Had one of those going through the boxes in the garage days on Saturday. Rediscovered my (small and completely boxed up) vinyl collection and some books I’d thought I’d lost, including my favourite book.
Now, if you’d have asked me what my favourite book was before I rediscovered my favourite book, I would have chosen from half a dozen not–so–surprising novels. Take your pick from Scarlet and Black, Pnin, Catcher in the Rye, Anna Karenin or The Emigrants.
But my favourite book is a piece of non–fiction.
It’s erudite, amusing and, most of all, very useful indeed. My favourite book is the Oxford Language Reference.
If you’re having a Wittgenstein moment and want to spend an idle hour pulling apart sentences, the Reference will help you get started. If you want to check the pronunciation of valet, the Reference is your bible. It’ll even make you smile checking the pronunciation of valet:
Valet—those who employ them sound the t
You may expect the Reference to cater for linguistic sticklers and fusty grammarians; usage nazis with a big nose who know that you simply must not split an infinitive, and that the English Language is under constant threat from political correctness gone mad.
But not at all. It’s an eminently warm, practical and above all modern work. Some of the best sections offer advice on things like writing a letter, using bullet points (“a common feature of many documents since the 1970s [no apostrophe, but you knew that]”) and avoiding sexist usage (—use they and flout the grammatical conventions of the 18th century).
If you’re learning English, or you simply like words, you really should own—and treasure—a copy of the Reference. It’ll keep you in bedtime reading for years.