Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

Monday, November 11, 2019

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
Gretchen McCullough, 2019

Premise: A linguist examines the way language is affected by the internet and affects online behavior.

Somewhat ironically, I read this book in hard copy and was constantly annoyed that I couldn't highlight passages to reference easily later. I enjoyed reading it a lot, but I kept getting interrupted (and interrupted for longer - days sometimes - than I usually am when reading a book on my phone or Kindle). So I think I'd need to read it again to really absorb it.

Each chapter focuses on one language aspect of the modern internet - for example, how when and why a person started going online affects how they use language online. Or how the definition of meme continues to shift and change over time as what memes themselves communicate shifts. Each topic is fascinating internally, and together the book creates a patchwork picture of the complexity of online communication.

I especially liked whenever the book drew parallels between modern and historical conventions. It really helped me think about how language conventions spread and change. The book puts everything from acronyms to emojis in context of the larger study of language. It also makes a compelling case for the value of studying informal language and explains how the internet makes that easier than it's ever been before.

Word nerds like me will definitely appreciate this book, but I would also recommend it to anyone who wants to consider modern communication in a nuanced, educated manner. Also, it's a lot of fun. The author wrote for The Toast and made a needlepoint of the "behold the field in which..." meme, which she describes in an extended metaphor. You know if you're the kind of person who would be entertained by that.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Becoming Us: Travelers on the Jimmy Come Lately Road

Monday, November 4, 2019

Becoming Us: Travelers on the Jimmy Come Lately Road
Judy Bordeaux, 2019

Premise: This gentle memoir traces three generations making their way in America.

Judy Bordeaux passed away in 2018. She was a fantastic storyteller. I knew her briefly because we sang with the same chorus. The introduction to this book explains how it was completed posthumously.

I expected this to be well written and entertaining, but it also has a quiet depth that I really enjoyed.

The book tells the story of her family through parallel struggles and situations faced by her grandparents, her parents, and herself. Some of the vignettes chronicle significant events, others the small adventures of life. Around the edges of many of the stories lurks the racism faced by her Japanese grandfather and half-Japanese father. The author uses her ancestors' stories to color her own experiences.

Between the focus on the immigrant experience and the setting here in Washington state, this is a strongly American story. It doesn't feature action or much drama, but instead dwells with delight on small details and the specialness of every life.

Reading this book made me more curious about my own family history, and reminded me that everyone's story has something interesting about it.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

A Study in Emerald (graphic novel adaptation)

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Study in Emerald (graphic novel adaptation)
Original story by Neil Gaiman, adaptation by Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, Dave Stewart, et. al., 2018

Premise: A certain notable detective and his partner try to solve a crime in a very different version of Victorian London.

When I heard there was to be a graphic novel adaptation of "A Study in Emerald," I was immediately intrigued. Intrigued, and a little hesitant. It's a clever mashup story, combining Sherlock Holmes with Lovecraftian elder gods. I've read the original many times.

The story is already a visual feast - there's a fantastic version laid out like a period broadsheet, complete with advertisements full of easter eggs. But the conceit of the story also hinges on what is not seen by the reader, so I was curious how well the art would balance the need to illustrate the story with the desire to maintain a certain ambiguity.

Overall, I think it does very well.

It helps that Rafael Albuquerque is, in my opinion, the perfect choice for this piece. His art style meshes well with horror/mystery, and the texture fits the world just right.

My one quibble might be the design of the first horror, from the narrator's experience in Afghanistan. It was just a little too generic-Cthulhu in looks, in my opinion. Most of the other glimpses worked well.

On the other hand, I think the human character designs were right on target: conveying the sense of each character while serving the needs of the story and relative realism of the world. There are even a few visual flourishes that enhance the characters and story.

However, I would be very curious to hear the reactions of readers who aren't already familiar with the original story.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book