It’s Valentines Day on the weekend, and while I don’t pay a lot of attention to the day, I do think it’s a good opportunity to offer something to my readers. Think of it as a small token of my appreciation, if you will.
There are lots of other poems and stories there too, and it is all free to read. I would like to think there’s something there for every taste.
However you celebrate, or don’t celebrate, Valentine’s Day, I hope you’ll take some time this week or over the weekend to read something that makes you smile. I’d be super pleased if that happened to be something I wrote.
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If there’s something word nerds love, it’s word-nerdy books.
Personally, I love a great dictionary or thesaurus. I also enjoy books that explore different aspects of the English language and how we use it.
These three books are books I have particularly enjoyed over recent months.
Word Perfect by Susie Dent
This is a wonderful compilation that will please any word lover or etymology enthusiast.
Dent writes with clarity and good humour. The word for each day, and Dent’s definition and etymology of each, are interesting and quirky.
The challenge is to only read each day’s offering instead of running ahead an consuming it more quickly.
Grab a copy, keep it by your favourite chair, and enjoy a wordy treat each day. You won’t be sorry.
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
This is a most interesting and entertaining book that traces the histories of words and phrases used in English.
It is a collection of most diverting rabbit holes in print: a world of fascinating information that draws you deeper in each time. Not once have I managed to look up the word or phrase I wanted to reference without discovering another entry nearby that was just as captivating as the first… or second… or third entry I had read.
It really is a treasure trove of words, etymology and history that will delight any lover of the English language.
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Usage and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
This book is a delight. With the aim of helping writers achieve greater clarity and better style, Dreyer examines the “rules” of English as we know them, and provides a clear and understandable guide to using the English language most effectively.
The book is written with humour and a relaxed tone, and delivers content that is far more accessible for the everyday reader and writer than my beloved and very worn copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which is now far less modern than it was when I first obtained the book.
Dreyer’s English is an ideal reference for today’s writers, regardless of their preferred form or the purpose for which they write. It’s also entertaining enough to pick up and read on a Saturday afternoon, without feeling at all like it’s time you’ll never get back.
A Christmas Eva tradition we are adopting for the first time this year is the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot. (Hear it here.) it means ‘Christmas book flood’ and that’s exactly what it is.
It is the practice of giving books on Christmas Eve and then going to bed and reading them.
The tradition began in Iceland during World War II when imports were hard to come by and paper was relatively inexpensive. The publishing industry did not operate year round, but rather swung into action toward the end of the year, and culminated in the Bokatidindi—a catalogue of every new book published in Iceland, given free of charge to every home in the country. From there, people choose the books they will give their loved ones.
It’s no wonder that book lovers all over the world are looking on and thinking they’d like to get in on that action. That was certainly my response.
A friend asked me recently how to write a book review that goes beyond whether or not they liked and enjoyed the book.
Having posted some time ago about things to avoid when writing a book review, I thought it high time I wrote something more positive and helpful in the interests of helping people review books more confidently.
A good book review doesn’t have to be long or academic.
Using everyday language is absolutely fine. You don’t have to write like a professional reviewer or an English teacher to write a meaningful or helpful review.
Some websites where readers post book reviews require a minimum length, which gives you room to say whether you enjoyed the book and why. One or two sentences will do the trick. There is no obligation to write any more than that if you don’t wan to.
If you do want to write more, try these ideas:
Why did you like or dislike the story? Remember that others may like what you disliked, and vice versa, so always try to be kind. Feel free to say a book wasn’t to your taste – and try to identify why – but avoid comments like “this sucked” or “I hated it”. They are not helpful. Similarly, “Best. Book. Ever!” is of limited use if you don’t say why.
What important ideas did the story make you think about? Themes such as love, anger, justice, revenge, pain, fear, overcoming… anything that is relevant to you or to a lot of people are helpful points for comment.
Were the characters likeable? Where they relatable? Why or why not? Was there something we could learn from them?
Did the writer’s style impress you in any particular way? Were there images or word pictures that you liked? Did it make you laugh, or imagine vividly, or feel genuine emotions of one sort or another?
Was it easy to read and understand, or did you have to really work at it?
What other kinds of people might appreciate the book? Think about interests, age group, and genres or categories here.
Remember that every book is unique, so some things will be more
Writing about ideas like these will help you to write a review that is interesting in itself, and will encourage the right readers to choose that particular book. In that way, you’ll help both the author and prospective readers at the same time.
This will also help you to avoid retelling or summarising the story and giving spoilers that might put prospective readers off or make them feel as if they no longer need to read the story to find out what happens.
I really enjoy the story of Beowulf. I read it with my Year 9 students in English, and we explore the ways in which the poetry and storytelling are similar or different to the ways in which things are done now.
That’s why I was excited to learn of the existence of The Seafarer, another AngloSaxon poem of similar vintage, which was almost lost to history for all time.
It, too, is written in Old English, and uses similar devices of imagery and poetic narrative to those found in Beowulf, such as kennings and alliteration. This poem, though, reads more like a dramatic monologue than an epic heroic adventure, and is far more religious and deeply spiritual than the secular, wildly fantastic and, at times, quite superstitious story of Beowulf.
What treasures these stories and poems are – snippets of the past that have survived the centuries despite the best efforts of warring tribes and religious authorities alike to destroy everything that stood between them and the power they sought over Britain and her people.
Just to make it clear, this is not a contest that people can vote on. This is an entirely subjective and preference-driven selection process. Book Squirrel knows what he likes, and that’s what he reads. When he reads, he always leaves a review. And on the Book Squirrel blog, he awards gold, silver or bronze acorns instead of a star rating system.
At the end of the year, he chooses the best of the books he has read and reviewed, and gives some nice shiny awards to the wonderful authors who entertained and enlightened him in the past twelve months.
This year, gold and silver awards were given to books in 20 genres, across a variety of age ranges, interests and styles.
While Book Squirrel is fully committed to being as fair and impartial as a squirrel can be, so you can be sure that the winners of Golden Squirrel Awards are excellent reads, and worthy of recognition.
Christmas Eve is one week away, and it’s an unavoidable deadline for buying gifts. If you’re stuck wondering what to buy for the book lover in your life this Christmas, here are some great suggestions.
A voucher or gift card from their favourite bookstore. In this case, vouchers are not impersonal or thoughtless: the greatest joy for an avid reader is browsing a bookstore and choosing their next escape. If you wanted to add a personal touch, you could always wrap the voucher with a nice bookmark or some chocolate.
Alternatively, you could create a voucher of your own, gifting them an expedition to the store where you accompany them and buy whatever book they choose. This would definitely make it more personal, and give you an opportunity to spend some time together too.
An assortment of their favourite reading snacks. Coffee, tea, nuts, chocolates and candy go very nicely together into a box or hamper with a note or card that says ‘For while you are reading!’
If they grind their own coffee at home, some freshly roasted coffee beans will always be a hit.
A cosy blanket to snuggle in while reading.
Reading time! Often, readers are kept from their books by the demands of life. A voucher that promises two or three uninterrupted hours of reading time while you mind their kids, walk their dog, cook dinner for their family or clean their house for them is a great way to show your love and appreciation for them. Keep in mind, though, that if you choose this option, you need to keep that promise or you will have a very sad reader on your hands!
A subscription to Audible. Busy people who love books will often greatly enjoy and appreciate being able to listen to great books while they do other things. They even get their first audiobook free! If they already have a subscription, you could supplement that by gifting them with extra credits.
I hope you have found these gift suggestions helpful. Is it wrong to also hope that my own family and friends are reading them?
More than a year ago, I began my book review of Eric Tanafon’s fabulous historical paranormal fantasy novel ‘Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head’ with this paragraph: “Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.”
There is something incredibly magical about that moment when a writer’s words take my breath away. It doesn’t happened as often as one might like, but it has happened to me twice in the space of a week.
Once was when reading Cortney Pearson’s steampunk mystery ’The Perilous In-Between’. The second was when reading Bridget Collins’ historical fantasy novel ’The Binding’.
All three books are exquisitely written, full of incredible imagery, rich and imaginative world building, and powerful writing that make the reader’s emotions and mind soar.
Proudly, two of those books are by independent authors, published without the support of big traditional publishing houses and the budgets that the other enjoys. But if you picked up all three, and read them, you’d be pushed to know which was which if you were using the quality of writing or production as your yardstick. You’d only know by looking for a publisher’s imprint.
It is true that there are some rubbish books produced by independent authors who don’t bother having their work edited, proofread or produced properly. It is also true that there are also some rubbish books published traditionally. I’ve picked up a few books in my time that have, in all honesty, made me wonder exactly how they got published at all. Other people may think they are wonderful — and they are welcome to them.
And that is exactly my point. What makes a book ‘brilliant’ is highly subjective, and people will have many and varied reasons for the choices they make. Even so, the assumption that traditionally published books are of superior quality is becoming less and less valid as time goes on.
It’s fair to say that independent publishing has come a very long way, and the industry has become quite proficient in setting and achieving very high standards.
If you’re not reading Indie authors, you’re missing out on both discovering some incredible talent and reading some brilliant books.
Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written.
There’s just one problem with that: there was no balcony.
There. Never. Was. A. Freaking. Balcony.
In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window.
I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today.
Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.
Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.
It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right.
It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.