Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A List Of Animal Names Sorted By Syllable Count (Again)

I originally posted this list on 7/20/2015 as a google doc. Somehow the google doc got deleted, and I assumed the list was unrecoverable. Recently however, I found the list embedded in some word game code and am reposting it here. (How would the Earth keep spinning without a list of animal names sorted by syllable count?)

Notes on inclusion, as best I can remember from 2015:

  • Animal names are their common names, not their scientific names. (And the common names are in English, recognizing that English borrows from other languages.)
  • Animals aren’t included if they are mythical, microscopic, or extinct.
  • Categories of animals aren’t listed. Thus, rat in this list refers to an individual (“Look! A rat!”) rather than to a class; conversely mammal is excluded because of a judgment that it would be unnatural to use that word to refer to an individual (“Look! A mammal!”).
  • Multi-word animal names are only included if they have at least eight syllables. For example, lake trout isn’t listed, but Western Australian black-headed triplefin is.
  • The list aims to be complete, subject to the above restrictions. Feel free to suggest additions in the comments. 

Fifteen Syllables

Northern Chiapas arboreal alligator lizard

Fourteen Syllables

bromeliad arboreal alligator lizard, Monte Cristo arboreal alligator lizard, terrestrial arboreal alligator lizard

Thirteen Syllables

Espiritu Santo Island antelope squirrel, Matuda’s arboreal alligator lizard, Oaxaca arboreal alligator lizard

Twelve Syllables, One Word


Twelve Syllables, Three Or More Words

Appalachicola dusky salamander, Allegheny Mountain dusky salamander, Alvarez del Toro’s tropical night lizard, black-crowned Central American squirrel monkey, Canadian swallowtail tiger butterfly, central peninsular alligator lizard, Chiszar‘s arboreal alligator lizard, Emperor of Germany bird-of-paradise, Himalayan golden-backed three-toed woodpecker, Mitchell’s arboreal alligator lizard, Mount Zempoaltepec alligator lizard, New Caledonian blackhead surf triplefin, New Caledonian imperial pigeon, red-lipped arboreal alligator lizard, white-scaled arboreal alligator lizard

Eleven Syllables, Three Words

Abyssinian yellow-rumped seedeater, Louisiana slimy salamander, magnificent web-footed salamander, reticulated flatwoods salamander, Tiburon peninsula gambusia

Eleven Syllables, Four or More Words

aceramarca gracile mouse opossum, Brazilian radiolated swamp turtle, Central American woolly opossum, Deppe‘s arboreal alligator lizard, Ethiopian epauletted fruit bat, Gabilan Mountains slender salamander, Guatemalan emerald spiny lizard, lesser Angolan epauletted fruit bat, Mount Orizaba alligator lizard, New Caledonian soft-coral pipefish, Pacific double saddle butterflyfish, Reid’s arboreal alligator lizard, Rio de Janeiro arboreal rat, Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake, Santa Lucia slender salamander, Sierra Juarez alligator lizard, Smith’s arboreal alligator lizard, St. Helena deepwater scorpionfish, Sulawesi pied imperial pigeon, Western Australian black-headed triplefin

Ten Syllables, Two Words

Chestnut-bellied imperial-pigeon, King-of-Saxony bird-of-paradise, Madagascar paradise-flycatcher, Micronesian imperial-pigeon, yellow-tinted imperial-pigeon

Ten Syllables, Three Words

Abyssinian slaty flycatcher, Brazilian three-banded armadillo, Chacoan naked-tailed armadillo, California slender salamander, California tiger salamander, Carolina dusky salamander, Christmas Island imperial-pigeon, Columbia torrent salamander, Eastern triangular butterflyfish, Ethiopian narrow-headed rat, gregarious slender salamander, Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana, Hispaniolan elegant slider, Indian golden-barred butterflyfish, Indian vagabond butterflyfish, Indonesian doubles cardinalfish, Kiamichi slimy salamander, Madagascar dwarf hippopotamus, many-fingered grenadier anchovy, Mediterranean bigeye rockling, Mediterranean horse mackerel, Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise, New Caledonian owlet-nightjar, orange-bellied Himalayan squirrel, Oshan metacarpal-tubercled toad, Paramo Frontino salamander, Peruvian red-breasted meadowlark, Ramirez‘s alligator lizard, relictual slender salamander, Sacramento mountain salamander, shadowy web-footed salamander, Shenandoah mountain salamander, Southern Appalachian salamander, Tarapaca Pacific iguana, Tehachapi slender salamander, Uluguru violet-backed sunbird, yellow-fronted gardener bowerbird

Ten Syllables, Four Or More Words

Alcock’s narrow-body right-eye flounder, Australian pied imperial pigeon, Baja California legless lizard, Baja California rock squirrel, Catalina Island leaf-toed gecko, Central American river turtle, Central American spider monkey, Central American squirrel monkey, Channel Islands slender salamander, Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, Coastal Ecuador smoky jungle frog, Colorado desert fringe-toed lizard, De Queiroz’s spinytail iguana, East African epauletted fruit bat, East African little-collared fruit bat, East African long-eared elephant shrew, East Indian wandering whistling duck, Eastern Australian blackhead triplefin, Emilia’s gracile mouse opossum, Ethiopian large-eared roundleaf bat, Gulf of Carpenteria anchovy, Japanese pale-legged willow warbler, Jeet Sukumaran’s torrent-dwelling toad, Lake Victoria deepwater catfish, Margarita Island kangaroo rat, Middle American indigo snake, Moluccan rufous-bellied fruit pigeon, New Caledonian giant gecko, New Caledonian striped triplefin, New Caledonian thorny seahorse, New Zealand scaly-headed triplefin, Nolthenius’s long-tailed climbing mouse, Northern Bahamian rock iguana, Northwest Italian cave salamander, Okinawa black-breasted leaf turtle, Panamanian spiny pocket mouse, Peters’s dwarf epauletted fruit bat, San Gabriel slender salamander, San Simeon slender salamander, Santa Catalina spiny lizard, South American freshwater stingray, South American yellowfoot tortoise, Sumidero tropical night lizard, unicolored arboreal rice rat

Nine Syllables

Abyssinian scimitar-bill, Amazonian scrub-flycatcher, Amazonian tyrannulet, Amazonian umbrellabird, Antioquia bristle-tyrant, axillary-spot cardinalfish, black-headed paradise-flycatcher, carunculated caracara, chestnut-headed oropendola, cinnamon-bellied flowerpiercer, cinnamon-rumped foliage-gleaner, cosmopolitan leatherjacket, Ethiopian snout-burrower, grey-headed imperial-pigeon, henna-hooded foliage-gleaner, Hispaniolan solenodon, intermediate cardinalfish, Macronesian sharpnose-puffer, Madagascar anemonefish, Madagascar pygmy-kingfisher, magnificent bird-of-paradise, Marquesan imperial-pigeon, Mediterranean flyingfish, Mediterranean grenadier, Mindoro imperial-pigeon, Montezuma oropendola, naked-headed coralbrotura, Odaigahara salamander, Pacific imperial-pigeon, Patagonian canastero, pink-bellied imperial-pigeon, pink-headed imperial-pigeon, Princess Stephanie’s astrapia, purple-tailed imperial-pigeon, Raggiana bird-of-paradise, reticulated leatherjacket, russet-mantled foliage-gleaner, rusty-fronted tody-flycatcher, silvery-fronted tapaculo, Tarahumara salamander, Turkestanian salamander, white-bellied imperial-pigeon

Eight Syllables

Abyssinian ground-hornbill, African forest-flycatcher, akihito vanuatu, Amazilia hummingbird, Amazonian antipitta, Amazonian manatee, Amazonian parrotlet, Amazonian pygmy-owl, amber-coloured salamander, Amboina cardinalfish, American alligator, American oystercatcher, amethyst-throated hummingbird, Appalachian salamander, arboreal salamander, ashy-fronted flowerpecker, ashy-headed tyrannulet, Atlantic alligatorfish, Atlantic barracudina, Australian anemonefish, black-headed tody-flycatcher, Bolivian tyrannulet, Brazilia tapaculo, Catamarca tuco-tuco, chestnut-bellied flowerpiercer, chestnut-crowned foliage-gleaner, chestnut-winged foliage-gleaner, cinnamon tyrant-manakin, cinnamon-banded kingfisher, cinnamon-chested bee-eater, cinnamon-chested flycatcher, cinnamon-faced tyrannulet, cinnamon-throated woodcreeper, citrine canary-flycatcher, collared imperial-pigeon, common paradise-kingfisher, cordilleran canastero, creamy-breasted canastero, crimson-breasted flowerpecker, crimson-hooded honeyeater, California sturgeonfish, Caribbean gambusia, Cundinamarca antpitta, diademed sandpiper-plover, dominican gambusia, dusky-green oropendola, Ecuadorean tyrannulet, Eritrean butterflyfish, estuary cardinalfish, exclamation-point rasbora, fiery-shouldered parakeet, fiery-throated hummingbird, Frisch‘s imperial-pigeon, Galactama scorpionfish, gelatinous cardinalfish, glittering-bellied emerald, glittering-throated emerald, golden-winged tody-flycatcher, grey-chested jungle-flycatcher, Guadalcanal honeyeater, Guadalupe caracara, Guadalupe cardinalfish, Himalayan salamander, Hispaniolan amazon, Hispaniolan emerald, Hispaniolan parakeet, Hispaniolan woodpecker, Hokoriku salamander, holy-mountain salamander, imitator salamander, Indonesian honeyeater, iridescent cardinalfish, island imperial-pigeon, Itatiaia thistletail, Japanese barracudina, Junaluska salamander, lesser-spotted leatherjacket, Liberian black-flycatcher, Lichtenstein’s foliage-gleaner, Loria’s bird-of-paradise, Louisiade flowerpecker, Louisiana waterthrush, Madagascar magpie-robin, Madarasz‘s tiger-parrot, Magellanic tuco-tuco, Magellanic diving-petrel, Magellanic oystercatcher, Magellanic tapaculo, many-banded cardinalfish, Masiliwa snout-burrower, Mauritian anemonefish, McCulloch’s anemonefish, Mediterranean codling, Mediterranean flagfin, Mediterranean gecko, Mediterranean moray, Mediterranean rockling, Mediterranean slimehead, Mesopotamian gerbil, Mindanao jungle-flycatcher, Minihassa pipistrelle, mottle-breasted honeyeater, multicolorfin rainbowfish, Nicaraguan mosquitofish, oblique-banded cardinalfish, ocellated cardinalfish, ocellated scorpionfish, ocellated tapaculo, Okavanga tilapia, Oklahoma salamander, olive-spotted monocle-bream, orange-breasted honeyeater, orange-gorgetted flycatcher, orange-socket surgeonfish, orange-speckled pygmy-goby, oriental butterflyfish, Ozjikoto tilapia, pale-bellied tyrant-manakin, Patagonian grenadier, Patagonian mockingbird, Patagonian negrito, Patagonian tinamou, Peruvian scorpionfish, Peruvian tuco-tuco, Peruvian tyrannulet, plumbeous-crowned tyrannulet, Porteous’s tuco-tuco, purple-headed glossy-starling, Quebracho crested-tinamou, red-knobbed imperial-pigeon, reticulated dragonet, reticulated emperor, reticulated pufferfish, rufous-banded honeyeater, rufous-bellied chacalaca, rufous-headed chacalaca, rufous-sided honeyeater, rufous-throated honeyeater, rufous-vented chacalaca, rufous-vented tapaculo, russet-backed oropendola, rusty-belted tapaculo, rusty-fronted canastero, rusty-vented canastero, Sabaji‘s coralbrotula, scarlet-breasted flowerpecker, scarlet-headed flowerpecker, shining imperial-pigeon, Siberian salamander, slaty-winged foliage-gleaner, slender-footed tyrannulet, Soconusco gambusia, sooty-headed tyrannulet, spotted imperial-pigeon, suigen zenitenago, Sulawesi cicadabird, Tasmanian pademelon, tawny-breasted honeyeater, tessellated leatherjacket, two-banded anemonefish, unicolored tapaculo, Usamacinta buffalo, variable oystercatcher, Venezuelan bristle-tyrant, Venezuelan flowerpiercer, Victoria tilapia, Vietnam coralbrotula, Vilcabamba tapaculo, violet-bellied hummingbird, violet-chested hummingbird, violet-headed hummingbird, violet-throated metaltail, violet-throated starfrontlet, white-bonnet anemonefish, white-eyed imperial-pigeon, white-throated foliage-gleaner, white-throated jungle-flycatcher, yellow-bellied flowerpecker, yellow-bellied tyrannulet, yellow-breasted flowerpecker, yellow-headed caracara, yellow-lored tody-flycatcher, yellow-sided flowerpecker, yellow-spotted honeyeater, yellow-spotted salamander, yellow-spotted tinkerbird, yellow-tinted honeyeater, yellow-tufted honeyeater, yellow-vented flowerpecker, yellow-vented honeyeater, Yonahlossee salamander

Seven Syllables


Six Syllables

akiapola‘au, twixt-hell-and-the-white-oak

Five Syllables

bird-of-paradise, bokikokiko, coatimundi, constellationfish, hippopotamus, oropendola

Four Syllables

abalone, ajolote, akeke’e, alligator, anaconda, angwantibo, armadillo, babirusa, bandy-bandy, barracuda, budgerigar, cacomistle, caecilian, capercaillie, capuchinbird, capybara, caracara, cassowary, caterpillar, chacalaca, chameleon, chilipepper, chinamanfish, cock-of-the-rock, crocodilefish, ‘elepaio, Franciscana, honey-eater, honey-sucker, jaguarundi, kookaburra, matamata, mistletoebird, orangutan, oystercatcher, periwinkle, pineapplefish, massasauga, rhinoceros, salamander, solenodon, tamandua, tarantula, tilapia, tuatara, tuco-tuco, yellowjacket, yellowhammer

Three Syllables

agama, agouti, albacore, albatross, alpaca, anchovy, angelfish, anhinga, anteater, antelope, archerfish, argali, argonaut, avocet, backswimmer, bandicoot, barnacle, basilisk, bateleur, bee-eater, beluga, binturong, bluebeetle, bluebottle, bobolink, bonito, bower-bird, bristletail, brittle-star, buffalo, bufflehead, bumblebee, bushbaby, butcherbird, butterfly, cachalot, canary, canvasback, caracal, cardinal, capuchin, caribou, centipede, chameleon, characin, chickadee, chickenhawk, chimaera, chimpanzee, chinchilla, chowchilla, cicada, click-beetle, coati, coat-of-mail, cockatoo, cockchafer, coelacanth, colugo, cotinga, copperhead, cormorant, coyote, crocodile, crown-of-thorns, damselfish, damselfly, defassa, dibatag, doodlebug, dowitcher, dragonfly, echidna, elephant, fer-de-lance, flamingo, frigatebird, flycatcher, froghopper, galagos, gavial, gerenuk, gharial, gnatcatcher, gorilla, grasshopper, greenbottle, guanaco, guereza, guitarfish, gyrfalcon, halibut, hammerjaw, harrier, harvestman, hellbender, hummingbird, hyena, iguana, impala, jacamar, jacana, jackrabbit, japygid, jellyfish, jerboa, kakapo, kangaroo, katydid, kingfisher, kinkajou, koala, ladybird, ladybug, leafhopper, leatherback, loggerhead, mackerel, manakin, manatee, mangabey, marabou, marmoset, meadowlark, merganser, millipede, mockingbird, monitor, mosquito, mudskipper, mudnester, mudpuppy, nautilus, needlefish, night-heron, nightingale, nutria, ocelot, octopus, okapi, opossum, oriole, ortolan, ovenbird, parakeet, pangolin, parrotfish, peccary, pelican, perentie, phalanger, phalarope, pilotfish, pineconefish, piranha, pompano, porcupine, ptarmigan, pumpkinseed, quelea, rattlesnake, remora, roadrunner, rotifer, sandpiper, sapsucker, scorpion, shearwater, shingleback, shoveler, silverfish, sparrowhawk, stickleback, swallowtail, tamarin, tanager, tarsier, terrapin, tinamou, touraco, trematode, triggerfish, tunicate, vicuña, vireo, viscacha, wallaby, wapiti, waterbuck, waterflea, whippoorwill, wildebeest, wolverine, woodpecker, yellowlegs

Two Syllables

aardvark, aardwolf, addax, adder, alewife, angler, aphid, aye-aye, babbler, baboon, badger, banteng, barbel, barbet, barklice, beachflea, beaver, becard, bedbug, beetle, bichir, bilby, bison, bittern, blackbird, blackbuck, blackcock, blackfly, blacksnake, bloodworm, blowfly, bluebird, bluegill, bluejay, boa, boatbill, bobcat, bobwhite, bongo, boobook, booby, booklouse, boomslang, botfly, bowfin, bowhead, boxfish, broadbill, brolga, bulbul, bullfinch, bullfrog, bullhead, bunting, burbot, bushbuck, bustard, buzzard, cacique, calfbird, camel, catfish, cavefish, cavy, caiman, chacma, chafer, chaffinch, chamois, char, cheetah, chicken, chiffchaff, chigger, chipmunk, chiton, cichlid, civet, coachwhip, cobra, cockle, cockroach, condor, coneshell, conger, cougar, coral, cowbird, cowfish, cowrie, coypu, cranefly, crappie, crayfish, creeper, crossbill, cricket, cuckoo, cui-ui, curlew, cuscus, dasyure, desman, dik-dik, dingo, dipper, dogfish, dolphin, donkey, dormouse, dory, dugong, duiker, dunnart, eagle, earthworm, earwig, earworm, eelworm, egret, eider, eland, emu, ermine, falcon, fantail, fennec, ferret, finback, firefly, fisher, flatfish, flatworm, flicker, flounder, frogmouth, fruitfly, fulmar, gadfly, galah, gannet, gazelle, gecko, gemsbok, genet, gerbil, gibbon, giraffe, globefish, glowworm, goby, godwit, goldfinch, goldfish, gopher, grackle, grampus, grayling, greenfinch, greenfly, greenshank, grosbeak, groundhog, grouper, gudgeon, guenon, guppy, haddock, hagfish, hamster, hartebeest, hawfinch, hawksbill, hedgehog, heron, herring, hinny, hoatzin, hogfish, hookworm, hoopoe, hornbill, hornet, hornworm, horsefly, human, humpback, hydra, hyrax, ibex, ibis, insect, jackal, jackdaw, jaeger, jaguar, kagu, kea, kestrel, killdeer, kinglet, kingsnake, kiwi, knifefish, kouprey, kudu, lacewing, lamprey, lancelet, langur, lapwing, lechwe, lemur, leopard, lion, llama, lemming, liger, limpet, limpkin, linnet, linsang, lizard, lobefin, lobster, locust, loris, lory, lovebird, lugworm, lungfish, lyrebird, macaque, macaw, maggot, magpie, mallard, mamba, mandrill, mantis, mara, margay, markhor, marlin, marmot, marten, martin, mayfly, mealworm, meerkat, merlin, Minke, minnow, mollusk, mongoose, monkey, moorhen, mouflon, mousebird, mouse-hare, mullet, muskox, muskrat, mussel, mynah, narwhal, nightjar, nighthawk, nilgai, nuthatch, nyala, oarfish, orca, oryx, osprey, ostrich, otter, oyster, paca, panda, panther, parrot, partridge, penguin, petrel, pheasant, peacock, peewit, pigeon, pika, pikeperch, pilchard, pinworm, pipefish, pipit, pitta, plover, pochard, polecat, pollack, polyp, porgy, porpoise, possum, potto, pronghorn, puffin, puma, python, quetzal, quokka, rabbit, raccoon, raven, redhead, redpoll, redstart, reindeer, rhea, robin, rorqual, roundworm, sable, salmon, sandfish, sardine, sawfish, sawfly, sawyer, scallop, scarab, seagull, seahorse, sea-squirt, seastar, serval, shelduck, shipworm, shoebill, sidewinder, silkworm, skimmer, skua, skylark, slow-worm, smalltooth, sparrow, spearfish, spider, spoonbill, springbok, springhare, springtail, squirrel, starfish, starling, stingray, stonechat, stonefish, stonefly, sturgeon, sunfish, suslik, swallow, swordfish, tadpole, taipan, tapeworm, tapir, tarpon, tattler, tellin, tenrec, termite, tetra, threadworm, tiger, tigon, titmouse, topi, tortoise, toucan, towhee, treefrog, treesnake, trogon, tuna, tsetse, turbot, turkey, turnstone, turtle, urchin, viper, vulture, wagtail, walleye, walrus, warbler, warthog, waxbill, waxwing, weasel, weaver, weevil, weta, whimbrel, whitebait, whitefish, whitethroat, whiting, whydah, wigeon, willet, winkel, wireworm, wisent, wombat, woodchuck, woodcock, woodlouse, wood-worm, zebra, zebu

One Syllable

ant, ape, ass, barb, bass, bear, bee, bird, boar, bream, brill, bug, carp, cat, choogh, chub, cod, conch, coot, cow, clam, crab, crane, crow, dab, dace, deer, dhole, dog, dove, drill, duck, eel, elk, finch, fish, flea, fluke, fly, fox, frog, gar, gaur, gnat, gnu, goat, goose, grebe, grouse, grub, guan, gull, hake, hare, hawk, hog, horse, jay, jird, kiang, kite, knot, kob, krill, lark, leech, loach, loon, louse, lynx, midge, mink, mite, mole, moth, moose, mouse, mule, newt, owl, perch, pig, pike, plaice, quail, rail, rat, ray, roach, seal, slug, shark, sheep, shrew, shrike, shrimp, skate, skink, skunk, sloth, smelt, snail, snake, sole, sponge, sprat, squid, stoat, stork, swan, swift, teal, tench, tern, thrip, thrush, tick, tit, toad, trout, vole, wasp, whale, whelk, wolf, worm, wrasse, wren, yak

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Book Review: Kudos, by Rachel Cusk

Kudos, by Rachel Cusk

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover, 232 pages

My usual advice for reading multi-volume works is to begin by reading the most appealing volume in the series, regardless of where it appears in the intended sequence. This approach helps to prevent me from giving up before I finish the entire set. In the case of the trilogy OutlineTransitKudos, by Rachel Cusk, the three books aren't much different from one another. Transit is the most action-packed of the three, but even to say that is to deform the meaning of "action-packed" (imagine, say, a waiter dropping a plate of dishes in the film My Dinner with Andre). The fact is that these are quiet novels, and quietly powerful ones.

The most prominent themes of Kudos include such feminist topics as women and professions, children and marriage, and feminism itself. The one heart-stopping moment in the book, which I won't describe in any detail, also draws its power from a certain resonance with women's literature and history (which Cusk knows we know and therefore doesn't allude to explicitly). Another major theme continued from the previous books is the effort people make to impose narratives on life events. And details repeat: for example there is again an autistic boy. His monologue introduces the idea of kudos, and the events mainly take place at a writer's conference, where issues of fame and reward are close to the surface. (Cynicism about the publishing industry is palpable and sometimes funny.)

In a book that tells us almost nothing about its narrator, its narrator tells us a great deal about others. We don't only hear the interlocutors' words, we also get a wealth of description of their clothes, accessories, and physical person. In a conversation on a cramped airplane that opens the book, a tall man's height is the dramatic situation. Likewise the shape of a man at the end. In between, there are women birdlike or fleshy as well as a man who has radically changed his shape through exercise. Two different women have thin necks, "so that you felt you could reach out and snap it in two with your hands." These elegantly dressed women, one of them with gold and diamonds and pearls "on her arms and fingers and around her throat, as well as suspended from her ears," could not be more different from a naked, "huge, burly," 'malevolently grinning' man "with a great curling black beard and a rounded stomach and thighs like hams" and a "thick penis." This degree of attention to the body is familiar from contemporary scholarship in the humanities, but Cusk's predilections are concrete, not theoretical. She is showing us men and women as they are, and on the physical evidence it is remarkable that we usually abstract away so much concrete difference by means of the sexless concept, "person."

The writing in Kudos is very fine, but the prose seemed possibly less perfect than the prose in Outline, each of whose statuesque paragraphs was shimmering, voluptuous, and carved from cold marble. Perhaps after three books I've just gotten used to the voice of the narrator. During some of the many conversations that form the action of the novel, especially toward the end, I caught myself losing the suspension of disbelief; at these times, the character who was presently monologuing to Faye seemed like a mouthpiece for the author, or simply an unbelievable fictional creation. Nobody talks for so long without asking a question…nobody talks for so long about meaningful things in any case. Nevertheless, these books' chosen form is the mechanism by which they succeed in advancing the concept of realism in the novel. Individually and collectively Outline, Transit, and Kudos are a complex, engaging, contemplative pleasure.

Buy the book

Read this review on Amazon

Read my review of Transit

Friday, July 20, 2018

Nearest Neighbors (Solutions)

Here are solutions to the puzzles in the previous post.

In each puzzle, use the given word to create a new word of the indicated length by successively choosing nearest-neighbor letters and doubling letters where needed. (The first and last letters of a word are considered nearest neighbors, as if the word were wrapped around the outside of a cardboard paper-towel tube.) Note: the puzzles are listed in alphabetical order by the solution word.

named →  demanded

piles →  ellipses

rage →  garage

tinges →  ingesting

damned →  maddened

tine →  nineteen

lesion →  noiseless

pyre →  peppery

peso →  possesses

rite →  retiree

siesta →  sassiest

noise →  session

fate →  taffeta

atom →  tomato

rest →  tresses

flower →  werewolf

swing →  winnings

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Nearest Neighbors (Word Game)

Using the word aced, we could create the word acceded by starting with the letter a and successively choosing nearest-neighbor letters. We are allowed to choose a given letter twice in succession if we want to make a double letter.

The animation shows how to get from aced to acceded:

We will consider the leftmost letter and rightmost letter in a word to be nearest neighbors, as if the word were wrapped around the outside of a cardboard paper-towel tube. So for example, using the word nose, we could create the word oneness by starting with the letter o and successively choosing nearest-neighbor letters (and doubling letters from time to time as needed).

The animation shows how to get from nose to oneness:

Here are some puzzles of this type. In each puzzle, use the given word to create a new word of the indicated length by successively choosing nearest-neighbor letters and doubling letters where needed. Note: the puzzles are listed in alphabetical order by the solution word.

named →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

piles →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

rage →  __  __  __  __  __  __

tinges →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

damned →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

tine →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

lesion →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

pyre →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

peso →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

rite →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

siesta →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

noise →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

fate →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

atom →  __  __  __  __  __  __

rest →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

flower →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

swing →  __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Four by Jennifer Egan

This past winter I spent a quiet week in Montreal. The weather was scrumptiously awful, and in the snowbound cafés of Old Montreal I got a lot of reading done, including two novels by Jennifer Egan: 2011's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and last year's Manhattan Beach, which had been well reviewed in NYRB and which a lot of friends seemed to be reading. As usual I lost various belongings in taxis / cafés / hotel, so that in total by the end of the vacation I had actually bought two copies of Goon Squad and three copies of Manhattan Beach. Returning from Montreal, I immediately read two more Egan novels, 2011's Look at Me and 2006's The Keep.

I would recommend reading any of the four books. I might not recommend reading all of them, however, because—a credit to the author—these novels differ so much that any given reader likely has a best choice or two, depending on taste. Below, some notes on the novels with links to professional reviews if you'd like to follow up. (Reviews may have spoilers.)

Manhattan Beach. The most purely pleasurable book among the four. Many reviewers have sensed hidden depths in its themes and construction, but even its apparent depths are engrossing. I enjoyed its genre-play and its fresh, beautiful language. If I end up rereading Manhattan Beach, it will be so I can better understand the role of the protagonist's sister—the author's treatment of whom is one of the places where she most powerfully departs from narrative convention and cliché. Read a review. Buy it on Amazon.

Look at Me. Egan flirts with "being Egan" by including a private detective character, but this book is more of a standard 'serious novel' committed to realism and genrelessness. I dog-eared some pages to mark passages of lovely language, but not as many as in the other books. There's an unforgettable scene in which the protagonist is returning to modeling for the first time…those half-dozen pages are as good as writing gets. Read a review. Buy it on Amazon.

The Keep. The horror elements of this book were delicious. If, as a teenager, you had played a nasty prank on a cousin, leaving him trapped deep in a pitch-dark cave during a family picnic, after which he was forever changed, would you accept your cousin's invitation later in life to help him renovate a crumbling castle in Europe? I think not, and I can already hear you shouting "GET OUT!" at the main character when he arrives at the castle gate. But as good as Egan's sense of the macabre may be, she isn't confined by it; larger themes emerge in the book, including themes of isolation and being part of a modern society in which we are always reachable. Read a review. Buy it on Amazon.

A Visit from the Goon Squad. The most artistically daring of the four. For the most part, A Visit from the Goon Squad presents as a competent version of the Great American Novel (told from inside the music industry as it evolves from the Punk/youth vinyl era to the corporate digital age), but there comes a point suddenly when you find yourself reading dozens of pages in the form of Powerpoint slides! And then Egan pushes the ending out past the present to make the book partly a work of speculative fiction. There are some crazy and impressive choices here. Don't expect the book to cater to you. Read a review. Buy it on Amazon.

Having read four books by an author in one year, the temptation is irresistible to draw comparisons and make generalizations. I noticed for example that Egan favors a novel structured in Parts, with the final Part sometimes surprisingly brief. She doesn't mind introducing new characters late in the novel, even letting them take major roles in the final phases of the plot. Both proclivities can make for an unsatisfying ending to a book. On the other hand, a magically satisfying ending is essential only in a piece of escapist literature (and when I hear people complaining about endings, I wonder if they view all reading as escapist).

Egan wants to use words in a slantwise fashion, and this is mostly successful but not always. The prose is rocky in the opening pages of A Visit from the Goon Squad, but then Egan finds her groove. Manhattan Beach is dense with gorgeous similes and metaphors. At bath time, the body of a palsied child with its "unexpected twists" is "beautiful in its strange way, like the inside of an ear." Passages about diving offer long passages of aria-intense, finely wrought description.

There are bits of science or scientific perspective in all four of the books I read, as for example when a battleship is viewed as "a skyscraper turned on its side"; this is the kind of surprising shift in perspective that we often encounter when studying physics, as for example when the atmosphere is viewed as an ocean of air. Sometimes, events in these books occur in the near future; the extrapolations of current technology work well at a thematic level, but the concrete details can be clunky or corny—lacking in the kind of sexy geist that pervades William Gibson's work.

In a parallel universe, Jennifer Egan might have become a science fiction author (see her tour de force short story "Black Box," which made my Year's Best List in 2014, and which, as I realized this year, is a coda to A Visit from the Goon Squad). But the universe we're in is better. With her command of language, her generational vision, and her artistic ambition, I wouldn't want Egan to belong to any genre other than her own.