Sunday, December 30, 2007

Just to Let You Know I'm Not Dead Yet

Well, I had rather expected to do a lot of posting during the 12 Days of Christmas, chatting about some of our favorite books which we enjoy reading aloud at this time of year. Alas, it was not to be. Although our holidays are very quiet ones without the frantic stress which so many people experience at Christmas time, this year I got caught up in a special project. I'd decided to sew Christmas dresses for two of my little granddaughters, and I was determined that, contrary to my well established family reputation, this project would be finished, and finished on time!

Well, I achieved my goal, but only just. In fact, I'd already phoned Fillius Major to warn him that the dresses could not possibly arrive in time. Nevertheless, I kept on sewing and finally finished them at around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. Not knowing what time the post office was scheduled to close, I shoved the dresses into Priority Mail cartons and drove to the post office. My heart sank when I saw that the parking lot was empty. The post office had closed at 3:00 p.m. With little hope I trundled across town to the postal annex which is hidden in the back of a Hallmark shop. Mirabile dictu -- it was open till 6:00! I mailed my packages and the dresses reached their destination on Christmas Eve.

Of course, my house was a mess having been neglected for several days. Not only were dishes piled in the sink, but many of the moving boxes shown in my first blog posts were still cluttering the living room. Most of them were piled in front of the fire place where I'd hoped to display my Nativity set. And I still needed to shop for Christmas dinner (to which I'd invited two guests).

All was accomplished though it left no time for blogging. Since Christmas I've been busy with recuperation and neglected but necessary errands. Also, um, a new sewing project about which more later. For now, I'm off to bed. Tomorrow I plan to go back to talking about books and reading. Until then . . .

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!

Deus homo factus est, natura mirante;
Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!

(Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.

God is made man; nature marvels.
The world is renewed by Christ the King.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.)

I've always loved this song. I particularly like the rendition done by Broceliande on Sir Christ
èmas: Songs of the Season. You can hear a very tiny snippet here. (I heard this group sing at Mythcon last summer and bought a couple of their CDs after the performance.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007


"Hmm! Books, you know, Charles, are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development."

--Lord Peter Whimsey in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Bibliophagist's Nightmare

If a bibliophagist is "a devourer of books," Then this must be a bibliophagist's worst nightmare.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Almost As Good As Chocolate

Catholic Bibliophagist not only loves reading, she loves languages. That's one of the reasons I fell so in love with The Lord of the Rings. For me, it was the philological groundwork in Tolkien's writing that gave such reality to the mythology of Middle Earth. I suppose that's why no other fantasy "in the tradition off J.R.R. Tolkien" ever seems to have the same depth and resonance.

I never had the opportunity to formally study linguistics, but I love catching glimpses of the connections between the different branches of the tree of language.

In honor of yesterday's Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Zero Summer has posted a link to a site which offers the text of the Hail Mary* in dozens of languages from Afrikaans to Zurituutsch.

By chance, I found myself looking at the Norwegian translation, trying to puzzle out possible links with English:

Hill deg, Maria, full av nåde, Herren er med deg, velsignet er du iblant kvinnene, og velsignet er ditt livs frukt, Jesus. Hellige Maria, Guds Mor, bed for oss syndere, nå og i vår dødstime. Amen.

Okay, maybe I'm jumping on a lot of false cognates, but I'm betting that "Hill" is the equivalent of "hail," and "full av" reminds me of "full of" in the phrase "full of grace." Could "kvinnene" be related to our word "women"? Hmm, would "frukt" be related to the English "fruit"? The Latin is "fructus" Did Norwegian do any borrowing from Latin?

"Hellige Maria" has got to be "Holy Mary" just from the position, "Guds Mor" -- "God's mother," obviously. "Bed for oss" must be pray for us since "bede" is a very old word for "pray" in English. "Syndere" must be "sinners" from its position, and now we notice that both words begin similarly. Looking at "nå og i vår dødstime" I'm guessing that "nå" means "now" just because I know what the prayer is supposed to say at that point. Since I can't pronounce Norwegian I have no idea how much it sounds like the English word. But look at the last word, "dødstime" -- doesn't it look like "deathtime"? The English at this point is "hour of our death."

That was fun! (Okay, not as good as chocolate, but what is?)
*English text here if you aren't familiar with it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Song of Bernadette

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, another one of those festal days sprinkled throughout Advent, the celebration of which helps to remind us that we are the party-church. Since we were homeschoolers, I always gave my kids a day off on December 8th, and of course we went to Mass. And we probably had a special dessert. (Someday I'll write a book called The Role of the Stomach in the Assimilation of Catholic Culture.) But unlike the Feast of St. Nicholas, we never had a special book which we always read in honor of the day.

I was thinking about this today when it occurred to me that I had never read The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel. The author of this fictionalized account of St. Bernadette was neither a Catholic nor a Christian. He was a Jewish playwright whose satirical plays lampooning the Nazi regime were a hit in Vienna, so he had to flee to France when Germany annexed Austria in 1938. He found refuge in the town of Lourdes where various families took turns sheltering him and his wife. It was there that he heard the story of Bernadette Soubirous and her visions of a Lady who identified herself only as "the Immaculate Conception." In gratitude, he vowed that if he and his wife escaped to safety he would write Bernadette's story as a novel. The book was hot stuff when it was published in 1942. It was on the New York Times Best Seller list for over a year and was made into a movie in 1943.

It's one of those books I've always heard of, but have never actually read. So just to be seasonal, I think I'll give it a try and will let you know what I think.

In the mean time, have a blessed Advent and "Party on, dudes!"

Friday, December 7, 2007

Happy (Belated) St. Nicholas Day

I was planning to post something about St. Nicholas yesterday, but all of my free time got funneled into finishing a project which is due at my next class meeting. I staggered to bed at 2:00 a.m. But this morning I see that Rhinemouse at Zero Summer has posted my favorite legend of St. Nicholas ever: "How Saint Nicolas Met and Overcame the Goddess Diana." It's from the book, The Twenty Miracles of Saint Nicolas written and illustrated by Bernarda Bryson. It's out of print, but well worth picking up if you can find a used copy.

As Rhinemouse points out, he's an all-purpose saint: "[the] patron of mariners, moneylenders, thieves, children, travelers, turners, dyers, coopers, boatmen, bootmakers, sawyers, seedmen, mercers, merchants, Greeks, cities, Jews, packers, spinsters, pirates, Russians, pickpockets, haberdashers, children, fishermen, pilgrims, prisoners, parish clerks, sailors, unwedded maids, and little boys chopped up and packed into pickle barrels. (Which I suppose would also make him the patron of characters in slasher films.) According to legend, he attended the Council of Nicaea and smacked Arius, which I guess would also make him the patron of cranky Catholics . . . . "

Our family always celebrated his feast day by reading aloud stories from this book on the days leading up to December 6th. On the evening of December 5th we had the children put their shoes near the front door and they were miraculously filled with cookies, gold wrapped chocolate coins, and sometimes small gifts, thanks to the agency of the saint.

Many families make a point of celebrating the liturgical year with their children as a means of teaching the faith and passing on their religious and cultural traditions. Certainly that was one of our reasons for doing so. But I think that it also served to instill in our children the firm conviction that Catholics just have more fun.

Besides the well known stories of "The Three Schoolboys and the Salting Tub" and "The Miracle of the Three Dowerless Maidens," the book includes "Saint Nicolas and the Prophet Mohammed," "Of a Woman Who Left Her Baby to Boil," "The Legend of a Boy Possessed by the Devil," "The Pawnbroker and the Greek," and many more.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Grammar: The New Luxury

Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs

The Onion

Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs

WASHINGTON—Teaching students how to conjugate verbs so that they can describe events that have already occurred is a luxury many schools cannot afford.

"Nothing is too wonderful to be true," was one of my husband's favorite sayings. By the same token, almost nothing is too appalling for belief when it comes to the public school system. I hasten to assure my readers that I am well aware that the Onion is a parody (unlike the poor, souls who mistook its famous article about Harry Potter and childhood Satanism for serious journalism). Yet as I read this spoof, I experienced an uncanny sense of deja vu remembering the various educational fads that I have experienced, especially in regards to the teaching of reading.

And having seen the grammatical contortions inspired by political correctness and gender politics, the thought of grammatical loss caused by simple financial straits seems almost charming.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What Makes a Reader?

In "A Good Mystery: Why We Read"* Motoko Rich asks, ". . . what is it, exactly, that turns someone into a book lover who keeps coming back for more?" He posits that discovering the right book at the right time is what transforms an ordinary person into a rabid reader. He devotes the rest of his article to describing the characteristics of particular books which can trigger a lifetime of continuous reading.

I don't doubt that some people can look back on the reading of a particular book which marked the boundary between reading as a chore and reading as a pleasure. Though I think, particularly when this transformation takes place in childhood, that what is really taking place is an increased facility in reading which allows a person to finally experience the pleasure of the written word.

I can't seriously believe in the trigger theory.

That's like believing that somewhere in the world is one particular person who is your Own True Love and that unless you meet him, romantic love will be a closed book to you. But once you do, bingo! Personally, I would think that having developed the capacity to love unselfishly would be the crucial prerequisite.

Similarly, I have my own ideas about what makes a child develop into a voracious reader. I think that it is crucial that a child should have discovered the joys of listening to stories long before he is old enough to begin to read. And for that to take place children should be exposed to verbal stimulation early on.

In other words, parents should talk to their little ones in a playful, interactive way. And they should read aloud to them. Even when the story is a little over their heads, the language pathways are being laid down in their little brains. You're giving them a chance to associate reading with pleasure. However, for optimal results you've got to cut back or eliminate television viewing. (Ditto video games.)

I think it also helps if you continue to read aloud even after your children have learned to read. Children can understand and enjoy more complex stories than they are able to read to themselves. Hearing their parents read aloud helps children to increase their vocabularies -- which will help to make reading easier.

Anyway, that's what worked for me. And I guess it worked for my mom. She wasn't trying to turn any of us into bookworms, but the first couple of children did become voracious readers. And those were the kids with whom she'd had time to regularly read aloud stories. As the family grew larger (Twins! And More!), she no longer had time to read aloud. And the later children didn't get into reading in the same way that the early ones did.

N.B. Catholic Bibliophagist is aware that both nature and nurture are involved in a child's development and that not all children will become avid readers. But she thinks that most kids are capable of becoming better readers than they might otherwise.

*Free registration at the New York Times site required.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Just Wondering

The other day I finished rereading Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott. At one point the book mentions that Ben, a young boy who has run away from his former life in a circus, is attempting to read a hymn book, but “the long s in the old-fashioned printing bewildered him . . . ."

When I was young they bewildered me too because they look so much like the letter f . I hadn't thought about them in a long time until last night when I was flipping through my copy of the Rambler. My eye fell on those funny s’s and I couldn’t help wondering what rules governed their use, for the regular letter s is also to be found scattered throughout the text.

After a bit of skimming I can see that the long s seems to have been used at the beginning and in the middle of words. A double s seems to have been written with one long s and one regular one. It also looks as though words ending in s use the regular letter. But why did they use the long s at all? There must have been some typographical reason, but I don’t know what it is or even how to look it up. Can anyone relieve my ignorance?

Update: The Wikipedia article to which Bill White links in the comments box gives links to two fascinating articles at BableStone:

"The Rules for Long S" which is far more detailed than than Wikipedia's description and "The Long and the Short of the Letter S" which discusses the origins of this letter form and includes lovely pictures of manuscript examples.

What Was She Thinking?

"Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack."
-- Virginia Woolf

It sounds cool, but what does she actually mean?

I'm getting a mental image of used books, like feral kittens or impounded strays, rescued by philanthopic bibliophiles who buy them in order to give them loving homes. Part the charm of used books is that they do come with a history: bookplates, inscriptions, marginalia. And they are time travelers on our shelves, adding visual and historical interest simply as artifacts.

As I look up from the computer I can see to my right the Johnson section of my library. A 1794 edition of The Rambler, with its thick paper and the old fashioned "s's" that look like "f''s," is sitting next to the 1963 Yale edition of The Idler and The Adventurer with its critical introductions, varient readings, and explanatory notes. The latter is a useful and informative edition. The former gives a sense of immediacy to the past.