BOOKS: SAND SCRIPT

SEARCHING FOR MEANING IN THE FOSSILS OF LANGUAGE

Once upon a time, animals and words were intimate: in the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt, the letter m was an eagle owl, the letter a a white Egyptian vulture. Such curious jewels pop up on every page of Susan Brind Morrow's first book, The Names of Things (Riverhead; 232 pages; $25.95). Taking herself into the Egyptian desert, Morrow works as a kind of archaeologist of the living world, digging for meanings as she watches cranes, catches "sundogs" and learns that the saddle-bill stork in the first hieroglyphs represented the soul. Language, she recalls, quoting Emerson, is "a sort of tomb of...

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