in a foreign place. I've assigned it to the students in my Field Methods course this fall, so I thought I probably ought to read it first. 

Consider Phlebas. Iain M. Banks.
Banks is highly regarded as an author of science fiction, and I read his Player of Games many years ago. I remember enjoying it. I wish I could say the same for this book, though. It's all plot: just one d*** thing after another, and the characters are completely devoid of interest. However, I am quite taken by the backdrop of the Culture. The Culture is a human-machine symbiotic society whose main guiding principle seems to be the lack of any guiding principles other than to let its citizens do as they please. It is an Anti-Culture which devours neighboring societies and leaves nothing distinctive behind; it is cultural relativity run out to its logical extreme. There is a quote I remember hearing from the music theorist and composer Fred Lerdahl that runs something like: "When everything is allowed, everything is arbitrary."[1] That is the Culture. I think that there are important things that the Culture has to say about contemporary Western culture, if Banks will stop to let his characters think about things and talk to each other. I hope that happens in his later novels (I've got two more of them).

Foundling, Lamplighter, Factotum. D. M. Cornish.
This is a fantasy trilogy that chronicles the coming of age of Rossamünd, an orphan who is apprenticed to the Lamplighters. He (yes, he) deals with bullies and monsters, and has help from kind (and not so kind) adults. The depth of the world building in this series is astonishing (there are maps and appendices a-plenty), but what appeals to me most is that the story is really about Rossamünd coming to grips with who he is and what his place in the world is to be--not about defeating the evil Dark Lord of the Universe and establishing a New Golden Age. When the story finished, the world still carries on as before, but Rossamünd is a different person. This is a different sort of fantasy, and I am looking forward to more by this author.

The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers. Jeremy Grimshaw.
This is a beautiful little book. The author is a musicologist at Brigham Young University. This book tells of his encounter with Balinese music and society and recounts his efforts to establish a gamelan ensemble at BYU (the Gamelan Bintang Wahyu). He has some remarkably wise things to say about the nature of worship and community. Even if you know nothing about Bali or gamelan music, this is worth reading.

I have a whole pile of books that I've picked up at used book stores and thrift shops, so I'll probably do another of these blog posts before too long.

[1] If you happen to know the correct quote and its source, drop me a line; I'd like to know.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what Fred Lerdahl said, but your almost-quote reminded me of William S. Burroughs who wrote "Be just and if you can't be just, be arbitrary."

    I'll have to add these titles to my list, D.