September 2020: Crash Course Linguistics starts

Crash Course Linguistics videos started coming out this month!

This is a project I’ve been working on all year along with many excellent people, and I’m excited that the videos are finally getting to be seen, especially in a year when so much education has moved online. Stay tuned for all 16 of these 10-12 minute intro linguistics videos on Fridays until early 2021, except some holiday Fridays.

We’re also putting out accompanying issues of Mutual Intelligibility with each newsletter, thanks to Liz McCullough, featuring other resources and activities from around the internet, including practice problems (often from the linguistics olympiads).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about who you are in high school, linguistically speaking, an interview with Shivonne Gates, and the bonus was about pangrams, going beyond “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and into more obscure words and other writing systems.

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This month’s image is from a much-needed, distanced visit to the sea in the first half of the month.

August 2020: Virtual hallway experiments and bouba/kiki video

Because Internet was featured in the New York Times Paperback Row, a list of books that came out in paperback recently!

I did two experiments around creating a sort of virtual conference hallway/coffeebreak experience, since running into people in hallways is the biggest thing I miss about conferences having moved online!

I was on a Linguistics in the Pub panel about linguistics podcasting, along with my cohost Lauren Gawne (moderator) as well as Megan Figureoa and Carrie Gillon from The Vocal Fries and Daniel Midgley and Hedvig Skirgard from Because Language. You can rewatch it online here.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the happy fun big story of adjectives and the bonus was about doing linguistics communication on a shoestring budget (and the Lingthusiasm origin story).

We started reviewing screener videos for the upcoming Crash Course Linguistics video series, coming out on Fridays starting September 4 for the rest of 2020! Subscribe to Mutual Intelligibility to get an email whenever a new episode comes out.

The latest video in my ongoing collaboration with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl came out, and it’s about the Bouba/Kiki experiment! Follow it with this Lingthusiasm episode about replicating (and failing to replicate) the bouba/kiki experiment across languages.

Media list:

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This month’s image is from last year, the linguistics section at Powell’s in Portland.

July 2020: Because Internet in paperback!

Because Internet, my book about internet language, is now available in paperback! Links to get it in all of the formats, including how to get signed copies.

Here are some photos of the new paperback edition, same bright yellow cover, now with 10x more nice quotes from people. I also wrote an old-school reflexive blog post about what it’s like to hit the final milestone in a book journey that began in 2014. Because Internet was also featured in Paperback Row, the New York Times’s list of paperback books that came out this week, among other media (below). (There was also, briefly, one of those ebook sales.)

My Wired article about preliterate children texting in emoji from a while back was translated for Wired Japan. Here it is in Japanese and here it is in English again.

Lauren Gawne and I gave a talk for Abralin, the Brazilian Linguistics Association, about emoji and gesture. You can watch it online here on the Abralin youtube channel. (Auto-captions only; for similar content already in text form see our slides, this livetweet thread, our paper about emoji as gesture or the transcript of our Lingthusiasm episode about emoji and gesture in Because Internet.)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about phatic expressions like “hey”, “no problem” and “bye” and the bonus was about linguistics and music, including tones, drums, and whistled languages.

If you’re a Lingthusiasm fan, and you’re considering reading the Because Internet audiobook but you wish Lauren was there too, not just my voice all by itself, we now have a solution to that problem! That’s right, we’ve made a clip of Lauren-backchannelling audio that you can now play on loop in the other ear while you listen to the Because Internet audiobook.

Lauren and I also finally finished the bulk of the writing on the scripts for Crash Course Linguistics this month! We’ve been working on this intensively since March, not to mention the planning side in previous months. The Crash Course and Thought Cafe teams are now moving into exciting things that we’re less involved in, like filming and animating, although we’ll still be keeping an eye on technical accuracy as it goes along. I’m excited to share that the 16 ten-minute intro linguistics videos will be going up on the Crash Course youtube channel starting in September! If you want to get emails with each of the Crash Course Linguistics videos and suggested further reading/activities as they go up, you can sign up for the Mutual Intelligibility newsletter.

I did an edition of Mutual Intelligibility about teaching internet linguistics in honour of Because Internet coming out in paperback, along with several other great resources in the internet linguistics domain.

Media list:

  • Rotten Tomatoes – mention “WHY AIRPLANE!’S TITLE IS ONE OF THE CLASSIC COMEDY’S BEST JOKES” – 7/2
  • The New York Times – interview “A Short History of ‘Simp’” – 7/7
  • Grist – mention “Is nature all healed now? A look at the pandemic’s best meme” – 7/9
  • Daily Beast – mention – 7/17
  • Inverse – mention “Comic-con@Home” – 7/29
  • Against The Grain – Book of the Week  – 7/31
  • New York Times – paperback row – 8/2

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This month’s image is, of course, that snazzy paperback edition of Because Internet! The inside is pretty much the same, except that there are now two entire pages of fancy people saying nice things at the front, which you can see here, should you desire. But it’s also just been really gratifying over the past year to hear from so many regular internet people on social media finding yourselves in its pages. Thank you.

Because Internet paperback on esoteric symbols scarf

June 2020: translation & public health, LingComm Grantees, and IPA masks

I wrote an article for Wired in which I got to talk with a lot of really interesting people about the importance of language to public health: Covid-19 Is History’s Biggest Translation Challenge.

You, a person who’s currently on the English-speaking internet in The Year of The Pandemic, have definitely seen public service information about Covid-19. You’ve probably been unable to escape seeing quite a lot of it, both online and offline, from handwashing posters to social distancing tape to instructional videos for face covering.

But if we want to avoid a pandemic spreading to all the humans in the world, this information also has to reach all the humans of the world—and that means translating Covid PSAs into as many languages as possible, in ways that are accurate and culturally appropriate.

It’s easy to overlook how important language is for health if you’re on the English-speaking internet, where “is this headache actually something to worry about?” is only a quick Wikipedia article or WebMD search away. For over half of the world’s population, people can’t expect to Google their symptoms, nor even necessarily get a pamphlet from their doctor explaining their diagnosis, because it’s not available in a language they can understand. […]

According to a regularly updated list maintained by the Endangered Languages Project, Covid information from reputable sources (such as governments, nonprofits, and volunteer groups that clearly cite the sources of their health advice) has been created in over 500 languages and counting, including over 400 videos in more than 150 languages. A few of these projects are shorter, more standardized information in a larger variety of global languages, such as translating the five WHO guidelines into posters in more than 220 languages or translating the WHO’s mythbuster fact sheets into over 60 languages. But many of them, especially the ones in languages that aren’t as well represented on the global stage, are created by individual, local groups who feel a responsibility to a particular area, including governments, nonprofits, and volunteer translators with a little more education or internet access.

Read the whole thing.

The Lingthusiasm main episode was about tracing languages back before recorded history (transcript) and the bonus episode was about doing linguistics with kids. We also released new nonmedical face masks, by popular request, in our IPA, tree diagram, and esoteric symbol prints. It’s a weird world where suddenly face masks are our most popular merch item, but we’re heartened to hear from people that it makes them feel a bit more cheerful about wearing a mask.

We also announced the winners of the 2020 LingComm Grants! We had over 75 applications from around the world and we’d like to thank all applicants for making the job of deciding extremely difficult! Stay tuned for further updates from these great projects:

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This month’s image is one of the new IPA masks, which I now also own! They’re made out of a soft, jersey-like material and are pretty comfortable for short wear.

IPA mask navy

May 2020: retronyms, schwa, Language Files videos, and my 8th blogiversary

I did an interview for the New York Times about the vocabulary of covid times. Here’s a portion of it:

Looking ahead, linguistic changes are yet to come, Ms. McCulloch said. She explained the concept of a retronym — assigning a new name for a default now dated by technology or social change; for example, with the rise of cellphones, non-mobile phones became “landlines.”

“We are still in the phase of naming the new things we’re encountering, but eventually we’ll get to the stage where we need names for what things were like before the virus hit,” she said. We’re still assimilating to “the new normal” and its accompanying word bank, while longing for “the before times.”

But when we return to the life we knew, forever altered as it may be, we may need new qualifiers: first dates that aren’t over FaceTime; IRL hangouts, unmasked and less than six feet apart; to-stay drinks at bars.

I also did an interview in Archiletras, a Spanish-speaking literary publication, about Because Internet and internet language in general (it was very fun to get to read my words translated into Spanish!)

I was on an impromptu panel about linguistics in science fiction/fantasy at the online version of WisCon (#WisConline) with a fun group of linguists!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about schwa, the most versatile English vowel and the bonus episode was about counting systems across languages. Lingthusiasm was also featured on the big Patreon accounts as part of #MadeWithPatrons and we released new schwa-themed merch with the (admittedly aspirational these days) slogan Never Stressed.

I hit my eighth blogiversary on All Things Linguistic, and it is frankly pretty absurd that I’ve been blogging this long. Here’s the traditional year-in-review roundup post, featuring some of my favourite posts of the past year.

Two new Language Files videos came out: the Hidden Rules of Conversation (about Grice’s Maxims) and schwa, product of the ongoing collaboration between me, Tom Scott, and Molly Ruhl. (It is, uh, maybe not a coincidence that Everything Was Coming Up Schwas this month, when you have a good idea you might as well just roll with it.)

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This month’s image is of the new schwa sticker pack, with art which we commissioned from Lucy Maddox of the schwa + Never Stressed slogan in multicoloured floral and black and white geometric designs.

schwa never stressed lingthusiasm sticker pack

April 2020: expletive infixation and singular they

We put up many posts on Mutual Intelligibility, the new newsletter that I’m producing with Lauren Gawne with resources for people who are teaching (or self-teaching) linguistics online (thanks to our contributors Liz McCullough and Katy Whitcomb!). Here are a few of them:

I made lists on Bookshop.org about Linguistically Interesting Fiction and Pop linguistics books, if you’re looking for distractions that also support independent bookstores.

The Lingthusiasm main episode was an interview with Kirby Conrod about the grammar of singular they (see also the show notes and transcript). This month’s Lingthusiasm bonus episode was about synesthesia – when letters have colours and time is a braid.

We’re officially giving out four LingComm Grants! If you have an idea for a linguistics communication project, make sure to apply by June 1st!

Lauren Gawne gave a video talk about our joint work on emoji and gesture. We also continued to work on scripts for Crash Course Linguistics.

A new Language Files video came out: Abso-b████y-lutely – Expletive Infixation, product of the ongoing collaboration between me, Tom Scott, and Molly Ruhl.

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This month’s photo is of Because Internet in the Technology section of Elliott Bay Books, from back when I was there in February.

elliott bay books because internet technology section

March 2020: Mutual Intelligibility project for online linguistics teaching resources

The large print edition of Because Internet is now a thing that exists, in case you need to explain how we talk online these days to a person in your life who likes large print and hasn’t already gone for the resizable-text ebook.

If you’re in the Montreal area, I’d appreciate people’s support these days for my local indie bookstore, Argo Bookshop, which did the book launch party and signed copies of Because Internet, and are now facing the loss of foot traffic like all small, “non-essential” business. Argo takes orders online (now including gift certificates and local delivery!) and everyone who goes to their events would really like to see them still be there after this!

A lot of linguistics professors started scrambling to move their courses online this month, so I revised and updated my post with a very long list of linguistics youtube channels and other free online videos about linguistics, and did a couple threads answering questions about further resources that people were looking for.

The popularity of our existing linguistics resource roundups led Lauren Gawne and I to launch Mutual Intelligibility, a project to connect linguistics instructors with existing linguistics resources suitable for teaching online in a bite-sized, easy-to-digest fashion. (Also potentially of interest to linguistics fans who want a distraction from the news cycle.)

We’re putting up thrice-weekly Mutual Intelligibility newsletters for the next while: on Mondays and Wednesdays short “3 Links” posts on a particular topic, and also on Fridays six longer Resource Guides diving deep into topics with a whole bunch of resources. We’re fortunate to have Kate Whitcomb and Liz McCullough (different spelling, no relation) along to help us make them. Thanks to everyone who has sent in queries and suggestions!

Read our first Mutual Intelligibility newsletter here, check out the archive so far, and put your email here to get future themed linguistics resource updates.

Because Lauren Gawne is essentially my partner in all forms of business, we also spent a substantial amount of time this month working on scripts for Crash Course Linguistics, along with Jessi Grieser and the Crash Course team. (Nothing official to report yet but stay tuned!)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the tricky question of what makes a language “easy” (Spoiler: it’s not that straightforward).

The Lingthusiasm bonus episode was about teaching linguistics to yourself and other people — how to articulate what you find so cool about linguistics (and other complex topics you may find yourself needing to explain). We also experimented with doing live listen-alongs of new Lingthusiasm episodes on Discord, and made a Lingthusiasm Turing Test, where you can see how well you can identify which Lingthusiasm quotes are real and which robo-generated.

Lauren and I also announced that we’re giving out a second LingComm Grant, thanks to the support of Claire Bowern’s NSF grant. If you’re a linguist with a linguistics communication idea that could use a $500 boost to make it, you can apply at lingcomm.org by June 1. (Also a reminder that there are no conditions on how the grant money is used, so if you need it to take care of some living costs so that you can allocate your time to a project, that is totally fine with us!)

This month’s media hits:

National Print/Top Online: 

  • Kottke.orgfeature “Weird Internet Careers”– 3/9
  • Financial Times mention 3/15
  • CNBC’s Make Itfeature “How not to sound like a jerk (and communicate effectively) over Slack and email, according to a linguistics expert”– 3/18
  • Mel Magazine – feature “WILL CORONAVIRUS FINALLY END THE SCOURGE OF ‘I HOPE THIS EMAIL FINDS YOU WELL’? ”– 3/26
  • The Guardian Solitary refinement: a lockdown survival guide – mention 3/27
  • HerCampus.com – roundup “3 Books To Read While Stuck At Home” – 3/30

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Obviously I didn’t go anywhere this month, so this picture is of an emoji-Escher-esque exhibit in the Burke Museum of Natural History from last month in Seattle, which I went to for a science journalist “Night Out at the Museum” event at the AAAS.

emoji ish symbols escher burke museum seattle aaas

February 2020: Comma-Con keynote, SocSci FooCamp, #AAASmtg, and visiting PanLex and the Internet Archive

In February, I did a bunch of travel. First, I went to the Bay Area for Social Science FooCamp, where I gave a lightning talk about how the internet is changing language, and for Comma-Con, Facebook’s internal conference for their writing team, where I gave a keynote about the future of language online.

While in SF, I also paid visits to the Wired mothership office, to PanLex at Long Now (where I got to see one of the original Rosetta Project disks), and to the Internet Archive’s headquarters (where I took a short video of this art installation of the first full crawl of the web, 1997).

I then went to Seattle for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. Highlights: a short talk about emoji, gesture, and internet linguistics, a thread from a SciComm workshop, the Language Science for Everyone booth, and meeting a bunch of people who have a similar sort of weird internet/scicomm job as I do but in different fields.

Looks like there won’t be much travel in anyone’s cards for the upcoming months, so I’m glad I got to see so many friends and meet new interesting people while it was still a thing.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about time and tense in languages. I also did a lingcomm thread about how we approached the topic.

The bonus episode is a robo-generated version of Lingthusiasm, where we asked last month’s guest Janelle Shane to help us use a neural net to generate a new Lingthusiasm episodes based on the transcripts of our ~70 existing episodes, and then we performed the best snippets. Accuracy: low. Hilarity: high.

The Lingthusiasm Patron Discord server is also still going strong, and people have requested a linguistics basics book club channel, to read through an open access linguistics textbook supportively together. I did a thread about how this solves a big lingcomm problem I’ve been working on for years.

A new collab video with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl went up, this time about the sentences humans can understand but computers can’t.

This month’s media list:

  • Tor.com– roundup “Jo Walton’s Reading List: January 2020”– 2/5
  • Medium – CommunicationHealth Bookclub –2/13
  • The Atlantic —feature “Corporate Buzzwords Are How Workers Pretend to Be Adults”– 2/19
  • Thrive Global—mention—2/21
  • Beachcomber– roundup “recommended reading”– 2/6

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This month’s image is the Rosetta Disk from when I visited PanLex, with a bonus sunset in the background.

rosetta disk panlex sunset

January 2020: a robo-generated episode of Lingthusiasm, Lingthusiasm Discord server, LingComm Grant, and xkcd hovertext

I got namechecked in the hovertext of an xkcd comic this month, which may have resulted in more congratulatory messages from friends than when my book was reviewed in the New York Times, so, you know, it’s good to see that everyone has their priorities on track.

My Wired article about code being based on English got translated into Japanese for Wired Japan. I can’t actually read it, but I suppose that’s the point. Here’s the English version again if you missed it.

Several exciting Lingthusiasm-related announcements! 

Our main episode on Lingthusiasm was an interview with Janelle Shane, who the Very Online might recognize as that person who gets neural nets to come up with weird names for ice cream flavours, colour terms, and other delightfully strange experiments. We talked about how machines understand language (and don’t) and her excellent new book You Look Like A Thing And I Love You.

We also challenged Janelle to train a neural net on Lingthusiasm episode transcripts, which Lauren and I performed to great hilarity in a special bonus episode (technically February’s bonus, but released at the same time because we didn’t want to make you wait). Here’s a short excerpt:

Gretchen: “We’re gonna start with the question of, ‘How do we spell “soup”?’ How do we spell soup?”
Lauren: “Yes. I had to say ‘soup’ in the first 10 minutes or so of this episode because I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! I just can’t spell “soup.”’”
Gretchen: “Oh, my gosh! I just can’t spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I just cannot spell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “Oh, my gosh! I just cannot spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I do not know how to spell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “I know how to spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I have never been able to sell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “I’m sorry, Lauren, but I can’t spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry.”
Gretchen: “Thank you, Lauren.”
Lauren: “We are very sorry. This is a problem.”
Gretchen: “Sorry, Lauren.”
Lauren: “Can I borrow you some soup?”
Gretchen: “Yeah.”
Lauren: “And soup.”
Gretchen: “And, you know, I think it’s a good question.”
Lauren: The thing thinks we’re very into soup.
Gretchen: We’re in a soup loop.
Janelle: I love it.

As you may have noticed, GPT-2 did okay at figuring out the tone of a Lingthusiasm episode and the back-and-forth turntaking between me and Lauren, but as for the content…let’s just say that we don’t vouch for any of the linguistics in this particular episode. But we do vouch for the hilarity.

Technically, January’s bonus episode was about predicting the future of English, so you effectively get two bonuses this month! Make sure to also read Janelle’s blog post about making the robo-generated Lingthusiasm episode.

We also made a Discord server (easy to use chatroom) for Lingthusiasm patrons, thus solving the problem of “Your podcast got me into linguistics, but now I don’t have people to fan out about language with! Where do I make lingthusiastic friends?” Here’s how to join.

Finally, we announced the LingComm Grant, a $500 (USD) grant that we’re giving out to help another linguistics communication project, thanks to the support of the Lingthusiasm patrons! See the announcement thread or check out our new LingComm.org website for details.

I started the year by attending the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, this year in New Orleans. As usual, I ran a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon and judged the Five Minute Linguist competition.

This month’s media list, which is finally calming down again to something resembling normalcy:

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters:

  • Math With Bad Drawings – roundup “Books I loved in 2019”– 1/6
  • Dan Pink’s Pinkcast newsletter – roundup “my 4 favorite books of 2019”– 1/7

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This month’s photo is the obligatory screenshot of the hovertext in the xkcd comic containing my name.

ok okay xkcd

December 2019: NYT op-ed on Writing How We Talk, many year-in-review booklists, and a special leather-bound edition of Because Internet

I wrote a second op-ed for the New York Times this month! It’s part of their 2010s retrospective and it’s called We Learned to Write the Way We Talk. Here’s a quote:

Language snobbery is not inevitable. It’s not that people who cling to lists of language rules don’t want love as well. It’s that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods for how to get it. In high school English classes and writing manuals, we’ve been told that being “clear” and “correct” in language will help people understand us.

But understanding doesn’t come from insisting on a list of rules, shouting the same thing only louder like a hapless monolingual tourist in a foreign country. Understanding comes from meeting other people where they are, like being willing to use gestures and a handful of semi-remembered words and yes, even to look like a fool, to bridge a language barrier with laughter and humility.

We’ve been taught the lie that homogeneity leads to understanding, when in truth, understanding comes from better appreciating variety.

(Read the whole thing, or see my twitter thread with excerpts if you don’t have a NYT subscription.)

My latest Wired column was about how boomerspeak became a recognizable style for younger people to parody. Here’s an excerpt:

Boomerspeak’s canonical features include the dot dot dot, repeated commas, and the period at the end of a text message. It can also involve random mid-sentence capitalization, typing in all caps, double-spacing after a period, signing your name at the end of a text message, and confusion between the face with tears of joy emoji and the loudly crying emoji.

But it’s not just a question of intergenerational strife. Watching boomerspeak distill and crystalize into a distinct genre this year can help us understand a bigger phenomenon: how distinctive ways of speaking bubble up into the popular consciousness and become available for commentary or imitation, a linguistic process known as enregisterment.

(Read the whole thing and watch out for that last line!)

It’s year-in-review-booklist season, and Because Internet has indeed made some lists!

Here’s part of the blurb I wrote for Wired’s roundup list:

There’s always a risk, when it comes to Explaining The Youths, that said Youths will turn around and decide your explanation makes the thing no longer cool anymore (ahem, “ok boomer”). When I decided to write a book about internet language, I was worried this would be people’s response. But that’s not what I’ve been told about Because Internet. Instead, people tell me it’s helping them bridge generation gaps.

It was also very very fun to see people’s photos of giving or being given Because Internet as a gift, or finally having time to read Because Internet around the holidays! I’ve tried to like/comment/reshare as many as possible on twitter and instagram, and do feel free to keep tagging me there!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how to rebalance a lopsided conversation (helpful for all your smalltalk needs!) and the bonus episode was about onomatopoeia and sound symbolism. We also made one of last year’s bonus episodes, our Melbourne liveshow about internet linguistics, available to everyone as a special treatclick here to listen. Here’s a thread summing up all 24 episodes of 2019. We also enjoyed seeing everyone’s glottal bottles, IPA socks, and other Lingthusiasm merch gifts coming in!

I did two new videos in collaboration with Tom Scott, one about gesture and the other about priming and the replication crisis.

I posted the latter part of my Weird Internet Careers series:

If you want to get the Weird Internet Careers series as a 30-page document, plus bonus questions to ask yourself about starting your Weird Internet Career, you can sign up for these posts as a monthly newsletter.

Full media list: 

Roundups

  • Esquire.com – roundup “The Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 Span Everything From True Crime to Scammer Culture” – 12/3
  • Popsugar– roundup “18 Quirky Nonfiction Books That Will Make Perfect Holiday Gifts” – 12/3
  • Science Friday – roundup “The Best Science Books Of 2019” – 12/6
  • Vox – roundup “The best books I read in 2019” – 12/6
  • AtomicDust– roundup “What We’re Reading, Watching and Listening To Over Holiday Break” – 12/11
  • Bloomberg– roundup “Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 for Contrarians and the Curious” – 12/16
  • Blinkist – roundup “The Biggest Nonfiction Books of 2019” – 12/17
  • Better– roundup “The 10 Best Books of 2019”– 12/24
  • Lithhub – roundup “The Booksellers’ Year in Reading: Part 1”– 12/24
  • Popsugar – roundup “45 Nonfiction Books We Couldn’t Put Down in 2019”– 12/26
  • Read It Forward – roundup “Book Gifts for people who have everything”
  • Wired – roundup “12 Science Books You Should Read Right Now”

 

Features and Mentions

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This month’s photo is of a very special leather-bound edition of Because Internet that my publisher had made just for me, in celebration of my book becoming a bestseller! It’s the only one that exists and I am amazed. (They even raised the initial McC!)

because internet leatherbound closeup