Working with Penguin Random House

A while back, I hinted at some good news that I had to share, and now that it has all been confirmed and no jinxes can put a stop to it, I can finally, and with certainty, reveal said news.

The wonderful folks at the Chinese arm of International publisher, Penguin Random House – you may have heard of them – recently reached out to me, concerning my review for Proust’s Days of Reading. Having first expressed an interest, they have since acquired the non-exclusive rights to the review, which I have been reworking into an introduction for the Chinese language version (translated by somebody else) of this entry into Penguin Great Ideas series.

It feels really good to be getting paid for something I love doing and with possible future jobs being hinted at it, there has been much raising of confidence and spirits (as its rainy season in Ph and we are experiencing our sixth straight day of almost constant rain).  I have been working on this blog for years, and working is the right term as well, although it started out as just a hobby to simply chat with bookish folk around the world, it has become so much more than that.  Partly, it is through my own drive to pick up more challenging books, to attempt to read into obscurer subjects, and widen my reading circle.  More than that though, it is because of the standard of writers whom I come across daily and not only provide thought-provoking interaction but also source of inspiration as well as a standard with which to measure myself and keep me on my toes.  This allows me to constantly add to my writing style with new techniques and perspectives, so thank you!  My next iced Americano will emphatically be raised to you!

Word To Your Mother (tongue)

Sumerian inscriptions circa 26th century BC


The Language history of the world shows more of the true impacts of past movements and changes of peoples, beyond the heraldic claims of their largely self-appointed leaders.  They reveal a subtle interweave of cultural relations with power politics and economic expediency.

There’s a short glimpse into the book I am currently reading, Empires of the Word:  A Language History of the World, and as you are no doubt wondering, yes it is absolutely fascinating. Thanks to language and the written word we have civilisation, cheap copies of the greatest and most defining texts that have been produced through the human experience and the combined weight of a shared history.  Sadly we also got The Da Vinci Code but it’s a small price to pay.

Now here’s a great bit of music (with lyrics, thereby making it relevant to this post) and a brilliant video to boot.  Also a new episode of Twin Peaks tonight and apologies for the obscure Vanilla Ice lyric title.


Found in Translation – Part 2

I started reading Émile Zola’s Germinal at the beginning of last week – somewhat coincidentally to the timing of these posts – which I am thoroughly enjoying, although if reading about the tough struggles of a mining village in 1860’s France can indeed be called enjoyable, is perhaps a debate left for another post.  I originally picked Germinal up in the local library which these days is the closest thing we have resembling a Tower of Babel, although I doubt there were no screaming kids on that building site ruining my reading whilst parents indulgently look on…but I have digressed already despite my intentions so apologies in advance for the muddled mass of musing hereon in.

The Tower of Babel painted marten Van Valckenborch 1534-1612

With the advent of printing presses then translations due to public thirst, through to the joys of bookshops adorning all decent streets, the book market has grown to massive proportions.   The huge plethora of tomes these days makes amassing a huge personal library something really easy and cheap to do as well as a source of pride and a hobby all itself.  Back in the day 20 books would have been regarded as a library but as universities taught reading and the power of the church waned, everybody could get involved and create as they wished, I wonder how many of you authors out there have considered getting your work translated?  Just a thought…

Technology keeps becoming ever more impressive and has helped us no end with opening beer bottles easier and negotiating those tricky TV channels but can it be programmed to know the nuances of language and to understand colloquial interpretations?  These things are pretty impenetrable for us reasoning beings quite a lot of the time but for a mere computer…at least we have the consolation of knowing that when the machines take over all our jobs and probably the world, we will still have that and plenty of strange customs steeped in the deepest tradition, that defy belief yet must be elucidated upon for us to understand them in our own social terms. Continue reading “Found in Translation – Part 2”

Found in Translation – Part 1

Recently I stumbled upon an English to Pirate Translator which briefly amused me, then somewhat predictably had me wasting my time searching for other novelty translation sites like the Yoda Speak Generator and so forth.It wasn’t a completely wasted half hour though, as it got me thinking about the art of translation and how the new cloud based translating systems like Smartling – for example – are helping businesses get the word out into new territories.

Found at

The joys of globalisation indeed!  But now imagine if you will, a world where books remained in the country or language group that they were written in and were not translated or spoken about to outsiders.  Translators would not be needed or at best extremely marginalised and there would be only basic contact between groups of people.  The result would be an insular reading world without the cultural references of other places, books or eras, where new thoughts were sparse and the richness of the world with its strange traditions from far off would be virtually unknown

You could argue that there would be good and bad to such a world. Plato’s works wouldn’t have influenced the West, there would be no world religions, new ideas and technological breakthroughs would take a lot longer to occur, Tolkien wouldn’t have written The Lord of the Rings and we wouldn’t have the wholly underwhelming Hobbit films, there would have been no Renaissance and the stories of Herodotus would never have fascinated countless readers the world over.  I could go on but you get the point. Continue reading “Found in Translation – Part 1”

Creative Theory, Radical Example – Justice Koolhaas

CreativeTheorySmashwordsThis book offers dizzying and breakneck theories on subjects including digital identity, transhumanism, and blue-chip art celebrities. The introductions outline Koolhaas’s regrounding methodology, poetics, call for Theory Celebrities, and politics of infolution, along with comprehensive interpretations that allow students to choose material without feeling pressured to grasp everything at once.

The book is comprised of two introductions by the translator, six essays, and excerpts from an unfinished novel. The first introduction outlines Koolhaas’s technological foci, her regrounding methodology and poetics, the need for Theory Celebrities, a politics of infolution, her architecture for university reform, and the intransigent refusenikism that arguably contributed to her obscurity. The second introduction is a chapter-by-chapter commentary that guides the student through Koolhaas’s essays and literature:

‘Cybernetics: Nietzsche and Heidegger’
‘Studying Media: Baudrillard and Science Fiction’
‘Literature: Deleuze & Guattari, Kafka, and Joyce’
‘What’s So Wrong About Rant?’
‘Žižek and the Sex Between Emin and Hirst’
‘Methodological Considerations’
‘Nouveau Roman Excerpts: Caliphornia’
The Textual Connexivities chapter lists the works cited.

C. M. Cohen’s comprehensive interpretations mean that the uninitiated Koolhaas student can pick and mix material from this book to suit their purposes without feeling pressured to grasp everything at once.

Every so often, I trawl the internet looking to learn new things at no cost to my malnourished wallet.  Each year I wait in anticipation for what I term ‘student season’, where books are published for free on topics mostly unfamiliar to me and sound really impenetrable.  Why? you may ask, well as a reader I like to be challenged, to spend time reading around a subject and feeling like I have actually understood something new and in-depth by the end of it.
I wouldn’t have picked up this book were it not for the non existent fee, as it isn’t usually something I’d feel comfortable with jumping into at such an advanced level but it does raise an interesting point about the university system and modern day technology.  With search engines taking out all of the effort and time out of finding texts, is it all becoming to easy for students?

Continue reading “Creative Theory, Radical Example – Justice Koolhaas”

WordPlay – Dr Glenn A. Bassett

WordplayWordPlay lays out the functions of language as the foundation of what is loosely called mind. Studies of language in primitive cultures by anthropological linguists demonstrate the existence of a basic set of words called semantic primes in every cultural setting. Language is extended and elaborated on the foundation of semantic primes to construct a mental map of the perceived phenomenal world. Once in place, a rich culture of language is passed on from each generation to the next by example. Words ultimately become so ubiquitous and necessary that they take on a reality all their own. Mental maps become more real than the reality of direct experience. Establishment of a critical capacity for knowing truth demands a study of psycholinguistics. The fund of social psychological research made available through research over the past century offers a window on the way words are used to captivate, illuminate, intimidate, inform and imbue us with intelligence. WordPlay is a compilation of the most salient research that pertains to language use. It is a layman’s introduction to psycholinguistics. The emphasis is on how words shape behavior and become the substance of the mind. This is knowledge of those habits of mind that can interfere with straight, clear thinking. It is antidote to functional social ignorance of our rich language culture.

The nuances of one’s own language are a fascinating thing but to compare the meaning of certain words to those of other languages and view them through the social and political landscape makes the way we communicate even more compelling.  Language is shared collective experience of history, a record of societal beliefs, take the Aborigines for example, they have no word for freedom because they have no concept of it in the way that plenty of other cultures do, it brings to the fore how understanding a culture properly goes hand in hand with learning the language.

As the bloggers that most of you reading this are, when we write things we perhaps do so from the perspective of our own language, this book is a wake up call for choosing our words with more care for clarity.  To consider others who have English as a second or third language, it makes the choice of words and the way we communicate seem more important, it feels almost like there is an art  for picking the precise words to convey my thoughts. Continue reading “WordPlay – Dr Glenn A. Bassett”

Mail High Club

There is something exciting about being greeted in the morning by a package, an international package no less.  Naturally I had to go share this with other people but with everybody being at work and having a day off myself I did the next best thing.  Wandering into town, found a public place, sat down, cleared my throat dramatically and a little too loudly and made sure my index finger was pointed at the word priority.

The PackageAssured of absolutely nobody paying attention, it was with gusto that I ripped the envelope open like some sort of animal, a book loving wolf possibly.  My prize was an exciting new book (courtesy of the folks at New Shelves Distribution), that I am looking forward to getting my teeth into.

Word PlayFinally, this year the feeling of focus is coming together and from now on the blog posts will start to become more frequent, as will the visits which have been wholly lacking in your general direction so far.  As it stands there are six books to review on the pile and plenty mo e on the shelves that I should reacquaint myself with from my reading past.  The blogging year definitely starts here…

On Literature – Umberto Eco

OLEcoIn this collection of essays and addresses delivered over the course of his illustrious career, Umberto Eco seeks “to understand the chemistry of [his] passion” for the word. From musings on Ptolemy and “the force of the false” to reflections on the experimental writing of Borges and Joyce, Eco’s luminous intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge are on dazzling display throughout. And when he reveals his own ambitions and superstitions, his authorial anxieties and fears, one feels like a secret sharer in the garden of literature to which he so often alludes.

Remarkably accessible and unfailingly stimulating, this collection exhibits the diversity of interests and the depth of knowledge that have made Eco one of the world’s leading writers.

This collection of words has possibly the most offensive cover I have ever seen, purely because I am loath to ever break the spines of my treasured possessions.  After much deliberation, It is difficult to find much else to fault with this particular paperback.

This is a gathering together of essays by semiotician Umberto Eco, a man of eloquence who always manages to make me feel woefully under read.  Eco uses semiotics to decipher and open up the mind, to inform and make connections, the sheer volume of authors and books quoted is genuinely impressive and makes for a weighty read but one that is satisfying and will definitely change the extent of how you view your literature and history.

The author’s eloquence on a number of topics is in evidence as he delves into the minutiae of the written word, from philosophies, technique and propaganda to mention but a few of he subjects covered. There is in evidence of an intricate flow of thought, language and complex patterns, continually unfurling and changing through history.  Eco explores abstract concepts and brings to light other authors to help us decipher a rich tapestry of concept and imagery that is constantly evolving around us. Continue reading “On Literature – Umberto Eco”

Linguistic Lovin’

After yesterday’s fiddling with the computer, it turns out that it was in fact, my own fault for the disappearing like button and nothing to do with WP.   As far as silver linings go though, my technological ineptness was a good thing, as it meant I found myself mooching all over the internet in an effort to better myself and add interesting things to my CV.  By that process, I came across the language site Duolingo.

duolingoOf course the word free was the big seller and taking a minute to sign up, I found a community of people that encourage learning whilst helping each other to understand those (at first) incomprehensible rules of new languages.   There are a number of courses from the obvious staples of Spanish, German etc, to others which will provide a new and interesting challenge such including Swedish, Hungarian and Danish.

Being a realist, I don’t expect to learn a language solely with this site, it gives out the basics to intermediate level which according to the Common European framework of Reference and Language means that I will eventually:

…understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Continue reading “Linguistic Lovin’”