Friday, 13 July 2007

reading English and listening French - bien sur!

Wow, these reviews are really demonstrating how slack I've gotten about listening to new music - I received So Frenchy So Chic for my birthday in April!

This double cd is the 'soundtrack' to the (Australian?) French film festival, but I'm not sure if the tracks come from the films, or if it's just a chance to capitalise on the momentum of French culture making an appearance in the media.

Even though I've been listening to this cd a lot, I can't really pick out and comment on the songs individually - everything is French (and by extension mostly in French), and therefore I don't know any of the artists, and can't pick out the song titles by ear.

Overall though I've really been enjoying it. Most of the songs are folky acoustic numbers, with perhaps a jazzy twist - is this really what French music all sounds like, or has the compilation been put together with our cliches in mind? Either way, they're on the whole very good. The fact that it's mostly in French has both its upsides and its downsides for me. I can't sing along as I usually do, but then I can't accidentally break into song on the bus either, and it makes good non-distracting background music. I think hearing the French accent is beneficial for my own tongue, and more and more frequently I hear a word or phrase that I recognise and I want to go and shout out the window "HE JUST SAID 'JE SUIS UN BON ACTEUR' . THAT MEANS 'I'M A GOOD ACTOR'. I UNDERSTAND! PLEASE GIVE ME A PAT ON THE BACK!". Ocassionally a song is in (or partly in) English, and then for a split second, the fact that I understand it all implicitly makes me think I've suddently become fluent in French, before I realise what's going on. But helpfully, most of the tracks are slow enough that the words are at least clearly distinguishable, even if I don't know what they mean.

As someone who's been learning French, I've been finding it quite worthwhile, to hear more of the language in an enjoyable way. It's also a nice relaxing, easy to listen to cd which would make great background music; however, if you like really energetic, engaging music that you can sing along to (and you don't speak French), this perhaps is not for you.

These little books are so cute, I can't believe I haven't bought more. This one has four separate pieces in it by George Orwell, all of which are quite different. The title piece, 'Why I Write' is also the first, and quite short. It's pretty much what it sounds like - a short discussion of what compelled George Orwell to write, from his earliest memories to why he continuted to make it his profession. He also makes a few more general comments about why he believes all writers write, which are quite interesting.

The second (and largest) piece 'The Lion and the Unicorn', written in 1939 I think, starts off as a description of why England is the way it is - warm beer, stiff upper lip, respect for the rules - and how that is different to other places and peoples. It is very interesting now to see what has changed and what has remained the same in the 60 odd years since he wrote it. The piece then morphs into an argument for why England must become a Socialist country if the Allies are to win the war! His argument is very compelling, but obviously the premise is false, so from an historical perspective, it's an interesting read.

The third (and shortest) piece is a description of the author (non-fiction, presumably) seeing a man hanged in Burma. The last piece, 'Politics and the English Langugage' is a critique of the downfall of the written word. I was worried at first, assuming it to be a diatribe against the 'watering down of the big-E English by everyday langugage' (the same arguments that are going around now about text speak etc), but instead I found it most fascinating. I was totally wrong about it - Orwell argues that political (and academic) writing is becoming too convolued, abstract and bland. He describes the style becoming popular (standard academic writing these days), and picks apart a number of examples he finds. He argues that writing in this style not only confuses the reader (a useful tool in politics), but is also lazy and easier than taking the time to clarify your thoughts and articuate them in a simple and elegant manner. He continues by giving 6 rules for improving one's writing - here are the five that I remember:

1. Never use a foreign or technical word when a simple everyday one will do
2. Use your own metaphors and turns of phrase - not those already in circulation
3. If you can cut out a word, cut it out
4. Use the active rather than the passive voice where possible
5. Never use a long word when a short one will do

I really liked this last piece, which rang very true for me, as I spend my days trying to understand convoluted academic writing, usually assuming that I'm the dumb one for having trouble with it. It was great to read Orwell's discussion, because I've experienced so much of what he writes about, and having it laid out so clearly will also hopefully help me improve my own writing. It is a worry, however, that things seem to have gotten worse since he wrote this in the 40s. It's a cliche, but I wish they'd make every first year read this article!

Overall, I found these short works really fascinating, even though they're non fiction (again!) which is usually not my thing. They're short, interesting topics, and unsurprisingly, Orwell's writing is clear and precise and enjoyable to read. Thank God!

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