Day 5: The (Mellifluous) Book of Hard Words

by David Bramwell



Mel-IF-floo-us: (of sounds) sweetly smooth. Literally means ‘flows like honey’. From the Latin.

I bought this one on a discount table in a shopping mall, to read on the train. Surely I could learn all four words I didn’t already know before my journey’s end? Truthfully, at least half of the words were new to me. And even for those I knew, reading about their etymology and examining the diagrams explaining where each word originated was interesting enough to ensured I missed my stop.

The book has one word per page, plenty of visuals, and is graded into hard, harder and hardest words. It’s certainly no substitute for a good dictionary. In truth, I can only imagine using most of these words satirically. In my everyday writing I’m more likely to say ‘Bruce Springsteen has a perfectly formed rear’ than ‘The Boss is callipygian’ (from the Greek kallos (beautiful) plus pyge (buttocks)). If a client describes their novel’s main character as orthostatic, I might gently suggest ‘upright’ or ‘standing tall’ would resonate better with their readers.

The Book of Hard Words is perfect for dipping into; for those moments when you should be working but you’re ‘doing research’,  and for when your internet is down. Or for when you are on a transpontine hibernacle.

Day 4: Fifty Typefaces That Changed the World

By John L Walters/Design Museum



This is one I snapped up in the marked-down basket at my local bookshop, The Turning Page in Springwood, that little shiver of excitement running through my middle as I found my cut-price treasure. For a long time back in my teens and 20s, I secretly wanted to be a typographer. Lining up each Letraset letter before rubbing the black letter onto the white paper, slowly forming a heading, was how I found my ‘flow’. I used to buy The Face magazine to see what typographer Neville Brody was up to as much as for its cool content.

And then desktop publishing, and the internet. Anybody could be a typographer. We all know how to deride Comic Sans. I stuck with writing and editing. Nothing could every disrupt those, right?

I still keep my love of a good font, and this book runs through most of them, from the Gutenberg Bible’s blackletter in the mid-1400s to Ubuntu in 2011, an open-source typeface available to anybody in the world, in over 200 languages, in and for free. As the designers say, ‘The way typography is used says as much about our brand as the words themselves’.

I have more comprehensive and detailed books about typography, but recommend this one as a heavily visual introduction to the art, with an incidental history lesson attached.

Day 3: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

by Mary Norris


I bought this one because a copy editor wrote a 200+ page book and it made the New York Times bestseller list. And because through it I learned that there is an Apostrophe Protection Society with a really ugly website and a chairman.

Mary Norris is a copy editor with The New Yorker, and has worked there since 1978. She turns her vast, enviable experience into a funny and fascinating encounter with language. In her investigation of why Moby-Dick is hyphenated, she describes ‘…that immortal hyphen, stuck like a harpoon in Melville’s famous title…’. She has a whole chapter devoted to profanity, called F*ck This Sh*t. Sometimes you need to know how to handle that stuff.

I love her approach to language: precise, but not pedantic. I learnt so much about the origins or words, the uses of various arcane punctuation marks, and what a dream job working at The New Yorker is, and had a whole lot of fun doing it.

PS: Her new book, Greek to Me  will be published in April.

Day 2: A World Without ‘Whom’

by Emmy J. Favilla



I bought this one because I’m a little obsessed with style guides. A World Without ‘Whom’ was created for BuzzFeed to reflect our ever-changing use of language, and that it’s changing possibly more rapidly than ever before. (I also promised to report on how I went with it after the first two chapters back here.)

I was pleased that Chapter 3 deals with Getting Things Right, important stuff like not using the wrong word or abandoning clarity. Chapter 4, How to Not Be a Jerk, deals with sensitive topics, with a handy A to Z list. It’s there to guide you to using inclusive language.

The chapter How Social Media has Changed the Game is the core of the book. It’s here that you really get why we needed another style guide There’s a handy world list and some fun quiz questions at the end to check if you know your gardyloos form your bumfuzzle.

A World Without ‘Whom’ is a great reference for editors and writers who work in social media, particularly those for who(m) millennials are the target audience. For the rest, it’s an entertaining read that offers practical insight into how language is always changing. Favilla so clearly loves language, and her love is contagious.

Book-a-day February

Every day in February I will write about one book. I will write about why I  bought it, and why I’m not going to get rid of it any time soon.

Day 1: The Art of Reading
by Damon Young

I first came across this book while editing a client’s work, and revisited it recently when I proofread the final manuscript. Christopher Smith has written an amazing book about the power of reading, called The Reading Ripple Effect. It’s in the process of being submitted to publishers, so watch this space!

Christopher runs Shared Reading NSW, which runs reading groups that are ‘a relaxed space for people to read a short story, poem or part of a book aloud, reflect and then discuss it’.

In The Art of Reading, Philosopher Damon Young argues that excellent reading is not valued as much as fine writing and, with a lot of reference to his own reading, makes the case for the reader’s power ‘to turn shapes on a page into a lifelong adventure.’

It’s published by Melbourne University Press, recently in the news because its chief executive, Louise Adler, and five board members, including former NSW Premier Bob Carr and former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs, resigned because the university announced it was no longer going to publish books for a general readership.

February will be my book-a-day month

 

I buy a lot of books – definitely more than I read.  I know that  Marie Kondo  has said we  should only keep 30 books (or did she?),  but for me that is clearly impossible.  I looked at the piles on top of piles, the stacks on top of bookshelves, and had the idea that every day in February I will post about one book. I will write about why I  bought it, and why I’m not going to get rid of it any time soon.

I’m not going to include novels or other forms of reading that are’ just for fun’. I’ll only be  including books that I have bought with a professional writing or editing  goal in mind.  I might also add in a couple from the library because I love borrowing from libraries too.