Books shouldn’t make one feel stupid

Even though I freely admit that there are severe gaps in my knowledge, I nevertheless consider myself to be intelligent and well-educated, with a better-than-average vocabulary. However, I have been defeated by a book. “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy is a frustrating read, because every paragraph seems to contain more than one word that I have never seen before, and that I can’t guess the meaning of through the context. The book is on my Kindle, which is helpful, because I can point to words, and the built-in dictionary shows a gloss at the bottom of the screen. But about half of the words that I look up in Blood Meridian are not in the dictionary. I tried skipping over the words, but that didn’t help. McCarthy’s prose links so many phrases together with conjunctions that the sentences in the book are often a paragraph long. It’s hard enough following such a long sentence when I understand the words that I’m reading. When I have to mentally hold place markers for unknown words, reading becomes an unenjoyable task.

My disappointment with the book is aggrevated by the praise that others have given it. I persevered with Blood Meridian much longer than I would normally do, because so many people have said such great things about the book. That disconnect between their appreciation for the book and my own experience only made my difficulty with it more frustrating. Finally, last night, I decided that the benefit wasn’t worth the struggle. I deleted the book from my Kindle. I usually fire books because they are poorly written or don’t hold my interest. With this book, I don’t feel like I’m firing it; I feel like I’m quitting.

I guess that I now have a greater appreciation for the frustration that poor readers have when trying to read. The cost of understanding how other people may struggle with reading is too high, though. Reading should be a pleasurable and/or educational experience. Reading should not make one feel stupid.

If McCarthy’s motivation was to show that his vocabulary is greater than the average person, then he succeeded. If his motivation was to get me to read his book, he failed.

Turnip Rock

After seeing a picture of Turnip Rock on the Internet last year, and discovering that it was in Michigan, I decided that we had to go see it in person.

We drove to Port Austin, which is on the very tip of Michigan’s thumb. We stayed the night in a local hotel, then the next morning, we rented kayaks and started our 2-hour paddle to the rock.

We stopped on a small island to rest and have lunch.

Lunch was MREs (“meals ready-to-eat”), which were developed for use by the military. They’re actually not bad-tasting, and very convenient for outdoor activities.

The north part of the thumb is surrounded by Lake Huron. The shore is rugged and rocky, and reminded us of Lake Superior in the UP.

Evan is a fearless kayaker (is that a word? My spellchecker seems to think not. But you know what I mean).

Stacy is more cautious. As we neared our destination, the wind and waves picked up quite  a bit. Although I never was worried about getting capsized, we got splashed by several whitecap waves. Lucky for us, the sun was shining, and the water wasn’t cold.

We had some serious trouble landing near the rock. Stacy was carried past the rock, and was pushed up against the rocky ledge at water’s edge. Evan stopped to help her land, but waves moved his kayak too close to shore, and it got flooded. It took three of us to get it out of the water and drained. Stacy was spooked, and needed a minute to catch her breath.

Here’s a picture of me in front of the rock. You can see how rough the water is. Compare the water in this picture with this picture from another visitor’s blog. You can see the size of the waves that we had to contend with.

The trip back was uneventful. We had a nice dinner in town to celebrate being alive. The next day we went to the beach to enjoy the sun and water.

I highly recommend the trip to experienced kayakers, but watch the weather. Don’t go out if the waves are too high!

Language confusion killed my lawn mower

The inherent ambiguity of the Chinese language, plus Chinese L1 interference on L2 English, contributed to the death of my lawn mower today.

Ian and Evan both wanted the chance to make some money, so the obvious choice was to stop the lawn service and have the boys take turns cutting the grass for money. We notified our yard guy that his services were no longer required, and we planned to have the boys start mowing this week, right after they got back from camp.

I came home from work today, and saw the lawn mower in the middle of the back yard. The grass was not cut.

Stacy reported that the lawn mower was “broken.” It wouldn’t start, and the carburetor was spitting oil. I went out and gave the cord a few pulls. Sure enough, it wouldn’t start, and the carburetor was spitting something, but instead of dark oil, what was coming out was clear. I opened the cap to the oil tank, and saw that it was shiny and clear inside, instead of dark and murky. I was quite puzzled, until I put the cap back on. The cap was clearly labeled “oil.” I instantly knew what had happened.

As tactfully as I could, I asked Stacy what steps she had taken to prepare the lawn mower. She said that she put gas in it, then tried to start it. That confirmed my suspicions.

The Chinese word for gas is 汽油, which can be translated literally as “steam oil,” but we commonly shorten in to just æ²¹, which is the “oil” part. When we put gas in the car, we say 加油, literally, “add oil.” There is another word for “engine oil,” æ©Ÿæ²¹. Same æ²¹ “oil” character in the name of that, too.

Stacy saw the word “oil” on the cap, assumed that it meant “gas,” and poured gasoline into the oil chamber. It turns out that pouring gas down the oil hole isn’t good for the engine.

My lawn mower is dead, killed by bad translation from Chinese to English. Whom can I sue for that?