I have quite strict rules to decide on what makes a good fiction book but how do you decide for non-fiction? Especially given how different many non–fiction books are. Caroline Taggart’s book is a good example.
On paper, a kind of mini-dictionary-cum-glossary of some words which you might know and others you don’t isn’t exactly the kind of thing which has you swiftly reaching for your wallet to buy. It sounds about as much fun as eating sawdust and probably just about as much use too. After all, it doesn’t give a complete list of anything, most words are just part of our ‘intellectual’ (at least) lexicon anyway, and who actually ever reads a dictionary? You ‘dip’ into a reference book like that. You can’t even do this with Taggart’s book as she’s arranged words by them rather than strict alphabetical order.
So why have I rated the book so highly? Because, despite all the above, it is superb quite simply!
Taggart manages an incredibly fine line of not giving too many outlandish words which will never be of any use nor throwing up too many we already know and use all the time. Of course, this will change from person to person but my feeling is that the words she’s chosen are probably about right for each reader. There was no more than a handful out of the 500 which I felt unlikely to ever want to use. About 50% I know and use, another 20-25% I understand to read but wouldn’t necessarily use naturally myself. The remaining quarter to a third are either new to me or words I’ve often wondered exactly what they’re supposed to mean.
This is an ideal ratio. I’ve tightened up my understanding of words I know and the book will remain on my shelf with a pencil alongside to go through again and underline words I’m going to add to my vocabulary. As a professional writer I’m painfully aware of my ‘little darlings’ – words and expressions I use constantly – so Taggart’s book is going to be a useful tool to help me ‘mix it up a bit’ and gain a little more variety.
The icing on the cake is the humour which comes with all this. I get the feeling that Caroline Taggart is a nice person, someone you could have a laugh with, and not someone who you’d find irritating or ‘grammar nazi’ish. I could be entirely wrong, I know, but that’s how her writing feels and that’s the point. She’s not cocky, she doesn’t try to be hilarious. It’s all good-natured, informative, jolly kind of stuff; and as a result Taggart gets the balance right.
So, whether you want to improve your word power, or you’re just intrigued by words which are slightly more complex than our everyday Anglo-Saxon-based lexicon, or you just want something light yet intelligent to dip into – ‘500 Words You Should Know’ is a damned good contender for the spot.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org