LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story

by Michael Rosen.

Michael Rosen takes the reader, letter by letter, through the alphabet, introducing the history, usage, and relevance of each as he goes.

Each chapter begins with an brief history of each letter’s original form, and how it came to be the way it is today, followed by a lengthy guide to pronunciation and usage. Then comes a longer section explaining some aspect of literacy connected (sometimes tenuously) with that particular letter, e.g. “P is for Pitman” details the history of shorthand.

By O, I confess, my interest was waning. This wasn’t because Rosen’s descriptions were any less informative, but because I was tiring of the presentation. The morphology of each letter would have been so much better presented with illustrations, rather than descriptions, and the word lists just got boring. Some sections are fascinating (“Q is for QWERTY” and “D is for Disappeared Letters”), others much less so (“J is for Jokes” was too nerdy, even for me), but the book is structured and illuminating, and there should be something to pique most people’s interest.

I’m glad I read this book, and I’ve kept it on my shelves; but I suspect it will be one of the first to go when I need more space, and I doubt I’ll read it again.

4* because it is packed with information.


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