First Line Friday, currently reading…

First Line Friday is a meme created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look around, grab your nearest book and post its first line in the comments there and in your blog.


I am currently reading:

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2)
by Arkady Martine

Finally, the sequel to Memory Called Empire

TO think—not language. To not think language. To think, we, and not have a tongue-sound or cry for its crystalline depths. To have discarded tongue-sounds where they are unsuitable.

first lines, Prelude

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)
by James S.A. Corey

My ongoing Expanse re-read, before the last book of the series, Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9),  comes out in October — fingers crossed!

A thousand worlds, Bobbie thought as the tube doors closed. And not just a thousand worlds. A thousand systems. Suns. Gas giants. Asteroid belts. Everything that humanity had spread to, a thousand times over.

first lines, Prologue

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (Kindle Edition)
by Sy Montgomery

Using my current, free Kindle Unlimited trial to read more about octopuses. Octopi? Whatever.

On a rare, warm day in mid-March, when the snow was melting into mud in New Hampshire, I traveled to Boston, where everyone was strolling along the harbor or sitting on benches licking ice cream cones. But I quit the blessed sunlight for the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium. I had a date with a giant Pacific octopus.

first lines, Chapter 1

Use proper English, but be nicer about it!

The Queen’s English: And How to Use It
by Bernard C. Lamb

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I started this book a few years ago, put it down and forgot about it. I just read The Story of Human Language by John McWhorter and decided to give Queen‘s English another chance. By chapter two it was very clear to me that these are two very different books.

McWhorter is all about the development of language. It‘s about natural changes and not at all judgemental. It’s a very organic reading experience. 

Lamb on the other hand is about the proper use of a very static language. It’s a reference book of English grammar, albeit not a comprehensive one. I had expected more. Besides being disappointed in the very narrow scope of this book, its patronizing tone put me off. A lot.

I use ‘low English’ to describe such bad English. It is ungrammatical, badly pronounced and poorly enunciated, with a severely restricted vocabulary, and usually laden with swear words. It suggests that its users are coarse, uneducated and unintelligent.

I give you three more adjectives: rude, pompous and presumptuous. 

Besides being jarred by the tone of the book repeatedly, I did learn a few new facts (or was reminded thereof?). For example:

„Adjectives can cause ambiguity when followed by more than one noun. Consider the brown bird’s nest or the black cab driver. Is it the nest or the bird which is brown, or the cab or the driver which is black? We can use hyphens to resolve the ambiguity: the brown bird’s-nest or the brown-bird’s nest; the black-cab driver or the black cab-driver. 

chapter 10

I much more enjoyed McWhorter lectures on the development of language. For a reminder of the grammar of British English I would have preferred a more comprehensive and objective approach.

The grammar rules presented in this book were informative. The writing style and tone, as mentioned, rubbed me the wrong way. The author sounded patronizing and judgemental. Don‘t get me started on the childish sketches. Additionally the book has aged badly. Or possibly felt old already, when it was published in 2011.

  • Content: 3 stars
  • Presentation: 2 stars
  • Total: 2.5, rounded down because I feel irritated.

Chugging away…

I am slowly making my way through my current reads.

In The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World (Comics) I finally reached a spot in the narrative that is new to me. I never got this far in the TV series. New territory from here on out! And tonight I took a trip down memory lane and rewatched the first episode of the TV series. It was fun!

I reached the last 100 pages of The Prefect (Prefect Dreyfus Emergency, #1). I like the book, but I am looking forward to finally finishing it. My motivation is flagging…

The Queen’s English: And How to Use It is turning out to be a drag. Useful, but the tone of the book is… patronizing?

So, what‘s on my plate for March? First of all I started the next Expanse audiobook.

Abaddon’s Gate (Expanse, #3)
by James S.A. Corey

I read this for the first time in October 2017. Here is what I had to say about it back then:

I wonder if our writing team follows a how-to-list for their books, something like….
1. boy or girl disappears / is kidnapped / dies and introduced a main plotline for the book doing so,
2. Holden shows up and contemplates his life,
3. Several new, possibly major characters show up, never to be seen again in the next book

I liked Anna, Clarissa, Bull, Sam, Serge…. Corey is good at making characters come to life. But, OMG, did Corey take writing hints from GRR Martin? I also liked the slightly time shifted chapters with alternating POVs, that made it very lively. The plot was more straight forward than in the previous two books, which makes it simpler, but dragged me along much faster, too.

Very good, really liked this book, looking forward to the next installment!


In print I have these three beauties planned:

Winter’s Orbit and A Desolation Called Peace are both slightly overdue Netgalleys that I plan to buddy read this month. For my #ReadPOC2021 challenge I will most likely read another very overdue Netgalley, David Mogo, Godhunter.

I haven‘t made up my mind yet, which of them I will pick up first, once I have finished The Prefect. Do you have any reading plans for March?

Top Ten Tuesday, funnily enough…

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

http://www.thatartsyreadergirl.com/top-ten-tuesday/

This week‘s topic: BOOKS THAT MADE ME LAUGH OUT LOUD

So not my topic! I like some humour in my books and I do laugh, however comedies are not my thing.

Let‘s start with my favourite book of 2015:

The Martian
by Andy Weir

I read this twice, listened to the audiobook once or twice, watched the movie several times. I love it. And it definitely makes me laugh out loud. Take one smart-arse with a wacky sense of humour, give him some knowledge of botany and mechanical engineering skills, dump him on Mars and abandon him. Watch and be entertained. 

“I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.”

Good thing he has some bad 70s TV shows, Disco and some Hercule Poirot to take his mind of things and a never ending supply of crazy ideas, how to survive until the next mission to Mars arrives to save him…

“I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person. What do you know? I’m in command.”

“Damn it, Jim, I’m a botanist, not a chemist!”

“Yeah. This all sounds like a great idea with no chance of catastrophic failure. That was sarcasm, by the way.”

“How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” 

“All my brilliant plans foiled by thermodynamics. Damn you, Entropy!”

I thought the snark and humour would get annoying eventually, but they didn’t. Maybe it got old a little, later on in the book, but just a tiny, weeny bit. 

“In your face, Neil Armstrong!” 

“Beers for everyone if I get back to Earth.”

Another very funny book that really cracked me up:

Notes from a Small Island
by Bill Bryson

Not a good choice for reading in public.

“Is it raining out?’ the reception girl asked brightly as I filled in the registration card between sneezes and pauses to wipe water from my face with the back of my arm. ‘No, my ship sank and I had to swim the last seven miles.” 

I am not sure how funny this one is — I tead it in 2011, so my memory is a little fuzzy. But my quote sounds absurd enough…

Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Unsettling, Witty Answers to Questions You Never Thought You Wanted to Ask
by New Scientist

A treasure trove of trivia. If you want to dazzle people at parties with superfluous knowledge, learn this book by heart and you are set.

“Because cats always land on their feet and toast always lands buttered side down, you can construct a perpetual motion machine by simply strapping a slice of buttered toast to a cat’s back. When the cat is dropped it will remain suspended and revolve indefinitely due to the opposing forces.”

page 72

Somehow I don’t think my cat would have seen the funny side of it, if I had tossed him from our balcony with a slice of toast strapped to his back. Tempting.

The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York: A Yarn for the Strange at Heart
by Kory Merritt

“Beware ye of little nerve,
for there is a Story out there,
lurking in the brambles,
and it knows your name.”

Soundtrack: Hotel California.

Our guys are stuck in a weird guesthouse in the middle of a creepy swamp. To pay their bills, the have to tell stories to the innkeeper and his wife. 

The Ice Cream Story, eep! Great details, laughed quite a bit. So true, as well!

Ok, Alien Abduction Story, panel 47… Who is the guy on the bottom left, next to Elvis?

Liked the artwork, liked the font, liked the stories and the monsters, was thoroughly entertained.

I am not absolutely sure, what age this is aimed at. Best guess is Middle Grade, based on the bio of the author. 

What’s It All About
by Michael Caine

Biographies are not really my genre, but this was an entertaining and funny book. The most vividly remembered parts of this book are his early years, for example London during WWII and his early excursions with Peter O’Toole. I am never quite sure — is he serious or is he taking the piss?

Ok, that‘s it for this week, just five books instead of 10. That makes me pretty even with my really long list from last week… 😝

Calling it a day…

Do you have books that you have been sort-of-reading for ages? They are not really gripping and you read or skim a chapter here or there, but you never seem to make real progress and you don‘t want to DNF the book either?

This is the book that probably has been hanging out on my currently-reading shelf the longest — since September 2018!

The Culture Map (INTL ED): Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures
by Erin Meyer

A work colleague recommended this to me. I generally struggle with non-fiction, unless it is a topic that really, really interests me. Work-related literature is even worse. However, if you work in an international field and frequently deal with other countries and cultures, this book offers some eye-opening insights.

It‘s not just about your communication partner at the opposite end of the cultural scale, but also about recognizing yourself and understanding, how your own culture operates.

When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more, and speak less. Listen before you speak and learn before you act. Before picking up the phone to negotiate with your suppliers in China, […] use all the available resources to understand how the cultural framework you are working with is different from your own—and only then react.

 “As with so many challenges related to cross-cultural collaboration, awareness and open communication go a long way toward defusing conflict.

Each chapter follows a very set structure. It starts with the chapter’s overarching topic and the author offers a memory of her own life, private or business, relating to it and thus explaining what specific issue the chapter tackles.

This is followed by an actual business example of one person dealing with the issue well and one person dealing with it in their own cultural context and failing. This might be combined with some historical references, showing why a certain culture behaves in a specific way. The reader is given views of different scales and where cultures land on that scale. Quiet interesting and probably a good reason to get this book in paper or to read it on a large display. Here is an example:

And…

This scale was explained via a business meeting with Germans and US Americans…

If you think of your Germanic European business associates as stolid, silent types, you may be surprised when a matter of controversy arises. You are likely to find them eager to jump into the fray, since they regard disagreement not as a matter of personal emotion, but rather as a valuable intellectual exercise from which truth emerges.

Oh yes, we will grill you from all angles in a very Spock-like manner! It doesn‘t mean that we don‘t like you, we just cherish debate and confrontation as a tool to find the best answers…

Still, this book generalizes with a broad brush and very wide strokes. Believe me, there are plenty of Germans that bruise easily and will take personal offense, if you disagree with their opinion. Or maybe you simply overshot your goal on that Disagreement Scale…

I have been picking up this book every now and then to finally write a short review and then DNF it. Instead I usually ended up reading or skimming another short chapter and finding worthwhile tips for my working life. But I am calling it a day now. Management books of this type are just too dry and feel too much like work. Maybe one of these days I will browse through the last 40% of this…

Dare to not finish that book…

Eating Animals — read during 2015 and 2016
by Jonathan Safran Foer

A book about the horrors of factory farming. The imagery is as puke-inducing as possible. When you read this, you never want to eat meat again. Choices are to not care, turn vegan or vegetarian, to eat less meat or make better choices and search for animals raised and slaughtered in a more sustainable way. I am currently going with the last two options. I like to occassionally eat meat. I can see myself becoming a vegetarian at some point in my life, but it’s not high on my list of things to do. Can’t see myself living a vegan life. But that’s neither here nor there, never say never. 

The real question should be if this is a good book or not. Considering that it languished on my currently-reading shelf for over a year, it is defintely not doing it for me. I feel preached at, horrified and bored at the same time. I don’t believe in absolutes and missionaries are not my kind of people, no matter if the topic is religious or nutritional. 

And how relevant is this book‘s perspective for me as a European? How different or similar are the food producing industries on either side of the pond? I am missing a global perspective.

Awareness is definitely important, people should know what they put into their mouth. Too many still don’t care, as long as it is cheap. Which really is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? The bizarre opposite of the equation is the hype of dry-aged beef and endless barbecue shows on TV.

Bottom line, I don’t like the tone of the book and only find it mildly informative, as I have learned many of these facts already from the Internet, documentaries, etc. As a story it holds little entertaining interest for me. The odd anecdote does not make up for the rest of the book and I am mostly bored. 

This is too much non-fiction with too little relevant information for me.

Why we talk the way we do…

The Story of Human Language
by John McWhorter

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With some recommendations I stumbled across this book on human language from The Great Courses. This is an audiobook, aka the lecture series by the author.

Here is what it‘s all about:

There are 6,000 languages in the world, in so much variety that many languages would leave English speakers wondering just how a human being could possibly learn and use them.

From the scope of the book / pdf supplement of the audio

The first two lectures were What Is Language? and When Language Began. By the sound of it this seem to be actual lectures. There are reactions from the audience and clapping. It makes for a different listening experience than listening to a professionally narrated book. The author, aka lecturer, is a proficient and coherent speaker. However, the experience is a bit more organic than usual.

The part about Chomsky in the second lecture was new to me and the notion that humans are somehow programmed to speak sounded logical to me. The other side of that argument is, that language develops based on external influences. Here we open the door to philosophical debate. I am benching that one for my next non-fiction book…

The basis of Chomsky’s linguistic theory lies in biolinguistics, the linguistic school that holds that the principles underpinning the structure of language are biologically preset in the human mind and hence genetically inherited.

Accordingly, Chomsky argues that language is a unique evolutionary development of the human species and distinguished from modes of communication used by any other animal species.

Wikipedia about Chomsky

Lecture 3: How Language Changes—Sound Change talks about the great vowel shift — I opened the pdf, that came with the audio. It‘s not the full text, more of a summary, but still… reading along and looking at some of the examples in writing is very helpful. Pretty cool, actually, how vowels and consonants changed over time. That word, „cool“, had a vowel shift, btw…

I won‘t bore you with summaries of every single lecture, suffice to say that the author covers a vast amount of linguistic topics. I spaced out a bit during the many chapters on dialects.

The author‘s casual dismissal of places and people outside of the US was a bit irritating at times. I think he was trying to be funny, with middling success. 

Lecture 26: Does Culture Drive Language Change? presents…

a hypothesis that our ways of processing the world are channeled by the structure of our language. This has been called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

That has always been a really fascinating concept for me. German, language of thinkers and poets, etc. Based on this audiobook course and other sources I looked at over time, this does not seem to hold true. The language you think in or the grammar you use do not seem to shape how you think and do not seem to be influenced by the culture you live in. Although it has never been proven, the idea doesn‘t seem to be going away.

In the chapters after that one we learned about Pidgin and Creole. There is a difference! I did not know that. And I learned a lot more about it that I really cared for. However, a lot of that was grounding for Lecture 32: What Is Black English?Fascinating connection to British English!

Everything was rounded off with a master class, to extrapolate on everything we learned throughout the course.

It was interesting, even with some bits in between that dragged a bit. The accompanying pdf was open most of the time, while I listened to the lectures and served a bit as a blackboard for the lecturer. Good enough to consider further offerings by The Great Courses.


Some of the recommended reading:


This was part of my #ReadPOC2021 challenge. The February prompt is „scientist“.

The March prompt is „A Work of Fiction“. These are on my want-to-read shelf and fit the prompt, in no particular order:

  • The Black Parade by Kyoko M., UF, reviews are mixed
  • The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson, horror/SF, novella
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee, UF
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson, SF
  • David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa, UF
  • Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi, Fantasy/SF

About language, a small island and a brief hop to Africa…

Yesterday I posted about my current audiobook read, The Story of Human Language (Audible Audio). The pdf includes Essential Reading at the end of every chapter. And at the end of lecture 3, How Language Changes—Sound Change, to my surprise, a book is listed that I have actually read!

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way
by Bill Bryson

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In this hymn to the mother tongue Bill Bryson examines how a language treated for centuries as the inadequate and second-rate tongue of peasants has now become the undisputed global language.

Written with his usual humour, Bill Bryson tells you everything you ever wanted to know about how the English language came to be what it is today. Funny and informative, but sometimes he gets a bit carried away. 17 pages on spelling is just a bit excessive.

Bryson is another author that I want to revisit.

Another book about the topics of the English language that has been lingering on my TBR pile for quite some time:

The Queen’s English: And How to Use It 
by Bernard C. Lamb

What is good English, and why do we need it? “The Queen’s English” shows how the English language, used properly, has great power to instruct, move and entertain people, but used incorrectly, can lead to a lack of clarity and confusion. This book informs in a light-hearted way, reminding readers how to use the basics of grammar, punctuation and spelling, as well as further teaching them new tips and tricks of style, rhetoric and vocabulary. The book also shows the perils of using language incorrectly, offering extremely (if unintentionally) humorous examples of where bad English can cause one thing to mean something entirely different!

From the book blurb

Maybe I will manage to get to this book in 2021! It‘s been on my shelf for nine years, which is the reason why I added it to my TBR Bingo card!


Talking about Bill Bryson, these are the two books of his that I have read… I could swear there was more, but I am not sure what book it was — maybe In a Sunburned Country?

Notes from a Small Island
by Bill Bryson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I laughed myself silly when I read this. Which was quite a while ago, in the mid-to-late 1990s, whilst living in London. Reading it on the tube quite often, no less… That‘s pretty much all I remember.

Bill Bryson’s African Diary
by Bill Bryson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nice little book, a very brief read. The usual Bill Bryson humour shows through a little, but it’s really only a teensy-weensy bite in between.

First Line Fridays, #ReadPOC2021, Human Language

I decided to listen to another audiobook for my #ReadPOC2021 challenge. The prompt for February will be „scientist“. I posted about this already, it was really hard to find an author and book that interest me. However, with some recommendations I eventually stumbled across this book on human language from The Great Courses:

The Story of Human Language (Audible Audio)
by John McWhorter

Here is what it‘s all about:

There are 6,000 languages in the world, in so much variety that many languages would leave English speakers wondering just how a human being could possibly learn and use them.

From the scope of the book / pdf supplement of the audio

I listened to the first two lectures already, What Is Language? and When Language Began. By the sound of it this seem to be actual lectures, held by the author. There are reactions from the audience and clapping. It makes for a different listening experience than listening to a professionally narrated book. The author, aka lecturer, is a proficient and coherent speaker. However, the experience is a bit more organic than usual.

The part about Chomsky in the second lecture was new to me and the notion that humans are somehow programmed to speak makes sense to me.

The basis of Chomsky’s linguistic theory lies in biolinguistics, the linguistic school that holds that the principles underpinning the structure of language are biologically preset in the human mind and hence genetically inherited.

Accordingly, Chomsky argues that language is a unique evolutionary development of the human species and distinguished from modes of communication used by any other animal species.

Wikipedia about Chomsky

So far, so interesting. We‘ll see if I‘ll manage to work my way through 36 lectures.


First Line Friday is a meme created by Hoarding Books. Feel free to head over there, have a look around, grab a book and post its first line in the comments there and in your blog.

What is this #ReadPOC2021 challenge, you ask? My original post is here. For an explanation and the general rules please go to the actual webpage of the challenge, hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media.

#ReadPOC2021 — February: By a Scientist

So, finding something that interests me for February is going to be a tough one. Scientists that fit the bill are seriously under-represented. Or I am very oblivious, take your pick. I am leaning towards space and the universe at large, natural history, Earth‘s history, the oceans, … I suppose it could be a memoir or biography of a scientist falling under the BIPOC heading.

What is this challenge, you ask? My original post is here. For an explanation and the general rules please go to the actual webpage of the challenge, hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media.

Back to February. I have been meaning to read something by Neil deGrasse Tyson for a while. Or maybe get an audiobook. I would like to listen to him narrating it himself though, which does not give me a lot of options. It would mean reading either Astrophysics for People in a Hurry or Letters from an Astrophysicist. That one sounds like fun. They are both fairly short though.

In my search of other authors I came across this list: Finding My Climate-Conscious Tribe: Black Nature Lovers and Writers. PlanetWalker (2005) by environmentalist John Francis looks interesting. From the book blurb:

“When the struggle to save oil-soaked birds and restore blackened beaches left him feeling frustrated and helpless, John Francis decided to take a more fundamental and personal stand—he stopped using all forms of motorized transportation. Soon after embarking on this quest that would span two decades and two continents, the young man took a vow of silence that endured for 17 years. It began as a silent environmental protest, but as a young African-American man, walking across the country in the early 1970s, his idea of “the environment” expanded beyond concern about pollution and loss of habitat to include how we humans treat each other and how we can better communicate and work together to benefit the earth.“

Another interesting list: Celebrating Black Environmentalists during Black History Month. I ended up browsing cooking books though, which is not really what I was looking for… Still, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty sounds good. I am really tempted, after browsing through the preview. From the book blurb:

“Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.“

And several other lists and blog posts lead me to Lauret Savoy and her book Trace. From the book blurb:

“Through personal journeys and historical inquiry, this PEN Literary Award finalist explores how America’s still unfolding history and ideas of “race” have marked its people and the land.“

“A provocative and powerful mosaic that ranges across a continent and across time, from twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.–Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.“

Still, those three books are more memoirs and histories than something I would lump under the heading scientific non-finction. So, I am stumped. I am open to suggestions!


The prompt and page for January is here: Books by Women of Color to Read for #ReadPOC2021.