Monday, April 25, 2022

Index: A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age (Dennis Duncan)

The index, or that part of the book in the back with an alphabetized list of items and associated page numbers, is given little thought on many occasions. I was always uniquely curious about how the index evolved and the work that goes into it. Organizing all of the pertinent information in the pre-computer age was a rather laborious undertaking, but thanks to the work of researchers and librarians, a gradual system and standard for how indexes look today came about.

Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age is Dennis Duncan’s account of the cleverness and wordplay that occasionally goes into a book’s index and how something that is a tool of reference, and occasional narcissism for those wanting to see if they are mentioned within a book’s pages, came about. The index has served a useful role for scholars and researchers as well over the centuries, helping catalog and organize information. It wasn’t until the 19th Century when standardization began to take shape in indexing, and it wasn’t until the mid 20th Century before a modern professional association was codified to help train indexers.

The index’s useful role is evolving - beyond books, it now takes the form of #hashtags on Twitter and other social channels, providing a way for social media users to group themes or topics together. Google’s search index is a beast unto itself, helping organize the world’s websites that can be accessed with a quick, index-like query. Duncan’s book also highlights the role technology will have in indexing going forward.

Index, A History of the has moments of insight and humor woven within a topical history book. Its subtitle, A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age, is poignant and accurate. It is bookish, occasionally wonky, but enjoyable if you’re into history.


Monday, April 11, 2022

The Burning Girls (C.J. Tudor)

In C. J. Croft's The Burning Girls, strange things are happening in Chapel Croft, England. Martyrs, visions, deaths, missing girls -- Chapel Croft has it all. A little too much.

Reverend Jack Brooks moves to Chapel Croft with her daughter, Flo, to take over the running of a chapel.  She hopes to get away from what happened at her last assignment, but instead, she finds a village with a dark history. Martyrs were burned five hundred years ago, two teenage girls, went missing, and the chapel's previous vicar committed suicide. This is just the past -- the current inhabitants of Chapel Croft also have secrets of their own. 

In my opinion, The Burning Girls just has too much going on. Things weren't wrapped up satisfyingly enough, and the ending was implausible enough to detract from my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I seem to be in the minority here, though, so if you like dark books, you might enjoy this one.


Monday, April 4, 2022

Seven Games: A Human History (Oliver Roeder)

The games of Chess, checkers, Go, Scrabble, poker, backgammon, and bridge have been played by billions of people over the centuries. From novices playing for fun to professionals playing for money to computer programs playing for a quest of perfection, the games have societal importance. Oliver Roeder’s Seven Games: A Human History charts the origins of these games, their historical importance, and how technology has been used to not only compete against humans but also to help improve humans in their gameplay against each other.

Seven Games introduces us to more than just the games themselves; we also get to know the cast of characters involved in them. These characters include poker players at the World Series of Poker, an IBM engineer creating a program for backgammon, and a man who lost only three games of checkers in 40 years. These stories fuel Seven Games to be more than just a history of games. Roeder’s use of personal stories is augmented by showing the reader how technology has impacted each of these games in various ways, like Scrabble (computers can help players figure out “bingo” words) and even bridge, a game whose popularity is on the wane.

Roeder’s book is a wonderful exploration into play, competition, risk-taking, and how technology is fueling how humans can take risks more effectively in these games.