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I’ve always had a bit of a thing for crystalized fruit, but what about crystalized books? Designboom tells us of Alexis Arnold’s work in San Francisco. They claim she’s exploring the theme of materiality versus content — a theme that surfaces periodically in this blog. Just how these frozen-look books have anything to say about content escapes me. Indeed the Designboom piece gives the lie to the claim they just made by going on “in this series, the books are stripped away from their text and content, instead becoming superficial objects frozen in motion to highlight the water crystals and structure of the pages.”

The San Francisco phone book

The artist’s website, where many examples are shown, is unforthcoming about the methodology, though the captions for many of the objets d’art do specify borax crystals. ZME Science comes to the rescue informing us that “Alexis uses a super concentrated Borax solution. She boils the thing, allowing more Borax in and then submerging the book in the hot solution, manipulating it in the desired shape and then draining it. Here’s the detailed process, so you can try it out at home. [Their next paragraph goes on to give you quantities and timings.] Be careful when handling chemical substances though (especially hot ones) – Borax is not particularly toxic, but sufficient exposure to borax dust can cause respiratory and skin irritation.

So any of you who’ve developed a sore wrist sculpting your old books can now play at crystalizing them instead. Whatever you do though, don’t read them. Books are so passé: especially as we can now safely ignore them online. Really “the materiality” is all that remains!

Thanks to Nathan Barr for the link.

What a surprise. You can get Monopoly in a Game of Thrones edition. As Entertainment tells us (link via BookRiot) it works the same as any Monopoly game “but properties are re-named after famous Westerosi landmarks including Winterfell and Mereen as well as infamous locations such as Hardhome and The Twins. Monopoly money is replaced by Gold Dragon and Silver Stag coins to be handed out by the Master of Coin.” It’s on sale at half-price ($15) at Amazon just now.


The Scotsman, appropriately proud of our national heritage, brings us these pictures of ten places which featured in novels. (Link via LitHub.)

Here’s another picture: this one from Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens where they always have a floral clock in the summer (in so far as that season exists up there). In 2017 the clock commemorated The Scotsman‘s bicentenary.

Princes Street, which you’ll find almost universally spoken of as if it were actually Princess Street, was actually named for King George III’s two sons.

That I don’t hold with the honours system is of course neither here nor there — nobody’s thinking of honouring me. Shelf Awareness brings us the news that Margaret Atwood did accept the Companion of Honour honour. They link to this CBC story.

Perhaps the most exciting news here is that the royal family actually has a Twitter account. Everybody’s doing it now.

Shelf Awareness tells us “Earlier this month, Atwood was a co-winner of the Booker Prize for her novel The Testaments. She later announced that she would be donating her Booker winnings to Indspire to support education of Indigenous students.”

Ms Atwood is standing tall these days. I suppose that dais gives real meaning to the epithet “Highness”.

Lit Hub sets us this quiz based upon the Library of Congress Subject Categories which you may find listed on the imprints page of the book you are reading. It’ll be part of the CIP data. Whether CIP is included or not seems to depend on the publisher and I suspect also the age of the book — we appear to be less and less informative as time goes by; maybe because it’s easier than before to look this stuff up on the internet. But regardless, the subject categories will have been assigned.

Question 1 of the quiz provides these clues:

Social classes–Fiction.
Young women–Fiction.
Domestic fiction.
Love stories.

I failed. The answer is pretty obvious, but I felt it probably applied to a whole lot of books.

Seventy opportunities to have your ignorance rubbed in! Who could resist? The comments section shows (if they are telling the truth) that lots of people did a lot better than I did. I only managed a handful.

Seems that nobody knows exactly why town signs in Massachusetts came to be book shaped. Shelf Awareness brings us a link to a WGBH story about the quirk. But they are indeed intended to be book shaped — Highway department employees refer to them as bookleaf town line signs.

On letterspacing watch: one might wish the designer of the pretty well spaced ENTERING would have made sure the G stayed firmly attached to the rest of the word by pulling it a tiny bit closer to the N. It just looks a bit like it’s tipping into the abyss. Spacing INC. a little would have helped too.

Get ready. Banned Books Week runs from September 22nd till the 28th. Read the rest of this entry »

There were occasions on which, reeling from the condescension, I almost regretted my choice of career. Even if you don’t actually speak Scots, if you are born and brought up in Scotland you will inevitably often speak English like a Scotsman (after a drink or two is one notable and recurring occasion). One trap waiting for the publisher laddie was the word “book”, a rather common item of vocabulary in a publishing house. That I would pronounce this as “buik” rather than the flat, unemphasized “buck” favored by my English colleagues took me a long time to overcome. It never failed to provoke comment.

But Scots is mair nor English wi’ a Scottish accent. There’s a large vocabulary which just doesn’t feature in English English at all, though the syntax is largely the same. There’s aye been a tendency for the educated Scot to speak “proper” English, while at any moment being ready (and eager) to switch to the odd word of broad Scots. Certainly around our house there were words unknown doon England constantly in the air. Your familiarity with the language was reinforced by the singing of the old songs, and the reading of Burns’ poetry.

Scots is recognized as an indigenous language of Scotland, as a regional minority language of Europe and as a vulnerable language by UNESCO. 2019 is the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages, though I must confess to not feeling like I’ve been much bashed ower the heid aboot this. It was the language of the court, the courts and the kirk until we were rash enough to give up our independence. I still cling to the belief that Scots is totally comprehensible to the English speaker — the problem they all have is, I think, a simple refusal to try! Come oan! Gie ‘t shot. Here’s a wee introduction:

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Quartz has a braw article about the Scots language and how it’s being helped by Twitter. (Link via Lit Hub.)

Like every language, I guess, Scots is basically a spoken language, and the way it gets written down can occasionally be confusing even to other Scots. A simple example is “canna”/”cannae” (cannot). The first results from the pronunciation in the North East while I in the south grew up saying the second (when my mother didn’t tell me off to speak properly). This one’s fairly straightforward: other, rarer, words can get lost behind their variant spellings/pronunciations, and become hard to figure out in written form while you’d probably have no problem if they were spoken at you. See the Tom Leonard poem below for an example of this.

Any account of Scots cannot fail to mention Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978). Born Christopher Murray Greive in Langholm in the Borders, he first wrote poetry in English. Early on he conceived a mission to rescue Scots words for use in his verse, and he’d scour dictionaries to find vocabulary which he’d reintroduce into the language. One of the first poems to emerge (1925) from this effort was “The Watergaw” (The pale rainbow). His book-long poem in Scots, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), was considered by Oliver St. John Gogarty “the most virile and vivid poetry written in English or any dialect thereof for many a long day”. MacDiarmid here comments on the superficiality of many a Scot’s Scottishness at their annual celebration of Burns’ Night:


No’ wan in fifty ken a wurd Burns wrote
But misapplied is a’body’s property,
And gin there was his like alive the day
They’d be the last a kenning’ haund to gie —
Croose London Scotties wi’ their braw shirt fronts
And a’ their fancy freens, rejoicin’
That similah gatherings in Timbuctoo,
Bagdad — and Hell, nae doot — are voicin’
Burns’ sentiments o’ universal love,
In pidgin English or in wild-fowl Scots,
And toasting’ ane wha’s nocht to them but an
Excuse for faitherin’ Genius wi’ their thochts.

His poetry was always overflowing with ideas, and some of his later poems almost fall into a catalog of obscure scientific, political and sociological ideas and quotations. But his almost single-handed rescue of the Scots tongue ensures his immortality. I did once see him at a reading in Cambridge.

This poem by Tom Leonard (1944-2018) needs to be heard in the head before it yields up its meaning. It’s a conversation on the way to a football game, no doubt a Celtic game, and no doubt in the boozer. (The intrusive interlinear dots in these poems are there to force my software into the layout required.)

“The Good Thief”
hey jimmy
yawright ih
still wayiz urryi
hey jimmy
ma right insane yirra pape
ma right insane yirwanny us jimmy
see it nyir eyes
wanny uz
heh jimmy
lookslik wirgonny miss the gemm
gonny miss thi GEMM jimmy
nearly three a cloke thinoo
dork init
good jobe theyve gote the lights

This Leonard reflection on the language starts off “Right enough”. After that you’re on your own:

right inuff
ma language is disgraceful
ma maw tellt mi
ma teacher tellt mi
thi doactir tellt mi
thi priest tellt mi
ma boss tellt mi
ma landlady in carrington street tellt mi
thi lassie ah tried tay get off way in 1969 tellt mi
some wee smout thit thoat ah hudny read chomsky tellt mi
A calvinist communist thit thoat ah wuz revisionist tellt mi
literati grimly kerryin thi burden a thi past tellt mi
literati grimly kerryin thi burden a thi future tellt mi
ma wife tellt mi jist-tay-get-intay-this-poem tellt mi
ma wainz came hame fray school an tellt mi
jist aboot ivry book ah oapnd tellt mi
even thi introduction tay thi Scottish National Dictionary tellt mi
ach well
all livin language is sacred
fuck thi lohta thim.

Today, 17 July, is World Emoji Day: a “global celebration of emoji” marked by emoji events and product releases. July 17th is the date displayed on the emoji for “calendar”, which explains why this day has been chosen. Seems every self-respecting thing has to have a World Day nowadays.

Shady Characters has done a nine-part series on emojis. As Keith Huston (the creator of Shady Characters) points out this is entirely appropriate for a blog dedicated to punctuation, since punctuation marks share much of the character of the emoji: graphic representations of meaning.  Here’s Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5Part 6a, Part 6b, Part 6c, and Part 7 of his exhaustive examination of what remains for me an odd phenomenon. However there’s obviously something in the air: emojis have been around long enough that they have to be studied now. Wired also has a history. Apparently we are resisting the introduction of a whole raft of new emojis Medium tells us. I say introduce them: you don’t have to use them and surely won’t suffer from their existence somewhere out there. Until everyone almost automatically recognizes the meaning all emojis they will go nowhere. When they do, they might. So what?

The wild growth of emojis started with a 🖤 for the pager in Japan in the nineteen nineties. By the end of the century an “alphabet” of 176 symbols was available on the Fujitsu F501i smartphone. Apple first introduced them to the Western world in 2011, though Part 3 of Shady Characters history includes a photo of a book published in 1935 which contained two emojis — convergent evolution at work. If you want to get a new emoji added to the already generous offering, you have to petition the Unicode Consortium. They’ve agreed to breaking down the Union flag into its Scotland, England, Wales components: 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 and 🏴, though I can’t believe Wales really has a black flag: more likely a platform/recogntion issue.

The tears of joy emoji,😂, was the word of the year chosen by Oxford Dictionaries in 2015, but do emoji represent a new language? I doubt it. In 2015 Andy Murray tweeted about his wedding using only emoji (lots of tears of joy going on):

🌞☔😂👔💅💇😂👰😂🚗💒💃👫🙏💍💏👏📝🎹📷🎥🚗🍷🍴🎂🎊🎉👯🎶🎤🍹🍻🍷🍺🍩🍦🍷🍹🍸🍺🌙❤💕😘💤💤💤💤💤💤💤22 . While it may be possible to follow this if you are really determined, surely nobody would consider it narrative. Which symbols are the verbs? I guess you could say the little red car was acting as a verb, though it is disconcertingly taking Mr Murray away from the church. And of course it’s not really a verb, is it?

The world of emoji lacks any grammar, and is not open to innovation by users, both of which would be essential to their becoming a proper language. I suppose there’s an outside possibility that they could ultimately evolve in such a direction, but the directed effort involved would appear to militate against any such outcome. At most emoji represent the inclusion into written speech of a certain amount of non-verbal, gestural communication. There is of course an online emoji dictionary. The definitions given for 😂 at that link rather illustrate the problem. In a way I suppose we could see the growth in the emoji universe as analogous to the growth of the Chinese character set, which makes it unsurprising that they originated in Japan.

In Part 5 of the Shady Characters piece Mr Huston gives us a generous look at the use of emojis in sexting, another 21st century manifestation we might all have been better off without. There follows a good deal of discussion of the gyrations needed to overcome racial and sexual stereotyping in emojis, though isn’t that just an illustration of the basic problem with this whole system as a communication medium: if you’re going to use little cartoon pictures as a means of communication it could be said to be rather silly to expect there to be much sophistication of meaning available to you.

Towards the end of Part 7 Shady Characters discusses translations into emoji of various classics: notably Emoji Dick, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and under way The Bible. The “quotes” he displays from Moby Dick surely just make one regret the time wasted by someone striving to achieve the unachievable.

Atlas Obscura tells about a film on the creation of emojis.

Just for clarification an emoticon is a symbol made up of punctuation marks, e.g. the happy face 🙂 — which interestingly WordPress won’t let me show you. Although I typed colon, hyphen, parenthesis, the software converts it into the emoji you see. The emoticon would show just : – ) — without the spaces I used to defeat the software. Someone’s rooting for emojis!

On the Mac a host of emojis can be accessed by pressing Control, Command, Space bar.

Photo: iMore

Maybe the most striking thing about Marie Kondo is that you can make a fortune by going on about tidying up. The most recent stir has been caused by her advice to throw out all these books, though she has been harping on the theme for a while. I wrote about Ms Kondo before: see my 2015 post entitled Decluttering. Here’s The Passive Voice‘s take on the Kondo phenomenon. Tom Gauld as usual neatly sums up the real problem:

Why is it that a sparsely furnished room should be considered better than a cluttered one anyway? Still I don’t suppose you’d ever get a television show advocating cluttering up your home, office space, bookshelves. We all seem quite capable of doing that on our own without any expert help.