If it were possible to wear out an internet browser, I would probably be guilty of doing such a thing in my ongoing and never-ending quest to learn about the origins of certain words and phrases.
I know what you're thinking, but not all words lead back to Shakespeare. Even though the number of words and phrases he coined comes in at around a whopping 1,700, he did not, in fact, invent the English language. Indeed, we have lots of different writers to credit for contributing to it throughout the centuries.
In his addictive new book, Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers, Paul Dickson offers a delightful A-to-Z exploration of familiar words and phrases that were coined or popularized by a wide range of authors, including these:
• Butterfingers—Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers (1836)
• Egghead—Carl Sandburg in a letter (1918)
• Eyesore—William Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew (1593)
• Freelance—Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe (1820)
• Nerd—Dr. Seuss in If I Ran the Zoo (1950)
• Scaredy-cat—Dorothy Parker in "The Waltz" (1933)
• Shotgun wedding—Sinclair Lewis in Elmer Gantry (1927)
• T-shirt—F. Scott Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise (1920)
• Yahoo—Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels (1726)
This fun, breezy (though authoritative), enlightening book will also give you the lowdown on and background of such words as pandemonium, chintzy, factoid and so many more. You'll never have to endure another awkward, cocktail-party conversation lull when armed with all of the knowledge packed into this entertaining compendium.
• 101 Books debunks 5 literary legends, including the one about Dr. Seuss and Kurt Vonnegut.
• Coming next year from Random House is Garlic in Fiction, a new collection of works by Shirley Jackson, culled from her archives and edited by two of her children. It'll feature stories, drawings, lectures—can't wait!
• Something you don't have to wait for: Zadie Smith's new short story from The Paris Review.
• Short on free time for reading? Flavorwire has put together a list of 50 incredible novels under 200 pages, including Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
• In movie news, last year's National Book Award winner for fiction, The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, is heading to the big screen, with Liev Schreiber and Jaden Smith set to star. Are you looking forward to seeing it?
• Finally, BuzzFeed gets inside the mind of legendary romance cover model, Fabio. Enjoy!
The fun will actually begin on Tuesday (April 22) evening, though, with more than 20 author events planned to kick things off. Check out all of the who, when and where details to see if there will be a celebration near you.
Then, next Wednesday night, thousands of volunteers will be giving away 550,000 copies of books to light or non-readers in under-served communities. The list of 38 books to be distributed includes fiction and nonfiction, new books and classics, as well as several YA titles and even a collection of poetry.
The WBN folks have created a handy interactive map detailing all of the giveaway locations across the country, and there's also a list of participating bookstores and libraries, sorted by state.
All participants are encouraged to write about their experiences and enter the WBN ebook essay contest. The winning essays will be featured in an ebook to be distributed at next year's World Book Night. Check out all of the contest details here.
The World Book Night tagline says it all: spreading the love of reading, person to person. Will you be taking part? If so, we'd love to hear about it! Share your plans—or past WBN experiences—in the comments section, below.
Why does the same joke leave one person LOLing and another yawning or stone-faced? Why do we laugh? Does humor have a dark side? Is laughter really the best medicine? These thought-provoking questions—and more—are tackled head-on in The Humor Code, the fascinating, thoroughly entertaining new book by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner—released just in time for National Humor Month.
McGraw—founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder—and award-winning journalist Warner traveled the globe on a quest to get to the root of what makes things funny, stopping in Los Angeles, Tanzania, Palestine, Copenhagen and even venturing into the Amazon. Among the experts they consult are a head writer for The Onion, Hunter "Patch" Adams (yes, that Patch Adams), New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff and several "top members of the Japanese Humor and Laughter Society."
Their around-the-world romp ended in Montreal, where Warner drew upon their newfound wisdom by attempting stand-up at Montreal's Just For Laughs comedy festival, which is basically the Olympics of comedy fests. How did he do? I won't spoil it for you.
If you're still scratching your head over why Tanzania, wonder no more. In this excerpt from the fourth chapter, the authors explain what drew them to the East African country:
Good news greets us in Uganda as we disembark our plane: "Uganda has defeated the outbreak of Ebola," announces a large placard standing in the airport's main hall. "Please have a nice stay."
Well, that's a relief.
We actually have a different malady in mind—one far less lethal than Ebola, but evocative nonetheless. We're here in East Africa on the trail of the so-called 1962 Tanganyika laughter epidemic. As the story goes, in 1962 in the northwest corner of Tanganyika (a country now known as Tanzania), hundreds of people began laughing uncontrollably. The affliction, if you could call it that, spread from one person to the next, and nothing seemed to stop it. Schools shut down. Entire villages were caught in its throes. When the laughing stopped months later, a thousand people had some down with the "disease."
Since then, the Tanganyika laughter epidemic has captured imaginations the world over. Newspaper articles have been written about it, radio shows have explored it, and documentaries have dramatized it. But many of these accounts detailed the incident from afar, relying on secondhand sources, scraps of information, and rumors. Few people have investigated the event themselves, tracking the laughter all the way to its source. That's why we're here.
To be honest, we're a bit skeptical of the whole account. Uncontrollable laughter, jumping from person to person like a devilish possession, doesn't make sense. But something happened in Tanganyika in 1962. There are enough firsthand accounts and medical reports to confirm that. But what that something is—and what, if anything, it has to do with humor—is still up for debate.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Humor Code?
• "Mad Men" returns this weekend. Which of these books do you want to see Don Draper (or other characters) reading on the iconic show's final season?
• Pop quiz time! Don't panic—it's a fun pop quiz. Check the books you've read on BuzzFeed's list to find out just how scandalous your reading taste skews.
• Did you know that Shakespeare's 450th (!) birthday is coming up this month? Perhaps you didn't know that there are several online Shakespeare courses that you can take—for free!
• Since you were such good sports about the quiz, how about a super-cute game called How to Be a Writer?
• The HuffPost rounded up a collection of simply delightful—some downright amusing—bookplates.
• You may want to bookmark Flavorwire's roundup of 50 (!) of the best Southern novels for the next time you're craving a richly rewarding read set below the Mason-Dixon line.
• In other news, what do you think about Daniel McCaig's Ruth's Journey, the forthcoming (in October) prequel to Gone with the Wind, which will focus on the character of Mammy?
• I need another mug about as much as I need another tote bag. But this series of literary-themed cups compiled by BuzzFeed has me contemplating adding to my collection.
• We've all mused over which of our favorite authors or characters we'd like to invite to a gathering. In a refreshing (and amusing) twist, The Toast offers up six literary characters who, let's face it, would probably be terrible dinner party guests.
• Can Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really be 50 years old? To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers and Dylan's Candy Bar are offering a pretty sweet contest.
Love is in the air . . . love of romance books, that is. This week, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) announced the finalists for the 2014 RITA and Golden Heart Awards. A big congratulations goes to our very own romance columnist, Christie Ridgway, whose Beach House No. 9 is up for a Best Contemporary Romance RITA! Check out our interview with Christie about the book.
Other RITA finalists include veterans Jill Shalvis (nominated twice, for It Had to Be You and Rumor Has It), Nora Roberts (for Whiskey Beach), Elizabeth Hoyt (for Duke of Midnight), along with relative newcomers Sarah MacLean (for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished) and Bella Andre (for The Way You Look Tonight).
The Golden Heart Awards recognize excellence in novels or novellas that have not yet been published, with finalists in eight categories chosen from more than 1,000 manuscript entries each year.
Check out the complete list of finalists here. Winners will be announced at a black-tie gala at the RWA annual conference in San Antonio on July 26. Which books are you rooting for?
• Voting is officially open for the 2014 Children's Choice Book Awards! Be sure to vote for your favorite books before the deadline of May 12, and then tune into the live video webcast of the awards ceremony on May 14. Which books do you want to win?
• The assignation of a sentence as one of the "best" is subjective, of course, but because there are so many of them in the world of literature, it's always fun when folks round some up, as in these 10 gems selected by the editors of the American Scholar. Do you have a favorite literary line? (The one most fresh in my mind is from War and Peace: “From the study, like pistol shots, came the repeated sound of the old Prince furiously blowing his nose.” The perpetually cranky prince has just said a stoic goodbye to his son, who's heading off to war. I love Tolstoy's indirect revelation that a tender-hearted sentimentality lies beneath the prince's gruff exterior.)
• Check out this HuffPost list of 21 female literary characters—from Elizabeth Bennet to Daenerys Targaryen—and what it says about you if you have a crush on one—or more!—of them.
• Speaking of which, Mental Floss compiled a list of 10 infamous literary characters who were actually based on real people.
April's right around the corner, and even if it traditionally means lots of showers in the forecast, at least we'll have plenty of great books to cozy up with. The April LibraryReads list, which features ten of next month's newly published books that librarians across the country are most excited about sharing with their patrons, features something for readers of all tastes.
At the top of the list is Gabrielle Zevin's irresistible novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which graces the cover of our April issue. Don't miss our insightful interview with Zevin about the list-topper.
See all ten of their selections right here. Are there any that you'll be adding to your TBR list?
• These adorably clever book brooches by London-based House of Ismay make the perfect (non-bank-breaking) gift for your biliophile friends!
• If you are able to forgive the glaring inaccuracy in #2, BuzzFeed's list of 23 signs your Jane Austen addiction is getting out of hand is pretty hilarious.
• Did you read our guest blog post by author David Menasche about his recent (and moving) memoir The Priority List? If so, you might be interested in the news that the film rights have been acquired, with Steve Carell on board to play Menasche (and produce the movie).
• Even some of the 20th century's most iconic authors received bad reviews, like these entertaining gems rounded up by the folks at Mental Floss.