World Book Day Game

Accablé de paresse et de mélancolie,
Je rêve dans un lit où je suis fagoté,
Comme un lièvre sans os qui dort dans un pâté,
Ou comme un Don Quichotte en sa morne folie.

World book day. Game rules – Find the book nearest to you, turn to page 56 then find sentence 5 and write it as your status. [This is a Facebook game.—N ] Put the game rules as a comment. Needs to be the book nearest to you, not your favorite. From Slavomír Čéplö.

Introduction to French Poetry: A Dual-Language Book. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum.

Overcome with laziness and melancholy,
I dream in a bed where I’m bundled up,
like a hare boneless sleeping in a pie,
Or like a Don Quixote in his dull madness.

Poem by Marc-Antoine Girard de SAINT-AMANT (1594-1661) who “delighted especially in painting himself as one of a group of poetic *bons vivants*, addicted to tobacco, cheered by wine or cider, literally enraptured by a fine melon, a huge ham, or a creamy and evil-smelling cheese. The sonnet “Le Paresseaux” – a hymn to sloth, concomitant of debauch – was first published in…(1631).

Incidentally,  Slavomír Čéplö will be presenting a paper at the GĦILM 3rd Conference on Maltese Linguistics in April so if you’re going to be in Malta that week with nothing to do,  check it out. Here’s the abstract.

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Borders Trek

My broken ankle has improved so much that a walk to the train station now takes me 20 minutes instead of 45 minutes.  I decided I was ready to take a train ride.

My destination was Borders, a book store in Hyde Park. The Borders chain is in bankruptcy, and the store on 53rd street is in the process of closing.

Mostly people were standing next to the shelves reading the manga, which was about the only thing left, and the occasional street person could be seen napping on the floor.

The few books left were mostly on shelves with correct labels, but I did spot this one: right-wing crazies Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck filed under Mythology/Folklore and Gay/Lesbian/Transgender.  Accident or joke? They would be so not amused.

Nothing for me here.  As a consolation prize, I took myself to Powell’s on 57th Street. Sort of like my living room, only bigger.

I came away with Sandra Mackey’s The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom, which I am devouring.
Chapter One. The Coming of a Foreigner:

I am Michael Collins. I am Justin Coe. I am Sandra Mackey. Behind my male pseudonyms of Collins and Coe, I spent four years as an underground journalist in Saudi Arabia.

Hahaha. As it turns out, she first arrived in 1978, so the book is a bit more dated than the 2002 copyright date would let on, but that just makes it more interesting for me.

Chapter Two. The Magic Kingdom:

In Saudi Arabia, there is no early hour of daylight when the soft shades of pink creep over the landscape, gradually waking a sleeping world. Morning comes early and comes forcefully. Within minutes of rising, the sun falls on the landscape with full intensity, savagely pounding the flat roofs and baked earth.

Ah, the desert.

I may have to stop blogging for a few days in order to finish this.

The photograph on the front cover is by Jeremy Horner.  See more of his Arabia images here.

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Arabic virtual bookstore

One of my usual cheap weekend entertainments is hitting the used book venues. But what do you do when you suddenly can’t walk? Not to worry.

The other day I discovered downloadable books at The Internet Archive ( and indulged in a Sax Rohmer reading marathon. When I moved to Jordan I had to discard two-thirds of my books.  When I got back, the only one I missed was  Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series from the 1920’s. It’s hard to find those titles any more.

Then I stated thinking about dictionaries, and how heavy they can be to carry around. In particular, what about Hans Wehr’s classical Arabic dictionary? Maybe it was old enough to be out of copyright and I could install it in my laptop. Sure enough, The Internet Archive has it.

Here it is, and more.  The best is last:
A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic Wehr, Hans, 1976
Dictionnaire chaouia-kabyle-arabe-français French, Arabic, Kabyle (Berber)
Arabic proverbs; or, The manners and customs of the modern Egyptians, Burckhardt, John Lewis (1875)
A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic, Karin C. Ryding, 2005
Al-Mawrid Arabic-English lexicon 1995
Wortabet’s Arabic-English Dictionary, 1984.
Syriac Arabic Dictionary, Bishop Eugene Manna(1867-1928) (medieval and liturgical Aramaic)
A Compendious Syriac Dictionary [based on R. Payne Smith] – (1903) Oxford Vol 01 Vol 02 (medieval and liturgical Aramaic)

Arabian Wisdom, John Wortabet, 1907  (Proverbs)

Wright’s Grammar”- A Grammar of the Arabic Language V1 and V2
Translated from the German of Caspari , 1896.  (Classic grammar.) From Amazon reader reviews:

First, anyone considering this book needs to understand that this is a reference grammar, not a textbook for learning Arabic. The material is arranged by parts of speech and by grammatical concepts, not as a series of lessons going from simple to more complicated. There are no exercises and no excerpts for reading practice (although all discussions of grammar and semantics are illustrated by examples). The level of the book is not for beginners….I find it hard to recommend the Syntax section of the book, which has pages upon pages of such explanations. But many other parts (such as the discussion of the forms of the verb) are lucid and helpful, probably because there aren’t any English parallels to get in the way.
Wright has been the standard reference grammar of Classical Arabic for over a hundred years, and is still the most comprehensive generally available for the Classical language. Wright’s knowledge of Arabic and his use of Arab grammarians was vast, and he’s worth persevering with. The traditional Western terminology is a positive advantage to anyone who’s used to it,… However, Wright introduces the Arabic terminology almost everywhere, which is a great boon – modern writers tend to ignore Arabic terminology, which is rather pig-headed as it leaves the student unable to discuss language with Arabic speakers, and at a disadvantage when trying to understand books in Arabic on language.

Fischer’s “A Grammar of Classical Arabic” is much more accessible to those unused to traditional Western grammar, even if it is rather less complete in its coverage. In particular, it has nothing on Arabic verse, for which you still neeed to use Wright.

Arabic Idioms-idioms, proverbs, polite, religious and Islamic expressions (Proverbs)
Saudi colloquial audio archive. (Arabic course)

From other sources:

Lane’s Lexicon“–Edward William Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon (Dictionary)

Media Arabic essential vocabulary.

Sudan Arabic vocabulary.

Sudan Juba dialect vocabulary.

Lists of inks for Arabic historical, etymological, medical, and military dictionaries, regional dialect language courses.
Mo3jam, a user-generated dictionary of colloquial Arabic (mostly in Arabic), like Urban Dictionary, but clean (I think).
*Various sundry downloads. An astonishing collection of 44 pages of links and downloads for the student of Arabic language and culture.  Bibliophiles might try a search for Arabic Manuscripts, a Vademecum for Readers (yummy illustrations, look at “bookbinding”) or Proximity and Distance, Medieval Hebrew and Arabic Poetry.

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Banned in Gaza

Those who celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a banned book now have two more books for their reading list.

Hamas banned the sale of two Arab novels and confiscated the copies from a bookstore in Gaza city, sources said Tuesday.

The sources, who preferred their names not to be disclosed, said plainclothes policemen confiscated all the copies of the two novels from a bookstore near Al-Azhar University and showed the owner an order from the interior ministry stipulating the ban on the books.

The order said the two novels, Chicago by Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Asswani and Feast for the Seaweeds by Syrian author Haidar Haidar, “don’t agree with the teachings of Islamic Sharia.”

Alaa Al-Asswani’s Chicago has reviews in the NYT and in the Telegraph. The Amazon reviews are always illuminating too, but no link love for them. Amazon has started inserting really intrusive ads in the middle of my text whenever I link to them. In a nutshell, the reviewers say read his 2002 The Yacoubian Building set in Egypt instead. (But of course now that it’s been banned, that changes everything. :)

Haidar Haidar‘s 1983 A Feast for the Seaweeds or maybe “banquet for Seaweeds” وليمة لأعشاب البحر is a little harder to find, no current reviews, although there seem to be downloads available, especially in Arabic. Apparently it triggered demonstrations against it in Cairo as late as 2002.

…which leads circuitously to this list of authors confiscated from a Cairo book fair:

~Moroccan novelist Mohamed Shoukri’s Al-Khayma (The Tent);
~Joseph Harb’s Al-Sayeda Al-Baydaa dhat Al-Shahwa Al-Kuhliya (The White Woman of the Dark Blue Lust);
~Egyptian writer Yehia Ibrahim’s Hikayat Majnouna (Mad Stories)
~and, hardest-hit with three confiscated titles each, Moroccan feminist Fatma Al-Mernissi’s Al-Harim Al-Siyassi (The Political Harem), Hal Antum Muhassanoun Did Al-Harim? (Are You Fortified against the Harem?) and Al-Khawf min Al-Hadatha (Fear of Modernity)
~and Egyptian feminist Nawal El-Saadawi’s Awraq min Hayati (Pages from my Life), the second part of her autobiography, Al-Hub fi Zaman Al-Naft (Love in the Age of Petrol) and Suqout Al-Imam (The Fall of the Imam).

Mernissi has been a favorite of mine, some perceptive vignettes, I think on loan from the Vatican library in Amman, but I don’t remember the title now.

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Books and museums

Free books online, Canahan’s true life Wikileaks prose, and virtual art museums.

Kindle for PC

You don’t need a Kindle anymore to read books in Kindle format. You can now download Kindle for PC at Amazon for free. You can also download free kindle books from Amazon.  (Search tips here.) Unfortunately, Amazon won’t let me download because it says I haven’t registered the software.

No problem.  You can also download free books from:

Project Gutenberg
Google Books
Internet Archive
Free Kindle Books has downloads listed by author.
Also try Poetry In Translation—I was able to download texts of some of Lorca’s lectures about writing and “duende”.
IRreaderReview has a huge list of resources, Kindle and otherwise.

I don’t really care for this Kindle format though, not sure why.  Maybe it’s the ten-inch screen I usually work with and the need for so much scrolling.

So then I tried…

Scanned books.

I see ( via Marginal Revolution) that:

The total literature of Iceland is under 50,000 books, which is easily scannable in 2 years by 12 people using the scribe scanners of the Internet Archive.  Indeed they might put it all on-line.

I also see that I can read a scanned version of a book at Hmmm, let’s check out camp Fu Fanchu author  Sax Rohmer….very nice, I haven’t read this one yet, …and it almost feels like you’re turning the pages of a book printed in 1921. I really hate reading Google books, but this I like. Surely there must be a way to download it to read offline, but I haven’t found it yet. (Wait. Yes. Click on it and you have the option to download as PDF…)

Wikileaks true adventure

Canahan has finally dug up the sample of exemplary Wikileaks prose that he talked about earlier, a US cable on a wedding in Dagestan:

Gadzhi’s Kaspiysk summer house is an enormous structure on the shore of the Caspian, essentially a huge circular reception room — much like a large restaurant — attached to a 40-meter high green airport tower on columns, accessible only by elevator, with a couple of bedrooms, a reception room, and a grotto whose glass floor was the roof of a huge fish tank.

This reads like a combination of James Bond and the Godfather. I can hardly wait for the movie. And think of the sequels….


Now you can walk through world-class virtual museums like the Uffizi in Florence and  London’s National Gallery at Art Project. “Walk around” the museum and zoom in on the artworks.

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Writes like

The London Review of Books blog is sending people to a site called “I write like” to paste in samples of their writing, have it analyzed, and find out what famous author they write like. The site informed me I write like someone called Cory Doctorow, who I never heard of before.  It turns out that besides writing science fiction, he has written for the blog Boing Boing and has also been associated with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which I have linked to many times both here and on other blogs.  One of his short stories is open source and can be read online in its entirety. I haven’t really read any science fiction since its golden age back in the 70’s, but I was intrigued enough to read this one to the end, something I rarely do these days.

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Falling in love with love: Dostoyevsky and Rumi

I usually read in one of two rooms, the book room, or what other people might call a living room, when I’m trying not to nod off over a book, and in the bedroom, when I’m trying to get drowsy enough to fall asleep.  Yesterday, at the same time I happened to pick up Ergin and Johnson’s translation of The Rubais of Rumi: Insane with Love in one room, I finished reading Andrew MacAndrew’s translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1848 short story “White Nights”  in the other. [text in English]  Both have a sort of meta description of how being in love can transform the external world.

Dostoyevsky’s character, described as “a dreamer”,  has his world changed by love, but it changes back again.  He is falling in love with someone  waiting to rendezvous with her fiancé after a separation, but the man doesn’t arrive at the prearranged meeting place.  The dreamer tries to describe to her how his world was transformed after meeting her:

Then I woke up.  About an hour before I was to meet you.  But I felt I hadn’t slept at all.  I didn’t know what was happening to me.  It was as if time had stopped and one sensation, one feeling would remain in me from then on; as if one minute was going to stretch out into eternity; as if life would stop and stand still for me.  I  was gong to tell you all this as soon as we met.  When I woke up, I was under the impression that some sweet melody heard somewhere long ago and since forgotten, had come back to me how, that for all these years, I’d been searching for it, l0nging for it, but only now–

[SPOILER ALERT] Maybe the title, “White Nights”, is some sort of clue to Dostoyevsky’s philosophy, since the white nights are the evenings when he meets the woman and walks around Petersburg with her.  At the end, when the original suitor finally turns up at the meeting place, Dostoyevsky’s character says “My nights were over.”

And when I looked out of the window, I don’t know why, but the house opposite turned dimmer too, the plaster on its columns fell off, the cornices became all grimy and full of cracks, and the walls, which used to be dark yellow, turned grayish.

Nights are usually thought of as dark, not white, so was the dreamer’s previous enamored emotional state simply an illusion?  Or is the actual illusion the newly grayed buildings of the out-of-love dreamer?

Rumi’s world also changes with love, but when he loses his Friend, his world does not change back.  He uses the experience to seek out whatever it is within himself that has been created by the experience.

a spark from your fire

fell into me

waters of joy fell from your words

into the river of my heart

but now I understand:

that water was mirage

that spark was like lightning

struck and gone

everything has been a dream

only memory remains

Ah, Rumi.

Jelaludin Rumi was a 12th century Sufi mystic who wrote 12-bar Persian poems on the same style of Omar al-Khayyam from a century earlier, a style that has been compared to the roadhouse tradition of the rhyming patterns and chord changes of Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

there is a plain beyond Islam and infidelity both

our love rests in the middle of that plain

that’s where the sage goes to bow down

because there’s no room there for either the

believer or the infidel


you are a volume in the divine book

a mirror to the power that created the universe

whatever you want, ask it of yourself

whatever you’re looking for can only be found

inside of you

Rumi went searching for his friend Shems (presumably murdered) as far as Damascus, a play on words, as the nickname for Damascus is Shems شمس (sun).  At Abdali bus station in Amman you can hear the cab drivers for Syria try to drum up business by calling “shem-shem-shem”.

From the translator’s comments:

…on a human level, how could you not fall in love with a friend who came into you life and sparked something in you that took you both to God? In that Rumi viewed the person of Shams as the actual link through which  he was able to reconnect himself back to the energies of God, the boundaries between real people and their divine counterparts are blurry ones indeed.

This looks like an interesting Rumi book to have: Rending the veil: literal and poetic translations of Rumi…short review: “This translation gives you a smooth English rendition, a beautiful calligraphic version, a structural, word-by-word English explanation, as well as a romanized version of the original language. “

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Rendell whodunit

After having Ruth Rendell recommended to me, I finally found a copy of one of her Inspector Wexford whodunits last week, An Unkindness of Ravens, published in 1985, and have finished it off.  Maybe I was expecting too much, another Sherlock Holmes with all the dashing about by horse-drawn taxis, or Fu Manchu with the bizarre and deadly Asian flora and fauna, or even something camp like Mickey Spillane with all the corny cliches–for some reason, just the macho-pretentious title “My gun is quick” sends me into a fit of hysterical giggles.  But Rendell was a bit of a disappointment.

Technically, she’s okay, on par with Ellery Queen, but probably not with Agatha Christie.  Still, the book was readable, and maybe someone who was more into the genre would enjoy it more than I did.  Probably the most enjoyably quirky thing about it was the continuous references to paint colors manufactured by the company that employed the first murder victim:

The main bedroom was like his own in size and proportions.  The walls were even painted in the same color as his own, Sevenstar emulsion Orange Blossom.  There the resemblance ended.

But even though I have been in England, the scenes just didn’t come alive for me. I couldn’t seem to picture the forests, the suburban houses, the streets, the characters… any of it.  Worse, Rendell is known for using psychological themes, and those were a disappointment as well.  They didn’t seem to be incorporated into the narrative, just tacked on to the end.  As someone who has both worked in psych facilities and social work venues, and racked up an embarrassing number of credit hours in the subject, it didn’t ring true at all.  Rendell seems to take Freud as gospel, which even in 1985  wasn’t that common, and uses the case of Anna O to discredit those who report sexual predators, a red light to anyone who has been a mandated reporter, even before the official coverup of priestly misdeeds became known.

The other psychological twist involves folie a deux, (at the very end, with no foreshadowing) which Rendell defines as “a kind of madness that overtakes two people only when they are together…you’ll always find one party who is easily led and one who is dominant.”  Interesting, but probably not worth reading the whole book to find out about it.  I should probably just stick with Graham Greene.

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Book sale

Yesterday I ended up at a couple of bookstores, and while I don’t usually blog about buying books, yesterday was just too much fun to keep to myself.

So here’s the list of what I scored:

Ruth Rendell, An Unkindness of Ravens (thanks, m-l)
Sara Paretsky, Bleeding Kansas
Dorothy Sayers, The Complete Stories
Roger Dixon and Stefan Muthesius, Victorian Architecture
Emil Kaufman, Architecture in the Age of Reason: Baroque and Post-Baroque in England, Italy, and France
Eight issues of The Tuilieries Brochures from 1931 and 1932 with outstanding photography:

French Architecture as Source Material
Provincial Architecture of Northern Franc
Some Small Houses from French Villages
Formal Design in Minor French Buildings (see Amazon listing)
Dijon–Capital of Burgundy
Saulieu of the Morvan
An Architect Revisits France
Falaise–The Heart of Normandy

L.C. Kalff, Creative Light
Arnold Lewis, American Victorian Architecture
The book division of the National Geographic Society, The Builders: Marvels of Engineering (1992 with the World Trade Center on the cover)

A little heavy on the architecture, yes.  I love looking at architecture books, but that’s not usually something I’m willing to spend money on.  But they all came from the dollar table at the Antiquarian’s book sale, and were 25% off to boot. How could I resist?

A nice assortment.  The first thing I started reading was the Rendell whodunit (or whydunit as the case may be).  From page two: “Joy Williams took him into the front room that she called the lounge.  There were no books.”  Somehow, you know this is not going to end well.

[The rest of the photos are clickable.]

Moving on to The Builders (1992), which I picked up because it had photos of pyramids, and bridges and cathedrals, on the front cover is a photo of the World Trade Center, with another inside.  These photos give me an odd moiré pattern when I look at them with various browsers, but are very nice viewed with zoom. And yes, I know they load slow, but they also have high resolution.

The cover photo is supposed to be “framed by an Alexander Calder sculpture”. Maybe World Trade Center Stabile (Bent Propeller)?–here are before and after pictures of the Calder sculpture.

[Note: the link is no longer working, but I will leave it up in case someone can find it in google cache–I have had no luck–or the wayback machine after a suitable amount of time has passed. In the meantime, no more Ms. Nice Guy with polite links to images of unknown copyright status.  Here are some images of the statue, if you see your image here leave a message and I will credit you.]

Creative Light is out of print.  This page demonstrates how light principles work in a church sanctuary.

And here is le Corbusier’s 1937 “brises soleil”  invention–facade of screens for protection from the sun (Ministry of Works, Rio de Janeiro).

Corb’s “Chapel of Ronchamp” uses semi-cylindrical towers to channel the light to the wall behind the altar.

His monastery at La Tourette uses “light cannons” to direct light.

The “Tulierries” pamphlet series has striking architectural photographs of various areas in France.  (And except for one or two issues, these are totally out of print and unobtainable.) This page is from Provincial Architecture of Northern France:

From Formal Design in Minor French Buildings:

Why again should we take French architecture of this particular period rather than that of an earlier time?  Precisely because the charm of the French Formal style depends upon intrinsic excellence of design rather than upon the charm of softening line and surface texture resulting ;from the decay of age as in the farmhouse type.  It is the spacing and  balance of the windows and their relation to the wall surface texture resulting from the decay of age as in the farmhouse typel  It is the spacing and balance of the wqindows and their relation to the wall surfaces that pleases us, not the irregularities of hand work.  The wall surfaces are as true as the machine-minded American workmen could make them; the lines of the ridge and the eave do not sag despondently.

In the last analysis is not this fad of living in imitation primitive farmhouses, surrounded carefully by all modern conveniences, a little ridiculous?”

Um, no.

But the photos are still incredible.

This one is from Some Small Houses From French Villages:

This type of photography simply doesn’t exist any more. Typically this type of photo was done with a 4X5 large format camera. In these days when the SLR has suddenly been replaced by the digital camera, who knows what the future of this type of photography will be.

As for the buildings, give me the key and I’ll be ready to move into any one of them.

Urban Book Exchange

Some time ago I wrote (here and here) about a book exchange in a forest preserve near where I live (image: right).

Tonight I saw a book exchange right in the middle of the city.  It’s in the Hyde Park neighborhood, just a few blocks from Obama’s mansion, so as you might expect, there is an outstanding local supermarket nearby that carries arigula, not to mention Jarlsberg cheese.  This is also where you will find Binny’s Express , a tiny hole-in-the-wall liquor store that carries Stone’s ginger wine (it took me three weeks to find this product locally-indispensable for marinating fish) as well as three brands of Australian port (the reason for today’s mission in the neighborhood in the first place) and an entire shelf of single malt scotch. By shelf, I mean five or six feet long and maybe five feet high. Yes, they have Speyside’s Cragganmore.

And there are bookstores.  For new books, there is the Seminary Coop Bookstore and its smaller branch on 57th street, but even better are the used books at the Antiquarian, where I once found a copy of the two-volume compact OED in its slipcase, complete with magnifying glass, and Powell’s, open until 11:00 p.m., as a bookstore should be.

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