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Shady Characters: The Secret Life Of Punctuation Symbols And Other Typographical Paperback – Oct 21 2014
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If Eats, Shoots & Leaves whetted your appetite on the subject of punctuation, then you have a treat in store. Shady Characters is an authoritative, witty, and fascinating tour of the history and rationale behind such lesser known marks as the ampersand, manicule, the pilcrow, and the interrobang. Keith Houston also explains the octothorpe—otherwise known as the hashtag—and and my final comment on his book is #awesome. — Ben Yagoda, author of How to Not Write Bad
Make no mistake: this is a book of secrets. With zeal and rigor, Keith Houston cracks open the &, the #, the † and more—all the little matryoshka dolls of meaning that make writing work. Inside, we meet novelists, publishers, scholars and scribes; we range from ancient Greeks to hashtagged tweets; and we see the weird and wonderful foundations of the most successful technology of all time. — Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Funny, surprising, and, of course, geeky. — Michael D. Schaffer and John Timpane (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Might make you look at books… in an entirely new way. — Andrew Robinson (Nature)
Houston…is a tireless researcher and an amiable teacher. — Jan Gardner (Boston Globe)
A pleasurable contribution to type history, particularly for readers who haven’t considered the ampersand in any detail. — Carl W. Scarbrough (New Criterion)
Fascinating. — Rob Kyff (The Courant)
About the Author
Keith Houston is the author of Shady Characters and the founder of shadycharacters.co.uk. He lives in London.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Houston has selected the pilcrow (that backward P for paragraph), "commercial at" (@), octothorpe (pound or hash sign), ampersand, asterisk, dagger, hyphen, manicule (pointing hand), quotation marks, the interrobang (question mark overlaid with an exclamation mark) and marks to indicate irony and sarcasm. The earliest symbols show up with the Greeks and Romans; turning points include the rise of Christianity, the Renaissance and the invention of the printing press, and, more recently, the typewriter. Computers and the internet are respectful latecomers to the party.
Houston is a detective who digs for hard evidence. Typographical legends persist and he insists on finding the truth. Assumptions are dashed. His end notes and bibliography reveal that he shifted through a lot of dry, not to mention dusty, texts in search of his answers and he has done a terrific job of articulating the information. He sustains a vibrant energy to the last page. The hardcover book is attractively produced with the symbols rendered in red ink.
This is Houston's first book. On the strength of it, I'll sign up for his next, whatever it is.
Some of the history of punctuation involves historical trivia only distantly related to it but that the author either couldn't bear to leave out or needed to throw in in order to expand an otherwise slender volume. His knowledge of those other things, both ancient and modern, is not always as sure as his understanding of punctuation, and sometimes that shows.
Another review mentions that non-standard characters are "microscopic" on Kindle and Android platforms. I can report that they are on the iPad as well.
I'm a type geek and I find information entertaining. I already knew some of what's in this book, but the new details are delightful and delicious. If you share my enthusiasm for pilcrows, octothorps, ampersands, interrobangs and em dashes, buy this book.
One of my contributions: The One Buck Indie Author's Type Book (Silver Sands Publishing Series)