Monday, December 16, 2013

W50: Le Pages’s Petit Lecteur Des Colleges

This week’s Biblio-Mat book came as both a welcomed respite from the massive texts of late and a much needed primer on my third language.

Short and sweet.
Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges was a tiny textbook of 174 pages with a regal cover of gold lettering on hunter green pressed-cloth. Embossed and stained with ink spots, it looked antiquarian at first glance but that still did not prepare me for the surprise of finding out that it was printed in 1863.

Curious to know how many of these they had.
This particular copy of Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges was actually an ex libris of the Royal Military College of Canada and bore various stamps of such. At a hundred and fifty years old, the book was in amazing condition considering that it was a textbook that would have been read multiple times. The author was simply listed as Monsieur Le Page and though it was pocket-sized, it contained far more useful information than any of the recent reference books from the machine.

Pocket-sized companions!
Over the last year I have been slowly picking up my French from where Grade 11 lessons left off. Partly because my closest friend is from Montreal, partly because it’s in my Canadian heritage, but mostly because I want to experience French books and films without losing anything to translation. It was a tossup between French and Latin but the former was chosen over the latter since French is probably a more useful language to learn than Latin on account of it not being dead and all. Recently, I’ve been picking up theory through Duolingo and practicing it by reading through Boris Vian’s L’écume Des Jours so Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges could not have come at a better time.

This was the most basic part.
Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges or “The French Reader” was an intermediate textbook for learning French. Given our country’s history, it made sense why this title would find its way into a military college. Beginning with a fairly in-depth 16 page pronunciation guide, the book skipped the standard grammar lessons and jumped straight into short stories, which was a refreshing change. While the pronunciation guide was a nice touch, the examples they used were quite obscure, such as “ao” being pronounced like the ô in Saône, so the usefulness of this section was questionable at best.

Completely dug the randomness.
The stories themselves, though, were quite entertaining and short, with the longest ones reaching four pages. The topics ranged greatly from biblical tales to short stories on romance to heartfelt introspections about family life so there were a nice variety of styles and subjects. The language was kept so clean and simple that I could comprehend about 80% of the earlier stories without much struggle, which made it a pleasant read that was still challenging enough to hold attention. As the book progressed, though, the later chapters ramped up fast and I found myself looking up more and more words.

All glossaries should be placed where they're most accessible.
The absolute best aspect of the book was that at the end of each story there was a condensed glossary with quick definitions of all the new words from that chapter. With the glossary right there, it was easier to put the new vocabulary words back into context as I didn’t have to dig through pages at the end of the text to find a definition like in most textbooks.

Never heard of the award but prestigious nonetheless.
The end of the book was interesting upon itself as it contained a 12 page catalog of Mons. Le Page’s other educational books as well as all the other books that the publisher, Weale’s Series, also carried. The publisher had won a medal at an international exhibition in 1862 so there was high amount of touting of their works, which turned out to cover a wide range of subjects spanning self-taught agriculture to mathematical theory to structural engineering.

Like an olden day 'For Dummies' collection.
All in all, Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges was definitely a keeper both as a reference book and as a book for pleasure reading. With a simple structure that eschewed all the fluff that modern textbooks have, it succeeds in delivering exactly what is needed and nothing more if you want to improve your French reading comprehension.

Book rating: 9/10 (Simple and elegant in so many ways)

Random quote: “X sounds like gz in Xavier, Xénophon, Ximenès, etc. It sounds so, too, in ex beginning the word and followed by a vowel or h mute, as in examen, exercise, exhorter.” (Les exemples sont terribles)

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