Saturday, November 21, 2015

Description of the World - Part 6

David Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon (Just the ticket in case you suddenly find yourself in command of a large early 19th Century army in a desperate battle. The trick is to menace your enemy’s flank and then break through closer to the center when he extends his line to counter your initial maneuver. Didn’t work at Waterloo, though.)

H.H.Schullard, A History of the Roman World 753 to 146 BC (The history of the city is obscure before the Punic wars even though Rome was a considerable power even in Aristotle’s time. I keep reading books about this period and remain confused.)

Livy, The War with Hannibal (This volume contains Book XX! through XXX. Livy was a terrible military historian.)

Martin Bernal, Black Athena (Reminds me of the guy who argued that Adam spoke Dutch in the Garden of Eden. That Greece owed a great deal to its southern and eastern neighbors is perfectly true, but the Greeks were well aware of the fact. The letters of the alphabet, for example, were called Cadmean letters because Cadmus the Phonencian supposedly brought them to Greece when he came looking for his abducted sister Europa. Bernel’s book is an example of a familiar pattern: create an artificial orthodoxy so that you can knock it over in a display of courageous iconoclasm.)

Card with picture of Emmet Kelley-type clown (Sent by my sister back in ’94—she conveys greetings from her dog Rocha, complains that she’s so flummoxed by a cold that she thinks she’s Amy Finkelstein.)

The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations (I’ve had this book so long the quotations are no longer modern.)

A.D. Momigliano, Studies on Modern Scholarship (I think I’ve been able to tolerate, indeed to enjoy so much solitude in my life is that I’ve always kept virtual company with choice minds. The essays collected in this book study a series of mostly 19th Century scholars with the same kind of seriousness and respect that classicists accord to the ancients—I’ve believed for a long time that intellectual historians should not be reluctant to evaluate even their contemporaries and not reserve their judgements for the long dead—maybe I’m just looking for forgiveness for getting my friend David Pace involved with Levi-Strauss. I especially like the piece in this book on Jacob Bernays, who, like M, was a deep student of Jews, Greeks, and Romans alike and evidence of the connectedness of things—he was the grandfather, if I’ve got the genealogy right, of Edward Bernays, who, as the godfather of public relations, was even more influential than his uncle Sigmund Freud. Reality isn’t coherent, but it is stringy.)

Eva C. Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens (Just be sure that your umbrella is right-side up. The volume features illustrations of the vases normally kept in the attic of the museum. The subject is serious, however. Epigraph from the beginning of Chapter 9, the Sex Appeal of Female Toil: “At that time [in the good old days] no one had a Manes or Setis as slave, but the women themselves had to do all the chores in the house…” —Fragment of the comedy The Savages by Pherekrates.)

If Only Raskolnikov had Stayed in School (or not Majored in Engineering)

Back at the time of the Columbine shootings, I wondered if one root cause of the crime might have been the inadequate philosophical education of the perpetrators. Adolescents, but not just adolescents, can become intoxicated with the discovery of their own freedom and draw some erroneous conclusions before they work through its implications. If there is no God, but equally if God is the Cthulhu of the Calvinists and radical Muslims, everything is permitted. OK, but what then? Even the early Sartre, who can sound down right Kantian at times, knew that human existence had an irreducibly universal dimension because we are creatures of language—recall that Sartre’s memoir was called Les Mots.* When I act, I implicitly define what humanity should be. After all, an action that was truly irrational, incommensurate with all meaning, wouldn’t even be mine. It would be as anonymous and random as the decay of a radioactive atom. My acts are inevitably moral or immoral, which is why the recognition of freedom is also the recognition of responsibility. It’s actually a terrible burden.

Kant wrote "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” Before you’re an adult, however, you’re an adolescent for whom the great thing about freedom is staying out late, patronizing your parents, and sometimes acting out, very occasionally in a fatal way. Of course whether people hurt each other or not has more to do with their temperaments than their philosophies, but the mentality of the Isis terrorists, the Western guys who shoot up theaters, and other Loeb and Leopold wannabes does seem to owe something to a dimly understood idea. The callow young men dream of going beyond good and evil, but never get beyond evil.

*It isn’t often noticed, but Kant himself made the connection between language and morality long before the so-called linguistic turn in philosophy. The first version of the Categorical Imperative reads “Acts so that you can at the same time will the maxim of act as a universal law of nature.” The unremarked upon assumption is that acts have a maxim, a notion that only makes sense if for you as for the Greeks being a rational animal means being an animal that has the logos. After the Gospel of St. John, logos got to be something supernatural and spooky but it just meant language to Aristotle.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Description of the World - Part 6

Pausanias Guide to Greece, 2 volumes (The ancients already had a certain nostalgia for the archaic. The age of Socrates was already five centuries before the time of Pausanias.)

Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (I know I read this book because it dates from the time when I routinely wrote notes in the margin. I also underlined words or sentences, not because I expected to consult the book again but in order to make it more likely I’d remember. I often don’t remember, of course; but the information nevertheless increments the registers in my understanding of things, in the case of this book of the late Renaissance.)

Julius Caesar, The Battle for Gaul (This edition, translated by the Wisemans, features illustrations and maps chosen by Barry Cunliffe, a mavin of the ancient history of the Atlantic coast of Europe. Handling it makes me wonder what another de lux edition of the Commentaries was like, the translation with notes made by Napoleon the Third before he took the throne. Never seen that one.)

Numa Denis Fustel De Coulanges, The Ancient City (The book is stamped A.D. Pace in front. I don’t remember stealing it from David but that must have happened at some point. I think of De Coulanges as a bridge between Vico and Durkheim and Dumezil, though I’m not sure that my understanding of his ideas owes much to actually reading his famous book. My anthropology teacher Jose Ortiz talked about him in a lecture back in 1966.)

Livy, Rome and Italy (This volume is a translation of books VI through X of the history.)

C.M. Bowra, The Greek Experience (This crumbling pocketbook used to belong to my sister Val. Serious little books like this were formerly sold in drug stores. This one cost fifty cents. Written in childish handwriting on the inside back cover: “Grass was the first Greek, earth rooted but rising toward the sun.” )

Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome (This volume is cut from a much longer history. It covers the period from the conquest of Carthage to the end of the Republic. There are several impressive 19th Century histories of this era beside Mommsen and Max Weber thought about the coming of Caesar a great deal too. The fall of the republic was in focus for these men. In the Levi-Straussian sense, t was good to think.)

Michele Slung, The Absent-Minded Professor’s Memory Book (Maybe I should memorize ‘Pass Everything Over, Miss, Politely, Please, and Reasonably’ except that the Anthropocene has replaced Recent recently so the young lady should pass everything assiduously instead of reasonably.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Description of the World - Part 5

Donald W. Engels, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (This little book has actually been quite influential. The author points out the strong limitations geometry puts on the ability of ancient armies to project power beyond sea coasts and navigable rivers. I know that his calculations and conclusions have been challenged, but I think he identifies something very true about human history. For most of the historical past, the power of princes was very much less than what it seems to have been if you go by the expanse of red or blue on the historical atlas. They used to say that Montenegro was unconquerable because an army large enough to defeat the natives would starve while an army small enough to feed itself would get beaten. But a great deal of the world was like that in antiquity and even rather later when the only way to move heavy loads was by water.)

Jonathan Hall, A History of the Archaic Greek World (The Greek dark ages are something of a mystery. For that matter, the period seems to be one of murk and retrogression for the whole ancient world, a step backwards before the leap forwards of the Axial Age. Hence my interest. Or maybe it’s just my aforementioned hankering, not entirely dissimilar to a liking for potato chips. for anything archaic.

Xenophon, Anabasis: the March Up Country, trans. Rouse (In the 19th Century, school kids began the study of Greek by reading this book just as students of Latin began with Caesar. I didn’t and probably haven’t read more than three paragraphs of the thing in the original—Harry Carroll assigned a textbook based on the Gospel According to John, presumably because he was just bored with Xenophon. This translation is by Rouse, who was also translated Homer in prose—I remember reading my sister’s copy of the Iliad.)

Caesar, The Civil War (Caesar never finished this work. The accounts of the African and Spanish campaigns are by other hands. Even the parts he wrote himself are inferior to the Gallic War, which is, no doubt, just as much a propaganda effort but come across as more objective.)

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, trans Benjamin Jowett (I’ve read almost as many translations of Thucydides as I have of Herodotus, but  I read Herodotus with great pleasure and Thucydides out of a sense of duty. Especially when I was a young man, I took the downfall of Athens personally. The Peloponnesian War is a profoundly depressing book even if you don’t give a damn about the Grandeur that was Greece—I don’t think my nephew John has ever entirely forgiven me for giving him a copy—but even now reading the account of the Sicilian invasion is like reliving a family tragedy for me. The dryness and penetrating intellect of the author only makes the effect more powerful. Of course I’m the guy who reacted to seeing the pits and pocks on the Elgin marbles by muttering “Fuck time!”)

Livy, The Early History of Rome (By the time I read Livy I already knew the old stories from perusing my mother’s old Latin textbooks. It’s hard for me to distinguish what I read in Livy from what I picked up from the pictures in the textbooks. This Penguin contains the first five books of the Ab Urbe Condita—from the Founding of the City, I like the old title.  The material is at best legendary. Even in the Renaissance scholars began to recognize how dubious it was as a record of what actually happened. Rene Dumezil famously considered the early history of Rome to be a reprise of Indoeuropean mythology, though he was insistent that some of the material preserved in Livy really is ancient, in particular the religious formulae.)

Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire (Reading the old histories doesn’t leave you with a clear memory of this or that emperor or barbarian chief, but you do get a sense of the texture of events. Hari Seldon without the equations.)

Arrian’s Life of Alexander (Another book I acquired long ago. Late 50s. This is a cheap pocket book, but even expensive hardbacks of this era have turned yellow and are crumbling to dust. Of course I’m 15 years older than that. Fortunately, I have a lower acid content than the paper that makes the 40s and 50s a bit of a dark ages as far as used books are concerned.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Description of the World - Part 4

Top Shelf

John V.A. Fine, The Ancient Greeks (I learned Greek history from Bury. I just read this book to see how the old story had been updated. Dull read.)

Passell and Ross, The Best (Like most books that were ever published, a throwaway, though it might be interesting to see what look so wonderful in 1974 when the question was what’s the best Baskin-Robbins flavor and not what’s the best Ben and Jerry’s—Mandarin chocolate, if you’re curious. I can just barely remember what that tasted like. The author’s choice for best pizza, the Spot in New Haven, seems quite right to me. The Internet informs me that the place still exists.)

Jacquetta Hawkes, The First Great Civilizations: Life in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and Egypt (The first volume in a series. I keep reading books about ancient societies even though I’m on record as opposing the notion that the origins of things are especially important. I guess I haven’t convinced myself yet.)

A.T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (I used to think that a teacher should make it a goal that students should learn at least one thing from every hour in class. That seems like a pretty modest standard, but I wonder how many profs meet the test? Anyhow, the thing I learned from Olmstead, at least the thing I remember from him, was the idea that the Persian empire’s tax policies, though not extremely onerous, had the effect of creating deflation throughout their empire by sequestering gold in the imperial palaces. The Macedonian conquest had a hugely stimulative effect by flooding the Hellenistic world with species and led to a region-wide boom. Keynesianism with spears.)

Werner Jaeger, Paideia, three volumes (Jaeger is one of those Germans who never got over the Goethezeit, hence his interpretation of Greek civilization as a set of attempts at personal cultivation. That’s not a criticism, exactly, though it is pretty one-sided. Everything becomes a Bildungsroman, including your own life. I read the first two volumes of Paideia in the late 60s. The third volume turned up at Green Apple a couple of years ago and I finally read that. The inspiration seems to have gone out or maybe it’s just that writing about Isocrates isn’t as inspiring as writing about Socrates. I’m reminded of another third volume that’s not as exciting as the first two: the sequel to Alexander Alekine’s My Best Games of Chess.)

Ed Robert Strassler, The Landmark Herodotus (I’ve read four or five translations of Herodotus and some bits and pieces of his histories in Greek. It isn’t that the new translations improve on the older or even that one or another stands out for its own literary qualities. I just like the excuse to reread Herodotus. As a ten or eleven year old I sent away for my first copy of Herodotus because I thought a book about the Persian Wars would exciting. The material about the sexual customs of the Babylonians proved to be even more so and almost (but not quite) as educational as the photograph of the Australian aborigine lady in the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Landmark Herodotus features a great many maps, which would actually be more of a help to folks who aren’t as familiar with the geography than they were to me.)

L.B. Bury, A History of Greece (My first Herodotus was a Modern Library editions. So was this copy of Bury. The first edition of Bury was published in 115 years ago, at a time when it was still perfectly possible for an Englishman of the high empire to think of himself as the heir of the Greeks. As a kid, I certainly bought into notion that as an American I somehow had a genealogical affiliation with people from the southern Balkans who lived 2500 years ago. At least Bury was in the same hemisphere.)

Nicolas Gremal, A History of Ancient Egypt (I like to read scholarly books even when they aren’t particularly pathbreaking, deep, or well written. In fact, dull but authoritative works are useful if you just want information and can supply your own motivation. You aren’t distracted by the talent or personality of the author.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

When All Else Fails, Scream

Isis distinguished itself from Al Qaeda by its insistence on the need to control territory and its contempt for merely theatrical terrorism. The outfit proposed to build Sharia law in one country by creating and defending an actual Caliphate, however small. Al Baghdadi wanted to be a Lenin, not a Bakunin like Bin Laden. That dream is fading now. It isn’t just the effects of constant bombing or this or that tactical reversal or the death of particular leaders. Larger factors are at work. Whoever is calling the shots may have hoped for a Syrian version of the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg, a falling out among the enemies of movement, but the Russians aren’t going to go home and it appears that Kerry has come to an accommodation with them on the fate of Assad. Meanwhile, the Kurds have made it much harder for new recruits to enter Isis controlled space; and now they’ve cut the road to Mosul. Perhaps worst of all, Obama didn’t let the war become an American affair; and partly as a result, it’s everybody’s affair. No matter how much fanaticism you can muster, you won’t be able to defeat the world. The world will defeat you. The recent spasms of terrorism are evidence of the weakness of the movement, not its resilience. The Isis leadership knows that. The handwriting on the wall, after, was originally a Mesopotamian thing. What’s peculiar and potentially dangerous is that so many Americans continue to overestimate Isis, especially politicians exploiting the fears of the public.

When the Nazis began the Blitz against London in 1940, British leaders realized that the Germans had given up on winning air control by defeating the RAF and therefore given up on invading Britain. Resorting to a terror campaign was an acknowledgment of strategic failure. Now every conservative I’ve ever met, at least all the male ones, know the history of World War II in mind-numbing detail. They can and do debate fine points of tactics down to the platoon level and identify every tank, gun, and plain on all sides. So why don’t these same people recognize the recent Isis attacks in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria for what they were, evidence of military despair? From a rational point of view, blowing up Russian airplanes and shooting up French music halls makes even less sense than a doomed campaign of bombing. In fact it’s even more counterproductive than what the Germans did in ‘40, more like what happened in ’44 when the collapsing Reich wasted resources on revenge weapons like the V2 whose only effect was to reinforce the allied determination to insist on unconditional surrender. Mobilizing the Egyptians, the Russians, the French, and probably all of NATO against you when you’re already taking a beating from the Americans and Kurds isn’t a strategy. It’s the geopolitical equivalent of suicide by cop. So I repeat. Why do the great right-wing military philosophers not understand what’s going on? Apparently the prospect that Obama will succeed in the Middle East is as intolerable as good economic news or the Ace’s failure to fail is at home. Or maybe they simply suffer from fragile nerves.

Description of the World - Part 3

Laurence Peter, Peter’s Quotations (If I remember correctly, this was a stocking stuffer given me in Christmas 1977 by my nephew Peter. Opening it at random, I encounter a quote from Eisenhower: “An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.” Another example of the dangers of playing the Take and Read game described by Augustine in the Confessions. Augustine hit on a passage of scripture beginning “not in chambering and wantonness…” and subsequently became a saint. I do not believe that will happen in my case.)

Charles Mackinnon, The Observer’s Book of Heraldry (Apparently I got tired of wondering what color giles is.)

Dr. L. Wieger, S.J., Chinese Characters: Their origin, etymology, history, classification, and signification (I couldn’t figure out any better way of understanding how Chinese characters work than to learn a few. This is a book I’ve pulled down and poured over many, many times. One of the things I poured over it was coffee. The book is definitely battle scarred, but it’s a Dover book and they can take a lot of abuse.)

James D. McCawley, The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters (I live in San Francisco on a block with two Chinese restaurants and within a couple of blocks of perhaps another half dozen. I learned a bit about how to read the menus in self defense. Of course most of the menus are all English, but some of ‘em aren’t and I have the recurrent  suspicion that the Chinese version of some of the items actually reads “Countryman, do not order this!”)

Kevin Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I (OK, it seems eccentric, even to me, that I actually read 950 pages on this burning topic. Thing is, though, the book isn’t dull. The particulars of history are often a great deal more illuminating than the generalities, especially if they are well narrated and explained by a competent historian. But there’s something more specific that turned out to be interesting about this passage of history. Charles got fed up with Parliament very early in his reign and dispensed with it with fair success for many years, though it took a lot of doing to finance the government without the ability to levy new taxes. The question is not why his maneuvers failed but why they succeeded for so long. What happened that eventually made it necessary for Charles to call for a new Parliament with disastrous consequences? Sharpe points to various blunders made by the King and his men, but as near as I can tell, the same crew was as incompetent at the beginning as at the end of the personal rule. I think what did change was the climate; Europe became significantly colder and stormier as the 17th Century wore on. Historians are generally reluctant to ascribe changes to environmental causes, ergo the epidemic of mistakes. I expect that the effects of global warming will produce a similar apparent increase in elite stupidity.)

U.S.Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters (Like many other readers, I’m impressed with Grant’s style, which is eloquent because it is so plain.)

W.T. Sherman, Memoirs (This is the second book in a two-volume set with Grant’s Memoirs. I wrote in the margin of page 183 “that Gen Sherman founded LSU is not the least amazing fact I have encountered in history.” I did some business at LSU years ago. As I recall, Sherman’s role in the the school’s history was kept pretty quiet. Well, as the song goes “College boys from LSU. Go in dumb, come out dumb.” In his prewar military career Sherman was assigned to duty at the Presidio in San Francisco. His ship foundered off the Golden Gate a few miles from where I’m sitting right now. He eventually got ashore, of course, and arrived in the city on a rowboat from Marin.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

 Description of the World - Part 2

Russian Word Collocations (Showed up at garage sale, I think. I probably picked it up because I had a similar book for Latin. Collocations are lists of how native speakers say particular things—business letter, affairs of state, etc. You can’t just assume that you can combine words following your own commonsense because commonsense is not the same everywhere. Which reminds me of the time I convinced somebody that the German expression for bra was literally tit holster.)

Diane Wolff, An Easy Guide to Everyday Chinese (Alas, it wasn’t.)

Tony Augarde, The Oxford Guide to Word Games (A later day Menocchio, I operate with the blue cheese model of the world. We’ve got a drastically distorted view of the true volume of things because we are like cheese mites who preferentially dwell in the veins of the cheese and little fathom the vast expanses between the veins. Word games and other arbitrary combinatoric exercises don’t get you far into the matrix of the cheese, but they help a bit, especially if, like me, you’re especially interested in the regions between Borges Universal Library and the Ten Known Undergraduate Ideas, i.e., the miniature immensities adjacent to our little phone booth of a mind.  (Unfortunately that particular Tardis is smaller on the inside.))

Carlo Graziano, Italian Verbs and Essentials of Grammar (Continuing the thought from the previous parenthesis: it’s either devastating or exhilarating to realize that you not only aren’t going to learn Italian but that Italian isn’t even the language that most of the Italians have been speaking over the last thousand years.)

Donald J. Mastronardem, Introduction to Attic Greek (Not another one of my many exercises in futility. I actually used this this handy reference to brush on my Greek, which, like my Latin, is just good enough to come in handy if only to manage the footnotes in scholarly books.)

John Nist, A Structural History of English (As soon as you finish reading a book, indeed while you are reading it, you begin to forget it. What I remember of this book, like so many others, is simply that I found it illuminating at the time. Leafing through it, I had the crazy impulse to start reading it again.)

William Dwight Whitney, Sanskrit Grammar (This was the standard Sanskrit grammar for some time and I acquired it simply because I like classics, even classics I can’t very well use, though I did learn a little Sanskrit thirty years ago or so from a modern textbook on Vedic Sanskrit. My copy of Whitney—as it is often called—is the fifteenth issue (1981) of the second edition (1889). The book is a residue of the heroic or at least dogged efforts of Nineteenth Century scholars to figure out the world. I like to memorialize these forgotten achievements, which were accomplished long before word processors, let alone the Internet.)

Sir Ronald Syme, Tacitus, two volumes (I read works written by people with penetrating minds even if I don’t give a damn about the subject of their investigations. In this case, though, I also have a particular interest in Tacitus over and beyond my abiding respect for Syme. When I was seventeen or so I wrote a blank verse tragedy based on an episode from Tacitus. I think it was called the Death of Nero or some such. If there really is a God, the play doesn’t survive in some old suitcase. Tacitus seems particular relevant now because his writings address a problem common to many of us today: how to act decently in an imperium. He was, famously, nostalgic for the Republic, but he was well aware that it was gone for good and deserved to be gone. The empire was as inevitable—and regrettable—for the emperors as it was for the senators. There’s a sort of civic Stoicism that recurs, not because people read old books, but as a function of circumstances. The old books get reread because its time for them again. Tacitus was widely read and discussed in the late 16th Century, and he seems back in focus now. If democracy really is finished, members of the elite need to figure out how to be decent oligarchs and imperial functionaries in the neoliberal order.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Description of the World - Part 1

Sitting in an aging Lazy-boy, I gaze across the room at two tall bookcases. The case on the left, one of about twenty in the apartment, mostly houses history books. Like the others, the case is made of unfinished pine. It has five shelves, but there are also books on the top and a few videotapes that I should probably discard now that I have no means of playing the old format and the same movies are available on Netflicks.

The three videotapes: La Cage Aux Folles (the good one, not the English-language remake), Jean de Florette (a movie I greatly admire. It was a significant disappointment my sister found it merely depressing. When I wonder, as many people do these days, why Gerard Depardieu got so many roles, I remember his performance in this film.), Forbidden Planet (The matte painted backgrounds of the vast underground machine beneath the surface of the planet are the obvious inspiration for the scene in Star Wars where Obi Wan turns off the force field. The Forbidden Planet remains entirely watchable to this day, though it is hard not to think of Lieutenant Drebin when Leslie Nelsen is on the screen. I guess this sort of thing works backwards as well as forwards: Walter Pidgeon’s Dr. Morbius has a retroactive effect on Prospero, the exiled Duke and magus of the Tempest.)

Volume Two of Ferdinand Braudel’s Identity of France.  That the book’s here and not on the bottom shelf with Volume One and all the other Braudel works is the first of a great many tributes my style of life pays to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Philip Goldberg, The Babinski Reflex and 70 other useful and amusing metaphors… (Must have seemed like a good idea at the time.I collect encyclopedias, which then, like me, collect dust.)

B.O. Unbegaun, Russian Grammar. (I like to skim through grammars of languages I’ll never learn and never had any intention of learning in order to get a sense of the range of structures in actual languages. Since my life has been a long reconnaissance of the universe and whatever else I encounter, I’ve had a lot of experience of reading books I can’t understand. Whether the overall operation has any value is an open question. I tend to doubt it myself, but this description is undertaken in part to investigate the issue.)

The World’s Major Languages (ed. Bernard Comrie) (One of my favorite books, actually. It provides descriptions of 50 languages, each written by a different expert but all in a uniform format. If nothing else, reading the entries teaches you what linguists have to understand. It’s like visiting the State of California’s collection of terrestrial arthropods in Sacramento which used to be curated by a dear friend of mine. You may not be particularly interested in the taxonomy of the opiliones and you certainly aren’t going to recall the Turkish consonants displayed in Table 30.2 but you have to admire the devotion of people who figured out how to pin a daddy long legs to a board without the legs falling off and the effort it took countless scholars to figure out the phonology of so many languages.)

Geoffrey Pullum and William Ladusaw, Phonetic Symbol Guide (One of my lasting regrets is my inability to master phonology. On several occasions, I tried and failed to memorize the International Phonetic Association (IPA) symbols for all the sounds found in human languages. This little book is a relic from one such attempt. In principle know the difference between a fricative and a palatal, but I have a permanent problem with the sounds of words. Like many bookish people, I’ve learned many words by sight that I’ve never heard pronounced. I’ve never been able to go from the phonetic spellings in the OED to how the actual word is supposed to sound.)

L.R.Palmer, The Latin Language (I got this book, which has a considerable reputation, because I was curious about the relationship of Latin with the other Italian languages of deep antiquity. Taking it down from the shelf, I found myself reading past where I had left the bookmark. It occurred to me that I might find the author’s discussion of  literary Latin illuminating because of its parallel with Hebrew poetics, which I’ve studied at more depth. For the record, though I’m hardly good at it, I do know some Latin.)