Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve:
What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing
by Ben Blatt
Using data analysis, Ben Blatt analyzes bestsellers, fan fiction, and beloved classics to answer questions about what makes “good” writing and what makes books sell. He begins by tackling common writing advice (ex. Should you really avoid -ly adverbs while writing), but also takes a look at everything from what makes a successful opening line to whether you can tell who wrote “most” of a co-authored book based on the writing style and word choices. Some of the points Blatt makes tend to the obvious (The more famous you are, the bigger your name is on the cover of your books), but he also provides a lot of new insight into what makes books work.
The Meaning of Everything:
The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
by Simon Winchester
When the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first commissioned, it was expected to take three years to complete; it took seventy. This is the story of how the most comprehensive and accurate dictionary of the English language came into being. Though much of the work was done by scholars (Tolkien helped work on some of the “w” entries!), the dictionary would not have been possible without the help of the public, who voluntarily mailed in words and where they had read them, so the makers of the OED could find the earliest use of every word in English. Reading about a dictionary might sound dry, but the history of the OED is actually quite interesting, and Winchester helps it come alive.
The Professor and the Madman:
A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
by Simon Winchester
The Professor and the Madman takes a closer look at two key figures in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary: James Murray, who headed the project for many years, and Dr. William Chester Minor, an American Civil War surgeon who was one of the top volunteer contributors of words. He mailed in thousands of quotations from his reading…all from an asylum for the criminally insane. Part biography, part history of the dictionary, this book shows how words and reading can connect us all. (Also sold under the tile The Surgeon of Crowthorne.)
A Gentle Madness:
Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
by Nicholas A. Basbanes
Rather than discussing the writing of books. A Gentle Madness tackles collecting books…something many bibliophiles will strongly relate to. Babanes chronicles the passion that drives some people to go to any lengths to acquire rare books or simply books they’re interested in, which, incidentally, is how some libraries were founded. A must-read for anyone proud of their own book collection or anyone simply interested in books.