Tuesday, August 31, 2010


context: “Sadir laughed and hoisted me up by my arm. He was a strapling of a man, as strong and ropy as a marathoner. I figured him for a rock climber. The mountains had made him ageless – he could have been twenty-five or forty.”

source of quote: Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell

Consider this a sequel to my May 26 post. In his book on the great apes Paul Raffaele described a gorilla nest in which the animal had “snapped and bent some striplings together …” In my May 26 post I noted that I was unable to find a definition of stripling that matched Raffaele’s use of the word. A stripling is not a form of plant growth. A stripling is a young man.

Similarly, I was unable to locate a definition of “strapling” that matched Tom Bissell’s use of the word. The urban dictionary offers, “incredibly good at sex,” and gives this sentence for context, “The strapling young lad pleasured her all night long.”

I don’t think the urban dictionary’s definition is the one Bissell had in mind. “Strapling” does not occur at Dictionary.com or in the Microsoft Word dictionary. Perhaps Bissell confused the words “strapping” (“tall and powerfully built,” according to the MS Word dictionary) and “stripling.”

I remember the strange “strapping” from my childhood. It always seemed to occur in a phrase like, “He was a strapping young man.” Thus I assumed it meant “healthy” or maybe good-natured. When I finally cracked a dictionary to see what it said I learned “strapping” was supposed to mean “muscular.” Tom Bissell’s new friend was certainly muscular – and powerful. If Sadir could have been 25, he must have seemed youthful (whatever “ageless” quite means), so “stripling” must have echoed in Bissell’s brain.

Strapling – it’s not a bad coinage. I rather doubt, though, that “stripling” and “strapping” remain familiar enough for their “strapling” offspring to achieve a long life.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

word of the day: climacteric

context: “In the fall of 1996, while my fellow volunteers and I underwent our Peace Corps training, Uzbekistan was suffering its largest agricultural shortfall in history. I knew nothing of this. Nor did I know about the potentially climacteric deals with Western companies such as McDonald’s melting into air because of the Uzbek government’s devotion to nativistic, strong-arm economics.”

Tom Bissell is saying that, even if you were inside Uzbekistan, it was hard to know much about it.

definition: “any critical period”
source: dictionary.com

So those “climacteric deals with … McDonald’s” were crititcally timed deals? The opportunity not grasped at once was lost? … McDonald’s? Yeah. Won’t see its like again.

The “critical period” definition seemed most apropos. However, the main definition seems to be: menopause …

source of quote: Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell

Sunday, August 01, 2010

pile of reading

The New Yorker, Dec. 10, 2007
Yes, I’m reading 2 1/2 year old New Yorkers. Hendrik Hertzberg starts “The Talk of the Town” column by castigating “the Bush Administration [over its] Mesopotamian misadventure.” There’s an essay on medicine by Atul Gawande. I recently read a collection of Gawande’s called Complications, a mix of journalism and memoir that reminded me of Lewis Thomas.

Caminante, poems by John Oliver Simon
I’ve met John Oliver Simon and we have friends & acquaintances in common. I’ve never cottoned to his poetry, but I wondered if I’d never given it enough of a chance. I’m enjoying this, a sort of Latin American haibun, in which Simon offers the poem first (always 8 lines) then follows with a prose piece placing the poem in the context of the journey through Latin America that he was taking in 1995-96; the prose also offers English translations of Spanish words in the poem and other helpful exposition. “Slide this chip under your tongue. / This stone is made of water. / Two-headed hurricane eagle crying.” In the following note Simon explains, “The two-headed golden eagle was traded out of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia …”

The Garden Thrives: Twentieth-Century African-American Poetry, edited with an introduction by Clarence Major.
I found this on the clearance shelf at Half Price Books so it was really cheap. For some reason it jumped the line; I mean, I’ve got stacks of books that I’ve been looking forward to reading yet this relative newbie was the one I picked up.

Captains of the Sands, by Jorge Amado
Continuing to work my way through the many novels of Jorge Amado. When readers come to the Information Desk at the library looking for a new author to fall in love with, I have to admit I repeatedly recommend Amado. I started this then got distracted by life.

The Golden Ass: the transformations of Lucius by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves
Haven’t gotten far in this either. Each time I read a few paragraphs I like it but I haven’t yet read more than a few paragraphs at a sitting.

Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover
About two-thirds of the way through and I’m discovering poets I like and rediscovering some I’d forgotten about. Michael Palmer: “You would like to live somewhere else // away from the exaggerated music / in a new, exaggerated shirt”

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius
I don’t know if I’m really tackling this but when I picked it up last night I read this: “Caesar also put on a gladiatorial show, but had collected so immense a troop of combatants that his terrified political opponents rushed a bill through the House, limiting the number of gladiators that anyone might keep in Rome; consequently far fewer pairs fought than had been advertised.” Julius Caesar was just an up-and-comer at the time, not yet dictator, so he had to follow the law, which meant he had reduce the number of shows, which meant he opened himself up to the charge of false advertising. I mean, I’m totally charmed by Suetonius explaining why Caesar’s disappointment of a gladiatorial show wasn’t Caesar over-promising and under-delivering. No, he had to follow the law!

Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
The prose is a bit leaden and repetitive and the subject deeply depressing, so I read only two or three pages at a time and wondered if I was going to make it through the book’s 600 pages. But then after describing how easy it is to kill many many people – and Goldhagen wasn’t talking about bombs, he was talking about clubs and small arms and machetes – he asks, “Why do the killers kill?” Do they approve of killing? When 40% of the population actively participates in the killing, and another 20% or more seems to approve, how did they get this far in their lives without whacking people over a place in line?

Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell
A mix of travel-writing, memoir, and history. Bissell returns to Uzbekistan years after having failed at a Peace Corps gig there. This time he’s on assignment. What happened to the Aral Sea?