This is a transcription of Exclamation Points! & Two New Books — 07 April 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a fresh take on a literary classic.
David: A cozy mystery set in modern San Francisco.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I think this is common knowledge among our long-time listeners but for new bookish friends… Hello, my name is Melissa, and my favorite book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Melissa: I’m always equal parts intrigued and skeptical when new novels inspired by Jane Eyre are release. That book holds such a special place in my heart, and it’s so of it’s time. I think it’s very difficult to retell the story with modern sensibilities. But authors who also love the original keep trying. And the new book Jane & Edward by Melodie Edwards is getting some good buzz, so I’m excited to give it a go.
Melissa: In this modern retelling, Jane is a former foster kid. When the book opens, she’s working as a waitress in a suburb of Toronto. For anyone who’s ever worked in food service, the first chapter is great. There is a long diatribe about how terribly picky customers can be, and it does a great job establishing this new Jane’s voice.
Melissa: In Bronte’s version, Jane changes her lot by becoming a governess. In this one, she accepts a job as a legal assistant at the distinguished law firm of Rosen, Haythe & Thornfield. Thornfield Hall is the estate owned by our hero Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.
Melissa: Our Jane’s new boss is Edward Rosen, an ill-tempered loudmouth who’s unable to keep an assistant. Until now. As he and Jane go from respectful colleagues to fond friends to more, Jane’s independence is at risk. And Edward has secrets. To move ahead with her life, Jane will have to face her past demons and decide if Edward is worth the risk.
Melissa: I’m VERY curious to see how the Victorian-era secrets of the original are transposed to the 21st century. But I’m hopeful. Library Journal said, ‘Fans of Jane Eyre will enjoy spotting the Easter eggs… More importantly, the love story stays faithful to the original, with the addition of some spice.’
Melissa: The publisher has an excerpt, a sample of the audiobook, and a readers’ guide online. I’ll put links to all of that in show notes. The book is Jane & Edward by Melodie Edwards, and it’s out now.
David: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is a new book from Jesse Q. Sutanto.
David: This book starts when Vera Wong — who’s 60, and probably watched too many episodes of CSI — Vera Wong finds a body in her tea shop in San Francisco. It belongs to 29-year old Marshall Chen. He’s got a flash drive in his hand.
David: She takes a permanent marker and draws an outline around his body. Then she calls the police. Before they get there, she pockets the flash drive. They show up and determine that he died from an allergy attack. Vera decides that they’re wrong, and that she’s the only one who can get to the bottom of his murder.
David: One of her investigative techniques is to have the suspects over for tea. She becomes friends with them, even as she continues to believe that one of them killed Marshall.
David: Reviews call this a sweet, amusing, cosy murder mystery. A few of the reviews that I read called out the food descriptions in this book. Dumplings and BBQ beef make an appearance. It sounds like a perfect book for a lazy weekend.
David: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto is out now.
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: Okay. This week, I went down a rabbit hole of punctuation. This journey started out with a Washington Post article. The article is called, ‘Sometimes it’s too much! But the exclamation point has a point.’ The article is about the exclamation point. The author’s name is Florence Hazrat. She’s a writer and researcher who lives in Berlin.
David: In the Washington Post article, she writes: ‘For the last three years, I have been studying the history of the exclamation point and over the course of my research (which began with a study of parentheses) time and again I have come across flak against !. I began to wonder whether the exclamation point was really as ‘breathless, almost childish’ as the ‘Penguin Guide to Punctuation’ says it is. I read on, hoping someone would publish a manifesto in defense of the poor abused mark, but couldn’t find anything. So that someone turned out to be me.’
David: First, I want to point out that the phrase ‘which began with a study of parentheses’ is delightful both because of the idea, and because the phrase itself appears in parentheses.
David: The article goes on to talk about the history of the exclamation mark. It turns out it’s only 700 years old, which makes it almost half as old as its some of its brothers. Aristophanes was a big fan of the period back in 400 BC, for instance.
David: The rest of the article talks about the rise and fall of the exclamation over time, and its sordid reputation. We will put a link to that article in the show notes.
David: Then at the bottom of the article, it says, ‘Florence Hazrat is the author of An Admirable Point: A Brief History of the Exclamation Mark!’
David: And I thought, okay. I’ll bite. And I bought her book. I find her book really enjoyable. It’s short, it’s punchy, it’s got lots of pictures. It’s a certain kind of fun non-fiction book that has still some things to say. Hazrat writes about different kinds of exclamation points, how the exclamation has been used in politics and culture, how some people view the exclamation point as feminine, perhaps because of its excitability, and how wrongheaded that is.
David: She also points to a bunch of uses of the exclamation point that I had not seen before. For instance, she mentions that, back in 2010, the children’s TV show ‘Electric Company’ had hip-hop legend LL Cool J do a rap on different punctuation rules. Here’s a snippet of rap. [clip of rapping] We’ll put the whole thing in our show notes.
David: Overall the reviews for ‘An Admirable Point’ have been good. There haven’t been a ton of them, but it did just come out in March. I read one negative review which I found amusing. I thought I’d share it. On Goodreads, K. J. Charles writes: ‘Despite being brief, this was too long. The excellent Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark uses a single punctuation mark as the springboard for a really interesting read, so I was hoping for similar here, but this is very repetitive, doesn’t go deep, and basically lacks sufficient material: it would have made a good article. Possibly the exclamation mark is just duller than the semicolon.’
David: Where do you fall on the inherent dreariness of punctuation marks? If you want to decide for yourself which is the superior book, we will put a link to both in our show notes.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more awesome nerdiness about punctuation and the books we discussed.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
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