Reading

Anatine, salubrious, tatterdemalion

These are three words I encountered during a morning’s reading that I had to stop and look up. The first was in a New Yorker story about the study of taxidermied birds, and the second two were in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Gothic tale Ollala.

The first word was not in the dictionary, not the Webster’s I keep at arm’s length on my desks at work and at home and not in the digital version, either. I don’t trust online dictionaries or whatever source Google is consulting when it gives you definitions. The best I could do with anatine was to see the first part, “anat-”, which the dictionary defines as relating to anatomy, and combine it with the latter part “-tine” which means like or of. In the same way that serpentine means snake-like, anatine, used to refer to a bank of dead birds or perhaps their glass container, means anatomy-like. Or maybe it meant something like a vitrine, which is a glass display case, itself a word that means “glass like thing.” Seems like the author of this piece just made anatine up. I wonder what The New Yorker copy department made of it.

The other two words fell into that rather large category of words that I know about but need to look up just to be sure. The slower my eyes scan the page or my fingers hit the keys as I write, the more I find myself reaching for the dictionary.

Words are mnemonic devices to remember thoughts, as arbitrary as a color, a movement of the body, or shape assigned to do the same thing. The more words we know, the more thoughts we are capable of having.

That dictionary at elbow’s length is a catalogue of news ways of being.

Any words you’ve learned recently? Or relearned?

From the Commonplace Book: Dickens on Whimsy and National Security

Well, not quite national security, but national strength anway.

It is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales be respected. A nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun.

-Charles Dickens, from Frauds on the Fairies

The wage premium for liberal arts grads, the continuing technological edge that the U.S. still enjoys over China (despite our comparative lack of investment in research), the inventiveness of our defense programs, and the appeal of our pop culture abroad are all built on our imagination, not our efficiency.

Hat tip to The Week, November 16, 2018 for pointing out the quote.

From the Commonplace Book: C. S. Lewis on His Idea of Fun

As I get more comfortable in my early middle age–I will be 40 in 2019–I am more honest about the pleasures that suit me. I feel less obligation to conform to what other people think of as fun, like loud music, loud movies, television, dancing, heavy foods, or artificially altered states of mind. If my deepest pleasures resemble those of an old lady or a frumpy British writer of the last century, I don’t care. Like a long soak in a hot bath, another activity which I no longer blush to devote whole afternoons to, giving into the sensation is a deep relief.

This quote pretty much sums up my ideal Saturday and Sunday. And I fully intend to follow through on it, as much as my work and social obligations will allow.

Have a great weekend everybody. I hope you do what pleases you.

Media Diet: The Hedgehog Review

This is what happens when you go on Arts & Letters Daily after midnight. You end up buying a year’s print subscription to the Hedgehog Review and some back issues, all because you read a great blog post there about the scarcity of time in the age of instant gratification.

I’m most looking forward to reading the issue about The End of History. Liberal democracies and the view of ourselves as the independent, free people that democracy depends on are under assault. The combined forces of technology, resource scarcity, terrorism, and the apparent strength of China’s model (free economy, unfree politics) are all seen as existential threats to the liberal order. The Economist, which was around at the birth of the liberal order, is taking a hard look at this problem. But so is Francis Fukuyama, whose book on The End of History helped spark this whole resurgence of the debate. His new book, Identity, on the rise of Trump, is also on my infinite to-read list.

Which brings me to another reason I subscribed to The Hedgehog Review. I’m also looking forward to another source of book reviews.

I’m acutely aware, every day, that I won’t get to read everything I want to before I die. So great, crisp reviews like the ones in these pages are a way of at least getting a cursory tour of all that knowledge.

See anything in the article titles that strikes your fancy?