In a bid to actually write something again, I’m declaring this Non-fiction Week. Each day, I will review a non-fiction book until my enthusiasm wanes after one or two posts.
Because you’re not the brightest bunch, it’s probably worth explaining the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
Put simply, non-fiction has fewer unicorns and elves and is generally poorer for it. Also, the pictures are rubbish.
There are, however, a few non-fiction books that are okay.
Let’s start with this beauty.
Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Probably the most influential reference book on the English language of the Twentieth Century. It’s certainly my favourite reference book, along with the indispensable, 'What rash?'
It’s not often you get a guide that’s not only amazingly helpful but that you can also idly browse for amusement. That’s because Fowler is mad as a fish. And brilliant. Here are a couple of his most famously helpfilarious (that's right, I combined helpful and hilarious into a single word) entries.
paragraph. The purpose of paragraphing is to give the reader a rest. The writer is saying to him: 'Have you got that? If so, I'll go on to the next point.' there can be no general rule about the most suitable length for a paragraph; a succession of very short ones is as irritating as very long ones are wearisome.
split infinitive. The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish.
1. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes.
Welsh "Rarebit". Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.
Good eh? Much better than your average dry, dusty tome.
Another reason I really love this book is the beautiful and poignant preface.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
TO THE MEMORY OF MY BROTHER
FRANCIS GEORGE FOWLER, M.A. CANTAB.
WHO SHARED WITH ME THE PLANNING OF THIS BOOK,
BUT DID NOT LIVE TO SHARE THE WRITING.
I think of it as it should have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullnesses enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied. He had a nimbler wit, a better sense of proportion, and a more open mind, than his twelve-year-older partner; and it is matter of regret that we had not, at a certain point, arranged our undertakings otherwise than we did.
In 1911 we started work simultaneously on the Pocket Oxford Dictionary and this book; living close together, we could, and did, compare notes; but each was to get one book into shape by writing its first quarter or half; and so much only had been done before the war. The one in which, as the less mechanical, his ideas and contributions would have had much the greater value had been assigned, by ill chance, to me. In 1918 he died, aged 47, of tuberculosis contracted during service with the B.E.F. in 1915-16.
The present book accordingly contains none of his actual writing; but, having been designed in consultation with him, it is the last fruit of a partnership that began in 1903 with our translation of Lucian.
If you're after a copy, Burchfield created a third edition in 1996 which was in fact a complete rewrite and, by all accounts, guffier. But in 2009 the first edition was reprinted, so you're probably better off getting that.
Or just do what I did and nick your dad's.