Month: March 2019

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Learning a Language

Learning a Language

By Jared Richards, LIS Technology Supervisor

A common thread throughout my life has been language. Which is true for billions of people, so it’s not really that noteworthy, but it remains a thread nonetheless. I have spent decades now trying to develop a passable level of proficiency in the English language. Being a native speaker makes that endeavor easier, and much less impressive, but I have also tried my hand at other languages. I have dabbled in various computer-related languages, most recently HTML and CSS to work on a website. Starting in elementary school, I took several years of Spanish (with a brief, misguided attempt at Latin along the way), but unfortunately I was never terribly committed.

There is still a hint of that commitment issue, but I am trying to do better in my latest effort to learn French. I am taking a multipronged approach, and the Manhattan Public Library facilitates two of said prongs. The first is the use of the Pimsleur audio French course. I was unfamiliar with the Pimsleur method before this course, but I have heard a lot of people swear by it, and for good reason. It starts out with a simple but intimidating conversation, that is then completely deconstructed, even down to individual syllables. And you’re not just training your ear: you’re repeating what you hear, so you’re also training your mouth to form new words (and new ways of pronouncing the letter ‘R,’ which is by far the trickiest thing I’ve encountered). Within the first few minutes, I was speaking French, slowly building to a full conversation, which is a lot more fun than just memorizing grammar rules.

We have ten different languages using the Pimsleur method in our audiobook collection at the library. There is also a whole series of “Little Pim” videos available on Hoopla, one of our online resources. It is a series developed for kids by the daughter of Dr. Pimsleur, which is helpful for building vocabulary, regardless of your age.

The second library-affiliated prong in my language-learning odyssey is the use of Mango Languages, another one of our online resources. Mango Languages offers access to over seventy different languages, from Arabic to Yiddish. You can access it from your computer or smartphone, and you can create an account (for free) to save your progress.

I always struggled at the beginning of a school year when we would spend so much time reviewing what we had already learned. My mind would wander to more interesting things, often not making its way back before new material started, leaving me lost. One feature I really like about Mango Languages is that it starts with a placement test. I needed to start from square one, obviously, but if you already have some experience with a language, you can take the test, and Mango will start you at the appropriate place, hopefully skipping over the stuff you already know.

There are several other small features that I like about Mango Languages. One is how they will show you a sentence in English and the language you’re learning, and then color-code each part, so you can easily connect the translation. This is especially helpful when one word in one language translates to multiple words in the other. Mango also shows you the understood translation, as well as the literal translation. Cultural notes are spread throughout the lessons, and these give you further insight into the language and these translations. An example early on is the translation of ‘tiens,’ which literally means ‘hold it,’ but is used colloquially as an exclamation meaning ‘oh.’

Another helpful aspect of Mango Languages is that when you hover over a word in the language you’re learning, it will show you how to pronounce it phonetically. To put it in musical terms, trying to sight-read French, at my current level of understanding, is a train wreck. But I’m slowly learning the rules, and getting better every day.

This thread of language will forever be intertwined with my general curiosity in learning new things, which I get to do on a daily basis at the library. Whether I’m helping someone find information, or figuring out novel ways to accomplish work-related tasks, every day is interesting. Most of the knowledge I acquire is fleeting, maybe lasting long enough to be an interesting tidbit in a random conversation if I’m lucky, but it is always worthwhile. And I love that the library has a wide variety of resources to supplement each new curiosity, for me and our patrons.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Home as Sanctuary

A Reading of Pam Houston’s Deep Creek

By Marcia Allen, Collection Services Manager

What a please it can be to discover a favorite new author!  For me, Pam Houston has been a tremendous new discovery, and I’ve enthusiastically recommended her books, especially her latest, to other readers.  Hopefully, these titles will appeal to you as well.

Cowboys Are My Weakness is a book of short stories that came out in 1992.  This collection, mostly written when Houston worked as a river and hunting guide, explores the differences in relationships between men and women.  Houston’s women characters have frequently made bad choices in men, choices that have resulted in dangerous situations or at least glaring misunderstandings.  In the title story, for example, a narrator who could well be Houston herself, stays at an isolated ranch house while her wildlife specialist boyfriend studies the behavior of whitetail deer and explores romances with other women.  When our narrator meets a cowboy who might offer her a more stable relationship, the two arrange to meet at a dance, and she contemplates how closely this new cowboy resembles the fantasy man of her dreams.  Other stories in this book offer equally flawed relationships, often in wickedly funny ways.

Contents May Have Shifted is a novel Houston published in 2012.   The story is a series of episodes taking place in various parts of the world. Tucked among those episodes are experiences on airline flights, some alarming, some reflections on natural beauty.  Throughout, the narrator (another Houston-like character) seems to be seeking a life worth meaning, one that she discovers only in the freedom of travel and new experiences. Some of the author’s short episodes are quite funny, but there is also the realization that life is not without pain and the unexpected.  A flying experience with a pilot named George in a plane held together with duct tape, for example, turns into a panicky situation when the plane runs out of fuel.  Turns out that George was just having a little fun and laughingly switched over to the other tank after a short glide above unbroken wilderness.

My favorite Houston title is her latest book.  Just published to rave reviews is her memoir entitled Deep Creek.   Within the pages of this lovely book, Houston tells of her many journeys to locate her perfect home.  It isn’t until she locates the town of Creede, Colorado that she discovers what home really is.  With little money, she makes a down payment on a 120-acre ranch and begins life in an old ranch house.  Within its walls, she realizes a peace she’d never experienced before.  And her views of the adjoining wilderness could not be better.

To be sure, she came to the ranch with little experience.  She knew she wanted horses, dogs and chickens, but she knew little about their care.  Fortunately, she was befriended by kind neighbors who quickly educate her about animal feeding and care, as well as extra steps to be taken before the arrival of a harsh winter.  And her learning experiences, sometimes painful as they are, make her a better rancher and a better conservationist.

Hers is not an idyllic life.  She faces the loss of beloved animals, and the discovery that she must leave responsible individuals in charge when her university teaching duties require her to return to California.  She comes to understand the terrible losses that an uncontrolled fire can bring.  She learns of the cruelty that others may bring, like the thoughtless slaughter of wild animals by poachers.

Interspersed with chapters describing ranching life, we read of flashbacks to Houston’s childhood.  It is there that we realize what created in her a restlessness and a terrible yearning for a special home.  Without sentimentality, she describes the horrible sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her father and the cold indifference she learned from her alcoholic mother.  We also read of the years of therapy she underwent during her recovery from the damages of bad parenting. 

Houston is a gifted writer.  She has managed to merge hauntingly beautiful descriptions of her wilderness home with horrendous childhood experiences that made her who she is.  You’ll find that a couple hours reading her memoir allows you a whole new perspective on home and healing.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

By Rhonna Hargett, Learning and Information Services Associate Director

Jane Austen probably would have been very surprised to find that her novels are still being read, analyzed, and reinterpreted over 200 years after their original publication. I sometimes hear them described as romance novels, but that’s not really what they are about. Austen was the master of observing her society and encouraging the reader to see things in a different light. On the surface her most famous novel, “Pride and Prejudice,” is the story of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet falling in love. When we focus in, though, we see a young woman that is learning the difference between manners and goodness, the limited options for women in 19th Century England, and a society that can be scathing in its punishment for any missteps.

This story contains so many facets that authors have analyzed it from all different angles of it throughout the years. The most recent attempt that I have encountered is “Mary B” by Katherine J. Chen. Chen shares the story from the perspective of Mary, the serious sister with a penchant for regularly displaying her limited musical talent. We get to read her thoughts about their awkward cousin Mr. Collins, her shame at the behavior of her sisters, and her true feelings about being the “plain” sister. The story really picks up where “Pride and Prejudice” ends, when Mary is invited for an extended visit with Elizabeth. At Pemberley she finds an unlikely path to a hopeful future and an unexpected ally.

I’m enjoying getting a glimpse into the context for some of Mary’s more obnoxious moments and her reflections on what is going on around her. Chen’s Mary is reminiscent of what we know of Jane Austen herself – always watching, able to observe unnoticed, able to analyze the workings of society, but powerless to change her place in it. She even has a wicked sense of humor like Austen – Mary just keeps it to herself. Her journey of finding her place in the world and gaining understanding makes for a rewarding read.

Longbourn” by Jo Baker has been around a few years but is a stand-out in the world of “Pride and Prejudice” spin-offs. Baker focuses on the Bennets’ pleasant maid, Sarah. Through her eyes we get the scoop on the lives below-stairs in the Bennet home. This novel illuminates the lives of the characters that make possible the ease that the family experiences. We get to experience their hopes and dreams, as well as the realities of their working existence. For instance, Elizabeth’s muddy petticoat is less charming to those that have to make it sparkling white again. The perspective of the servants is reminiscent of the appeal of “Downton Abbey,” making it clear that there is just as much intrigue, drama, and passion for those that are often forgotten.

I haven’t gotten ahold of it yet, but I’m looking forward to reading “Unmarriageable” by Soniah Kamal, a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” set in modern-day Pakistan. As Library Journal describes it “Pride and Prejudice” in Pakistan may seem like an unusual pairing to some, but the rich cultural backdrop only enhances and breathes new life into Jane Austen’s classic.”

“Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors” by Sonali Dev coming out in May.

Jane Austen once famously said, “If a book is well written, I always find it too short.” Her many fans have also felt that her books were too few, but they have solved this dilemma by looking at her novels from different angles, setting them in different places and time periods, and using different media. Her timeless themes of dysfunctional families, self-discovery, humanity’s foibles, and of course love, will continue to intrigue readers for centuries to come.  

Whether you like Austen in print, digital, or movies – the original works or a reinterpretation, the staff at Manhattan Public Library will be sure to have something to satisfy.

Top