If the history of punctuation seems like a dry subject, try reading Shady Characters. It turns out that familiar symbols like the ampersand, asterisk, dash, and quotations marks have fascinating backstories. Why aren’t we using interrobangs or manicules more often? Did you know that the ampersand was once considered a letter of the alphabet? And how in the world did the octothorpe (otherwise known as a pound sign, flash, pig-pen, tic-tac-toe, or hashtag) get that name?
Author Keith Houston’s first book goes back to the libraries of Alexandria, through ancient graffiti and Bibles, right up to modern-day intrigue and Madison Avenue. He parses the differences between hyphens, dashes, and minus signs, and we learn that there have been several largely-unsuccessful attempts to introduce a symbol to indicate irony. For readers who enjoyed Eats, Shoots & Leaves a few years ago, Shady Characters is a fascinating read. Exclamation point!