Summer is all about light beach reads, but there are two non-fiction books I recently read that are an ideal compendium to fluffier material.
Babel is ideal for multi-linguists or anyone interested in languages. Dutch linguist Gaston Dorren reviews the world’s 20 most spoken languages, beginning with Vietnamese in 20th place and ending with English in 1st.
Divided into individual chapters per language, the book is ideal for dipping in and out of. Each chapter includes an introductory page with vital information, such as examples of borrowed words, but to keep the reader’s attention, Dorren takes a different approach to each language: Some are based on history, others geography, others linguistics.
My personal favorite was the chapter on Arabic, which was simply a dictionary of the myriad Arabic-language words found in English, such as qtn (cotton) or jamal (camel).
Dorren also explores whether English will hold its number 1 position, or whether Mandarin will succeed in edging it out.
This multi-faceted approach means each reader will find some chapters more compelling than others.
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Literary Landscapes: Charting the Worlds of Classic Literature is more of a coffee table book, with two to three pages dedicated to the landscapes in which the world’s greatest literary tales take place. Imagine the desolate North York Moors of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Cairo’s back alleys of Naguib Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley, the lush green of the Hundred Acre Wood, home to Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends.
Edited by John Sutherland, the short essays add a dimension to understanding each novel, and the accompanying artwork transports the reader into the story.
Beware: After perusing Literary Landscapes you may be inspired to pass up that summer blockbuster mystery to revisit a favorite literary world or delve into a new one.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at email@example.com
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