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on 17 October 2013
"Shady Characters: Ampersands, Interrobangs and other Typographical Curiosities" was one of the most unique reads this month for me. I have never come across a book like this before, so I may be thought that it was not for me. However, was proved wrong half-way into it. "Shady Characters" as the name suggests is about characters that we often forget or tend to overlook when it comes to typography or fonts or as part of text.

Keith Houston's book is about symbols and punctuation and characters that have a past to it and how it is linked to writing in today's times. For instance, it was wonderful to know about the ampersand and how it came to be. Or for that matter, about the pilcrow which is one of the oldest symbols of the world and yet we don't know much about it. Like how the @ symbol came to being way back in 1971 - this anecdote I found most interesting, because it was fascinating to know about the symbol which has become an essential part of our lives.

What Keith skilfully does in these chapters about each character is bring out the past and link it beautifully with the present and the future. The writing (which I thought would be tedious at first) is only enjoyable and full of anecdotes. So there is little chance of the reader getting bored. There are ten characters or symbols spoken of and each one has a unique story to tell. The reader has no time to get bored at any point in the book.

"Shady Characters" is about uniqueness. It is about seeing the unknown and sometimes most taken granted for world. The world of punctuation, symbols and other lovely characters that make up the world of semantics and otherwise just add a little bit of charm.
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on 28 September 2013
Amazon UK sent me the American edition, though apart from the dust cover, the binding and the impressum it's identical to the British one.

It's a delightful, meandering journey through the arcana of some typographical punctuation. It's full of wonderful diversions; I didn't know that the librarians at Alexandria were tax-dodgers, for example. Nor that 'there the bee sucks, there suck I' was so troublesome.

It starts with Eric Gill's 'Typography', and his use of the ¶ and continues from there. The biography of Gill starts off seemingly anodyne and bland; but, given the thoroughness of the book, it pulls no punches about Gill's life.

The typography is wonderful, you'll find that it's 'rubricated', and it's rare to find such a well-designed book these days.

Less delightful, sadly, are some of the reproductions of early manuscripts and printed works; these would benefit from contrast improvements and sharpening in a photo-editing program.

That aside, it's a wonderful work, either to read through or just to dip into here and there.
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on 12 October 2013
I love it! It is the best available compilation on seen but not understood characters in print industry. ¶ The book is nicely edited. I have got a hard-back copy which has a good quality finishing. The dust jacket is nicely designed with some embossing, but it may be easy to get dirty due to uncoated paper used. ¶ I love the way how the subject marks in each chapter are printed in red, which helps to read the book without disruption. It is also nice to see the usage of a pilcrow, asterisk or dagger in practice within the book, especially the pilcrow used in few paragraphs (p. 14). ¶ Definitely it is my book of the year together with a Polish version of « Book Typography. A Designer's Manual » by M. Mitchell and S. Wightman edited by R.Oleś (« Typografia książki, Podręcznik projektanta »).
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 November 2013
This book is just my type. Keith Houston tells the back stories of a host of different characters in detail and with some wry humour. The continuing search for a character to indicate irony is particularly interesting; I like the idea of the oft-suggested inverted exclamation mark but for some reason this has never caught on. The author is perhaps better on the history than the contemporary and although he covers emoticons in some detail, he fails even to mention lol (admittedly, not a mark of punctuation but nonetheless ubiquitous).

The quality of the paper in this edition is very pleasing but there's just one thing about the book that bothers me about it and, oddly enough, it's the type. There is little to differentiate between the point size used for the chapters and that used for the figure captions; occasionally they almost run into to each other. Also, the glyphs are highlighted in red - which is useful - but in such a delicate font that they sometimes slipped by unnoticed, particularly the asterisks*.

*Ironic, no?
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on 10 March 2015
I cannot understand how others have found this 'too academic'. I found it extremly readable and very fascinating. I agree that the kindle edition was annoying becuae one could not relate immediately to the notes - but I read them all at the end and it wasn't irritating enough for me to dock the book itself - which obviously had nothing to do with how it appeared in kindle - any stars
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on 2 April 2016
A lovely book about a fascinating subject, spoiled slightly by too many digressions that work against understanding. The story of these marks is slippery enough as it is without endless asides further muddying the pool. I only finished Shady Characters an hour ago and if you put gun to my child's head I don't think I could provide a decent description of how the octothorp or ampersand came to be. Some sort of summary for each would have been welcome. That aside, a fine, engaging and entertaining read.
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on 17 August 2014
A good interesting book. The chapter on irony/sarcasm marks etc went on a bit long and was a bit repetitive but otherwise a fascinating topic.

The main problem is with the Kindle edition of this book. The non-standards marks dotted through the text were almost impossible to read on Paperwhite or using the Android app. Also the heavy use of footnotes made navigation rather awkward on those Kindle platforms that don't seem to work well with that kind of thing (I'm lookin at you Android app!).
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on 7 January 2015
An excellent book, printed on good quality paper and with a lot of thought given to the printing. The content is quite geeky, which suits me - I am now much better informed about the history of the symbols we use to communicate, and the history of printing. I had finished the book within a week even with a busy Christmas period, testifying to its ease of reading and compulsive topic.
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on 26 September 2015
An interesting read. Some chapters, like the one about @, are a bit dull. But they are balanced by, for example, the history of ¶ which is excellent. Often, illustrations from typeface designers or historical manuscripts illustrate the point. Very much worthwhile.
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on 21 August 2016
This is such an interesting book. It's written in a fairly light-hearted way, which disguises the incredible amount of research that has gone into producing it. I heard about this book on a Radio4 program presented by Michael Rosen, and the very next morning ordered a copy. It's absolutely packed with intriguing, historical facts about all the dots and squiggles that are sprinkled on every written page in the English language. This book is perfect for someone who loves the kind of book that you can put down. It's great for dipping into or reading slowly over quite a long time. I really recommend it for people who love finding out little, interesting facts gleaned from over 2,000 years of the history of typography.
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