a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: essay

A Week in Review

The past week has been terrifyingly eventful (book- and otherwise). So much that it made my usual quiet weekend seem quite boring.


I have been following the Man Booker Prize selection this year for the first time ever. I’ve read only two Booker books before – one I loved and one I didn’t love so much. I didn’t dare to commit to reading the whole long list but since the short list is only six books, I sort of ‘challenged’ myself to read it before the prize is announced. Of course, I am already regretting this surge of ambition. I have read these this by now:

1. A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – The book was a wonderful read. My only problem was, I thought it lacked a bit in the plot, in that it didn’t really have one. I loved reading the narrator’s long monologues about memory and time and morality; so much that I wished it was a non-fiction book. I loved the main character’s sense of humour and his writing; but it seemed as though an idea was stretched and dragged into a book, to show off a few genius characters and their beliefs. I would call it a great one-time read, albeit with a spectacularly disappointing ending!
I also read Orwell’s Politics and the English Language essay (you can read it here) the other day, which I am in no way qualified to review. An excerpt:

Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were ‘explore every avenue‘ and ‘leave no stone unturned‘, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable.

*One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

Apart from that, my sister wrote another of her awesome blog posts which, when compared to my own blog, make me hang my head in shame. Also. I baked cookies. I can’t cook; anyone who knows me knows that! But I did, anyway. That’s what being bored, sick and alone at home does to people. Anyway, a few burned, but the rest turned out quite alright. I was so happy, and I repeat, so alone, that I ate them up all by myself, except for one that I managed to save for later. That night I proudly presented it to my mom. Knowing my luck, I should have guessed it would turn out to be one of the slightly charred ones. I have to say, I did not deserve the ‘Oh, I bet the rest tasted perfectly fine’ remark that goes with that pitying smile.

The Awful German Language


“The inventor of the language seems to have taken pleasure in complicating it in every way he could think of.”


“The Awful German Language” is the most outrageously funny essay I’ve read in a long time. It was written in 1880 by Mark Twain as a part of the book “A Tramp Abroad.”

As an English speaking person learning German as a second language, he explains his exasperation with the language using a bunch of wildly amusing examples. Personally, German being pretty similar to my mother tongue, it wasn’t hard getting used to most of the rules; I can only imagine how complicated it otherwise must be.

The worst are, of course, the genders of the common nouns and Twain has a lot to say about them:

  • To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female – tomcats included, of course; a person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it.

The longest English word has forty five letters and no one bothers using it!! That’s more than you can say for most German words!

  • Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page – and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen” seems to be “General-states-representatives-meetings,” as nearly as I can get at it – a mere rhythmical, gushy euphuism for “meetings of the legislature,” I judge.
It’s not just the words that seem to irritate the writer, it is also the names! This incident had me laughing for an hour:

  • German names almost always do mean something, and this helps to deceive the student. I translated a passage one day, which said that “the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest” (Tannenwald). When I was girding up my loins to doubt this, I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a man’s name.

The writer doesn’t stop at calling German language ridiculous – he does suggest ways to improve it. One of these includes removing the Dative case entirely!!

  • Personal pronouns are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.

Of course, this essay is pretty biased, because English is basically built on exceptions and German rarely strays from the rules, making it much easier to learn! Still, I loved it. And I’m sure anyone who has ever learnt German as a second language will agree with every single thing Mr. Twain has to say!!

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

I recently read the book “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”. It is written by David Foster Wallace. The only other book of essays I’ve read was by Bertrand Russel and I read it five years ago. So, you can see, I’m not too keen on reading essays. But this was something else. One of the best books I’ve read!


The essay that I loved the most, was the title essay that was published in Harper’s Magazine in 1996, which is otherwise titled as “Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise”. The author is on a ship named the Nadir and is extremely bored of the “absolutely nothing” that he is doing there, that he is supposed to enjoy! It’s a long essay, but it’s remarkably funny. I was hooked from the start till the end!

Every thing about the word ‘luxury’ makes me cringe – which is one reason why this was the perfect book for me. Another is that I’m not fascinated much by the ocean; I love nature, but there is only a finite number of minutes for which I can look at endless blue water and not get bored. And I’m not into fish! I’ve never been on a cruise, and I really don’t think I ever want to be; specially not now after reading this book!

I read about the essay somewhere, before I got my hands on the book(or my mouse…or cursor?) and there was this quote: my single biggest peeve about the Nadir: they don’t even have Mr. Pibb; they foist Dr. Pepper on you with a maddeningly unapologetic shrug when any fool knows that Dr. Pepper is no substitute for Mr. Pibb, and it’s an absolute god-damned travesty, or, at best, extremely dissatisfying indeed. The total randomness of this is what made me want to read the essay! And I wasn’t dissatisfied at all!

For me on a list of five Supposedly Fun Things that I’ll Never Do, on the fifth position will be ‘going to a fancy restaurant, where you have to eat teenie portions with knives and forks’; and the remaining four positions on the list can be filled by one thing: shopping! What about you?!