Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W. Pennebaker

The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W. Pennebaker

Rating: PG; 4 stars

Summary: Function words, the little words that our eyes glaze over when we read, are more than they appear to be. In The Secret Life of Pronouns, author James Pennebaker reveals exactly what the title suggests: the hidden meanings and uses of words like pronouns that we use every day without even thinking. The book is divided into ten chapters, and although each discusses a different aspect of function words and psychology, there is, understandably, a lot of overlap. The book utilizes psychology and statistics to track how people use function words in various situations, and what that might reveal about their personality and motives.

Opinions: Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. Then again, that shouldn't be surprising; I am an English and French double major who formerly considered going into linguistics. In short, I am a word nerd. I thought that this book provided some really interesting insights into the way language is used in culture today. I was absolutely fascinated by the examples pulled from fiction, perhaps because I am a creative writer.

I was a bit disappointed by the lack of definitive results in much of the research discussed in the book. Then again, in my experience with psychology, research is rarely definitive. I am glad that Pennebaker admitted to the gaps in the research and didn't try to cover them up or even lie about them. It makes the book (and him!) seem more credible and reliable.

I was a little frustrated with the overlap in topics of each of the chapters, but at the same time, I was also grateful for it. There was a lot of information being thrown at me, so the reminder was a good thing. I wish there was a way to keep the information fresh without having to rehash it all.

Still, despite my few complaints (or, in some cases, wishful thinking), I really did enjoy this book. The ideas it presented were really fascinating, and they were presented in a very engaging manner. Not once did I feel like I was reading a dry textbook, although someone who is not as interested by words as I am might disagree. By the time I finished the book, my sister was sick of hearing me talk about function words.

I have to say, it's interesting to write a review on a book about function words, because it really makes me wonder how I'm using function words in this review, and whether they are revealing anything about my personality...hmm...

I gave this book four stars because it really was enjoyable. I had a few complaints, but I still fully enjoyed the book. I gave it a PG simply because reading level. I really can't see anyone younger than high school reading this and understanding it in a meaningful way; some of the vocabulary related to statistics and psychology is a bit advanced, and there are some cultural references that children might not get. I just think that a kid would probably lose interest.

In general, I think that people who love words will enjoy this book. I also recommend it to writers, because it sheds some interesting light on writing fiction. This isn't a book for everyone; many people are bored reading about words. I, however, found it fascinating, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

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