05 January 2012

[(5 - 3) + 6] -2 = 6 Nonfiction Books I Now Want to Write About; Anyway, Here Are the Two for This Post

I knew what could happen if I looked around the bookshelves here for the other three nonfiction books I planned to present. I ended up with 6 more books so now we're down for 9 total. Wait, no. Something like that. Perhaps this should just become an endless series so I don't have to hold it to a specific count.

3. Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization

Hodding Carter wrote this. Nice name, Hodding. (Not really.) There's not much more to say about it in relation to the book, but if his name sounds familiar it's because he had a role in the Carter administration.

Now this is not a great piece of reportage, but it's a great topic and a good enough book. It covers plumbing's long and colorful history; for example, the story of the aqueducts, which has always been a crowd-pleaser among even the most indifferent toward plumbing.

I myself have always been into plumbing. At first I didn't notice I was, but then I realized I had—somewhen, somewhere—learned how to replace a ball cock with a float cup. And when once asked what I'd wish for, for everyone, I said, "sanitary plumbing for all." There have been additional incidents that led to this self-discovery.

Something I wish this book went into is what life is like without plumbing, but I suppose that is beyond its intent. Nonetheless, billions of people in the world have "nowhere to go"—no sanitation facilities whatsoever, not even a bucket or a box or a plastic bag. My dog has that. If you're interested in the state of sanitation today, and what can be done to vastly improve the lives and dignity of half the world's population, you might hit up Rotary International online. They once ran a wicked good piece on world sanitation in their magazine, The Rotarian.

Yes, I read The Rotarian. Shaddup.

4. Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf

Omigod, this is hands-down one of the best books I've ever read. I hear a lot of people say they're into Sacks and they mention The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, or Awakenings, and these are fine books. But sometimes an author transcends himself with one book. For Sacks, it's this one.

Want to see into a subculture that is all around you, but you don't usually notice? When you get into this book, you'll be introduced to the Deaf community. Not the deaf community, the Deaf one. Sacks explains the distinction between capital Deaf and lowercase deaf. It's fascinating.

I came at this book from a more informed place than most will. As a grad student in Linguistics at UCSD in the 80s, some of my work was in ASL. The Salk Institute there is the heart of research into sign languages and I had the opportunity to work with Bellugi, Klima (my advisor), and Padden. Hm. These names are unlikely to be familiar unless you have a connection with Deaf people or ASL Linguistics. Anyway, there's a lot about all this in Sack's book.

I'll move onto the exploration of sign languages that Sacks presents. There will (may) come a point in reading this book when you suddenly "get" what signers are doing. It's so much like spoken language in so many ways—for example, propositional length (how long it takes you to get an idea out there) is equal to propositional length in a spoken language. Think about that. We can sign as fast as we talk.

Great shot of a conversation. They're not standing face to face,
looking at each other's hands. This is much more like it is in real life.

Yet, obviously, it's different in that it utilizes another dimension to replace sound: the visio-spatial aspect within our sensory repertoire. In learning about signing, when the break-through comes, you suddenly see how a movement of one finger (already defined as a certain person) toward another finger (already defined as another certain person) can carry all the meaning of "She came toward him"—and can be adjusted to carry different or ameliorated meanings such as "came down to him," "up to him," "ran over to him," "left him," etc., etc., etc. Sign does not rely only on "pictures"; movement and direction are crucial parameters.

Focusing on the subjective experience, this language is beautiful. Like to listen to someone speak Italian? All right, this is like that. No, it really is like that. It is gratifying and enchanting to learn ASL. When you know it to even some level, it is mesmerizing to "listen to."

I can't recommend this book enough. And carry it around with you when you read it. All your Deaf friends will think you're really in-the-know.<wink>

No comments:

Post a Comment