Top Ten Books of 2008

As this grim year draws to a close, the time has come to celebrate the best in books while the publishing industry celebrates the apocalypse. To read my thoughts on this year’s essays, you can head on over to The Millions, where my entry in A Year in Reading has just been posted. I’ll also be popping up later at Ready Steady Book, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Barnes & Noble Review for their respective celebrations.

What follows is an alphabetical list of the books that, in my view, mattered the most in 2008. You’ll note that Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is not on this list. Why is that? Yes, I took the book with me during my Thanksgiving vacation. But I made a deliberate decision to not read it until next year. I assure you that this was not some fashionably contrarian decision. The 25 pages I’ve read have indeed been quite interesting, and I remain confident that the remaining 875 pages will prove to be more gripping than the world’s most dependable dentures. I’m certain I’ll become one of those wild-eyed acolytes naming my firstborn son “Roberto” in honor of the great dead author who may or may not have been a heroin junkie. But I’m very much of the belief that good reading involves looking between the cracks and not always reading the obvious titles. So I have decided to put off 2666 until next year, where I can read this important novel without getting lost in the hype, thereby recusing myself from any possible ethical qualms. Besides, the book needs no love from me. It continues to be heralded as the Second Coming. And I’m waiting for the FSG publicists to work their magic and have Bolaño return unexpectedly from the grave.

You will certainly not see the sleazy favoritism practiced by Sam Tanenhaus (I have tried to spread the love across multiple publishers), nor the gutless and tone-deaf choices on Jonathan Yardley’s list. The latter list surely presents a strong case for Yardley’s retirement. (In fact, you won’t find see any of their respective selections on my list.) But as a caveat, I must observe that I am friendly with a few writers on this list. This friendliness, however, has no bearing on my decision-making process. I am likewise friendly with a number of writers whose work I do not care for, but who I have always encouraged to write better. (And, no, I will not name those names. It’s hard enough to stay writing when the publishing industry remains locked in a crazed freefall.)

Selecting the best books of the year involves remembering the titles that have slipped from our memory. And I have tried to pick books that have done just that. The intriguing thoughts contained within Samantha Power’s fascinating biography, Chasing the Flame, for example, were occluded by the Hillary Clinton contretemps picked up on the gossip circuit, for which we have The Scotsman to blame. While Power’s book didn’t quite make the top ten cut, it is noted, along with a few other forgotten books, in the Honorable Mention section near the end. I must also point out that Andre Dubus III’s The Garden of Last Days, despite being around 550 pages, was one of those rare novels that I simply could not put down.

It occurs to me that this is a needlessly longass introduction for a top ten list. Well, no matter. I shall try to keep my thoughts on the ten titles confined to a paragraph each.

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke: This was a much maligned book from a quirky talent who has had a long history of being misunderstood by the critics. Nicholson Baker never claimed to be a historian, but he did dig dutifully through newspapers, sufficiently demonstrating how some vital stories get lost in the jingoistic funhouse. Human Smoke dared to present an alternative series of events that, wherever one stands politically, made a very strong case that the events leading up to World War II (much less any history) need to be reconsidered through a different prism. Even if one disagrees with the premise that pacifism could have ended the war, there nevertheless remains a fascinating dilemma for the reader. Could it be that the established history we commonly accept isn’t nearly so comprehensive? What information are we throwing away? And what responsibility do we have in widening the floodgates decades down the line to account for our missteps in the present? (For more on this book, see the Human Smoke roundtable discussion that was conducted on these pages: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five. See also Bat Segundo interview.)

Sarah Hall, Daughters of the North: Recently, Gavin Grant helpfully reminded me that, as good as Daughters of the North is, there were plentiful feminist titles from the 1970s that went much further in their political ambition and sausage-slicing ideology. But Daughters of the North (known as The Carhullan Army in the UK) not only represents a natural evolution for Hall’s great writing talent, but it’s one of the few dytstopic novels of 2008 that, like Atwood’s bleak ball-busting pair (Oryx & Crake; The Handmaid’s Tale), I don’t believe will end up as a time capsule. (For more about this book, see my essay on Sarah Hall’s books for the Barnes & Noble Review. See also Bat Segundo interview.)

David Heatley, My Brain is Hanging Upside Down: I have been asked to contribute my thoughts for the Barnes and Noble Review‘s forthcoming best of books list. Since I am a man of honor when it comes to my professional duties, I feel that the right thing to do is to remain silent and mysterious . But I will fill in this blank and update this post when the link goes up. Needless to say, the book in question does fall alphabetically between “Hall” and “Hunt.” And I’m pretty sure that you can figure it out. (UPDATE: The list is now up. And you can also listen to the Segundo interview here.)

Samantha Hunt, The Invention of Everything Else: Like the work of Scarlett Thomas and Richard Powers, Samantha Hunt’s second novel is unapologetically concerned with communicating a sense of informative wonder to the reader. The book concerns Nikola Tesla’s last days in 1943, and a young chambermaid’s to understand him while her father tries to build a time machine to contact his dead wife. This unusual story, which also features several enjoyable glimpses of excitable people indulging in questionable pursuits (including an astutely realized old-time radio show), asks us to consider how much faith we should place in the crackpots of our world. Are great minds any crazier than the rapacious money men who exploit them? Would our nation be thriving right now if we dared to listen to those who are regularly discounted? (See also Bat Segundo interview.)

Nam Le, The Boat: I’ve long been unnerved by the continued lionization of writers who desperately cling to their MFA toolboxes like organization men who fancy themselves longshoremen because they have seen the sea. These types often mistrust their innate voices and fear their idiosyncrasies, and we are all the lesser for it. But early in the year, this book arrived in my mailbox out of the blue. I knew very little about it, but I began reading and found myself captivated by a rare talent who thankfully can’t be pigeonholed. Nam Le writes in multiple tones and multiple locations. This astonishing debut short story collection features heartbreaking portraits of transition (“Halflead Bay”), some playful postmodernism (the opening story features a character named Nam Le), and what I interpreted (I seem to have been the only one) as a muted and juicy satire of the New York artistic life (“Meeting Elise”). (See also Bat Segundo interview.)

Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay: The celebrated poet Sarah Manguso suffers from a rare neurological disease called CIDP. As we learn in this short but stirring memoir, the disease is so rare that many doctors don’t quite know how to treat it. Manguso tackles both the literal and metaphorical ramifications of her personal dilemma, employing both high and low language, describing how she moved in and out of hospitals, and how dealing with this disease directly affected Manguso’s life. She learns, and we learn, that living is a scenario in which we must pay attention, and that paying attention, often in ways we aren’t entirely aware of, sometimes has unexpectedly moving results for ourselves and the people around us. (See also Bat Segundo interview.)

Stewart O’Nan, Songs for the Missing: The story goes that, over the years, Stewart O’Nan has made continued stabs at finishing this book, with the results often spilling over into other titles (such as last year’s excellent Last Night at the Lobster). But now that he’s finally completed it, O’Nan has accomplished something rather amazing here. This novel is ostensibly a mystery, in which an eighteen-year-old girl disappears and efforts are made by the family and a small Ohio town to find her. While this would seem to be a fairly typical storyline, you wouldn’t know this upon reading it. This book is one of the most astute presentations of human behavior and its unintended consequences that I’ve read this year — very much influenced by Richard Yates’s realism and rivaling Lee Martin’s The Bright Forever for a novel of this type. And that’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve found myself passing along this title to a number of writers who simply must study the way in which O’Nan embeds quiet details within this novel, and now I feel ethically obliged to pass along this title to you. (See also the Bat Segundo interview with O’Nan for his last book, Last Night at the Lobster.)

Ed Park, Personal Days: Long-time readers of this site will know that Good Man Park and I have carried out a strange interplay in the blogosphere. But I truly didn’t expect the Other Ed (or am I the Other Ed?) to knock this one out of the park. This office novel atones for Joshua Ferris’s overrated novel, Then We Came to the End, by offering crazy literary experiments (such as one section composed of a relentless pages-long sentence “written” by a worker who lacks a period on his keyboard), and permitting Good Man Park to flex his giddiness in fictive form. My only quibble with this novel is that Park may be self-censoring himself a tad about the horrors of office life, but it’s a small point that will hopefully be rectified in future novels. (See also Bat Segundo interview.)

Ross Raisin, God’s Own Country: Raisin’s debut novel wasn’t nearly as well received on this side of the Atlantic as it should have been. But its sheer stylistic invention alone deserves high notice. Here is a writer who is not only willing to explore uncomfortable truths, but who has managed to use language in a way that permits us to empathize with a monster. The vernacular here doesn’t just form a parochial barrier. It may very well be one of the fundamental aspects that prevents us from helping the most troubled members of society. (See also Bat Segundo interview and my supplemental lexicon to many of the terms used in the novel.)

Leslie What, Crazy Love: This quirky short story collection has been almost completely overlooked by readers who look at the fantasy genre with the same frightened isolationism readily observed in George W. Bush’s move to a neighborhood terrified of non-Caucasian residents. That’s a great shame, because there are invaluable lessons here on how to take a wild idea and make it concise and enthralling. The collection contains unsettling allegories and gleefully imaginative premises. There isn’t a single story in here that doesn’t take some kind of narrative gamble. And while the dice-rolling doesn’t always pay off, it certainly remains hot in your hands. (See also my Washington Post roundup.)

Honorable Mention: Andre Dubus III’s The Garden of Last Days (Segundo), Elizabeth Crane’s You Must Be This Happy to Enter (Segundo), Jenny Davidson’s The Explosionist (Segundo) Jeffrey Ford’s The Shadow Year (Segundo), David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague (Segundo), Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World (B&N Review), Samantha Power’s Chasing the Flame, Mark Sarvas’s Harry, Revised (Segundo), Brian Francis Slattery’s Liberation (Segundo for Spaceman Blues), and Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (Segundo).

The Bat Segundo Show: Ross Raisin

Ross Raisin appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #229. Raisin is the author of God’s Own Country (UK title)/Out Backward (US title).

(Please note: This discussion deals at length with many of the Yorkshire terms that Mr. Raisin uses within his novel. Please consult this lexicon if you’d like to know more.)

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Abdicating to a helium-impaired fill-in host.

Author: Ross Raisin

Subjects Discussed: Schizophrenia, designing a particular voice and the relationship to environment, talking in a peculiar way, reference books, snickets, the relationship between topography, reference books, and reality, looking through books, cookbooks, foreshadowing, talking with animals, verbs transferred to nouns, subconscious immersion into language, the third-person origins of God’s Own Country, the rhythmic origins of the lexical voice, “gleg” vs. “gawp,” the frequency of words for specific meaning, the Yorkshire vernacular, working as a waiter vs. working as a writer, nouns from specific regions in England, trunklements, the etymology of “bogtrotter,” crammocky creel, jarp and Easter, Nobbut a Lad, ferntickles, “upskittled” and ninepins, nouns transferred to verbs, “normaltimes,” “gleg,” and “chuntering” — the most frequent words in the book, snitter, references to Dracula, the concern for backsides within the book, The Butcher Boy, literary attempts to understand the monster, being ransacked by Raisin, Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory, separation between style and content, tankards and chalices, the historical cycle of gentrification within bars and restaurants, and stools vs. metal buffets.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: There are a number of Yorkshire terms in which you take a verb meaning and you transfer it into a noun. And so everything is inverted. Even his communicative methods with the animals, as well as his particular idiosyncratic way of talking to the reader, which is presumably the only person he has to talk with aside from his parents and the like. And how this notion of inversion essentially announced itself. Was this more of a subconscious immersion in language on your part? Or a conscious decision to take a verb and transfer it to noun form and the like?

Raisin: The whole thing with the language being in that peculiar idiomatic language didn’t come about immediately. It came about as a result of thinking about character and wanting to think about a character who was very much inside their own strange little world. And one of the main ways you can achieve that is through language. And so I started experimenting with different ways of working with language. And that’s how it turned into a first-person book. Actually, it was initially third-person. Okay, some of the language in it. Most of it is a real Yorkshire language. Sort of a different melange of different parts of Yorkshire, to be honest. And a lot of it is invented. It actually came more out of rhythm — it began with rhythm — more than actual lexicon. And so I got a real feel for this rhythm of the landscape, and the way that transposed into the voice. And then through the second draft, I suppose, I started inserting all these words. And a lot of them are verbs actually. Like glegging and blathering and all these kind of blunt Yorkshire, quite masculinized words that he peppers his language with.

Correspondent: But “gleg” comes from the Scottish noun. Alert and quick to respond.

Raisin: Is that right?

Correspondent: That’s at least what I discovered. And I’m wondering where you transformed it into more of a verb. And also the difference between “gleg” and “gawp” as well. Because he gawps at some points and glegs at others.

Raisin: Well, a gleg is more of a brief look. It’s more of a glance, I suppose. And a gawp is a more of staring. But that’s quite an interesting point actually. Because when you’re writing the book, you become so observed with it. And I’m convinced that these words that I’ve researched, they’re Yorkshire words. And I hold them very preciously. They’re Yorkshire words. And then you tell them to somebody else, and they say, “Oh yeah. We use that word.”

BSS #229: Ross Raisin

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A Supplemental Lexicon to Ross Raisin’s Fiction

Between reading Sarah Hall’s three novels earlier this year and Ross Raisin’s debut novel, I’ve found to my astonishment that I’ve become more than a bit obsessed with the Northern English dialect. One striking quality of Ross Raisin’s quite disturbing debut novel, God’s Own Country (known in the U.S. as Out Backward), is its reliance on very specific slang to advance the novel and to occlude the reality of what’s happening before us. I became so wonderfully caught up in the words that Raisin pulled a fast one on me, and I ended up abdicating my own common sense. The book’s nineteen-year-old first-person narrator, Sam Marsdyke, lives in a small town in Yorkshire and clings to a vernacular in an effort to assert his frequently misunderstood and often besmirched individualism. The effect becomes one in which the outside reader hopes to understand this troubled character, lest the reader be IDed by Marsdyke as one of the superficial “ramblers” (or tourists) invading his home turf. And the prose’s close association with the Northern England landscape creates a fascinating dilemma for anyone attempting to masticate upon this book on multiple levels.

The verb “gleg” is the neologism that is most frequently used throughout the book. “Gleg” is more commonly used as an adjective in Scotland and means “alert and quick to respond,” but, in Raisin’s hands, it’s often used as a gruff surrogate for “look.” To gleg is to retreat in some sense. But glegging also involves the only place where Marsdyke can maintain his identity. Glegging may be somewhat good for all of us, provided we do not glog in the process.

But because I had the reaction that I had, what follows is an effort to track the many interesting words throughout Raisin’s novel, which may prove of help to readers tackling this interesting novel. Standard British slang terms like “sod” and “tosspot” are ignored. I’m hoping to provide more additional information about specific words as I learn more about them. Page numbers refer to the American edition of the book. Readers are invited to comment upon any additional findings or clear up any etymological mishaps.

aflunters: Yorkshire term for “in a state of disorder.Usage in Book: “the ew was all aflunters” (95), “my head was too aflunters” (157)

bairn: Scottish term for “child.” Usage in Book: “When I was a barin I’d kept…” (28, ref. to Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore?) “a list of bairns, couplings and dead” (41), “I’d gave him that mug as a bairn” (99)

barmpot: A clumsy idiot. Var. of barmy. Usage in Book: “You barmpot, it’s the middle of the bleeding night.” (23), “laughing together like barmpots” (143)

babby: Often used in Northern dialect as a noun for baby or child, Raisin has his narrator sub in a noun for an adjective. Usage in Book: “a babby little feller” (10) “looking like a babby” (50), “I just lay there like a babby with my lids shut” (89), “feel for the babby” (95), “The ewe was licking at her babby” (114), “the rustle of a babby too full of dander to sleep” (123), “my babby, my babby, you’re alive” (126)

beltenger: A Hungarian term for enclosed or inland sea. Usage in Book: “a beltenger of a storm on the ocean” (33)

blatherskite: A Scottish noun for a noisy talker of blatant rubbish. The usage in the book sees Raisin again using a noun in verb form. Usage in Book: “and blatherskite about that rude Marysdyke boy” (66) Also, the local newspaper is referred to as The Blatherskites’ News.

bogtrotted: Originally, a bogtrotter was an offensive term for an Irishman. But it also means one who trots around bogs. Usage in Book: “to show all the places they’d bogtrotted over” (134), “gone off bogtrotting” (168)

brazzent: Yorkshire for “inadvisably generous.” Usage in Book: “a brazzent-looking farmer in a raggedy jacket” (149)

budgerigars: An Australian parakeet. (Perhaps the fact that Mum keeps many budgerigars in one of the farm’s rooms is a wry allusion to Australia’s origins as an English prison colony? Or does this have something to do with the budgerigar’s ability to survive in very dry parts of Australia?) Usage in Book: “That, or she was talking to the budgerigars.” (3) “She thought her buderigars were bonny and all” (47), “the buderigars chattering bollocks at each other” (99), “I was sure the budgerigars would start chattering” (127), “chattering away like budgerigars” (175)

buffit: Stool. Another term used in Wakefield. Usage in Book: “who’d take over his buffit in the corner” (29), “bar buffits reeking with fifty years of smoke” (102), “hunkered over on a metal buffit” (120), “using our bags as buffits” (153)

bummelkite: An obscure 19th century word for blackberry. From an 1895 article, “The Cumberland Dialect,” The Gentleman’s Magazine: “a very puzzling word, and the glossaries do not explain it. Some vocabularies treat it as a corruption of bramble-kite, only to make that darker which was dark enough before, because it leaves the final syllable unexplained.” Usage in Book: “The drone of the brummelkite filled my brain” (145)

charver: Var. of chava. Unruly youth. Usage in Book: “like my old charver on the pier” (193)

choiled up: Pent up, guarded. Don’t know precise etymology, but it’s definitely a Northern English term. Usage in Book: “She was proper choiled up a long while” (116)

chunter: to grumble or grouse mildly or tediously. (Again, like “gleg,” what’s striking is the way that Raisin often uses this verb as a noun.) Usage in Book: “a chunter of talk came through the door-crack” (4) “chuntering in his corner” (31), “chuntering to some old cloth-head at the counter” (57), “I heard him chuntering, fuck off, or something like that” (63), “leaves chuntering with the wind” (71), “She chuntered off to the cupboard with the tins” (92), “she was chuntering to herself” (98), “You’d hear the moles chuntering” (115), “I’d hear him chuntering” (149), “no lasses chundering in the deep-fat fryer” (164)

clog-poppers: Those who have recently died. (Related site.) Usage in Book: “But I marked toward the other end the paper, near the clog-poppers….” (42)

collywobbles: Stemming from the Latin term for cholera, usually in reference to a rumbling stomach. Colly is English dialect for dust. Usage in Book: “for she had the collywobbles” (82, which comes shortly after “a smudgy coal-cloud” seeps around the house)

crambazzled: A very specific Northern word for a man who is old before his time, generally due to illness or drink. Usage in Book: “I hadn’t crambazzled myself half to death with drink as yet.” (32)

crammocky: “Crammocky creel” is a Yorkshire term for a wooden framework hoisted to the ceiling, generally used for drying oatcakes or clothes. Usage in Book: “my joints all crammocky from lying still so long” (59), “I stood up and paced crammocky circles” (143)

crozzle: Yorkshire use. To dry out and become crispy due to burning heat. Usage in Book: “the skin underneath all crozzled with drowsiness” (176)

daffled: Baffled. You’ll probably remember this one from Bram Stoker’s “We aud folks that be daffled” in Dracula although I can’t seem to find a specific etymology. Usage in Book: “She looked daffled then” (104)

doylem: Yet another Yorkish word for idiot, of which there are quite a lot of in this book! Usage in Book: “Talk to her, you doylem…” (50), “for he was a doylem” (101)

ferntickle: A Northern dialect word for freckles. Comes from ME farntikylle — resembling the seed of the fern. Usage in Book: “I could see the little brown ferntickles speckling her nose and the tops of her cheek.” (14)

fizzogs: From “physiognomy.” Shorthand for face. Usage in Book: “some by the looks on your fizzogs” (33)

flowtered: Yorkish folk term for in being in a state of trepidation or nervousness. Usage in Book: “my brain had been flowtered by those gommerils in the car” (43), “No, I said, flowtered…” (57), “I didn’t know what they were so flowtered about” (73), “The ewe will start to get flowtered first” (94), “she got flowtered when she saw it” (124), “I got flowtered then” (138), “I started getting something flowtered” (164)

fratchen: Yorkshire. To argue. Usage in Book: “she didn’t fratchen with me” (153)

gawby: A baby, a dunce. (1913 Webster, provincial in some sense, but what province precisely?) Usage in Book: “If I’d not been such a gawby forgetting about maggots….” (17), “turned into a gawby” (188), “a herd of gawby sergeants” (194)

gleg: See introduction. Usage in Book: “I went for a gleg in the freezer….” (4) “a quick gleg past him” (11) “When I glegged in…” (27) “I glegged in at him…” (32) “A few of the other sheep glegged up.” (40) “I was itching for a gled across at her.” (51), “too far yet to gleg inside” (65), “I never got to gleg what he’d written” (92), “Father glegged up at her” (100), “I glegged an eye up” (103), “I was worried someone else might gleg the message” (113), “I glegged another look at my watch” (123), “I glegged round to see if she was watching” (125), “glegged up an instant from their crossword puzzle” (136), “glegging an eye at me over the top” (137), “He had a gleg round once” (142), “I glegged over the stump top” (144), “glegged me gaining” (172), “I glegged the four-by-four” (175), “I tried to gleg the entrance pool” (181), “He’d always gleg over at me” (202)

glishy: Sticky. And while there are many usages of this adjective which can be found on Google, I can’t seem to determine where the word originated from. A Verdurian term? Is Raisin an RPG enthusiast? (This may explain the many references to board games, including Monopoly and Scrabble, throughout the book.) Usage in Book: “glishy magazines of horse arses jumping over a fence” (10), “all bright and glishy like a piece of flesh with the skin torn off” (100), “the glishy black stones” (184)

gommeril: A fool. Dialectical, common to Yorkshire. Origin unknown. Usage in Book: “still red from before with the gommerils” (35), “my brain had been flowtered by those gommerils in the car” (43)

heart-slufffened: Heartbroken. Unknown origin, but spoken in the 1860s. Usage in Book: “she was so heart-sluffened” (154), “sat sluffened” (173)

hubbleshoo: A Yorkshire term for commotion that can be traced back to 1855. Usage in Book: “a hubbleshoo of noise” (24) “the hubbleshoo of small boys spewing out the bus” (42), “a hubbleshoo of bleats” (68), “a hubbleshoo of activity” (112), (189)

jarp: To strike or smash. More spec., to crack a hard-boiled egg with another. This is an Easter game. Durham & Tyneside dialect. Usage in Book: “My hands jarped off from the vibration.” (38), “Wetherill’s shout jarped my attention” (145)

jipping: From A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: “staining (part of a horse) with India ink to conceal a blemish. Usage in Book: “My neck, bag and legs were all jipping from stones and heather tangles…” (129)

kecks: Variation of the Yorkshire “kegs” for trousers. Usage in Book: “Blotchy wiping his hand on his kecks” (76), “the band of my kecks” (150), “dragged my kecks” (200)

ligged out: Yorkish term for “laid out.” Usage in Book: “with the pup ligged out between” (58), “Sal was ligged out retching in the stable” (83), “ligged out on the slope of the hollow” (107), “one of the sheep ligged out between the wall and the back of the pen” (123), “I ligged out on my belly” (133)

lugger-bugger: Mover. Marsdyke is quite taken throughout the book with singsong hyphenated nouns that rhyme. See also “mother-smothering” on 6. Usage in Book: “as if they feared the lugger-buggers might set it in the vegetable plot” (5), (7)

mafted: Yorkshire. Very hot or breathless. Usage in Book: “I was mafted from walking so quick” (164), “a mafting hot afternoon” (168)

mardy: See H2G2 entry. Usage in Book: “she wasn’t mardy any more” (156), “she was mardy again” (169)

mawnging: “Mawngy” is a Yorkshire adjective for bad-tempered, but Raisin has appropriated it for use as a verb. Usage in Book: “there was nothing any of them could do about it but for mawnging” (29) Another hint: “a mawngy crow sat in a tree gawping into space.” (68), “didn’t mawnge about it” (153)

nazzart: North East dialect for rascal. Usage in Book: “the bone-idle nazzart” (100), “Get back here, you old nazzart” (140, 143), “my brain was in a nazzartly mood” (168)

nithering: To shiver or tremble with cold. Scottish and Northern English. Variation of “blithering.” Usage in Book: “A month on and you’d stil be nithering cold if you came up there without a coat.” (96)

nobbut: Yorkshire adverb for “only.” An homage to Alan Titchmarsh’s Nobbut a Lad? Usage in Book: (42)

panacalty: I’ve heard of the Northern English dish panacalty, but I haven’t tried it yet. Here’s a recipe. Usage in Book: “I’ve panacalty on the go” (112), “fried up their bacon and their panacalty” (147)

parkin: A kind of ginger cake originating in Northern England. Usage in Book: “She was making the Christmas parkin.” (79), “I bolted another piece of parkin.” (81)

powfagged: Lancashire term for “tired.” Usage in Book: “powfagged and sleepy-eyed from the walk” (58), “we were powfagged after our adventures” (142)

raggald: A Norse term for “villain” used in Calderdale. Usage in Book: “That raggald — he pushed me over the side!” (33)

ramblers: hikers wandering the English countryside. In the book, Marsdyke speaks perjoratively of the ramblers and, at one point, gets into a violent skirmish with them. Although the term can’t be found in this helpful British slang dictionary, it is used in this 2003 BBC News article. Usage in Book: (1), “bright enough the ramblers needed their sunglasses” (56), “Ramblers’ pub other side of Felton Top” (56), “ramblers arfing and barfing about cuckoos and the like” (72), “I hadn’t caught on it was her at first, I’d thought it was a rambler” (99), “We were proper ramblers now” (131), “He must’ve stole it off a rambler” (134), “Well, ramblers, it’s a gradely day for it” (169)

sarnie: sandwich. Usage in Book: “She threw another piece of sarnie.” (108), “She’d even made sarnies.” (132), “punnets of sarnies” (146), “munching us sarnies in quiet” (153), “ate the rest the sarnies” (157)

scarper: to flee or depart suddenly; esp. without having paid one’s bills. Usage in Book: “I waited for them to scarper…” (3) “The whelps were scarpering.” (20), “I kicked the fallen sarnie at him and scarpered” (150)

scran: Slang for rations. Usage in Book: “She had a scran with her and all” (99)

sile: To rain heavily. Yorkshire. Usage in Book: “listening to the rain sile down” (154), “siling down like this” (156)

skittled: Skittles is, of course, a game of ninepins involving a wooden ball or disc knocking down pins. Usage in Book: “It was a job to keep from laughing as they skittled about…” (2)
Related: Interestingly, Raisin has Marsdyke use “skitter” in reference to the girl he’s mad about on 5. “Skitter” is close to “skittle,” both in sound and definition. But it is a less parochial verb. (There is also “skiffling for her bag” at 107 and “it skiffled about in the straw” at 125.) Thus, is this Marsdyke’s attempt at understanding the new neighbors? Another variation is “upskittled”: “I had an upskittled frame of the whelps cowering under Father’s chair” (20), “I wasn’t mighty upskittled to hear she wasn’t helping” (65)

snicket: Known predominantly as the surname of Daniel Handler’s pen name, “snicket” is actually a Northern term for a narrow passageway between two houses or an alleyway. And knowing the precise definition makes Raisin’s usage of the word particularly fun. Usage in Book: “I saw a thin snicket between two books cocked against each other.” (13), “except for a snicket where it wasn’t drawn fully” (136). Also snickleway: “down a snickleway between a house and the back the station” (140), “a snickleway path through the yellow” (147)

snitter: Snitter is not only a village in Northumberland, but it’s the name of a character in Richard Adams’s The Plague Dogs. Snitter was a fox terrier sold to animal research after his master had died. In light of the book’s emphasis on dogs and whelps, this usage has multiple meanings. Usage in Book: “a snitter of talk” (42)

spiceloaf: Is Raisin a Star Wars geek? I can find no trace of the word, but it was used in Aaron Allston’s Star Wars novel, Betrayal as a food consisting of dense meat ground, spiced, and heated to order. Allston is a Texan. I do not know if Allston appropriated the term from Northern England or if Raisin caught sight of the word in the Star Wars novel or invented it on the fly. (Aha, it is a Yorkshire term for currant bread. So where did Allston get it?) Usage in Book: “a look in her eyes that said, I’m a loopy old spiceloaf” (65)

sump-pool: There are two British-specific definitions for “sump” in my unabridged dictionary: “4. Brit crankcase 5. Brit Dial. a swamp, bog or muddy pool.” The usage of “sump-pool” refers to the latter definition, but perhaps foreshadows Marsdyke’s perception as a crankcase by some within the small town he dwells in. Usage in Book: (1), “mud-sumps around the gate” (96)

tantled: Yorkshire for “to waste time, to dawdle.” Usage in Book: “I tantled near the entrance” (148)

Tesco: A British supermarket chain. Used to delineate the difference between ramblers and countrymen in a humorous context at the beginning of the book. Usage in Book: “That is such nice ham. / Isn’t it? Tesco, you know.” (2)

tidgy: Variation of twitchy, but Yorkshire specific? Usage in Book: “stumbling about the place on tidgy twig-legs.” (94), “picking tidgy wooden forks into cartons” (182)

trull: Trull is known to be an affluent area in Somerset. But the usage here is likely to involve the female prostitute or harlot definition used by Joyce and Kipling. Usage in Book: “the whiskery old trull” (22), “you daft trull” (171)

trunklements: This is actually an obscure and regional word of slang that specifies “any other items, not specified.” “Trunklements” appear to be associated with the West Yorkshire city of Wakefield. Usage in Book: “I fetched a basket, cloth, and some other trunklements…” (9), “pictures and trunklements off the walls” (101), “all manner of trunklements in the window” (141), “some feckless trunklement no one would ever buy” (181)

unsneck: To unlatch or unfasten. Found in A Glossary of Words Used in South-west Lincolnshire (1886). Usage in Book: (10) Also “sneck” in “I snecked open the gate to her garden.” (80), “a sneck-lifetr” (169), “unsnecking the cord” (188)