An unusual triumph of the human ability to find exaltation in the mundane.



A mostly amusing, informative history of punctuation.

Several years ago, Houston, a computer programmer, came down with a bad case of pilcrow-infatuation. Obsessed with the archaic glyph used to mark the beginnings of paragraphs, he laboriously traced its storied past, encompassing “the ancient Greeks, the coming of Christianity, Charlemagne, medieval writing, and England’s greatest twentieth-century typographer.” One of these things is not like the other, and readers who do not share Houston’s malady will find it difficult to understand the intensity of his interest in punctuation. Spurred on by a chance encounter with the widow of the creator of the interrobang (“a hybrid question mark/exclamation point”), the author broadened his focus. From the first visual markers denoting word boundaries in Greek and Roman texts to the development of computerized kerning and letter-scaling systems (“[d]enizens of the typographic world were not amused,” fearing that automation threatened the purity of their craft), Houston explores the roles a variety of punctuation marks have played in the popular imagination. The forgotten manicule, the modest dash and the ampersand all make appearances, as do intriguing characters from millennia past: Scrolls at the library of Alexandria featured the “dotted diple”—“used to mark passages where the scholar differed with the reading of other critics.” The author also keenly laments perceived punctuational slights—e.g., the world’s longest footnote, a 165-page aside cataloging Britain’s Roman walls, “is, sadly, introduced by the letter u rather than an asterisk or dagger.” The book is often engrossing, but the author can never quite decide if he is aiming for a substantive book on the history of written expression or for a compendium of errata. Scores of prints from ancient and medieval manuscripts suggest the former; the final chapter, an exhaustive anthology of proposals for marking irony and sarcasm, many on deleted personal webpages, the latter.

An unusual triumph of the human ability to find exaltation in the mundane.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-06442-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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