Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Remembering a Language One Definition at a TIme

I'm always interested when I see people—who are clearly past the obvious student stage—carrying books and highlighters. What are they reading that's worthy of marking and remembering? Have I read it? Should I read it? The reading preferences of New Yorkers are as diverse as one would expect: books, newspapers, graphic novels, in every language imaginable are read by subway riders. I saw a woman reading an oriental philosophy book this morning—she didn't have a highlighter, but she was so engrossed in what she was reading that she nearly missed her stop.

A few nights ago on the LIRR, while waiting in the aisle for the train to roll into my station, I noticed an older gentleman with a highlighter standing in the vestibule. The book he held looked a bit worn as though it had been read a few times, but there was something familiar about the cover. As I edged closer in preparation to exit the train, I realized I was looking at a dictionary! A Russian-English dictionary at that! He was forced to step back to allow more people readying to disembark into the vestibule and looked up. I was close enough to offer a smile and hold my book up (which was not a dictionary). He seemed friendly enough, so I asked, "Good reading?" "Ah, yes," he said in English that was only slightly accented. "Only it is more like remembering." There wasn't time for additional conversation, but I wished him good luck and exited onto the platform. [Right: Remembering Russian during his commute.]

In the age of, it's hard to remember the power that 500+ pages can wield. Once the bastion of knowledge, for one man, it now offers the power of memory.