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MannyRayner

Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights - A.S. Byatt, Richard Francis Burton, Anonymous Ah, if only I could write like the late Sir Richard Burton! Normally I dislike translations, but to refuse to read The Arabian Nights on those grounds would be like refusing to read the Bible. I love parodying people's styles, and I have tried my utmost to parody Burton convincingly, but I can't do it. He's too clever. He has taken this unique book, a miraculous survival from the most ancient antiquity, and he has created a unique language to make it accessible to us: the backbone is a kind of Spenserian English, but he has modified it in subtle ways, adding some French roots here, some Nordic ones there, pinches of more obscure ingredients when he feels he needs them, creating alliterations and internal rhymes and odd sentence structures to echo the rhythms of the original, inserting endless footnotes to tell us poor people what we're missing through not knowing Arabic.

Burton is always present in the text, leading us by the hand through his favorite passages, flooring us with a jaw-droppingly inappropriate comment one moment (it isn't sexist or racist: it transcends sexism and racism) and then turning round a second later to hit us with a marvellous piece of poetry or romance or heroism, crowing over his rivals' mistakes, inserting irrelevant anecdotes or obscure pieces of etymology that he just couldn't resist, showing off his knowledge of the seventeen languages he speaks fluently and the others that he just has a passing acquaintance with. And all the time, often without us even realizing what he's doing, telling us about Islam, the religion so many of us Westerners fear without understanding it, showing us what it's like from the inside, from the perspective of an eighth century cobbler or Caliph or slave-girl, how, whatever else it may be, it is a great religion, one that hundreds of millions of people have gladly lived and died in, without ever questioning the will of Allah or his prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

I have never read anything like it.