Review: Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical MarksShady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Generally speaking, I’m nonplussed by books about writing (save for On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within). That said, I do love good style and grammar books, which is ironic as any of my editors or copy editors would happily tell you. The Elements of Style, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and even The Chicago Manual of Style sit near my reading areas.

And so I was excited to pick up Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks, a brief history of punctuation — some long forgotten and some in use today. An outgrowth of Keith Houston’s blog, the author explores how and why we use the symbols we do today. (As a fun aside, the book’s design incorporates all the symbols as a demonstration of how the styles evolved throughout time.)

There’s not much more to say about the book. You either find the history of these things fascinating, or you’re wrong. If you’re looking for my recommendation, here it is: I liked Shady Characters so much I purchased his follow up The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time.

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