Rant #2: On buying too many books and not reading them.

I have always thought that being a bookworm was the coolest thing. I always fancied well-read people as the most intelligent and interesting of all. I admire deeply those people who read more than a hundred books per year (do they ever sleep though?) and I always grow some irrational respect for somebody that name-drops a fancy obscure literary reference in the middle of a conversation. (I should not, these are horrible people)

Logically so, I strove hard to reach that bookworm status. Like those lost souls who buy glasses without correction in order to look like naughty scholars, I started to buy books rather compulsively when I started college and felt a growing satisfaction at the sight of these elegant hard copies of Proust, Brontës, Kerouac, Wilde or Cervantes progressively filling my shelves.

Prior to each purchase, I would project myself deep in love with my new book that I would – according to me – instantly devour. I could picture myself reading nonchalantly in the subway, on a park bench or nearby a fireplace wearing a robe with my initials embroidered (and smoking a pipe). In all those scenes I looked both naturally gorgeous and supremely intelligent. The reality of course was slightly different.

As a languages and literature undergrad student, I had assigned readings that were not as glamorous as my purchases, but they were my priority. However, as one knows from experience, the more pressing the priority, the more intense the urge to procrastinate.

This resulted in the creation of a reading list, or more concretely, of a reading pile on my night stand. At first it was a cute little pile of four or five books but then, as the years passed, it completely blew out of proportions. The pile became a full IKEA bookshelf from which I had barely read a third of the books. Even being abroad and fully aware of the incongruency of this binge buying, I still have about fifteen books on my shelf.

There are certain pleasant aesthetics that come with that ideal of being an avid reader. How many people (included myself) feel the urge to post well elaborated Instagram pictures of their reading (whether they are actually reading or not) ? We all know somebody who pretends he completely understands Joyce’s Ulysses and who lets you know it with a Nashville filter. We also all have that Facebook contact that constantly publishes quotes from authors they probably never read.

I don’t blame these people (I might just judge them very silently) as I am in no way better than them with my constant buying. But I took the resolution not to continue in that direction by actually reading in a more rigorous and constant manner. Because as pretty as an IKEA shelf filled with books might look, having no answer when a friend asks you how you liked Swan’s Way – that book that has been hanging out at your place for 7 years now – feels pretty ugly.

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Rant #1: On language evolution

A few days ago, a polemic set the French internet ablaze. It wasn’t about the refugee crisis, nor was it about the drastic security measures that the government has implemented since the terrorist attacks of the 13th of November 2015.

The argument focused on a reform on French language that would see to the introduction of new options of spellings for 2400 French words. The unrest was embodied by the hashtag #JeSuisCirconflexe, an ironic wink to the worldwide famous #JeSuisCharlie.

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This reform actually dates back from 1990 and stems from the Superior Council of the French Language. It was approved back then by the Académie française, a higher instance that has initiated and/or officialized the diverse evolutions of French language since its creation in 1635. The reform has been the center of the gossip these days because a textbook publishing house (Editions Belin) has decided to implement it.

Yes. 26 years later.

Broadly speaking, this text allows school textbooks to use two different spellings for 2400 words: the current spelling and a new one that is the result of an orthographic simplification coherent with the present times and uses of written French language.

Among those simplifications, the suppression of the use of the circumflex accent (^) when it does not affect semantics or pronunciation of words has been permitted. It is the case for most of the circumflex accents on the letters “u” and “i”.

Therefore, words like “entraîner” (= to train) can be written “entrainer” from now on. On the contrary, the circumflex accent on the word “mûr” (= ripe) won’t drop dead because it differentiates its meaning from the word “mur” (= wall).

However, it seems that a substantial part of the French Twitter community mistakenly understood that the reform was the death arrest of the circumflex accent and that it was bound to disappear forever. This misunderstanding gave birth to the aforementioned hashtag and to some salty statements from the social media users, whether they were civilians or politicians.

One of the most reoccuring arguments was that this was the beginning of the decline of holy French language; that by allowing such rectifications, we were giving in our precious language to the lack of culture of the plebeians. A lot of Twitter users blamed the government (who has no part in this whatsoever) for blowing a last stroke to our formerly glorious, radiant and garlicky country.

I can relate to the nostalgia that some people feel towards written language; there is something about conquering the absurdly illogical spelling rules of French. When the reform offers to write the word “oignon” (=onion) as “ognon“, there is a feeling close to  having made the learning effort in vain, not to mention that it is aesthetically jarring to see a very common word suddenly change its spelling.

But as a language learner, I have the strong conviction that languages are living entities meant to constantly evolve. History has proven it; from the mere origins of French language, which comes from a lower form of Latin spoken by the people, as opposed to classic Latin, used by the authority.

Even though the term “vulgarization” is often used in a derogatory fashion, I believe its core meaning to be profoundly positive: making knowledge – in this case, the command of the idiom – accessible to all.

Clinging to an eternally fixed version of French language is at most classist, if not absolutely absurd from a historical stance.

 

 

 

Reflection on the New York Times article “Snow Fall”

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I am absolutely not acquainted with what it is like to live in a winter wonderland. I did not choose to live here in the Lake Tahoe area, as I was randomly sent here by the Fulbright programme in order to teach French.

I appreciate the scenic landscapes for sure, this region is absolutely gorgeous, and I am marvelled at every new car ride or walk around the lake. However, I have never felt one single pang of attraction for winter sports and mountain lifestyle in general. I could totally survive this year without buying a skiing or snowboarding pass, even though I am well aware it might be considered a local crime.

Therefore, reading the “Snowfall – Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” New York Times story resulted to be a little bit of a drag for me. Despite the indisputable virtuosity of its visuals, and the brilliant intertwining of different multimedia platforms, I am afraid it still was not enough to grab my attention.

Although the topic did not interest me in the very least, I can at least attest that I learned a couple of things about avalanches. I mostly learned through interactive diagrams. I am thinking specifically about the second part of the article that mentions hoar frost. The explanation in the text did not ring any bell until I could visualize it.

The presentation and transitions between the texts, videos and slideshows are very fluid and aesthetically pleasant. The videos provide condensed information for those who do not necessarily want to go through the long reading, which is a nice alternative.
I thought that most of the slideshows about the people involved in the avalanche were quite useless, if not confusing. Seeing pictures of their childhoods got me thinking at first that there were all eulogies.

Overall, I cannot deny that this piece of work has been masterfully crafted, multimedia-wise. If the topic did not enthral me, I would be glad to read, listen and watch more stories built in the same way about other things.