Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Last week's good readings

So you want to learn Japanese - read it for yourself!

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I've always preferred the Library of Congress classification system to the Dewey Decimal System. I don't know why, since DDS is what I grew up with. But here's a good reason not to like the DDS: Western bias.

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An amusing essay by Arthur Phillips about how he overcame "Hemingway's tyrannical proverb... [w]rite what you know" to write The Egyptologist. With the help of the British Museum, of course. Followed by two interviews with him, one about The Egyptologist and the other about Prague, his earlier first novel, which I really should get around to reading. That I should, in fact, have read while I was in Budapest. But no matter. I particularly like this line of his:

"My 'ultimate destinations' tend to be a little more difficult to explain to a travel agent. Prague in 1913. Budapest in 1931. Rome in 1964."

I feel pretty much the same: there are just these magical intersections of ages and places in my memory's reckoning that I wish I could visit but never can. Because, of course, "the past is another country", and one that's very, very difficult to visit.

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"The Age of the Essay", by Paul Graham. There's some really interesting stuff in this essay, about why writing skills are always taught in English literature classes in high schools, about what it really means to write an essay (essai, of course, is the French word for attempt), how to write a good essay (follow the example of the Meander river in Turkey - though probably not in the way you think), etc. A couple of good bits from his essay:

To some extent it's like learning history. When you first read history, it's just a whirl of names and dates. Nothing seems to stick. But the more you learn, the more hooks you have for new facts to stick onto-- which means you accumulate knowledge at what's colloquially called an exponential rate.

History seems to me so important that it's misleading to treat it as a mere field of study. Another way to describe it is all the data we have so far.

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French police stumbled upon an underground cinema and bar among the 170 miles of tunnels, caves, galleries and catacombs - which were formerly quarries. Patrick Alt, a "cataphile" who has published a book on urban underground exploration, said there were "a dozen more where that one came from".

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