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Vitamin Q: the book!

~ Sunday, February 16, 2003

My favourite popular reference books:

1 Chambers Dictionary - still the best single volume everyday dictionary which always seems interesting as well as smart.
2 DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English) (Belknap / Harvard) - huge, ongoing five or six volume project (they are currently up to O) covering slang and regional names for things such as food, games, creatures and plants and so on.
3 Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain (Readers Digest) - fascinating, all time classic subject-wide encyclopedia, written over 25 years ago by Britain's top folklorists, many of whom are now dead.
4 Catchphrases (E Partridge, Routledge) - one of Partridge's masterworks, brought up to date and sanded at the edges by Paul Beale. All you need to know about where cliches and odd phrases came from.
5 The Book of Lists (vols 1,2,3 and 90s version, Wallace, Wallace, Wallechinsky, Corgi / Aurum) - highly influential on this site, of course, and probably indirectly responsible for Trivial Pursuit and the trivia and quiz boom. Nice mix of subjective and objective lists, and seriousness and froth. I like the 90s one best.
6 The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary (Stillman, Thames and Hudson) - slightly dated, but all the better for it, containing info on poetic forms, with a decent, fairly comprehensive rhyme section
7 The Book of Numbers (W Hartston, Metro) - brilliantly cross-researched reference book on the (in)significance of individual numbers eg 156 is the number of fairy tales by HC Andersen and consecutive weeks Lendl was world tennis number one.
8 Penguin TV Companion (J Evans, Penguin) - thorough survey of TV (UK bias) with all the necessary trimmings.
9 The Mammoth Book of Tasteless Lists (K Shaw,Robinson) - Book of Lists style collection, more of connected facts and anecdotes than lists per se. Very well done, despite bargain book style title and availability.
10 Crossword Lists (A Stibbs, Bloomsbury) - best of its kind, simply and neatly done, with good selection of long, but not over-fussy lists.

Source: shelves next to me (as you might imagine, I have quite a few to choose from). A nod of the paratactical bunnet too to Brewer, Larousse, Opie and recent pop-ref kings Gyles Brandreth (yes, that one), Ben 'Hot' Schott and Nigel Rees.

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