I read to Jerry almost every night when we go to bed. It makes him fall asleep easily and quickly. However, I have to find the right sort of thing to read. Some things put him to sleep too quickly, and then we don’t have the pleasure of sharing something that interests both of us. Finding the right book often takes some experimenting.
I have tried many. He often enjoys watching BBC dramas based on the Victorian novelists. We both loved the BBC Bleak House, so I tried that for bedtime reading. It didn’t work. He would immediately get dozy from the music of the language and lose the thread of the story. Besides there were too many characters. Middlemarch had the same drawback. For a while we read a book about early civilizations in the New World. That worked, but we left it in Alaska, and I can’t remember either the title or the author.
I happened to be reading a series by Alexander McCall Smith, the “44 Scotland Street” series. I regard this as literary sugar candy, but I’m not too proud to indulge. This series originally appeared as daily installments in a newspaper in Edinburgh, and the episodes are short and simple. Jerry got interested in the characters, and the segments were just long enough to finish before he went to sleep. Sometimes we could even read two an evening. And there were 4 books in the series, so it took a long time to get through them. Alas, now we have read all 4. Another is published in England, but it is hardback and expensive to have sent over.
So now another round of experimenting begins. I thought I’d try the Victorians one more time. We had watched the BBC version of Mrs. Gaskell’s North and South so I rummaged through the hundreds of books around here and actually found 2 copies, one my mother’s and one my daughter’s. Put him to sleep in a twink.
I remembered as a child being unable to stop reading Jane Eyre, especially the first part where she was a child and her cruel aunt shut her up the fearful red room that her uncle had died in. That turned out to be a real anesthetic for Jerry.
Next I tried a novel that I love by Peter Beagle called A Fine and Private Place. I really had hopes for that one because last year I had read Jerry a novella by the same author called The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Neitzsche which he enjoyed quite a lot. I’m sorry to say that he found a man who lived in a cemetery and talked to dead people less credible than a talking rhinoceros who discussed philosophy.
For the present we have settled on a long article form the New Yorker by John Colapinto found in an anthology of science articles. It is about linguistics, and discusses a controversy over Noam Chomsky’s theory that there is a universal grammar embedded in the human genome. Entwined with the scientific account is the fascinating life story of the linguist Dan Everett who has spent many years in the Amazon basin studying a tribe of hunter-gatherers called the Piraha.
The Piraha have a language that seems to be structured unlike any other language that has been studied and Everett believes it is a counter example to Chomsky’s theory because it doesn’t use phrases embedded in sentences.
The Piraha language is so tonal that it depends almost entirely on what linguists call prosody. Information is conveyed by singing different tones, and syllables can disappear, leaving just tones, without consonants or vowels.
You can learn a lot at bedtime. Now I want to read more about linguistics, but in the meantime I have to find something else to read to Jerry because last night we finished the article.