Learning New Words

book cover for Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey

You know, I have always been a voracious reader.  From the moment I learned to read, I found it to be something I craved and loved.  I remember getting into trouble with my mom for sneaking out of bed at night to read by my nightlight.  There have certainly been times in my life when I haven’t read as much as I’d like to, but I always seem to have a book (or four) in my “currently reading” pile.  I think part of the reason that I love words themselves is because of the power they have to describe so clearly or create such a sensory experience.  But, recently I noticed something curious…I ran into a word in a book that I don’t recall every encountering before.  Not that I know every word in the language, far from it, but as much as I read and as much as I love words – it kind of surprised me.  Huh.  What does that mean?  And then…huh?  A new word.  So the word was bodega.  Strangely enough, Eric knew exactly what it meant.  Perhaps it’s geographically relevant?  Nevertheless, I was kind of thrilled that here I was stumbling across a new word in a YA book.

Last week I finished reading the recent selection for book club (which was Friday night).  When did I finish the book?  Friday afternoon.  Regardless…what an excellent book.  Not a long book, but so dense.  And part of what made it so dense was the language.  Peter Carey has such a way with words and descriptions.  I found myself sort of savoring the words and then having to remind myself we were going somewhere here.  And as I was reading and luxuriating in the language, it happened again…a new word.


Whatever could it mean?  I loved the way it sounded on my tongue.  So, I looked it up (thank God for the internet).  And since I gathered from the context it was a color, and turns out “Anthracite is a teal-grey colour but can range anywhere from black, to blue to grey and green”.  Anthracite is actually also a type of coal, so I imagine that the color could be inferred from that as well.  But look, how evocative is this?

“…we [retired] to our corner which resembled, more than anything, a pile of costumes for an opera or dance.  When the last lantern was snuffed, the colors of the castoffs glowed all around us, blood and anthracite in the velvet night.”

And just to give you another little taste of the way Carey uses language…

” She took each step as the first one of a dance.  She kicked the red leaves and made them rise like birds.  I had arrived, quite unexpectedly, in Paradise.  Enclosed by landscape that no painter could portray, before my eyes lay – or rather shone – magnificent New York.  At every moment steamships passed.  America.”

Beautiful, no?

Our next selection is The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.  I’m curious to see what new words I may stumble upon in my adventures.

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