Reading Lost Linguists Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne, hosts of the podcast Lingthusiasm, play a word game where every answer is the title of a famous book with one letter changed.

Reading Lost

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We're playing games with linguist Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. Are you ready for another one?


LAUREN GAWNE: Absolutely.

EISENBERG: OK. So this game is called Reading Lost. And every answer is the title of a famous book with one letter changed.


MCCULLOCH: All right.

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: For example, if I said the 1960 Harper Lee novel about sending an invoice for payment to a small, winged creature, you would answer, To Bill A Mockingbird.

GAWNE: (Laughter) Fabulous.

MCCULLOCH: Oh, (laughter) I see how we're doing this.

EISENBERG: Here we go. Lauren, this first one is for you.


EISENBERG: This 1945 George Orwell novel is about pigs named Napoleon and Snowball who are partners in a law office.

GAWNE: That would be Animal Firm.

EISENBERG: Yes, exactly. Animal Firm.

GAWNE: Yeah. I believe the ducks are in charge of billing at that firm.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's right.


EISENBERG: They are, absolutely. That's amazing.

COULTON: All right, Gretchen, here is one for you.

MCCULLOCH: All right.

COULTON: This 1939 John Steinbeck novel is about window treatments that cause feelings of extreme anger.

MCCULLOCH: Ah, The Drapes of Wrath.


COULTON: Yeah. That's correct.

EISENBERG: Lauren, this 2008 Suzanne Collins novel is about people selected from 12 districts to take part in a competition to put clothes back in a closet.

GAWNE: (Laughter) See, this one is very satisfying because it completely changes the pronunciation of the middle sequence of sounds in the word. But that would be the hangar games.

EISENBERG: The hangar games - that's right, yeah.

COULTON: OK, Gretchen, this 1969 Maya Angelou autobiography is about a parrot bursting into song after its beeper rings.

MCCULLOCH: So I want to say "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings."


MCCULLOCH: But it's rings? It's just that rings got repeated from the clue into the answer.

EISENBERG: That's good.

COULTON: No, that's a very good guess, but we're thinking specifically of a beeper.

MCCULLOCH: Oh, pager. I know why the paged bird sings.


COULTON: That's correct, yes.



EISENBERG: Lauren, this 1859 Charles Dickens novel is about a pair of people that are just so adorable.

GAWNE: There are so many Charles Dickens novels, and I never remember any of the names. So in my head, I'm just cycling through. A pair of people who are very adorable.

EISENBERG: So, like - so...

MCCULLOCH: I think I've got half of it, if you're - if we're doing phone-a-friend (laughter).

EISENBERG: Why not? Yes.


GAWNE: I can't think of any Charles Dickens' novels where you change one letter to get kawaii, so I'm going to throw it over to you, Gretchen.


MCCULLOCH: I think it's "A Tale Of Two Cities" 'cause that would be the pair of people.

GAWNE: Ah, a tale of two cuties?



GAWNE: There we go. That was a real team effort.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that was a real team effort - real team.


COULTON: I love it. Love to see it. All right, last one for you, Gretchen.

MCCULLOCH: All right.

COULTON: This 1989 Amy Tan novel is about a group of Chinese women who, despite having good fortune, end up making a bunch of mistakes.

MCCULLOCH: OK, well, I think I know the original book, which would be "The Joy Luck Club."

GAWNE: I can literally see your eyes moving from word to word in your head.

COULTON: (Laughter).

MCCULLOCH: I'm just going through the alphabet, yeah. I mean, so obviously, there's not, like, the un-family-friendly changing a letter thing.

EISENBERG: Right, not doing that.

COULTON: No, we're not going to do that on NPR, for sure.

MCCULLOCH: Nope. So it's got, like - the Joy Luck flub.


GAWNE: Yay. You did it.

COULTON: The Joy Luck flub - that's right.


MCCULLOCH: I kept trying to change joy. OK.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Yep. Never change joy. Focus on the club.

COULTON: Never change joy.

MCCULLOCH: Never change joy.


EISENBERG: Never change joy.

MCCULLOCH: Joy sparks joy. You've got to keep it.

EISENBERG: That's right.


EISENBERG: OK, that was a super hard game, and you excelled. You excelled, both of you. We got also a little insight into the workings of your brain because it's hard to keep these things all together. So congratulations.

GAWNE: Thank you so much.

COULTON: Well done.

MCCULLOCH: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Yeah, you're welcome.


EISENBERG: Gretchen McCulloch as Lauren Gawne are linguists who host the podcast "Lingthusiasm." Gretchen's book about the language of the internet is called "Because Internet." Thank you so much for joining us.

GAWNE: Thanks so much for having us.

MCCULLOCH: Thanks so much for having us.


EISENBERG: After the break, Hollywood power couple Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone and tell us why they took a break from making R-rated comedies to produce a documentary about public television icon Bob Ross. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.