A Splurge of Reading: Collective Nouns

AngelsFebruary was collective nouns month. Not for everyone, just for my book club—my very small book club of two people. This year my (book) friend Sheila and I have adopted a theme-a-month idea that we lifted from an old issue of BookWomen Magazine, published by the Minnesota Women’s Press. Each month has a theme. January was water (I read The Body is Water, by Julie Schumacher, a book I’ve had on my shelf for more than a decade and I thought it was okay; Sheila read The Seduction of Water, by Carol Goodman, which she liked but didn’t love). I also read a whole bunch of poetry books with watery things in the title (e.g., river, lake, sea, estuaries, rain).

The thing that I like about having a theme like this is it gets me out of my ruts. I can get into years-long ruts. For several years I read only women authors, but that was not a rut as much as making up for lost time. But still I go through phases that limit how I pick my books. Most recently (last two years) I’ve been on a food-reading kick. Cooking memoirs, food-based fiction, local eating, local food, food issues, seed saving, GMOs, pretty much all things food.

So having this theme-a-month thing makes me look at my books in a new way. And sometimes it makes me learn things. Like, for example, what collective nouns are. This was not a term I was familiar with when we adopted the list. My first thought was that I would read a book I started years ago (that I put down for some reason and yet it still calls to me, or it wouldn’t have been top-of-mind here), Glass, Paper, Beans. I thought that title comprised a most excellent collective noun (three of them in fact). But I was wrong. Collective nouns are much more fun. For example:

  • A murder of crowscrows
  • An unkindness of ravens
  • A shush of librarians
  • A mischief of mice

Sheila and I are not always reading the same book for the monthly theme—sometimes yes and sometimes no. We did read The Kitchen Congregation this month for the collective noun theme, and it generated some good discussion. I decided to continue down the collective noun road and what should I find on my fiction shelf but An Exaltation of Larks! It doesn’t really get much better than that in book-theme obsessions.

Compendium NounI am planning to end the month with A Compendium of Collective Nouns (“compendium” itself being a collective noun). This was a gift from my spouse at the very beginning of the month. (“It’s a sign,” he said. “You have to have it.”) I thought it a bit frivolous, but I could not refuse. And I have had so much enjoyment with this book, have learned so many things, and have absolutely loved the artwork—many gorgeous full-page depictions of collective nouns (a comfort of cats, a dazzle of zebras, a clan of meerkats, a host of angels—I haven’t counted, but there must be at least 50). It is a book I will treasure for years.

Next month, we are on to modes of transportation. The one book I know I want to read for sure is John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers. And Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith (our joint transportation read). But other than that, it’s up in the air.

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