Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing by Daniel Tammet


Title: Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing
Author: Daniel Tammet
Publication Date: 29 August 2017

Synopsis: "Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks 'talk' to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language.

In Every Word if a Bird We Teach to Sing, Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeri language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Blaer became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world's most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an 'e'-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers - in their mother tongue.

A joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing explores the way communication shapes reality. From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, these essays display the stunning range of Tammet's literary and polyglot talents."

My thoughts: Being a writer, poet, and (obviously) book reviewer myself, I am fairly fascinated by language and the use of words. This book sounded fascinating, and it certainly delivered on that. Tammet's writing style is sometimes a little bizarre - syntax often feeling a little unusual, the occasional word out of place - but at other times the words almost fly off the page.

I was particularly involved with Tammet's essay on teaching English in Lithuania - his teaching style was so fantastic to read about, and seemed to be very effective. I also liked when Tammet wrote about Les Murray - his writings even got me reading Murray's poetry, which was wonderful.

I am unsure what else to say about this collection, as I really think the enjoyment comes from actually reading each essay. Tammet is a pretty inspirational writer and person, and his voice feels so strong and wonderful throughout this book. While some of the subject matter may have been uninteresting to me, Tammet still manages to write in such a way that you're interested almost despite yourself.

I enjoyed my time with this one, and will be handing it over to someone as interested in language as myself - my Dad.


[I received a review copy of this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!]

A favourite line from the book: 'Though English was the language of my parents, the language in which I was raised and schooled, I have never felt I belonged to it. I learned my mother tongue self-consciously, quite often confusedly, as if my mother were a foreigner to me, and her sole language my second.'

You would like this book if: you are interested in words, language, or are simply intrigued to read more of Daniel Tammet's work.

Rating:  6.5/10

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