I read a wide variety of books. I read middle-grade, YA, graphic novels, adult fiction of ALL varieties, and non-fiction across every section of the library. So when the Read Harder 2022 Challenge listed to read a book from a friend with completely different reading styles popped up, I was stumped.
But then I looked at my “recommended books” notes and remembered that I have one friend who pretty much ONLY reads non-fiction and that is DEFINITELY different from me because – while I do read non-fiction – it’s definitely under 10% of my reading. So, that’s probably as far as you can get from my personal reading style. Even better? She recommended a book once that seemed interesting but I had not read it because I also was not sure it was in the purview of “books I’ll enjoy” even if it did sound interesting. The book was Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper.
There are a lot of books I don’t finish or like, but periodically there’s a book that I understand as quantifiably good but just not for me. This was one of those books and I thought I’d kinda dig into the why of it with this pseudo-review.
Here’s the thing…I really hate conversations and discussions of grammar. Partly because I’m so insecure about my own grammar knowledge and partly because I think grammar rules are brought up too often in a classist way, mocking someone’s writing or speaking abilities and I think that completely shits on the beauty of language as a living and breathing thing. Here is Stephen Fry putting it into words for me:
I also am zero-percent interested in etymology. You know – we all have those things that tickle our brain a bit and make us sit up and listen? Well…the history/origin story of a word does not do it for me.
This book is not entirely about grammar and etymology, but it is enough that I struggled to get through the first 3 chapters for 2 weeks until Donnie finally suggested I try the audiobook.
The audiobook was SO MUCH BETTER. I think I was feeling talked down to a bit when I was reading it on the page but hearing the audiobook with Kory Stamper reading her own words made me realize a lot of her tone was light and silly, not condescending which made the entire book much more digestible. I started enjoying the book SO MUCH MORE being read to me than trying to read it myself.
I found that when the content was about grammar or etymology I kinda zoned out, but the rest of it I found charming and interesting. I really enjoyed the methodology behind how definitions are made/edited. I loved some of the interesting stories of certain words in the modern era. I liked a lot of the author’s personal stories about her experience as a lexicographer at Miriam-Webster.
BUT OH MY GOD THE BOOK WAS A STRUGGLE. If I did not need that book for that specific challenge, especially since I had no other good ideas for a backup options, I would not have finished it.
The funny thing is? I would totally recommend it to other people. I know it’s a book for word and grammar lovers, I’m just more of a language lover and a hater of grammar so the book was only partly for me.
2 thoughts on “A book review? Kinda?”
So happy to read your posts this morning! With the implosion of Twitter I’m struggling to read people I’ve been following for years, so I will be very happy with whatever you choose to post in this space. I also wanted to mention how relieved I was at the outcome of your election; I’m a Canadian, so couldn’t vote, and I was holding my breath a bit. I was glad to see it didn’t turn out as badly as it could have. Take care of yourself!
I think I remember this book being recommended at one of the book club meetings we had downtown (name of the place escapes me now). I thought it sounded interesting then. I’ll have to see if it’s available as an e-book from the library.