Monday 1 November 2021

Fifty Words for Snow - Nancy Campbell

To celebrate the paperback release of Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell today, I am delighted to repost my review of this stunning book.  It really is as beautiful inside as out so make sure to pick up a copy for yourself.

The perfect winter gift – each of these linguistic snow crystals offers a whole world of myth and story.

In this lyrical, evocative book, Arctic traveller and award-winning writer Nancy Campbell digs deep into the meanings and etymologies, the histories and the futures of fifty words for snow, using them as clues to the many ways in which we are all connected to one another and to our planet.

From Iceland to Hawaii, every language and culture has its own word for the magical, mesmerising flakes that fall from the sky. Fifty Words… is a journey from the ornate ice houses of country estates to the artificial snow of the movies, from the snow roads across the frozen lakes of Estonia to Kilimanjaro’s snowy peak – a meeting point between the human and the divine. Exploring language in its broadest sense, Campbell includes American Sign Language for ‘snowboard’ and shares how the Inuktitut oral language came to be transcribed. 

What did I think?

Everything single thing about Fifty Words for Snow is stunning: the mesmerising frosty cover, the continuation of the design on to the endpapers, a beautiful snowflake dividing each chapter and, last but not least, the interesting and informative words within.  

Although I read Fifty Words for Snow cover to cover for the purposes of review, it could also be a book to dip in which to dip in and out.  I think it would be a great winter activity to choose a word a day from this book and read the story behind the word.  The only difficult thing would be to close the book after reading just one chapter as I was so charmed and delighted by the stories that I couldn't wait to see what would come next.

As much as this is a book that celebrates climate, it is also a celebration of language.  Seeing words in languages I hadn't even heard of, such as Ojibwemowin and Tamazight, suggests that Nancy Campbell did indeed scour the globe for the fifty best words for snow.  The chapters are perfectly balanced with the stories behind each word appearing to be both detailed and concise.  

There's something for everyone in Fifty Words for Snow, whether you're interested in climate, language or just want to broaden your general knowledge.  I love reading about global myths and legends so I was fascinated by the beautiful Cherokee tale that explains why the pine tree is evergreen and the legend of the snow woman of Japan who disappears as fast as melting snow.  There are some amazing words to discover in this book and although I would find it very hard to name a favourite, I was rather ticked by the final word: suncups.  It's such a simple but perfectly descriptive word and was perfectly placed to end the book.

Fifty Words for Snow is a hugely entertaining and informative book, written in such a warm and engaging style that makes you read 'just one more chapter', which is rare to find in non-fiction.  It's the perfect gift for linguists, booklovers or that hard to buy for person.  I would highly recommend buying a physical copy as even though the words are beautiful whether you're reading on kindle or a physical copy, the hardback is seriously stunning.

Thank you to Elliott and Thompson for sending me a beautiful hardback to review; all opinions are my own.

My rating:

Buy it from:
Amazon UK

About the author:

Nancy Campbell is an award-winning writer, described as ‘deft, dangerous and dazzling’ by the former Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and whose writing has been inspired by the polar regions.

Her travels in the Arctic resulted in several projects responding to the environment; The Library of Ice: Readings in a Cold Climate was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2019; Disko Bay, shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2016 and How to Say ‘I Love You’ in Greenlandic received the Birgit Skiöld Award 2015. In 2020 she was the recipient of the Royal Geographical Society’s Ness Award for her published work on the polar regions. She is currently a Literature Fellow at Internationales Künstlerhaus Villa Concordia in Germany.

Instagram: @nancycampbelle

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