Do you know what kind of books I don’t like? Handwringing books. Books that lament the state of the nation, the world, and of course, that low-hanging fruit, the internet. Do you know what kind of books I do like? Books that dare to see things another way.
Linguist Gretchen McCulloch looks at the state of the internet and shouts, “WHAT A GREAT DAY TO BE ALIVE AND A LINGUIST!!!” (All caps and too many exclamation points used on purpose.) Times, they have a’changed, and McCulloch is like a tour guide — the kind who is so engaging that you tip her really well.
I first learned that texting had different punctuation guidelines on Science Friday, but I wasn’t sure what those new rules were. Why were my children miffed when I used a period, and my dad was miffed when I didn’t? Was I being lazy when I used emoji or expressive?
I first learned about Because Internet when McCulloch co-guest-edited the Two Bossy Dames newsletter. I’m not sure exactly what pushed me to purchase, but it might have been the list of entries from the S index, which included “sparkle punctuation,” “sparkle enthusiasm,” and “sparkle sarcasm.” In addition to authoring this book, McCulloch is the co-host of a podcast called Lingthusiasm. She’s very funny. I recommend Because Internet for the humorous footnotes alone.
In the book, McCulloch asserts that for much of human history, writing has been formal. Even letters, the treasure trove for linguists, are not as casual as they might appear. But the explosion in talking digitally has meant a whole new cache of informal communication. It’s constantly changing while simultaneously making us better communicators in real time.
It’s hardly a coincidence that our repertoire of upbeat, sociable typography expanded precisely when we needed it to build near-real-time relationships with unseen others,” McCulloch writes.
Here’s a recent example of sociable typography in my own life. While I was away at a retreat, I had an odd text from a friend. It felt excessively happy. Then once I got home, I had another text from her that felt excessively urgent. I was sure something was wrong. Once we finally connected by phone, she had bad news to share. How did I infer this from an exclamation point, a question mark, a crying/laughing emoji, and some texts without any punctuation? Simple: I know her. We’ve texted almost every day — informally — for years. Her typography tipped me off.
But McCulloch reminds us it’s not just me and my friend or Those Teens Today who have changed the nature of language through typography. It’s also Jane Austen, with her commas; and Emily Dickinson, with her dashes; and e e cummings, with his lowercase letters; and James Joyce, with his sparse punctuation; along with a couple of examples McCulloch cites from the 1890s, “that dangerously modern decade.”
The reason behind all this change? McCulloch posits that it’s love, like between me and my friend. Sure, our texts could have scrupulously followed proper English grammar, but by not doing so, we were able to better show each other that we care.
McCulloch writes: “Perfectly following a list of punctuation rules may grant me some kinds of power, but it won’t grant me love. Love doesn’t come from a list of rules — it emerges from the spaces between us, when we pay attention to each other and care about the effect that we have on each other.”
In other words, three heart emojis are better than one.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, Gretchen McCulloch
The Art of the Essay, Charity Singleton Craig (Book club coming in October!)
Early Readers and Picture Books
As I Was Crossing Boston Common, Norma Farber, illus. Arnold Lobel
The Golden Bird, The Brothers Grimm, illus. Lila Fromm
Handel: Who Knew What He Liked, M.T. Anderson, illus. Kevin Hawkes (remarkably funny)
Middle Grade and YA
Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel, Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (Children’s Book Club selection for September 13!)
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (should be required reading for every American)
Pride, Ibi Zoboi (Austen’s classic reimagined through the theme of gentrification in Brooklyn)
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jennie Han (first in a trilogy)
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story, Peter Bagge
1. Because Internet was just released in late July. I don’t often buy books hot off the press — do you?
2. Look over your texts from this last week, especially with people you talk with regularly. Is there anything you notice that goes beyond the words? Did you use anything sparkly to communicate?
3. Did you make some time for deep reading this month? What stories stirred your soul?
4. Share your August pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
Browse more Reader, Come Home
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro