Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Perhaps I took Reblock Yourself the Polly Frost Way! a little too seriously. I haven't blogged here since before Christmas.

Yes, most of my family did explore viral gastroenteritis in January. That's another excuse. I knew it was sweeping through my daughter's grade school. I suspected that it came on quite suddenly when we were at her school's Winter Carnival, when a nine year old a few people in front of us in line lost his dinner. At least his dad hadn't paid for that second piece of pizza yet.

And I've been busy shoveling snow. And putting plastic over our leaky windows. I'm glad to see the last of January.

I have been reading. Here are a few notes on what I've been reading since the beginning of the new year:

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel L. Everett

This was a truly interesting book, if a little disjointed. The author combines an autobiographical account of his work as a missionary and a linguist among a group of Indians in Brazil (the Pirahã) with some classic ethnography and musings on linguistics theory, philosophy, and religion.

The Pirahã are really different, both culturally and when it comes to language. If you want to read about about some people that think about life in a fundamentally different way, this is a good introduction. Sleep, ambition, raising children, numbers - wow. It's hard to wrap your mind around their worldview, but even the little we can comprehend makes you think about your own life choices - this one of those things that is most seductive about reading good anthropology. And Everett writes better than most anthropologists.

Some might find the chapters on linguistics a little slow going (but if you've always wanted to read about Chomsky, Whorf, etc. this is a good introduction), but you can always just skim that and enjoy the parts about Everett's life and how the Pirahã change him. Whether their culture shaped their language or the language molds their lives is one of the points Everett discusses at some length.

The title comes from a Pirahã belief that sleep is dangerous, too much will make you weak and vulnerable to jungle threats. They get up a lot in the middle of the night, poke the fire, bake a potato, eat something, chat, etc. - an eight hour stretch of sleep is unheard of in their villages.

Right now I'm reading The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. How is it that I've never read anything by her before? It's wonderful. Puritans and the Brady bunch and shining cities on hills. But why oh why didn't she use some chapter breaks? And an index? I'm halfway through the book and wondering if she is going to mention The Witch of Blackbird Pond (isn't that how most older girls of my generation learned about Puritan life?), and I can't check the index. Hmpf.

Speaking of Newbery winners, I am still reading them for The Newbery Project. The most recent one (a re-read) was Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which was so good that until I started Sarah Vowell's book everything else suffered in comparison.


Julie said...

The anthropology book sounds fascinating. I just put a copy on hold. Thanks!

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