A language enthusiast offers a compilation of amusing and singular columns.




A collection of newspaper columns muses on the eccentricities of English and other languages.

In this second edition of her volume of Bill Bryson–esque columns, Janssen draws on decades of teaching and learning languages to engage in a lighthearted exploration of grammar, etymology, family history, cultural exchange, and anything else that interests her. The columns, arranged thematically, deal primarily with the author’s lifelong fascination with languages—her native English, the Spanish she studied and taught, her parents’ Dutch and Italian—and her enthusiasm for sharing them with others. Many address the benefits, both financial and personal, of studying multiple languages, and the columns on grammar are refreshingly un-crotchety (enthusiastically endorsing, for instance, the singular they). Janssen is a knowledgeable teacher and enthusiastic student, but she is also charmingly self-deprecatory: “Keyboarding is not the only type of boarding at which I have failed. I’ve also flopped (literally, onto concrete and into ice banks) at skateboarding and snowboarding.” Although the book does not rely heavily on research citations, the information presented is solid and avoids the unsubstantiated folk etymologies that too often attract amateur linguists. Janssen’s insights into the nature of language are strengthened by her familiarity with several beyond her native tongue, allowing her to explore the cultural implications of hygge and schadenfreude as well as the value of the Spanish word “estadounidenses,” a concise way to describe U.S. citizens while allowing “American” to apply to the rest of the hemisphere. Columns celebrating the tradition/marketing ploy of naming a “word of the year” are particularly delightful (“There is no need to suffer the lengthy awkwardness of writing on your Christmas wish list, ‘I want one of those collapsible monopods to attach to my camera or cell phone for better selfies,’ when you can just say, ‘Dear Santa, please bring me a selfie stick!’ ”). Readers in search of engaging, entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking essays should enjoy the pieces that make up this collection.

A language enthusiast offers a compilation of amusing and singular columns.

Pub Date: June 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9983048-2-3

Page Count: 366

Publisher: Lexicon Alley Press

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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