One of the Booking Through Thursday blogging ideas was the question of what you do when you find a word you don’t know.
It all depends for me. Sometimes, I skip over and assume from context that it all works out. Sometimes, I actually get up to find a dictionary. And sometimes, I keep a list, for later. I keep a journal and have EVERYTHING written in it: grocery lists, to dos, phone numbers, sketches, notes to remember and just venting, and sometimes silly doodles. I have no concerns about whatever is in it. I love to start blank books and make a mess of them. They are me.
So, when the BTT I’m referring to was all the rage, I had just started House of Meetings by Martin Amis. I enjoyed this book very much. It had humor and horror. Brutality and tenderness. AND quite a few words I didn’t know. Fortunately, none of these slowed me down or annoyed me.
Before I get to the list and give you all a chance to feel really good about big words you know that I didn’t, allow me to say that some of these words I write down as if I don’t know them and yet I MUST. I can prove I’ve looked up some of these a thousand times. I think it’s habit. Or my brain wanting to laugh at me! I can just hear my 11th grade English teacher telling me in that tone, “you know this.” I wonder if I just don’t trust myself to KNOW it. Anyway, I will show those words in bold.
I am also citing paragraphs that impressed me but I gave my book to my book-friend and now can’t provide those passages for you! SORRY. If I wrote in my notes how the word was used, I put it in parenthesis.
I read this book as part of Trish’s HEY LADY! blog Novella challenge. It was the ONLY book that popped up for me in my town’s library computer system when I asked it for novellas. It was just under 250 pages. So, this is sort of one of those books that found me.
It’s a last letter to an only daughter from an old man who survived WWII and then prison camp in Siberia. He himself waited until the end of his life to read a letter from his brother, the brother who married the woman that the old man had been in love with. That letter was to explain WHAT HAPPENED in the “House of Meetings” on a particular date. So, the old man’s letter tries to explain why he could never ‘just get over it and move on’, as well as how being Russian, he is and can only be what he is. The book has treachery and brutality of war and politics all the while interweaving the details of the love triangle. Though written by a Brit, the book attempts a Russian voice and brings up Tolstoy and Dostoevsky so it assumes the reader knows the specifics of what makes Russian literature “Russian.” It is a fascinating look into a national consciousness. Many interesting insights to all sorts of human dilemmas.
Ready for some words!?
P.10 – scalene – having all sides unequal, usually in reference to a triangle
p.10 – verst – (defined in next sentence!) Distance, barely more than a kilometer
p.11 – pelf – boodle: informal terms for money
.11 – claocal – (as in cloacal frenzies) – A sewer or latrine. Zoology. The common cavity into which the intestinal, genital, and urinary tracts open in vertebrates.
p.14 – cruising north, but downriver, which feels anomalous (I so understand!)
p.19 – rictus (mirthless rictus) – a gaping grin or grimace
p.27 – urka – orig. in camps, ‘hardened criminal’, ‘criminal type, tough guy
p.35 – solipsistic – Solipsism (Latin: solus, alone + ipse, self) is the philosophical idea that “My mind is the only thing that exists”.
p.40 – scrufulous – Literally, relating to scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymph nodes, particularly of the neck)
p.63 – tannoy – a loudspeaker
p.65 – seigneurism – spelling!? Seigneuralism? The tendency to define fixed, mutually exclusive stages of socio-economic
p.65 – insouciance – carefreeness: the cheerful feeling you have when nothing is troubling you
p.70 – obloquy – state of disgrace resulting from public abuse
p.72 – voulu – contrived or forced: said as of certain effects in a literary or artistic work
p.74 – sisters: coercion, fabulation, amnesia
p.80 – onanism – masturbation: manual stimulation of the genital organs (of yourself or another) for sexual pleasure
p.95 – succubus – In medieval legend, a ‘succubus‘ (plural succubi; from Latin succubare, “to lie under”) is a female demon which comes to men, especially monks, …
p.126 – regnant system – reigning; dominant, as a queen regnant
p.131 – entire paragraph! …had quaffed sublimity and love.
p.142 – modernity – I just like how that sounds….
p.151 – croupier – An empoyee of a European casino. Operates the roulette table with other croupiers.
p.167 – entire paragraph – comparing literature per its origin country…
p.168 – bilious (I prefer more bilious colors – browns and greens) – relating to or containing bile
p.174 – who is Wilfred Owen?
p.181 – deliquesce – melt away in the process of decay
p. 222 – bathetic – effusively or insincerely emotional; “a bathetic novel”; “maudlin expressions of sympathy”; “mushy effusiveness”; “a schmaltzy song”; “sentimental
p.233 – entire paragraph – lifeful… specific deformation
p.241 – senex (from satyr to senex in an afternoon) – Latin for old man. In Ancient Rome, the title of Senex was only awarded to elderly men with families who had good standing in their village
After I had read this, I found a short story [God Sees the Truth, But Waits] by Tolstoy about a guy in a prison camp for many years even though he was innocent. On the day he was exonerated by the guilty party confessing, they find the man dead in his bunk. The end. I wish I could explain how well this stamped in the concept of Russianness to complement the House of Meetings! Futility? is that what I’m supposed to get? I think so. Life sucks so get used to it? And yet, it’s not presented to be depressing, it just IS.
NY Times from Jan 2007
Taking Advantage of the New WordPress Search (for House of Meetings/Amis)
One of my favorite book blogs! Verbivore at Incurable Logophilia