Many avid readers are also fascinated by the use of language and the development of the written and printed word – the history, evolution, techniques, challenges, and sheer beauty of speaking and writing done well. For word nerds, type geeks, and logophiles, Manhattan Public Library has several recent books that will entertain and delight.
Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth. The art of rhetoric has been around since classical Greeks created principles and rules for speaking or writing effectively. In his clever and fast-paced book, author Forsyth, who blogs as “The Inky Fool,” using short chapters to explore a variety of rhetorical devices that can help make your reading more meaningful and your writing more elegant. Illustrated throughout with examples from sources like the Beatles, William Shakespeare, the Bible, Katy Perry, Bob Dylan, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickenson, Jane Austen, and Sting, this book is hilarious and great fun to read.
Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston. Who knew that punctuation marks have a long and lively history with interesting cultural and social roots? And for that matter, how many of us knew they have names like pilcrow, octothorpe, dagger, manicule, ampersand, and interrobang? In this short and lively book author Houston has written with humor and scholarship about the surprising history of ancient writing and the intriguing development of punctuation symbols.
Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Mark Rosen is a history of the alphabet in 26 chapters, filled with fascinating tidbits and oddities including “disappearing” letters lost to history, schemes to rationalize spelling, development of codes and cyphers, the explanations for silent letters, and more. Publishers Weekly called this “a beguiling journey through the alphabet [that] will entrance anyone interested in the quirks of language and its history.”
One of Amazon’s Best Books for 2015, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris has been called “pure porn for word nerds” (Allan Fallow of The Washington Post). This brief but very funny book is a memoir of her years as a copy editor at “The New Yorker” as well as a discussion of grammar and punctuation, #1 soft lead pencils, the two-hole pencil sharpener, the use of profanity, the reason Moby-Dick is hyphenated, and the future of the apostrophe and the word “whom.”
For more reading fun, here are some older books that may also appeal to grammar and type geeks:
Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey. If you’re a person of a certain age, you may remember diagramming sentences on the blackboard in school. It was a standard technique for teaching grammar and sentence structure in American schools, utilized from the mid-19th century through most of the 20th before being largely abandoned. Still an illuminating and effective visual way to learn grammar, sentence diagramming is a cross between puzzle-solving and graphic design, and for many it’s an oddly satisfying mental exercise. In this charming book, author Florey revisits this forgotten skill and her own memories of sentence diagramming. It’s a fun way to test your memory and refresh your skills.
Just My Type: A Book about Fonts by Simon Garfield. For centuries, the printed word has surrounded us, usually without our appreciating the artistry and graphic nuances of the typefaces we see. But with the arrival in 1961 of the IBM Selectric typewriter and its revolutionary changeable typeballs, this changed. Suddenly, an ordinary person was able to change the typeface on a document at will and our creative sensibilities were collectively piqued, although at the time the choices were limited. Then in the early 1980s, Steve Jobs marketed the first MacIntosh computer with a selection of typeface choices and suddenly “font” became a household word. Now there are fonts for every emotion and message. This amusing and enlightening book will introduce you to the social history of type design and the words we see all around us.