Book week 2019: the prologue

My new year's resolution for 2019 was: Finish the books I start. 

Now, it must be said, I don't read enough books. I do a lot of reading for research, which does not usually involve reading books from cover to cover. (It involves reading journal articles, reading chapters, using the indices of books to find the bits I need.) Since so much of my working life is reading (including multiple books' worth of student writing each term), after work I tend to do other things. But I still want to be reading books, because there are so many good books out there and I have great respect for the writers of books and the books they write.

I find it's very easy to start (reading) books. Rarely do I start reading a book and then lose interest in it. I have every intention and desire to finish most books that I start. But then some other book comes along and I just want to start that one too.

(It must be said here that these days I mostly read non-fiction—and it's relatively easy to leave non-fiction unfinished. If there is a story to a non-fiction book, I generally know how the story ends, so it doesn't have that page-turner vibe that fiction can have.)

At the start of 2019, there were four books that I had started months before, and had been really enjoying, yet instead of finishing them, I started other books. But thanks to my resolution, they are finished. Yay! 

So that was going well. Until I started starting books again. As of last week, I had seven books on the go (not counting a couple that made me say "Life's too short to spend it on this sub-par book"). And thanks to what I'm about to do, I will probably soon have 12 unfinished books heading into the LAST MONTH of 2019. So: made a resolution to reduce the number of unfinished books I have, and I am ending the year with THREE TIMES AS MANY unfinished books. What a failure!

But the reason I'm starting even more books is that people send me books. Publishers send me books. I get a lot of books. They send me the books because I have a blog and they want me to help publici{s/z}e the books. I like getting the books, and I want to help authors of good books. And it helps them if I tell you about the books in a timely way.

So this week, I am going to write about some of the books I've been sent this year and which I may not have read from cover to cover. For each book, I plan to read at least two chapters before telling you about it. So, I'm going to have a feel for the book, which I can tell you about, even if I haven't read the whole book.

Why do this now? Two reasons:
  1. I can assuage my guilt about not writing about these books sooner by pretending that I was waiting to give you a seasonal list of books that would make great gifts for the holiday season!
  2. I have the time.
I have the time because my union is about to go on strike for eight days. During this time, I am not engaging in the activities that the university pays me for. (And indeed, I will not be paid by the university for those days.) So, I'm catching up on things I want/like to do that are not within my job description. And apparently starting books and not finishing them is one of the things I like to do best.

I'm only going to tell you about books I like. I'm channel(l)ing my mother: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I'm also listening to the adage "There's no such thing as bad publicity." I've decided not to give any publicity to sub-par books. I could be scathing about them (and witty—scathing and witty go hand-in-hand). And that might be a lot of fun. But I'd just rather not shine my light on sub-par books, since that takes space and attention away from the good books. 

Some of the books I'll write about are by people I like. It's not that I know them well, just that I've had enough interactions with them to know we're on the same wavelength—so it's not quite nepotism (just tribalism?). And I'm going to try my best to have five posts for five days, but life happens and I might have to interpret "week" very loosely.

So: stay tuned, and we'll get this book week going.

Oh, and: I'm taking nominations for US-to-UK and UK-to-US Words of the Year. Are there any US-to-UK or UK-to-US borrowings that are particularly 2019-ish? They don't have to have first come to the other country this year, but they should have had particular attention or relevance in the other country this year. Please nominate them in the comments below.

24 comments

  1. I have been hearing 'headspace' a lot over the last few months. I don't know whether it originated in the US, bit if feels American to this Brit. The usage I have come across is a bit 'don't bother me with this - I haven't got the headspace', as something of an excuse for being too busy (or too lazy).

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    1. For me (AmE), "headspace" has two meanings, neither of which really matches the one you present:

      1) As a technical term, it's the space between the top of a piston and the top of the cylinder in an internal combustion engine. (Research indicates that it also refer to analogous spaces in other containers, but I've never seen that.) Used metaphorically, this could be related to your sense, but that metaphor is not something I've seen in the wild.

      2) More commonly, I see it used for something like "state of mind": "I'm just not in the right headspace to deal with that right now."

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    2. I'm not hearing 'headspace' to mean 'space to think' in my UK circles, but what I am hearing a lot in meetings is 'bandwidth'—'We don't have the bandwidth to deal with all these problems right now.'

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    3. Since I live in the US and have most of my life (born and raised), I haven't heard the term headspace used quite like that. Aside from the meaning of the top cylinder on a ICE, the term headspace is more like mentally prepping yourself for something. You might try to get into "the headspace" for a marathon or to do something tedious like taxes. I have not seen it used to mean "don't bother me".

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  2. My son (nearly ten), uses 'smart' to mean 'clever'. It's not a word I use at all and I'm assuming Americanisation?

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    1. Well, Americans originally got it from Britain, so it kind of depends on what's meant by 'Americanisation'. :)

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    2. Seems like I've always known smart to mean clever, and I'm 66. I just checked the OED and the earliest citations are from the seventeenth century.

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  3. To me, a Brit transplanted to Canada as a child, I have always seen "smart" has having two meanings: clever/intelligent-"She is a very smart (intelligent) woman" and "He looksg very smart (well-dressed) today in his new suit".

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  4. One that I've seen a lot recently in UK English, and may even have used myself, is "deep dive" for a detailed examination of something - one recent example here: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/nov/22/tv-tonight-ken-burns-deep-dive-into-country-music-begins.

    As per Merriam-Webster - https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/what-is-a-deep-dive-history-words-were-watching - it seems to have first emerged in US business English, but it's not clear to me whether what I'm seeing is a move across from the US to the UK or a simultaneous mainstream breakout in both the UK and the US.

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    1. Since M-W is only noticing it in 2018, it doesn't feel like the kind of thing that was established in US before moving to UK. Jargons are often more international, as you note.

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  5. I have two people whose blogs I'm following who are on strike - all power to you and I'm sorry you're in this position. I think your plan is a good one and I'm looking forward to reading your posts.

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  6. I have begun hearing "knock-on effect" here in the US, after first hearing it several years ago from an English friend. I'm not sure if this is just from Anglophiles or whether it is truly taking root here.

    One word I really would like to import is "whinge". It seems to somewhat mean the same as "whine" or (Y-AmE) "kvetch", but has that great "cringe" substrate.

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  7. The "knock-on" / "whinge" post was mine. Sorry, thought it would pick up my name from my Google account.

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  8. Is the egregious (and ubiquitous0 "woke" a US import, or did it arise here spontaneously, too? My generation had its consciousness raised.... I suppose "woke" is quicker to say and type!

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    1. As in today's Guardian:

      https://bit.ly/35GzlPa

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    2. It's a tough one, because it's the product of internet virality—it became big in the UK at pretty much the same time as it was becoming big in the US. That is to say, while it was long-standing in African-American communities, the current more generalised usage spread so fast that it's hard to say it was really general AmE before it was BrE (and the version BrE got was that more recent usage).

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    3. It's from Black American English, and spread via Black Twitter. "Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution" is thoroughly US, so my vote is yes, it was exported.
      Same story for "lit", by the way.

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  9. In the past few years I have seen the word 'hack' used where one might have had 'hint' or 'tip' in the UK - in lifestyle magazines or websites - 'Five essential cleaning hacks' and so on. It's not a word I have ever heard in speech and I assumed it arose in the American editorial offices - then the other day I read it in the Times (London) - an ingenious hack to ensure a moist Christmas cake.

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    1. The comedian Dave Gorman did a whole routine about "life hacks" on his TV show on the Dave channel a couple of years ago. That was the first time I'd heard the term.

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    2. This is another one that feels like it wasn't really established in one place before it was known in the other. Computer jargon > general English more than American > British. OED's original usages are indeed American, but very much computer jargon.

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  10. Hi! US>UK 'regular' to mean 'ordinary'? my son uses it a lot but he mainlines youtube so that doesn't count. However I heard a quite ordinary/regular little girl use this meaning on Radio 2 just now.

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    Replies
    1. I think that's been around for a long time. Chambers gives ordinary as one of the definitions of regular and doesn't mark it as US or N Amer.

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)