What I am reading: The 100 book challenge


Decameron 15th C. Author unknown.

Right now, I am technically reading three books, although some more actively than others. Two of the books I am reading are part of my own 100 book challenge: The Decameron (Boccaccio) and the Devil to Pay in the Backlands (Rosa).

About two years ago, I started a challenge for myself to read (most) of the guardian’s 100 books of all time. I picked this list over others, because I liked the fact that it was collected by recommendations from 100 authors in 54 different countries. Because of that, there is a wide diversity of materials, and it is not just limited to English books. The upside of the list is that I have already read a lot of them; the downside is that some of them are pretty dense. I have opted not to read the short story and essay collections (although I did opt for a few, like the Decameron).

Unexpectedly, one of the difficulties I have run into is finding the books in English, preferably in digital format. Sometimes this has lead to wonderful discoveries, like Naguib Mahfouz. I couldn’t find his book in digital format, so I read another book by him instead. I loved it so much (Morning & Evening Talk) that I ended up reading several other pieces of his like his fabulously interesting Cairo Trilogy. Other times it has been very frustrating. I had a really hard time finding the Devil to Pay in the Backlands since apparently the books are very rare in English. The last translation was published in the 60’s and a used hard copy starts at $250 on Amazon. Luckily, through some sleuthing, I was able to find a pdf on scribd.

So this is where I am at, obviously in the “D” section with Decameron and The Devil to Pay. I don’t expect to be finishing either anytime soon, since I have been working on both for a while (and I am reading other books too….), but I have been enjoying both of them so far.

Why Words Matter



Page from Book of Kells (public domain) c. 800 CE

“Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words. get words all day through/ First from him, now from you/ Is that all you blighters can do?” – Lerner and Loewe, My Fair Lady.

This is just a very small musing. Of course, the topic of words mattering is much larger, and one I hope to touch on again and again.

As kids we are taught that sticks and stones can break people’s bones, but words may never hurt us. As someone who has studied social linguistics, I realize the sentiment, but the reality is that words are powerful. Words help us shape our realities and organize our world cognitively; They help us explain the world to ourselves and to explain it to others.

Sometimes, as a type of thought project, I try to imagine how we would understand the world, if we had no words to describe it. Clearly, it must be possible, but trying to think about feelings, senses, memories, and ideas without the words to shape them seems impossible. I always imagine a world without words must be very immediate, confusing, and lonely. A world without words would also limit interaction between people. We might appreciate a rainbow, but we would have little way to communicate it. Of course, words are not the only form of communication, but for most humans verbal or visual signs are the building blocks of our languages.

Without words we would have no history, oral or written. We would be stuck in the present, unable to share our past. Without a past, without sharing, without words, we wouldn’t be human.