Monday, September 29, 2014

September 24: 2 Books

84. Fluent Forever: How To Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner

I try to read every language learning book that comes out as soon as possible after its publication date. I was not aware of this one until I ran into it quite serendipitously at a small mom and pop bookshop in SoHo recently while waiting to meet my good friend Alan for dinner at a local Israeli food joint.

As a language teacher (beginning Cantonese Chinese to non-native speakers for 3 years now and beginning spoken Mandarin Chinese to non-native speakers as of this past week (this is my first semester teaching that dialect)), I am usually not particularly impressed by popular books on language learning techniques and resources. Case in point, my personal opinion about Rosetta Stone, which I view as an excellent resource for intermediate and advanced learners but just about the worst method ever for absolute beginners. However, I was VERY impressed with this book -- so impressed that I intend to reread it this fall and contact the author to hopefully interview him for my foreign language learning blog, which I also plan to develop into a fully-funtional internet learning portal in 2015.

Because of my need to keep these reviews short, due to the fact that my life recently exploded with unintended and unforeseen time-suckers and I "shouldn't" even be using this time right now to type this entry, I will summarize my impression of this book by saying this: if you are interested in learning how to mount a multi-pronged approach to learning your foreign language or languages of choice right now in 2014 / almost 2015, THIS would be one of the first books you should read, especially if you are a Youtube / Skye / social media-savvy so-and-so and would like to spend a good portion of your time using these resources, along with various apps and electronic flashcard resources in your studies. Feel free to comment on this entry and I will elaborate if there is any interest. For now, I need to move onto the next review.

85. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Boy feels that the entire world is phony and that no one he knows except for his younger sister and at times his older brother (who has sold out, but is still loved) are "real" individuals, saying what they mean and living life as they intend to live it. Boy has a fist fight with an arrogant prep school classmate and is kicked out of his umpteenth high school. Boy has a couple of weeks before he is due home in New York City for semester break. Boy travels to NYC early, accidentally hires a prostitute who is younger than him, and gets into another fist fight with said hooker's pimp when boy refuses to pay an inflated price for a trick he didn't even take. Boy calls up several girls and guys that he knows from his past in the hopes that they might not be phony like everyone else. Boy sneaks into his house and runs into his kid sister, who sees right through his scam and wants to be a part of his adventure. Kid sister refuses to back down and threatens to run away with boy. Boy relents and waits for his parents' arrival, so he can have yet another confrontation about yet another failure in his young life.

I am blessed to have my dad's original copy of this book from the late 1950s / early 1960s (alas, not a first edition pb, though), and I have read this copy 4 times now, I believe. I decided to reread this book because I have always enjoyed the writing style as well as the narrator's attitude towards trying to find meaning in life and in social interactions. Living in New York City, albeit 50 years after the main character of this book, the story has continued to resonate with me through multiple readings throughout my teens, twenties, thirties, and now forties. My friend Alan had mentioned this book in the same moment when he suggested that Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby did not measure up to Dickens. I am not sure that I agree or disagree with that statement. Good writing must first and foremost resonate with the time and world of the contemporary reader. Great writing should continue to resonate with the lives of future generations. I think that this book accomplishes that, in its comparative simplicity of style and content. It has my vote of confidence as a part of the 21st century canon of American literature.

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