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review 2018-01-13 09:14
A Short History of Drunkenness
A Short History of Drunkenness - Mark Forsyth

I love Mark Forsyth's writing.  I think I've read (and own) everything he's written and I've yet to be let down.  He's got the dry, British humor in spades and his writing is always excellent.  His original bibliography focused on etymology, but he's lately broken out into short, but focused, histories.  


Forsyth makes it clear from the start that this is not a comprehensive history of drunkenness; that would be a comprehensive history of humanity.  But he does break it down into a very easy to follow, somewhat linear timeline, with each chapter focused on a specific culture, or age.  I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but it turns out ancient Greeks got a bad rap; when it comes to partying they had nothing on ancient Egyptians.  Or late 19th/early 20th century Russians.  Holy crap.


The book ends in more or less modern times, but Forsyth does revisit America in the last chapter; specifically Prohibition and Did it work?.  Half my family was in Chicago during Prohibition and the other half was in Florida, with a constant stream of 'revenuers' and bootleggers coming through the tiny fishing village called home, so I'm not sure I entirely buy his premise that Prohibition was a success.  On the other hand, my family's history would give me exactly the skewed perspective that would make me dubious.  No matter what my opinion is, his take on Prohibition was fascinating and (to me) an entirely new way of viewing the 18th amendment experiment.  


But the best part, the very best part of the book, for me, is something only a few here will immediately appreciate, and it's this, from a quote in the chapter on the American Wild West:


"The saturnalia commenced on Christmas evening, at the Humboldt [saloon]..."

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text 2017-12-04 01:15
November reading review
A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions - Mark Forsyth
The Chosen - Chaim Potok
A Burnable Book - Bruce Holsinger

This has been my slowest reading month all year, with 12 books finished.  November and December have always been a crazy time of year for me, but now I know why the creators of Christmas chose December: in the Northern Hemisphere it's winter and there's nothing else to do.  In the Southern Hemisphere it's spring too, so all the busyness associated with warmer weather is compounded by the upcoming holidays.  Which means I spend November and December throwing a lot of longing looks at my books as I'm rushing past them. 


At least the books I did read were all pretty good.  I had two 5 star reads this month, A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions by Mark Forsyth  and The Chosen by Chaim Potok  and the rest were all between 3 and 4 stars.


I usually only showcase 4.5 and 5 star reads, but I will give a special shoutout to A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger as the most surprising, breakout read for me in November.  I didn't want to like it, and I flinched so often reading it, I likely looked as though I had developed a tic, but I could not put it down.  I had to know how it ended and it didn't disappoint me (in terms of plotting; the language make me want to wash it's mouth out with soap, but the plotting was excellent!). 

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review 2017-11-15 07:52
A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions
A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions - Mark Forsyth

I'm a huge fan of Mark Forsyth's books: The Etymologicon and The Elements of Eloquence being just two examples of his excellent writing on language.  When he announced he'd be writing this small tome about the history of Christmas, I pre-ordered it, and I've been sitting on it all year, waiting for the Christmas season's approach to read it. 


I needed something light after my last read, and this was perfect.  It's written in Forsyth's usual dryly hilarious style and for such a small volume (171 pages including the index) it's chock full of Christmas facts.  Spoiler alert:  almost none of the Christmas traditions we know and love today are tied to paganism.  If you want to know how this can be true, read the book.  It won't be a waste of your time, and you'll probably laugh at least once along the way. 


If you do read it, make sure you skim the index at the end.  It might be the funniest index I've ever read (and I've been known to skim more than a few). 


Pagan myths: see


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review 2017-01-02 09:11
the Horologicon
Horologicon - Mark Forsyth

I absolutely love Mark Forsyth's books and this one was the last one I had of his to read.  Its focus in on the lost words of the English language and he's broken it down into a parody, of sorts, of a book of hours.  We start at 6 a.m. and learn about the words applicable to dawn and waking up, then proceed to travel through the day of work, lunch, shopping, and socialising, ending up in bed at midnight.  All done with Forsyth's trademark humour.


Ultimately, I didn't love it as much as his other two books, the Entymologicon and the The Elements of Eloquence but it was still excellent and I highly recommend it for those that just love words.


He's also got a new book out, A Christmas Cornucopia : The Hidden Stories Behind Our Yuletide Traditions, which is, of course, on my To Buy list.

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text 2017-01-01 08:32
2016: The (non-fiction) books I liked best.
The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted - Mark Forsyth
Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World - Lawrence Goldstone,Nancy Goldstone
The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase - Mark Forsyth
The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language - Mark Forsyth
Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms - Robert Alden Rubin
Housekeeping vs. the Dirt - Nick Hornby
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader - Anne Fadiman
Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing - Melissa Mohr
Completely Superior Person's Book Of Words - Peter Bowler
The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well - Meik Wiking

So I read a lot of non-fiction this year.  76 books.  I've been thinking about why my non-fiction reading exploded this year and all I can say is that this year I craved an escape into facts, or as must be evident by my list above, the desire to escape into a bookshop and hide for the duration.


With few exceptions, the ones I liked best, the 5 star books-I-want-to-hug were all about books or words.  A definite theme going on this year.  The exceptions were all over the place though: a gardening book, a cultural anthropology book and an illustrated book of the Psalms.  The two that didn't fit above are below:



The Produce Companion: From Balconies to Backyards--the Complete Guide to Growing, Pickling and Preserving - Meredith Kirton,Mandy Sinclair  The Produce Companion: From Balconies to Backyards--the Complete Guide to Growing, Pickling and Preserving - Meredith Kirton,Mandy Sinclair  









The Illuminated Book of Psalms: The Illustrated Text of all 150 Prayers and Hymns - Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers  The Illuminated Book of Psalms: The Illustrated Text of all 150 Prayers and Hymns - Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers  










My 4.5 star reads this year are also worth mentioning and even more numerous (15) and are much more varied in subject.  More books about books and books about words or grammar, but science and history also make a showing. These are books that were excellent but for whatever reason had something I questioned or found confronting.  With scientific books that's almost always animal related.  Sometimes the book just didn't make me want to hug it, but I still recommend it.  Who knows?  Maybe it'll be one you want to hug. :)  


Fucking Apostrophes

The Gift Of The Magi And Other Stories

The Book of Human Emotion

The Polysyllabic Spree

A Passion for Books: A Book Lover's Treasury 

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure

Lost in Translation

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

The Poisoner's Handbook

The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland

The Sceptical Gardener: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Good Gardening

Why The Dutch Are Different: A Journey Into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands


Happy Reading!

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