ALPHAMANIACS

BUILDERS OF 26 WONDERS OF THE WORD

Fleischman profiles a merry, idiosyncratic (and by no means comprehensive) selection of 26 (of course) philologists, linguists, etymologists, and gamesters who have tinkered with letters, words, and books in surprising and entertaining ways.

None featured was born more recently than 50 years ago. Most are white. Three women are profiled, including Wampanoag linguist Jesse Little Doe Baird, whose work revived the Wôpanâôt8âôk language of her ancestors. Fleischman also includes chapters about typographical artist and poet Mary Ellen Solt, Klingon language inventor Marc Okrand, “stylometrist” David Wallace (who used a computer to analyze the writing styles of the authors of the Federalist Papers), obsessive diarist Robert Shields, and Georges Perec, whose “erotic” (a word that goes undefined) novella Les Revenentes uses no vowels but “e.” Sweet’s illustrations accompanying each three- to five-page profile provide a beautiful pacing and design for the book, with precisely detailed backgrounds that often incorporate lined paper; maps and diagrams and cartoon interpretations that are both amusing and elucidating; and splashes of her signature warm reds and pinks that energize here and calm there. The ebullient charms both of Fleischman’s breezy accounts and of the work of those profiled are considerable but possibly not universal. Yet for anyone who enjoys words, or books themselves, there’s much to love here in the catalog of serious and silly ways in which language and letters have been deployed, reworked, analyzed, and improved on. The backmatter includes source notes and a list of resources for “Further Entertainment.”

Marvelously diverting. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9066-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Candlewick Studio

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Sympathetic in tone, optimistic in outlook, not heavily earnest: nothing to be afraid of.

SCARED STIFF

50 PHOBIAS THAT FREAK US OUT

Part browsing item, part therapy for the afflicted, this catalog of irrational terrors offers a little help along with a lot of pop psychology and culture.

The book opens with a clinical psychologist’s foreword and closes with a chapter of personal and professional coping strategies. In between, Latta’s alphabetically arranged encyclopedia introduces a range of panic-inducers from buttons (“koumpounophobia”) and being out of cellphone contact (“nomophobia”) to more widespread fears of heights (“acrophobia”), clowns (“coulroiphobia”) and various animals. There’s also the generalized “social anxiety disorder”—which has no medical name but is “just its own bad self.” As most phobias have obscure origins (generally in childhood), similar physical symptoms and the same approaches to treatment, the descriptive passages tend toward monotony. To counter that, the author chucks in references aplenty to celebrity sufferers, annotated lists of relevant books and (mostly horror) movies, side notes on “joke phobias” and other topics. At each entry’s end, she contributes a box of “Scare Quotes” such as a passage from Coraline for the aforementioned fear of buttons.

Sympathetic in tone, optimistic in outlook, not heavily earnest: nothing to be afraid of. (end notes, resource list) (Nonfiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-936976-49-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Zest Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013

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A loud, cynical cash grab—far from amazing.

THE AMAZING BOOK IS NOT ON FIRE

THE WORLD OF DAN AND PHIL

A couple more YouTube stars write a book.

Howell, who goes by "danisnotonfire," and "AmazingPhil" Lester are the latest YouTube stars hoping to cross over to the world of books. Instead of crafting a memoir or adapting their videos into a fictional series, the duo have filled these 225 pages with bold graphics, scatological humor, and quirky how tos that may entice their fan base but will leave everyone else out in the cold. It contains a wide variety of nonsense, ranging from Phil's chat logs to information on breeding hamsters. There's an emoji-only interview and some Dan/Phil fanfiction (by Howell rather than a fan) and even a full double-page spread of the pair's unsuccessful selfies. All this miscellany is shoveled in without much rhyme or reason following introductory pages that clearly introduce the pair as children, leaving readers who aren't in on the joke completely out of the loop. The authors make no attempt to bring in those on the outside, but in all honesty, why should they? The only people buying this book are kids who already love everything Dan and Phil do or clueless relatives in desperate search of a gift for the awkward teens in their lives. The book's biggest fault is its apparent laziness. It feels like something slapped together over a weekend, with no heart or soul.   

A loud, cynical cash grab—far from amazing. (Nonfiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-93984-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2015

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