"To engage with all but a tiny fraction of people in the world, you definitely do not need to learn all their first languages. You need to learn all their vehicular languages – languages learned by nonnative speakers for the purpose of communicating with native speakers of a third tongue. There are about eighty languages used in this way in some part of the world. But because vehicular languages are also native to some (usually very large) groups, and because many people speak more than one vehicular language (of which one may or may not be native to them), you do not need to learn all eighty vehicular languages to communicate with most people on the planet. Knowing just nine of them – Chinese (with 1.3 billion users), Hindi (800 million), Arabic (530 million), Spanish (350 million), Russian (278 million), Urdu (180 million), French (175 million), Japanese (130 million), and English (somewhere between 800 million and 1.8 billion) – would permit effective everyday conversation, though probably not detailed negotation or serious intellectual debate, with at least 4.5 billion and maybe up to 5.5 billion people, that is to say, around 90 percent of the world’s population." (David Bellos, Is that a fish in your ear? Translation and the meaning of everything, p14)
I grew up hearing and reading the stories of Roald Dahl. From the novel Charlie & the Chocolate Factory to the short story The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar to the memoir Boy. I loved them all!
In this wonderful and compelling biography, Donald Sturrock rises to the challenge of writing a biography almost as interesting as the stories of its subject. Dahl apparently found biographies boring. “Why on earth would anyone choose to read an assemblage of detail, a catalogue of facts, when there was so much good fiction around as an alternative?” (p6). I loved many elements of this book; among my favorites are the following:
- While Sturrock is clearly a friendly biographer, he paints no picture of a saint, demonstrating how much previous biographical work on Dahl is rose-colored, how Dahl was mercurial – by turns generous and kind and then rude and judgmental, sometimes (later in life) making unfortunate public statements.
- Dahl was a storyteller through and through: many stories from his own memoirs was fictionalized. “I don’t lie. I merely make the truth a little more interesting…” (p4)
- In the wake of a tragic accident that left Dahl and Patricial Neal’s son Theo with serious head wounds, Dahl teamed up with a craftsman to develop a special valve that would drain excess fluid from the head which was effective and very cheap (as a result of neither inventor gaining from it), the valve “was used successfully on almost three thousand children around the world” (p392). Likewise, after his wife Patricia Neal suffered a serious stroke, Dahl took an intensive rehabilitation approach which led to a very rapid recovery and return to acting for Neal, ultimately “revolutioniz[ing] treatment for future stroke victims” (p444).
- Hearing how long Dahl struggled to achieve professional success is inspiring.
But without doubt my favorite part was the story of the stories:
- How Dahl’s agent, for years, encouraged him to try children’s fiction;
- How James & the Giant Peach came to be the first children’s book;
- How Charlie and the Chocolate Factory evolved dramatically in plot;
- Tidbits such as how the NAACP forced the change of the name of the first chocolate factory movie to “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (because they thought the book was racist and didn’t want the movie to support book sales), and how Dahl disliked the original movie: He preferred Peter Sellers for the role over the chosen Gene Wilder, who he found “pretentious” and “insufficiently gay [in the old-fashioned
sense of the word] and bouncy” (p513).
I just loved this book. It is well written, easy to read, and meticulously documented. I’m glad to have it in my library.
15. Mortal Stakes, by Robert Parker (audiobook) – Third Spenser detective novel. Wittiest detective I know. 7/10
14. Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin [translated by Chi-Young Kim] (audiobook)
20. The Time Traveller’s Wife (DVD) – I enjoyed this love story. Also had enjoyed the book. 7/10
19. Get Low (DVD) – Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek star in this redemption tale about holding onto guilt and then letting it go. Low key. I really enjoyed it. 7/10
18. Gnomeo & Juliet – Animated garden gnomes and the music of Elton John, in the same movie. Don’t go breaking my heart! 6/10
17. Os Muppets Conquistam Nova Iorque [The Muppets Take Manhattan, dubbed into Portuguese] (DVD) – I love the muppets, but this was not their strongest outing. Still, the Portuguese was fun. 5/10
from Storyteller, by Donald Sturrock, p415 – I am loving this book.
"At the beginning, there were no Oompa-Loopa factory workers and no Grandpa Joe to look after Charlie. Nor were any of the child grotesques present in their final form. Characters who were eventually eliminated from the adventure or substantially altered included Elvira Entwistle (the prototype of Veruca Salt), Miranda Grope (who fell into the chocolate river), Tommy Troutbeck (who disobeyed Wonka and ended up in the Pounding and Cutting Room), Bertie Upside (who overheats after eating too many warming candies), Marvin Prune, Violet Stabismus and Herpes Trout. The plot, too, was quite different. It was a detective story in which Charlie strayed from Wonka’s gaze long enough to be accidentally coated in quick-drying chocolate. Mistaken for one of Wonka’s giant ‘chocolate boys,’ he is delivered as an Easter present to Wonka’s son, Freddie. Trapped inside his chocolate shell, and left overnight in Wonka’s home, Charlie witnesses a burglary. The following morning, when he has been liberated from his cocoa prison, he helps identify the thieves and is rewarded by Wonka with a huge sweetshop of his own. … Most strikingly perhaps, in the early drafts, Dahl described Charlie as a ‘small NEGRO boy,’ who boldly confronts Wonka…"
Okay, I’m a big fan of research, but wasn’t this kind of obvious? Anyway, now we know for sure.
Caregivers often struggle with food neophobia on the part of young children. This study examined whether labeling novel healthy foods with fun names would increase children’s willingness to try those foods and encourage them to eat more of those foods in a child care setting. Thirty-nine toddler and preschool age children (mean age = 3.9 years) were served each of three foods twice, once labeled with a fun name and once with a healthy name. Percentage of the food consumed by each child was recorded. Overall, children ate a greater percentage of the target foods when they were labeled with fun names. Also, a larger percentage of the children tasted the foods when they were labeled with fun names. This simple strategy could be effective for increasing consumption of healthy foods among young children.
from the Journal of Early Childhood Research, May 2011
13. *** Save the Child, by Robert Parker (audiobook) – The second Spenser novel, much better than the first (The Godwulf Manuscript). Suspense, excitement, romance.
12. Gems for the Young Folks: Fourth Book of the Faith-Promoting Series, by Benjamin Brown et al (published 1881) – This collection of stories is both historically fascinating and spiritually inspiring. I especially enjoyed the last portion of the book, called Testimonies for the Truth, by Benjamin Brown. Overall there are stories of emigrants across the U.S. plains, coming from the U.K., and much more. Highly recommended! As an example, here is one of my favorite stories. The whole book is available at Google Books for free, here.
Low movie month!
14. El romance de la esmeralda [Romancing the Stone, dubbed into Spanish] – Great action comedy, holds up pretty well. (Definitely a PG that would be PG-13 now, mostly for one scene.)