Montreal Reads

952130-gfCockroach unfolds during a bitter Montreal winter. Its narrator, despite his de facto membership in a community of exiles, is utterly isolated and both fearful and desirous of human ties. As a master thief, he ties himself instead to people’s effects, using them to read the people he cannot trust. He skirts the edges of neighbourhoods, friendships, and drains, trying to stay warm and remain undetected. The story shifts back and forth between the narrator’s mainly nocturnal fossicking on chilly Montreal streets and remembrances of his troubled life in Lebanon. At first the narrator’s self-exile and suspicions make him seem alien and unknowable, but by deftly imperceptible turns Hage reveals a mind and heart as knowable as any other…which is to say barely knowable at all.

Montreal landmarks in Cockroach: the mountain, Old Port, rue St-Laurent, Côte-des-Neiges, Chinatown, Notre-Dame Basilica, Outremont

Rawi Hage grew up in Lebanon and Cyprus before moving to New York City and finally Montreal: he “arrived in the winter in the suburbs of Montreal and it was a bit of a shock.”1 At first Hage found the city to be remote and very different from New York, but once he began studying, the city grew on him considerably. During a recent stay as writer in residence at the Vancouver Public Library, Hage said, “I must confess that my first love will always be Montreal. It is home to me. I’m a true Montrealer…”1

Next up: Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner.

Nikolski

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1 Sherlock, Tracy. “Q&A: Rawi Hage on how driving a taxi inspired his writing — ‘A chamber for intimacies, lies, tension.’” Vancouver Sun, August 29, 2013.

Photo credit: Luigi Novi

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Montreal Reads

My usual rules for pleasure reading are few. In fact, I may have only one “rule” for reading, which is that I must have variety.

I like to routinely switch from one genre to another, from one setting to another, from one century to another (I have a particular soft spot for unselfconsciously florid conduct manuals from the 18th century). I read nonfiction about all sorts of things under the sun (most recently an account of the decoding of Linear B and a fun little book on astronomy). I like to read books by authors from around the world, books by and about people with disabilities, books representing diverse voices and experiences. I like graphic novels and plays and novels (and at least one pop-up book I read aloud every time someone under three foot tall comes to visit—it’s freaking hilarious).

But, this year, I’ve decided to embark on a bona fide reading project—as a relative newcomer to Montreal, I’ve decided to get to know the literary side of the city by reading books by Montreal writers or books set in Montreal…and often both. Still, I must have my variety, so my reading list includes all sorts of different books, which is clearly a good thing since there’s at least one version of Montreal for every Montrealer who’s ever lived here.

First up: Cockroach by Rawi Hage.

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There seems to be an ever present anxiety that the English language is on the edge of some catastrophe. But never fear, it’s held up just fine to the technological upheavals of the printing press, radio and cable TV, and it will weather blogs, podcasts and YouTube, as well.

This isn’t to say that the language isn’t changing (it’s always been changing), just that change is what allows language to let us say what we need to say, and say it in an interesting way. Three cheers for an evolving language!

If your fears still need allaying, check out my review of Txting: The gr8 db8 or this video of Stephen Fry discussing the evolution of language or Grammar Matters: The Social Significance of How We Use Language or this excellent documentary featuring renowned authors and linguistics Tom Chatfield, David Crystal, Robert McCrum, Fiona McPherson and Simon Horobin:

English 3.0 from Joe Gilbert on Vimeo.

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Lexical Vexations

Palette and Pallet and Palatepalate 1. n . the top or roof of the mouth; 2. n. one’s sense of taste.

palette 1. n. an easily held flat surface on which an artist mixes paints; 2. n. a range of available colours.

pallet 1. n. a straw-filled mattress, a temporary (and often uncomfortable) bed; 2. n. a sturdy, usually wood, surface on which goods can be stored and transported.

Words in the Wild: Felix stood on a stack of pallets to reach the top corner of his canvas. He leaned too far and overbalanced, accidentally flicking paint from his palette onto his palate. Luckily the colour was a tasty lemon yellow.

I see these words sneaking into each others’ places fairly often. Sadly I don’t have any helpful mnemonics for you this time—the only way I know to keep these ones straight is to look them up if you’re not sure. If you have a trick for remembering these words, please let us know in the comments.

Still vexed? You can find a complete list of the Word Blog’s lexical vexations here.

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Babery

by Heather

Vest-Pocket Vocabulary

Ba’bery, n. playthings for a child.

Word in the Wild: Receiving nothing but blank looks from her nephews after she asked them to clear the living room of their babery and detritus, Celine tried again: “For pity’s sake, clean up your toys and junk!”

You can find a complete listing of the Word Blog’s Vest-Pocket Vocabulary entries and learn more about where they come from here.

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Lessen vs. Lesson

by Heather

Lexical Vexations

lessen 1. v . to decrease.

lesson 1. n. the presentation of information, a tutorial,  a teaching.

Words in the Wild: Simon’s driving lessons really seem to have lessened the frequency of his car accidents—he’s only had four of them this year.

I spotted a lessen trying to pass itself off as a lesson in a document I was editing last week. These words sound identical and on a cursory glance almost look identical, too. It’s an easy one to miss in your writing.

Still vexed? You can find a complete list of the Word Blog’s lexical vexations here.

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Apocrustic

by Heather

Vest-Pocket Vocabulary

Apocrust’ic, a. having a repelling power; astringent.

Word in the Wild: If you’re planning to make your own dandelion wine, do be sure the blossoms you pick haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, which will result in an unfortunately apocrustic vintage. Oh, and a poisonous one, too.

You can find a complete listing of the Word Blog’s Vest-Pocket Vocabulary entries and learn more about where they come from here.

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Je suis heureuse que vous avez me trouver dans tout l’internet. Comme vous pouvez deviner, j’aime beaucoup tous les mots, mêmes celles des langues que je ne parle pas si biens—le français, par exemple.

Je vais déménager à Montréal cet été, donc je faisais les efforts d’améliorer mon français. Je parlais avec les francophones très sympas, je lisais les romans et les nouvelles, et j’écrivais les courriels tous en français. Même si c’est difficile pour moi (qui est fière de ma maitrise de l’anglais et gênée de mes manques en français) de publier les articles qui je sais doivent avoir les fautes grammatiques, je vais, quand même, les écrire et les partager avec vous.

En fin de compte, il y a une seule méthode d’apprendre une nouvelle langue, et ça c’est de la pratiquer. Je vous inviter de correspondre avec moi. Dites-moi ce que vous voulez—corrigez mes fautes; partagez vos pensées sur les mots, le Montréal, le Québec, et n’importe de quoi d’autre; donnez-moi les recommandations pour les livres; demandez-moi les questions de la langue anglais ou ce qui vous intéressez! J’ai hâte de vous entendre.

Amicalement,
Heather

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