Purists will flinch at many of McCulloch’s claims for how informal online writing has benefited our language and society...

BECAUSE INTERNET

UNDERSTANDING THE NEW RULES OF LANGUAGE

The linguistics of informal (unedited) writing on the internet.

“The internet and mobile devices have brought us an explosion of writing by normal people,” writes McCulloch, a Wired columnist and co-creator of the linguistics-focused podcast Lingthusiasm. In this provocative debut, the author celebrates the internet’s “vast sea of unedited, unfiltered words,” which constitute “a new genre, informal writing.” Online life, she writes, “has become real life.” People using social media should be considered “published writers.” In conversational prose, she traces the “hidden patterns of written internet language” and how they are changing the way we communicate. She argues that new acronyms (btw, omg, lol), visuals (emoji), animated loops (gifs), emoticons (^-^), and other innovations are making language more efficient and playful. In its “purest form,” this new “public, informal, unselfconscious language” can be found in chat rooms. McCulloch’s wide-ranging text covers the history (so far) of internet culture, the sociology of users, and the diverse ways in which the internet has shaped our daily online social life. In many instances, the author simply confirms what internet users know: how distinct internet cohorts developed, depending on whether they began socializing online in forums, on blogs, or with Facebook or Instagram; and how older people were slower to engage with the internet and social media. McCulloch reminds us that the frequent texting of teenagers is no different than a previous generation’s time spent at malls, “hanging out, flirting, and jockeying for status with their peers.” She also salutes unsung heroes of online language innovation: the Canadian Wayne Pearson, who probably coined “lol” in a 1980s chat room; the Japanese, who first used the pile of feces and other emojis; and biologist Richards Dawkins, who in 1976 coined the word “meme.”

Purists will flinch at many of McCulloch’s claims for how informal online writing has benefited our language and society while internet nerds will relish her informative book.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1093-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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