We do like a Christmas book list here at the Lab. When the rain is lashing against the windows (Christmas on the west coast of Scotland is rarely snowy) and the Quality Street tin is down to that last inedible strawberry cream, here are the new titles about writing and communicating that may well be worth the read.
Because Internet Gretchen McCulloch
By ‘the internet’s favourite linguist’, this takes a look at the language of the World Wide Web and how it is morphing every moment of every day. Do you LOL or lol? Gretchen explains why. Why is the ‘disarrayed’ language of some animal memes just so darn catchy? We never had punctuation for sarcasm until ~ these little squiggles ~ came along.
The Prodigal Tongue: The love-hate relationship between British and American English. Lynne Murphy
How did Americans get from centre to center? Colour to color? Cheque to check? Maths to Math? What’s with all the dots, Mr. and Mrs. U.S.A.? Apparently British accents are evolving away from American ones (though every parent of a UK teen may disagree). And so many words, including estate, frown and middle class, mean different things on opposite sides of the pond.
Wordslut A feminist guide to taking back the English language Amanda Montell
If you’ve ever used a word like ‘mompreneur’, Sh-EO or manbun, Amanda’s coming after you. And let’s not even get started with everything that’s wrong with that favourite coach’s insult: ‘Big girl’s blouse’. Personally, I’m looking forward to Chapter 5: ‘How to embarrass the sh*t out of people who try to correct your grammar.’
Girl, Woman, Other Bernardine Evaristo
Though it won the Booker Prize back in 2019, Evaristo’s sprawling, episodic opus assumed perhaps even greater relevance in a year when the death of George Floyd, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, became the first story to dislodge Covid from the top of the headlines. Comprising a series of back stories of people loosely connected by a theatrical premiere in London, Girl, Woman, Other’s greatest achievement is to generate profound and lasting empathy with a series of characters (mainly black women) rarely depicted in mainstream British culture: a lesbian who escapes from an abusive relationship; a theatre director who gets her big break later in life; a ‘gender-free’ person who takes the pronouns ‘they/their’. As much as any book this year, Girl, Woman, Other is a striking reminder of the power of showing, not telling.
Rebel Ideas Matthew Syed
Also flying the flag for diversity is Matthew Syed, himself the offspring of a Pakistani father and a Welsh mother. In Rebel Ideas, the acclaimed writer and speaker draws on richly told anecdotes to illustrate not just the advantages of embracing ‘cognitive diversity’ (that is, genuinely different ways of looking at the world) but the dangers of not doing so. From the collective blindness of a homogeneous CIA in dealing with pre-9/11 threats to slashing hospital admissions in icy Swedish towns simply by considering the female perspective, Rebel Ideas shows why you and your business can’t afford to ignore the extraordinary benefits of different points of view.