By Michael Rosen.
In Alphabetical, the poet, Michael Rosen, goes on a ramble through the alphabet. He says something about the history and pronunciation of each letter, which he follows up with a discursive, letter-inspired essay.
The preludes are repetitive and shallow, and rather frequently wrong. I knew that things were not going to go well when in the introduction Rosen claims that “man” – “men” and “woman” – “women” are n-plurals and that the Germanic n-plural was gradually swapped for the Romance s-plural. This is, of course, complete drivel (which is repeated later in the book), and it continues in various forms well beyond the introduction. /s/ and /z/ are, respectively, voiceless and voiced, Michael, not “soft” and “hard”. Ugh. The man even has the gall to talk about the International Phonetic Alphabet and its mutant American cousin.
The also essays vary. Some are interesting even if I’m a little sceptical about their factual accuracy. Others drag on when some diligent editor should’ve smacked Rosen round the back of the head and introduced him to the words “concise” and “interesting”. They resemble extended versions of the sort of feature articles which appear in Sunday magazines which come with the papers. I read some and skimmed my way indifferently through others.
Alphabetical is a mix of two- and three-star material. Readers looking for an intelligent discussion of the genesis of the modern alphabet would be advised to look elsewhere. The accompanying essays are a hit-and-miss affair. If one bores, skip to another.