What We’re Reading

Each month we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

This weekend I’m in Nashville for the LOEX conference. I don’t get nearly as much time to read when I’m conferences as I do when I’m home, but I do treasure the time spent on airplanes and in airports to read. I started Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell, a new historical mystery set in gaslit London on the flights here, and it’s delightful historical armchair travel. Up next: Amanda Knox’s new memoir Waiting to Be Heard, which I just picked up at my public library. –Carrie

This month, I escaped into the pages of Harlan Coben’s latest thriller Six Years. Coben is an expert at tight plotting, cliffhanger chapter endings, and expert plot twists, of which Six Years is no exception. When Jake watched the love of his life marry another man, he promised her that he would leave them alone. He kept that promise for six years, until the day he discovered her husband’s obituary online. What begins as a simple desire to offer his condolences to a grieving widow leads Jake down a winding path of deception, deceit, and intrigue. Coben kept me turning pages and questioning what the next twist would reveal, resulting in an overall fun and entertaining read. –Heather

This week, I read Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. Amelia is a high schooler at an elite private school in New York City. Everyone sees Amelia as a good student headed on to do good things. When she gets caught up in a secret school club, her life changes. Her mother is called to the school one morning because Amelia has gotten in trouble. When she arrives at the school, she learns that Amelia has committed suicide. Weeks after Amelia’s death, Amelia’s mother begins to receive anonymous texts indicating that Amelia’s death wasn’t a suicide, and using Amelia’s text messages, emails, Facebook posts, and interviews with girls in Amelia’s club, she begins to learn more about her daughter’s life, and her own life. This book is a good cross-over teen/adult novel. –Emily

I sometimes review books on language and linguistics for another blog and received a new title this month from Oxford University Press that immediately intrigued me: Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr. Note that the * is part of the title on the cover; I’m not just being polite. (Interestingly enough, the missing vowel is included in the Cataloging-in-Publication.) As soon as I was done with Throne of the Crescent Moon (A recommended read for any fantasy enthusiasts!), I started in on the new book. Currently well into Chapter 4 (“The Rise of Obscenity”), I have not been disappointed. Swearing seems to enjoy periodic attention in books aimed at a popular audience, and several others have written on the subject including Geoffrey Hughes (Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths, and Profanity in English, 1993), Pete Silverton (Filthy English: The How, Why, When, and What of Everyday Swearing, 2009), and even the well-known psychologist Stephen Pinker (The Stuff of Thought, 2007). Mohr’s work appears to be based on her 2003 doctoral thesis at Stanford University (Strong Language: Oaths, Obscenities, and Performative Literature in Early Modern England), but the current work is written in a very accessible and engaging style while at the same time providing intriguing, in-depth research. The book begins by looking at profanity from ancient Rome. Surprisingly, a large volume of written documentation of Roman obscenities survives on walls in the form of graffiti as well as in texts. Mohr then moves from pagan Rome to Jewish and Christian sources in the Bible and how different forms of swearing (both sacred and profane) grew out of that. I’m currently reading through the evolution of obscenities and profanity from the Middle Ages into the Elizabethan and Renaissance eras.The book provides a truly eye-opening, highly-entertaining, and (sometimes-embarrassing) romp through the history of this expressive area of language. If you decide to pick it up, however, be careful where you read it. Mohr acknowledges on the book jacket that she has “recently been dividing her time between writing this book about swearing, and hiding it from her kids.” Absolutely fascinating stuff! –Don

 

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