Friday, June 7, 2013

2012 Book Recommendations

In 2011, I recommended an anthology of stories by Manly Wade Wellman. In 2012, though, graduate school has put an especially big damper on my leisure reading: fewer books (only 31 and 11 audiobooks), but lots and lots of scholarly papers and half-read volumes. There’s a half-dozen or so I’d recommend:
The nonfiction book I'd recommend, I think, was Guy Deutscher's "Through the Language Glass", a modest apology for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This hypothesis is poorly regarded by linguists, perhaps not least because overreaching and fanciful versions of it have long been vivid in the popular imagination (although I'm still intrigued by the idea of language as a cognitive tool). Deutscher's leads his discussion from 19th-century debates over the limited color vocabulary of Classical Greek literature, through the scientific racism of an early Darwinism (that had not yet rejected Lamarckism, for example), through anthropology's emphasis on culture as a means of repudiating that scientific racism. He ends up talking about the cognitive influence of color terminology and geographic vs. relative direction vocabulary, among other things. It's pretty interesting. A selection of this book was presented as "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?" at the New York Times in 2010, and Radiolab interviewed Deutscher in 2012 for their "Colors" episode and "Why Isn't the Sky Blue?".

My fiction reading was pretty thin last year, but M.A.R. Barker's "The Man of Gold" was a decent yarn—if you're open to science fantasy adventure novels based on worlds used as settings for 1970s role-playing games. The fiction is ok, but the point is to show off Barker's world of Tékumel (which otherwise perhaps "doesn't photograph well"). It is a fascinating world. And as far as conlangs made to support a fictional world go, Tsolyáni is really nice, aesthetically a mashup of Urdu and Mesoamerican languages, which works much better than it sounds.

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