Wyatt’s World: Encountering Language in Endless Forms

Reading means encountering language, in endless forms and combinations. How does language act upon us? How is it fashioned and used? These five works explore those questions in fascinating, meditative, and deeply unsettling ways.

  • 420 Characters by Lou Beach (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). These micromini short stories are created from 420 characters or fewer. They are a marvelous experiment in language control, but even more, immersive, witty, and rich story experiences.
  • Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard (Free Pr: S. & S.). How is language acquired and what parts of the brain control it? Erard explores these questions as he seeks out hyperpolyglots (both living and dead) who speak and read dozens and dozens of languages.
  • Just My Type by Simon Garfield (Gotham). Printed language arrives via fonts, be it the heft of Helvetica or the anonymity of Arial. In this delightful and smart explanation of typefaces, Garfield explores the emotional weight of fonts and their history.
  • The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus (Knopf). Language is toxic in Marcus’s new novel as the sound of children speaking slowly kills the adults around them. Noted for his deft and amazing skill as a writer, Marcus here dismantles language into a weapon.
  • Waking by Ron Rash (Hub City Pr.). Poetry rests in the sound, structure, and cadence of words and thus makes a nice paring with any consideration of the affect of language. In this collection, Rash, the author of The Cove and Serena, sets his poems in a southern landscape and masterfully crafts moody, cathartic lines.
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net