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Ruth Finnegan

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COMMUNICATING Cover
BOOK REVIEW

COMMUNICATING

BY Ruth Finnegan • POSTED ON Oct. 30, 2023

Finnegan, an academic linguist, argues for a more expansive interpretation of communication.

Proponents of the dominant theories of human discourse, the author observes, tend to see its development as a “one-way ladder” that ascends from primitive to increasingly more sophisticated forms, culminating in speech. This interpretative approach, often “logocentric” (focused on words as communication) and “unidimensional,” overly privileges Western civilization as a paradigm of communication, but it also neglects the full richness of communication, which the author defines as the “purposive, organised and mutually recognisable process in which individuals actively interconnect with each other.” This more inclusive understanding not only focuses on verbal speech, or on the conveyance of information, but also on interconnection provided by all the senses. Communication thus may be emancipated from verbal text, she asserts. Finnegan then explores, with great subtlety and insight, the multifarious expressions of communication in dance and rituals—to name only two of the communication methods she discusses. The author also discusses what she admits is the “deeply contentious area” of paranormal encounters and extrasensory communication. Throughout, Finnegan doesn’t treat communicative modalities as distinct from the social conditions from which they arise; instead, she shows how they’re mediated by cultural context. Ultimately, her view of communication is so convincingly broad that she’s able to emphasize the “human-animal continuity,” in which other species connect in remarkably complex ways, and how this idea can be used to illuminate human means of interconnection. The author aims for a popularly accessible study that avoids an overly granular survey of the academic literature; the result is an engaging, straightforward work likely to appeal to the curious nonprofessional—one that’s free of turgid jargon, but still intellectually exacting. Finnegan doesn’t ignore the more traditional elements of communication, nor does she neglect to acknowledge the “predominantly audiovisual” orientation of humans. She offers a challenging counterpoint to theories that reduce such communication to their cognitive or evolutionary parts, instead sketching a theory of far greater depth.

An approachable yet impressively rigorous study of various forms of language.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2023

ISBN: 9781032490397

Page count: 338pp

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2024

THE HIDDEN LIVES OF TAXI DRIVERS Cover
BOOK REVIEW

THE HIDDEN LIVES OF TAXI DRIVERS

BY Ruth Finnegan • POSTED ON Oct. 15, 2022

A nonfiction book examines the challenges faced by taxi drivers in England.

HBO’s Taxicab Confessions used a hidden camera to get passengers to candidly discuss their drivers. Finnegan takes the opposite approach, using her listening skills to get taxi drivers to open up to her about their lives as they shuttle her around her home city of Milton Keynes, England, and elsewhere. “More than just the some-time knights of the roads—itself a precious role—taxi drivers are also, it might be argued, in some ways the philosophers of our times,” she writes in a lively and often insightful ethnographic study compiled from five years’ worth of informal interviews with drivers. The author conducted most of the interviews in Milton Keynes, a provincial city with “some hundreds of licensed drivers—too many some drivers say,” while finding “similar patterns” in London (home of the iconic black cab) and other British metropolises. As elsewhere, immigrants constitute the majority of the drivers, including one who “had been a nationally admired fine jewellery craftsman in Pakistan” and another who, when not driving, spends his time “either in his mansion in Islamabad or, during the summer season, in his country estate there.” Finnegan shows that taxi driving is a demanding profession. Drivers are expected not only to know any place, street, or road where someone may need to be taken—one professional in Milton Keynes “had, among other things, to keep up his expert knowledge of the changing locations of brothels”—but also “how to deal with passengers in various physical and emotional states.” Indeed, “individuals tend to open up in this liminal setting of even a short taxi ride,” asserts Finnegan, noting that drivers describe themselves as “the agony aunts of the streets.” The author could have spent more time showing the impact of Uber and other ride-hailing companies on the taxi business but succeeds admirably in portraying the drivers’ “human qualities outside of their taxi-industry selves.” As one driver tells Finnegan, “If I wake up feeling in a bad mood or everything has gone wrong, but then I do something to help a passenger, I feel good for the rest of the day.”

A survey that perceptively captures the lives of taxi drivers and their distinctive qualities.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781739893767

Page count: 102pp

Publisher: Callender Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

Pearl of the Seas Cover
BOOK REVIEW

Pearl of the Seas

BY Ruth Finnegan • POSTED ON Nov. 17, 2016

A tale for young readers draws on the enchantments of sea travel.

Inspired variously by the Odyssey, William Blake’s cosmologies, Rumi’s poems, and Charles Kingsley’s stories for youngsters, this novel embraces the magic of childhood imagining. Kate and Chris, along with Kate’s loyal dog, Holly, swim and frolic on a summer shore. A ship built from driftwood becomes their vessel: Kate’s the queen and Chris is the Man of Action, the one who saves them both from wind and water. At first, Kate’s fear of sailing the high seas causes her to abandon ship, but a terrible loneliness sets in, and she regrets leaving. The sudden appearance of a magician saves the day; she answers his riddles to regain her berth. In their boat, the Pearl of the Seas, Kate and Chris pilot through treacherous rocks and come ashore in a welcoming kingdom, where they learn a version of the Tower of Babel story, “the very disaster of our world.” In this hybrid book of narrative blended with verse and song, different ways of telling a story may appear on a single page. The King of Names instructs Kate that “for the deep things it is poetry.” Such wise lessons fortify the children, but even happy dreams must end. Their parting gifts include a magic pebble-pearl that rights the broken mast so they may return to the shore of reality and family. Though the Pearl of the Seas may not buoy them to distant lands again, they determine that Black Inked Pearl—the written record of their travels—shall be their legacy. As in the novel for adults, Finnegan’s (Black Inked Pearl, 2015) “fairytale prequel” for younger readers delights in the associative wordplay of sound and sense. A moment of canine joy provides a vivid illustration: “Still in gleeful flightful lightsome delighting delight. Barking, sparking, larking.” A handful of superb black-and-white drawings by Backshall complements the work’s whimsical vision.

Rollicking and wise, this sailing story mixes prose, poetry, and song, offering a special lyrical gift.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9955617-4-8

Page count: 186pp

Publisher: Callender Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

Black Inked Pearl Cover
BOOK REVIEW

Black Inked Pearl

BY Ruth Finnegan • POSTED ON Aug. 6, 2015

The captivating tale of a young woman’s journey to reclaim her lost love.

Early in Finnegan’s debut novel, there’s a gush of confused emotion and panic: “She was too young she was not ready she was afraid she was terrified only fifteen not ready yet she must go now immediate like a brother nice-impossible too young sea too loud storm tangle-hair she was too young now run run run.” Fifteen-year-old Kate is just an ordinary Irish girl, terrible at math, fearful of the nuns in her school. But as Kate points out, she’s part of an epic love story that is continuously unfolding, waiting for her to step in and bring the story to its conclusion. Alongside the roaring Atlantic Ocean, she meets a mysterious young man and falls under his spell. But, frightened by the intensity of their connection, she rejects his ardor and runs from him. Seven years later, however, she feels compelled to find him and reignite their passion. Kate turns to God and finds that she must complete seven tasks to find her beloved, including traveling through Eden and hell. She relives the biblical tale of love and indiscretion in the Garden of Eden as she and her soulmate converse with the infamous snake and contemplate the apple. Before long, though, Kate appears to be on her way back to her Irish village, with traces of her saga standing as testimony that dreams can penetrate reality. Blurring the lines between poetry and prose, dreams and reality, Kate’s tale recalls the archetypal search for love, as the pursuit permeates every thought of Kate’s. Engaging readers with humor and insight, this unique tale is told through lyrical verse: I said it was friendship / but you wanted love / I said that I’d thought of you / when you wanted—above.Kate’s romantic quest calls to mind Paradise Lost and Greek mythology as it weaves together biblical allusions, fantasy, and details of the modern day.

A mythical story of two lovers whose connection transcends space and time.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-94-214616-2

Page count: 322pp

Publisher: Garn Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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