Exposed on Paper: What do your books say about you?
April 21, 2016
What is the topic of most of the non-fiction books you’ve bought and read? Is it Mediterranean cooking, or managing your time, or being a better parent? You might be surprised when you take a close look at your shelves. What you actually seek out and read reveals your true interests.
For me, this came to light as I was turning over in my mind a book idea that is related to music, singing, and community. When I look to my bookshelves, though, those are not the subjects that dominate. Instead, my books point to a person obsessed with language in general and English in particular. This is the kind of stuff, according to the evidence, that I read for fun:
The Elements of Eloquence
Thesaurus of American Slang
The Unfolding of Language
The Story of Ain’t
Is That a Word?
The Lexicographer’s Dilemma
The Power of Babel
On Writing Well
Lapsing into a Comma
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
Reading the OED
Library: An Unquiet History
The QPB Guide to Word and Phrase Origins
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1959 edition
The Mechanics of the Sentence, 1955 (by my great-grandmother Alice Hyde Hupp!)
The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture
The Professor and the Madman
The Meaning of Everything
The Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary, 4th edition
This list exposes the nature of my heart: I am a quintessential word nerd, a shameless lover of our English language in all of its glorious complications, regionalisms, and contradictions. Stemming from my word love is my love of punctuation, dictionaries, libraries, and type. On Twitter, I follow lots of editors, old manuscript people, libraries, and linguists.
I find myself wondering whether I have anything new to say about this much-covered topic. I certainly have every intention of continuing my self-indulgent immersion in the structure of languages, the origin of the manicule or interrobang, and the official birthday typeface of some city or other. But perhaps I can also use the powers of my personal obsession for good.
Therefore, I’ll be writing each month for the next year or so about one of these books and how it might be relevant for normal, non-word-obsessed people.
Meanwhile, I’m refusing to be discouraged by the fact that my current library is not what’s needed for my future book about singing and community. That topic will require a lot of learning and research, and that’s a big part of the appeal.