Ten books on an editor’s bookshelf


1.   The Language Instinct (Steven Pinker)
I credit Steven Pinker as the person who first made me think differently about language. I had always been interested in language but this book made me decide that I wanted to know more, and was what led me to my degree in linguistics and, ultimately, to where I am now. This book is readable (a very important quality in the realm of linguistics), informative and highly entertaining.

2.    Practical English Usage (Michael Swan)
Every editor’s (and English teacher’s) bible. Nuff said.

3.    Sound Foundations (Adrian Underhill)
Phonology is my main linguistic drug of choice so any book on the topic gets me going (and there are many others on my bookshelf), but this one makes phonology so accessible that I think it’s a must for budding linguists and English teachers alike. Teaching pronunciation will never be the same again!

4.    Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Lynne Truss)
Lynne Truss is one of the people who actually lives up to the editor’s stereotype of never leaving the house without a red pen in your handbag and a grammar rule on the tip of your tongue – and she’s written a whole book about it. Billed as ‘the zero tolerance approach to punctuation’, Eats, Shoots & Leaves gives countless examples of punctuation gone wrong, and could provide you with ample material for a humorous take on error correction in the classroom.

5.   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
This is the first book on my list that probably counts as ‘pleasure’ rather than ‘business’, and I’ve included it here because I like its style. This book is the first of a trilogy, called the Millennium series, and all three are on my bookshelf. There’s a tragic story behind the series as the author died of a heart attack soon after delivering the manuscripts of the books to his Swedish publisher. I think these circumstances probably contributed to the way the books were edited – or not edited, as seems the case. Other people I’ve spoken to who’ve read the series have commented that they felt the books needed a ‘jolly good edit’ but, for me, the fact that they appear largely unedited adds to their charm. I also like the way they’ve been translated (from the original Swedish) into English – in places the translation is quite awkward, which gives the modern crime thriller a softer, old-fashioned edge.

6.    The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Another ‘pleasure’, this is on the list because it is (and will always be) my favourite book ever. My copy is a very well thumbed 1968 edition which has a series of maps of Middle Earth at the beginning and it smells just like an old bookshop – delicious!

7.   Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford)
This is a great ‘party book’ – visitors always want to pluck it off the shelf and look up the meanings of the places where they live, and it can start off some interesting discussions. Lots of the place-names originate from Old English landowners with colourful names but some are more entertaining – like Groombridge meaning ‘bridge where young men congregate’ – and give a comic historical insight into the places themselves.

8.    Scrabble ® Dictionary (Collins)
The ultimate Scrabble geek’s guide book, this was a present from a friend who ‘saw it and thought of me’. I’m taking that as a compliment!

9.    Wikinomics (Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams)
You don’t have to be a techie to enjoy this; it’s an enlightening read for anyone who’s interested in anything to do with the web, especially the social media revolution and how online collaboration is changing the world. Inspiring stuff for an online Commissioning Editor!

10.    The Essential Spike Milligan (compiled by Alexander Games)
A fun book to finish off the list. I was introduced to Spike Milligan as a kid, with poems such as On the Ning Nang Nong and The Land of the Bumbley Boo – featuring fantastical creatures and a whole host of made-up words – which really appealed to my love of language even then. I think the thing that I like most about Spike Milligan is that he could see a funny side to most situations. One of the most famous examples of his black humour is a drawing he did of a group of pallbearers, carrying a coffin towards an open grave. A little speech bubble is coming from the coffin and it says, “I told you I was ill.”



  • I learned something about the books and a lot about you from this list Lucy. Very interesting and a nice balance of ‘work and pleasure’.

    Posted by Jackie Stolliday on March 09th 2011

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