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review 2018-05-26 12:42
Browse: The World in Bookshops
Browse: The World in Bookshops - Henry Hitchings

An excellent collection of essays from writers all over the world, all centering on the bookshops that have most impacted their lives, shaped them, or are just plain favorites.


Writers from nearly every corner of the globe (no Aussies or Antarticans) tell their stories and of the entire collection, only one - Iam Sinclair - failed for me.  While all the others wrote odes to bookshops, Sinclair seemed more content to use bookshops as a front for his diatribe against politics.  His essay, his right, but in the company of the other authors in this book, it felt brash and strung-out.  I found his writing florid and at times incomprehensible too.  Having never read his other works, I have no idea if this is congruent with his style, or a one-off; either way, it was the only speck on an otherwise perfect collection.


Because I enjoyed the rest so thoroughly (ok, Dirda's essay was just ok) it's impossible to pick a labourite.  If you feel your soul sing when you walk into a bookshop, I think this collection is well worth investigating.  

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review 2018-05-23 08:42
The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers' Journey Through Curiosities of History
The Secret Library - Oliver Tearle

This started off super-slow for me for the same reason any overview of history does:  it starts with ancient history.  I know it's important.  I know it influences just about everything today, but it's, forgive me, a bit dull.  


Once we got through The Classical World and the Middle Ages though, things picked up.  For each age, Tearle selects a few texts that can, or should, be considered significant.  Some of them are the no-brainers we've all heard of (Shakespeare) and some are names or titles that have unjustly fallen into oblivion (Mary Elizabeth Braddon, whom he argues might be the author of the first English detective novel. Trail of the Serpent).  Whether widely known or not, Tearle tries to focus on thoughts, ideas, or facts that aren't widely known so that there's something new here for likely anyone, no matter how well read.


Informative, readable, and once past the Middle ages, very enjoyable.

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review 2018-05-15 00:50
Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling
Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling - David Wolman

For language lovers and orthographists, this is undoubtedly a good introductory read.  It's the story of English spelling as told from the slant of spelling reform through the ages.


Wolman is writing from the perspective of a bad speller and laments that English is so complicated, with so many exceptions to standardisation.  Why must it be so hard to spell?


While I was never at risk of winning any spelling bees, I've never found spelling particularly challenging, but I enjoyed the history (80-90% of all English words aren't English in origins; we are the supreme linguistic magpies), and the debates, efforts and arguments to simplify spelling were ... interesting.  I didn't agree with most of them, but I admired their tenacity and passion. 


I found some of Wolman's assertions over simplified; for example, that the 'd' in words like sledge, wedge, edge, judge, and fudge is silent, so why is it there?  An unscientific and ad hoc survey of friends shows that the 'd' is subtle, but not silent; it hardens that g sound just a tiny bit, enough that sledge sounds different that slege.  The 'd's' absence becomes even more pronounced in wedge (wege) and edge (ege).  There are better examples of his argument about extraneous silent letters, but even those can be argued to be useful.  Not/knot for example - that 'k' is definitely silent - but handy when reading sentences like: Better not tie the knot too tight.  


I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is a good book, but its strict focus on just orthography limits its scope and its argument.  A conversation about spelling that doesn't take into account reading comprehension is really only half a conversation.  I am, admittedly, a prescriptivist; I feel strongly that there are correct spellings and incorrect spellings, and that there's a time and place for 'text-speak', but it should not be on school exams.  I think this puts me dangerously on the edge of 'fuddy-duddy', but I'm still rebel enough to drop all those u's the Brits are fond of, and I still insist on swapping my 're' for 'er' (meter/metre, etc.) so I'm not quite ready for the cane-waving just yet.  ;-)


I have several of David Crystal's works (whom Wolman cites frequently), and I think this book will have served as a terrific jumping-off point for Crystal's titles.

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review 2018-05-13 05:24
Sleepy Head: Narcolepsy, Neuroscience and the Search for a Good Night
Sleepyhead: Narcolepsy, Neuroscience and the Search for a Good Night - Henry Nicholls

As one or two of my BL friends might know, I have narcolepsy; I was diagnosed almost 5 years ago, but it's likely I've had it most of my life - because I don't suffer from cataplexy (the uncontrollable bouts of muscle paralysis), we all just thought I was lazy.


That sounds like a jest, but it isn't; so little is known about narcolepsy, cataplexy and all the other sleep disorders that science is just beginning to focus on, that society tends to equate someone being tired during the day with being lazy, hungover or a new parent. I don't overindulge and I'm not a parent, so ... lazy.   Except it turns out I'm not, something my sleep doctor has been trying to tell me for 4.5 years, but I didn't really believe until I read this book.


Now I know, really know, that I have been the unfortunate victim of an auto-immune response run amok.  My immune system killed off the areas of my brain responsible for making hypocretin, probably because the cells looked too much like strep, or flu.  As Nicholls explains, hypocretin does a LOT for us, not the least of which includes making sure the body is either asleep or awake (not both), modulates dopamine and serotonin, and controls the trigger for REM.  The upside for narcoleptics: we're a little less likely to suffer addictions; the downside: it's a moot point, since we don't need drugs to hallucinate.  


This was the thing I wanted most from this book and I got it - I have a much greater understanding of what's going on at a chemical level in my brain.  I am also left with no doubt as to whether or not I really have narcolepsy.  This is a spectrum disorder, and I am solidly on the spectrum.


But I learned so much more, because this book isn't just about Narcolepsy; the author spends a solid amount of time and focus on other sleep disorders too; those that are intimately familiar to a large number of people, like insomnia, and those that are just now beginning to be formally identified, like Restless Leg Syndrome and the rare but terrifying Fatal Familial Insomnia; a prion disease that stops sleep completely and is always fatal.


This isn't a self help book, or a book of strategies for dealing with sleep disorders, but the author does discuss a few different avenues science is taking towards sleep management, and these apply to pretty much anyone searching for healthy sleep.  I could wish for more coverage of current medical treatments, but honestly, there really aren't that many, though research tantalisingly looks to be on the right track.


If you're interested in sleep disorders in general, and the science of sleep, this is a good introduction to both, though the author's battle with narcolepsy is what gives the book its focus.  He includes a very thorough notes section with complete citations, and a section of recommended further reading that includes several titles aimed at the broader topic of sleep's importance to everyone's health, as well as a few titles more explicitly aimed at specific sleep disorders.  While this is not one I'd generally recommend to everyone, it's definitely informative to anyone suffering from a lack of healthy sleep.

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text 2018-05-09 11:45
Reading progress update: I've read 31 out of 211 pages.
Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling - David Wolman

Good so far, but more importantly, this is the second book this month I've pulled off one of the TBR ranges that was not on my BookLikes shelves.  I suspect when I go to add them, I become distracted with updating the book record and forget to hit the "Planning to Read" button.


Multitasking is an urban myth in my world.


But I'm getting a little anxious about just how far off my BL shelves might be relative to reality.

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