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Monday, September 8, 2008

Book Review: A is for Atticus, by Lorilee Craker

Here is something I think is a really good baby-naming tip: When searching for a name for your baby, look at your bookshelf. Favorite characters and favorite authors make great choices.

The book A is for Atticus claims to be based on that idea, but it is not. A book-length list of a bunch of characters and authors is pointless. If they're not YOUR favorite characters and authors, who cares what their names are or what the author thinks of them? What, are you going to leaf through it and think, "Oh, Alexander! I like the name Alexander! And oh, there was an Alexander 'in Shakespeare,' so it's a LITERARY name! Score!" No.

The writing style of the book annoyed me, too, but of course that's entirely subjective: some of you would read it and die of love, because people are drawn to different writing styles and that's just the way things go. Here's a sample:

"Isabella: Though there have been a tidal wave of Isabellas in recent years (it's cemented in the top 5), I still can't help but view it as gloriously beautiful and somehow interesting, although there is now an Isabella in every classroom nation-wide."

Let's ignore word choices such as "cemented" and "somehow" and "can't help but" and "Though/although"---those are perfect examples of choices that annoy me but might make you say, "What exactly is the problem with those?" Let's instead go directly to "in every classroom nation-wide." Even in 30-student classrooms, an Isabella per classroom would mean that over 6% of baby girls were being named Isabella. In our 20-per-classroom area, an Isabella per classroom would mean 10% of baby girls were being named Isabella.

In 2007, which is the highest percentage of Isabellas so far, the percentage of girls named Isabella is still well under 1%. Those babies aren't even in classrooms yet (the rate for the current first graders is significantly lower), but if they WERE, and even if we rounded up to 1%, they'd be in those classrooms at an average rate of one Isabella per six to seven classrooms. Yes, some classrooms will have several Isabellas--but then other classrooms will have ZERO Isabellas to compensate for that. In my son's 21-student class this year, there are THREE children named Noah, and that does not mean the birth rate for Noahs is 27%. It means: (1) that flukes like this are unavoidable, and (2) that there are many zero-Noah classrooms compensating for this fluke.

Exaggerations and inaccuracies of this sort PLAGUE the book. I can almost overlook the excessively thesaurisized language (it really is okay to use the verb "named" again and again---there is no need to resort to "dub" and "hailed"), the wearying repetitions of certain pet expressions and words (who among us wants to cast the first stone in THAT arena? also also great great just just okay okay well well), the incorrect plurals (bouquet of daisies, yes, but a group of women named Daisy are Daisys), the lame unnecessary adjectives ("minivan-driving moms"---sigh), the peculiar rhetorical questions ("Could a name sound more made-up than Briana?"), the inappropriate assumption of motives ("John Travolta and Kelly Preston spelled it Bleu to act all French"), the clunky sentence chunks divided by commas ("And although Amelia continues to ascend, possibly hitting the top 50 anytime [sic], it will always have the feel of an heirloom, no matter how popular it gets.").....

Er, where was I? Oh, yes! I can almost overlook all those annoyances, but I can't STAND it when perceived statistics ("It seems like the name ____ is EVERYWHERE") are presented as if they are the same as actual statistics.

Don't even get me started on her attributing baby name trends to celebrities, when in fact most of the time those celebrities were just swept up in the same trend as the rest of us. GAH.

Well. I am willing to send this book on to one of you, if you don't mind a few dog-eared pages and if you think you can get over the problems and read it as a fun baby-name book. If only one of you wants it, it's yours! If more than one, I'll choose one "Yes, I want it!" comment randomly. You can still comment on the post without being entered: I'll choose from comments that specifically mention wanting the book, not from all comments.

17 comments:

heather said...

Yes, i want it! Please...

Karen said...

There HAS been a tidal wave. I could not read that book. Thank you for sparing me, Swistle.

Swistle said...

Karen- HA!! I can't believe I missed that one! Was there no EDITOR on this book or WHAT?

Shelly Overlook said...

Yeah, no thanks. I already can't stand the author.

PS - Does it say if she has kids and if so, what are their names? For some reason in my head this woman doesn't even have kids yet.

Swistle said...

Shelly Overlook- She has three: Jonah Abram Reimer, Ezra Finney Brandt, and Phoebe Min-Ju Jayne.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I want it please!!!

Mairzy said...

Those names seem a bit of an overindulgence on the naming buffet.

I'm in full sympathy with the word choices, but I'm one who will pan a book based entirely on whether I like the writing. Good for you for communicating to more normal readers. :)

But I don't want the book because I found it, or one like it, and didn't find it somehow interesting.

brooke said...

yes I want it! Thanks for the review.

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

No thanks on the book offer...but I wanted to comment.

This type of writing style DRIVES ME BONKERS. All of your examples of "little things you can MAYBE overlook" are my greatest irritants. Poor, poor you for having read it at all. Yipes!

You should write a baby name book, Swistle. You're so great with the stats and everything!

Rayleen said...

Hmmm, you have me intrigued. I love the concept that is portrayed by the title, but may have issues based on your review. Now I want to check it out! If you don't mind sending it to Canada, I'd be interested in it.

Rayleen said...

Also, I would read any book that you may decide to write.

Bird said...

You know, once you become a BNW person, I think it's difficult to read much else on subject. Your interesting, informed, name-helping aside.

Frazzled Mom said...

The only name books I like are The Baby Name Bible (Laura Wattenberg) and Beyond Jason & Jennifer... (Rosenkrantz & Satran).

And I occasionally get annoyed with RosenKrantz & Satran. I think it's because of their obsession with traditional boy's name on girls (like Gary on a girl), and short-term view of the trends. They call my name, the same name Wattenberg describes as "timeless," as "terminally dated." I don't dispute the “dated” description, but find the "terminally" adjective a tad presumptuous. Anyway, I find no flaws with The Baby Name Bible : - )

All other name books seem to be nothing more than a list of names with definitions or aren't comprehensive. I bet A is for Atticus only lists like 100-300 names or so.

Leah said...

Dude, I love that you reviewed this book by picking on the exact same things that tend to annoy me! Sometime the style is just so bad that it overshadows even good content. I DO NOT want this book. :)

Becky said...

Sure, I'll take your dumb book. :)

Elizabeth said...

I happened upon your site looking for reviews of this book. You sound sarcastic and bitter. Are you actually reading a baby name book for pleasure? You read a baby name book for definitions of names and possible ideas.

Swistle, what is up with your ten minute rant in response to this author's stats on the name Isabella? It sounds like you wish you were published. So just do it and stop taking up all your writing time cutting down other people.

Speaking of babies, is this how you are teaching your children to speak of others? For goodness sake, you ripped on the woman's kids' names. That is low. Getting so riled up about this book reveals a lot about you. Think about it.

That I'm so riled up about you reveals a lot about me, but I can live with it.

Swistle said...

Elizabeth- What on earth? Of course I read baby name books for pleasure! ...Not this one, clearly. I know you said this is your first time here, but did you look around? It's a baby name site. We love baby names here, and so we read baby name books for pleasure. Then we talk about baby names. We spend only a fraction of our valuable baby-name-discussing time cutting down other people.

The only time I mentioned the author's children's names was when someone asked in the comment section if I knew what they were, and I listed them with no remarks.

Ranting about someone's faulty statistics means I wish I were published? My god, woman, what are you talking about?