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I found a wonderful book while browsing today, The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification by Julian Montague. The book describes a ludicrously complicated taxonomy of abandoned, vandalized, destroyed, or misplaced shopping carts, illustrated with several hundred high-quality photographs of carts in various settings. It is wonderful in a deeply weird way. The categories include such things as A/3 Bus Stop Discard, B/10 Plow Crush, B/13 Complex Vandalism, and B/20 Bulldozed. The Selected Specimens photos have hilariously detailed captions such as "This B/17 REMOTE GROUP appears to be the result of multiple acts of B/16 EDGE MARGINALIZATION originating from an adjacent municipal housing project where numerous B/4 ON/AS PERSONAL PROPERTY carts can be found regularly."

The whole concept of the book is somewhere in that fuzzy area encompassing prank, art project, parody, actual semi-serious study, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I find it deeply appealing and hilarious.

Needless to say, I've gone back to my flickr photos of abandoned shopping carts to add classification notations, and I'll be on the lookout for carts to photograph and add to my collection.
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Between You and I: A little book of bad English, by James Cochrane. This is a short and quick book of common errors and things that just annoy the author. It’s a reasonably entertaining book, but it doesn’t have the quantity of horrible examples and lengthy diatribes that the really funny language books have. It is shorter that way, though. Just about everyone can learn something from it. It’s probably a fairly good book for the non-native speakers, too, at least those who are fairly fluent.
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Spanish Lessons: Beginning A New Life In Spain, by Derek Lambert. He moved with his family to a small town in Spain to write, rest, and encounter the sort of colorful local characters you meet in a small town in rural Spain. He ended up in a lengthy house renovation project, performed by a bunch of semi-competent workers who didn’t necessarily speak any language he could speak and who didn’t necessarily show up at any particular time. In that respect, it was just like the United States. It’s a fun book to read.

I always wonder, though, what it would be like to read a book by someone who moved to some famously organized, tidy, punctual place, perhaps Switzerland. “The carpenters showed up at exactly 09:00, with all three-hundred pages of building permits filled out and approved exactly according to law.” Or are Swiss roofers just like the American version, all recently released from prison? And what is a Swiss ex-prisoner like? See, questions abound.

The best quote of the book is about conversations with a policeman, which I must share with my German friends:

In his view, laws were merely guidelines and foreigners’ respect for them never ceased to amaze him. The obedience of Germans exasperated him. Over a coffee and a brandy he told me one day that two of them had actually gone to the town hall in Denia and informed startled officials that their papers were out of order.


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January 2015



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