Congratulations to Blogathon 2012 Participants!

It was my first time participating in Blogathon and I enjoyed it, though it was a bit hectic. I wrote more than I thought possible (and hopefully at least some of my posts were interesting!).

Since Blogathon is over, I will not be posting every day. In a way, it will be nice not to have to worry about coming up with post topics, but I hope deteriorate into a cycle of not posting for weeks on end, then guiltily writing five posts in one day.


Is There a ‘Right’ Way to Write Fiction?

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I did that when I saw this book.

On Sunday, I wrote a little post about a thriller novel I recently read, Rules of Vengeance. Reading that book made me think about other thriller novels I’ve read, specifically those by Daniel Silva. He is another one of my favorite authors and I got started reading his Gabriel Allon series when I saw Moscow Rules in the bookstore.
Continue reading “Is There a ‘Right’ Way to Write Fiction?”

Grad School Applicants Anonymous

I’m serious, I want to start a group called Grad School Applicants Anonymous. That’s a bit cumbersome to say, of course, so we can shorten it to GSAA. And yes, a group like this is necessary because everything about the grad school application process is murdering me! GRE, personal statement, you name it.

It makes me wonder how I ever survived applying to university. Perhaps the difference was I was incredibly eager to get out of high school and away from my town, but I was not eager to leave university. (The fact that I am not a student there anymore crushes my soul sometimes.) My life was so much simpler before I graduated…

I would blog more, but I can’t. I have to go study for the GRE. And write my personal statement.

Happy Memorial Day!

Not only is it Memorial Day, it is also Wordle Day for us Blogathoners. Wordle is a clever little service that allows you to create a visual representation of the most common words on your blog. I’m not sure why Spanish is coming up so strongly on mine…

Click on the image to see it larger.

Some Thoughts on Christopher Reich’s ‘Rules of Vengeance’

Is that not the most fabulous cover ever??

There are two things you will learn about in this post: I absolutely adore spy novels and I am incredibly jealous of author Christopher Reich.

I first saw Reich’s novel Rules of Vengeance last December when I was home for Christmas break. After all, how could I fail to notice a book with such a simple, yet fabulous cover? I was too cheap to buy it, though, and I forgot about it, until last night. Last night, I remembered that I have a $40 credit on my Amazon account, thanks to Amazon trade-ins (I got rid of three course books I despised when I traded them in), and I decided to buy Rules of Vengeance on my Kindle. (It was only $7.99!)
Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Christopher Reich’s ‘Rules of Vengeance’”

Literary Translation and the Nobel Prize in Literature

On Wednesday, I hosted literary translator Lisa Carter on this blog. I also wrote a guest post for her blog, too, about literary translation and the Nobel Prize in literature. I am too tired to blog properly today, so just read my guest post on her website if you have not already.

After today, only six more days left for Blogathon. Isn’t it crazy? I can’t believe I’ve blogged so much!
Continue reading “Literary Translation and the Nobel Prize in Literature”

What Languages Should a Historian Learn?

Flags at my university. Note the Russian flag.

The title of this post was a recent Google search that led to my blog (I’m proud to say I ranked number one in that search, above the American Historical Association.) Usually the search terms that lead people to my blog are really boring, really strange, or just repetitive (I never knew how many people were fascinated by the Google maps car!), but this one made me think. My undergraduate program did not offer any advice on language learning for historians, so I’m assuming that other programs may not, either.

The most important language to learn is the main language spoken in your area of interest. Obviously, that means Russianists should learn Russian, those studying Mexico Spanish, and so on. Some people don’t immediately know what their area of speciality is. I would advise trying to decide as soon as possible which country you want to research, even if you don’t know the era you wish to focus on.
Continue reading “What Languages Should a Historian Learn?”

A Journey of Language

Today, I have something very special for you: a guest post by Lisa Carter, a literary translator living in Canada I have befriended on the internet. She translates from Spanish into English and has quite an impressive portfolio. I learned about Blogathon from reading her blog. She agreed to write a guest post for me today about her experiences learning Spanish.

I never intended to learn Spanish. It seemed too easy. I wanted the challenge of languages like German and Russian that use the case system, have declensions, words so long they take up a whole line of text – heck, words that are written in an entirely different alphabet! Life has a funny way of unfolding, though. Here I am today, years later, hardly able to remember a single word of Russian or German, but using Spanish all day, every day, in work that I love, as a translator.

What made all the difference for me in this journey of language learning was in situ experience, living the language rather than conjugating verbs by rote or reading Dick-and-Jane-type stories in a textbook. I got that opportunity right after university, when I was hired to work at the Canadian pavilion in Seville, Spain, as part of Expo ’92. It was the perfect introduction to Spanish. I could soak it up in the narrow, winding streets where gypsies sold flowers, sit on the steps of the Cathedral and listen to impromptu Flamencan songs, muddle my way through everyday transactions like buying groceries and going to the bank. I could then come home, exhausted, and speak English to my three housemates.

There was something about the rolling sound of Spanish that found its way into my heart during the year I was in Spain. I left knowing my next destination would be Latin America. I would put my degree in Applied Linguistics to use, teaching English, and I would become fluent in Spanish.

These were pre-Internet times. I had to find overseas job opportunities in resources at the public library. As I narrowed the possibilities down, I wrote to schools in Colombia, Mexico and Peru. I tore into every reply, anxious to see if I had been hired. But something was different the day the envelope arrived from ICPNA in Trujillo, Peru. I held it unopened in my hands, looked up at my sister and said, “I’m going to teach English in Peru.”

That’s where this language became firmly embedded in my heart, in my soul, in my very being. Over the course of the seven years I lived in Peru, Spanish became the language of everyday banalities, employment, entrepreneurship and love – love of a people, a place and a culture.

It wasn’t always easy. I spent the first several months listening, absorbing the language. I spoke only when absolutely necessary, grateful to be in an English cocoon all day at work. I kept my eyes downcast in social situations, afraid to engage. Thank goodness most occasions in Peru are filled with loud music and dancing; I could participate without having to open my mouth.

As time wore on, I would spend the day with newfound friends. They had me practice tongue twisters to improve my pronunciation: El carro corre por la carretera a toda carrera. They prattled and laughed, prompted and encouraged. By the end of the day, my brain literally ached from the effort of trying to understand and be understood.

I did, however, begin to notice little steps and great strides forward in my language learning. I would read a billboard and connect the written word to a spoken one I had just learned. I grew confident enough to answer the phone. I kept my eyes up and alert, hoping for the opportunity to converse. Every now and then, I would catch myself speaking words I didn’t know I knew and be amazed.

By a certain point, Spanish tumbled off my tongue as fast as any native speaker. It was the language of my work, my community, my life. It took over so completely that my English actually began to deteriorate. I would search for words, say things like “gassy water” instead of “sparkling water”. On a visit home one year, I remember listening to two friends speak. I marveled at their extensive vocabularies, tried to remember choice words. It was as if I were learning my mother tongue all over again.

Now, twenty years after the first taste of Spanish on my tongue, it is the language of my profession. Every day, I read works in Spanish. The corresponding English words spill out through my fingertips, via a keyboard and onto the screen. I have found balance, living in the two languages I adore, bringing the words of one into the other. It may not be the life I envisaged when I started university, but I wouldn’t change the outcome for the world.

Lisa Carter is a Spanish-to-English literary translator, with six published titles and a seventh forthcoming in 2013. She was nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for her translation of The Einstein Enigma: A Novel, by José Rodrigues Dos Santos. You can find Lisa on her professional website at, where she blogs about literary translation. You can also follow her on Twitter at @intralingo.

I Feel Like I’m Losing My Russian…

…and I don’t like it one bit!

I need to find Russian speakers so I can practice. I need to read more in Russian (I promised my professor I’d finish The Master and Margarita in Russia). And, most unpleasantly, I need to write more.* In general, I need to use Russian more!

*My writing in Russian is quite horrible.


Today, the Blogathon theme is haikus, so today’s post will be very short.

soft fur, loud meow
piercing blue eyes, and gray tail
a Tonkinese cat

That is in honor of my cat.

sea lions swimming
flowers blooming on the hill
sun in the blue sky

That was inspired by a trip I took to California six years ago.

(For the record, I haven’t written haikus, much less published them in public, for years and years, so this is a bit embarrassing…)