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Word Watching: Field notes from an amateur philologist by Julian Burnside

Heavens to Murgatroyd, what a cracking good book! If you’re at all word-nerdy, whether as a lifelong flame or as a passing curiosity about some of the quirks of English, you’ll really enjoy this book. Forty-eight well written, funny and interesting essays about language: about the origins and changes to a swag of English phrases and words. The discussions about the changes in language use were great, as he encourages an attitude of “so it has always been” and sympathetically pokes a bit of fun at pedants. There’s essays about taboos and misunderstandings and about peculiarities and linguistic orphans. It’s really, really good. In the midst of the fun and interesting history, Burnside makes some deep and serious points about the way language gets twisted around; how it can be used to mystify or disarm the unwary by those with a vested interest in altering their understanding. A fantastic read!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

If you’ve not been paying attention to the Intersphere (like, at all), you may not have heard of the National Book Foundation’s National Book Award Winner, Brown Girl Dreaming. (It won many, many more, and rightly so, but that’s the one that has a sticker on the cover I’ve got.) A memoir told in free verse, it describes the author’s upbringing in South Carolina and pre-teen move to Brooklyn, against the motion and activity of the 1960s and 70s. It is one of the most beautiful and wonderful books I have ever read. I felt privileged and humbled that the author would share this work with the world, as it is intimate, tender, curious, kind, happy and insightful. It’s…I keep wanting to say “wonderful” over and over. There’s tension, delight, unease, curiosity, love, friendship…everything you would want in a memoir about a fantastic writer’s formative years is here, and all told in some of the most precise and beautiful poetry I’ve ever read. I don’t have enough good things to say about the beauty and delight I found in this book.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco

Mmmmmmmberto Eco, I love your books. I always feel a bit shy about admitting I like them because I worry someone’s going to say I only really like them because I’m pretentious and want people to think I’m Terribly Smart. I don’t know who I’m scared is going to call me out, but it’s a mild concern anyway because I still freaking love Umberto Eco’s books. I love the lushness and complexity, the fun, the stories…ahhh. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana wakes up with Yambo, an antique book dealer, as he emerges after a stroke that has resulted in a unique form of amnesia. He remembers everything he’s ever read, but doesn’t remember himself or his family. After a few weeks of recovery, patiently rediscovering the world and hoping his memories will come back, he decides to go to his childhood home and see if he can reawaken some memories. He begins a huge, multi-generational search through books, comics, paraphernalia, records and propaganda to slowly rebuild a sense of who he is through what he consumed. As a reader, you get a wonderful tour of growing up in Mussolini’s Italy, which is exceptionally interesting, and the book presents questions about how a self is shaped and defined through reading. The memories begin to cascade and you join Yambo in a disorienting flood of images, memories, and ideas. Very cool.

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