NONFICTION

Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story

Counterpoint. Feb. 2015. 448p. illus. index. ISBN 9781619024830. $25. LIT
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Author Rosen, the host of BBC Radio 4's "Word of Mouth," covers many topics in the context of the alphabet in this winding trip through language, letters, and other things of literary interest. Readers are likely to find out fascinating tidbits of information about topics they may not have explored before: ciphers, Beowulf, thorn and eth, reading instruction, horn books, typewriters, and more. Each chapter addresses a letter, with two to three pages of history and an accompanying essay that may have only the slimmest relation. In some cases, the letters are more of a jumping-off point than an alphabetical issue. So every letter does tell a story; it just might not be what you would expect for that letter. While some opinions may be disagreeable (Quit teaching handwriting to kids? Put representatives in charge of choosing reading?), the author certainly has a grasp on current education practices, including spelling reform.
VERDICT The overall delivery is solid and comprehensive. Britishisms abound, but most Americans interested in the subject will find that easy enough to get around. It's like Oliver Jeffers's Once Upon an Alphabet for grown-ups.

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