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Alaskan Range: Anlage

"“Anlage,” which means “an organ in its earliest stage of development,” was in John Steinbeck’s vocabulary, but not mine until recently when I re-read a short selection from “Grapes of Wrath” in Lapham’s Quarterly,'' writes columnist and librarian Greg Hill.

Steinbeck wrote that “the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog’s coat, and foxtails to tangle in a horse’s fetlocks, and clover burrs to fasten in sheep’s wool; sleeping life waiting to be spread and dispersed, every seed armed with an appliance of dispersal … each possessed of the anlage of movement.”

Lapham’s is a rakishly erudite publication, intellectually enticing, stimulating and challenging; this is no People Magazine. In fact, “magazine” seems insufficient an expression to describe Lapham’s 220 pages of essays, excerpts, art and quotations drawn from the full range of human authorship, all beautifully written, printed and interwoven around a unifying theme. This edition’s focus was on “animals,” and its 80 contributors include Aesop, Audubon, Kipling, Yeats, Ovid, T.H. White and Patrick O’Brian.

Among all the world’s wordsmiths, O’Brian’s my personal favorite. Lapham’s O’Brian’s selection involves orangutans in Borneo and is from his novel, “Thirteen Gun Salute.” The librarians on our library’s Selection Committee have individual responsibility for certain sections of the collection. This includes reading reviews and making recommendations on what to add, and I happened to be listening to the library’s copy of the audio version of that very book when assigned Lapham’s to review.

Mentioning this serendipitous event to my sweetie provided occasion to announce that Mr. O’Brian had taught me another entertaining word: “castramentation.” Nope: not what you think. As one of O’Brian’s characters defined it, castramentation’s “the learned word for setting up camp and so on.”

Ah! How exhilarating to expand one’s vocabulary by reading great writers’ best words, and what better place than a good public library. Librarians are trained to seek out books that will appeal to readers, instead of screening readers from alarming topics. This falls along the lines of those who wake up daily expecting the world to be an interesting, informative and entertaining place. They’re more likely to notice the events that arouse interest, inform and entertain instead of the opposite.

This looking for the good to embrace in books instead of the bad to ward off is an anlage of public librarianship. Don’t forget that “anlage” is of Germanic origin. In terms in inclusivity, German’s light years beyond even all-embracing English. This is demonstrated by the opening to an amusing Grantlands.com article by Brian Phillips about the European soccer championship being played by two German teams.

“The glory of the German language is that it has a word for everything. When the original creators of English knocked off for the day — James ‘I don’t know, Ted, three syllables feels like a lot.’ Ted, ‘Right you are, James. Let’s call it a language and play lawn wickets.’ — the world’s first Germans just straightened their wigs and kept right on word-forging.

Thorsten, ‘What should we call “the pleasurable sadness of watching a sailboat pass by a stone bridge on the day before an election”?
Sieglinde, ‘Fruhdemocratpuffbootsteinbrucktraurigkeit. Next’?’”

The website Grantland.com was recommended to me by a trusted local authority on books and sports as “where the good sports writers go to write.” This also raised some questions about its namesake: legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice. His lasting fame came from dubbing the 1924 Notre Dame football backfield “The Four Horsemen” in lurid phraseology: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction, and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden.”

It was refreshing after that to read “Why Grantland Rice Sucked” by Grantlandia writer Tommy Craggs. “Grantland Rice was everything his namesake website should aspire not to be. He was a pandering mythmaker who wrote verse and prose the way Thomas Kinkaid paints carriage lanes.”

Are Cragg’s words superior to Rice’s? Access to both at the library allows us to decide for ourselves. That’s fortunate, because English also includes connotative conjugations, coined by Bertrand Russell in 1948 who “playfully conjugated an ‘irregular verb’ as ‘I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.’”


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