Friday, October 23, 2009

Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex

I dig language. It's pretty cool, right? Thanks, cavemen and cave-ladies! I make sounds with my mouth, markings on a surface, and they generate fairly specific thoughts in the head of an observer. MIND CONTROL. So, books about language? I dig them too. And though a goy, I'm also a lifelong New Yorker who watched a lot of Three Stooges in the 70s and early 80s and can remember a time when Mad Magazine and Spider-Man were larded with odd Yiddishisms, so I feel a special kinship with the Abrahamic dialects.

So this book about language? Eh, I've read better. Author Michael Wex--who's also apparently a stand-up comic?--isn't the worst writer in the world, but couldn't make the language pop for me. Maybe it's the layout: it's essentially one long prose list of Yiddish idioms, really more about "culture" than "language", and might have read better it had been made into entries like the Devil's Dictionary or The King's English, to dip into briefly and succinctly. Or maybe I just had inflated expectations; everyone from the New York Times to Cory Doctorow couldn't stop raving about this "surprise bestseller". It's interesting, but--as I feel myself saying every almost time I read popular nonfiction--probably would have been better at magazine-article length. Worth an afternoon spinning through, though.

No comments: