Top Books for Wordsmiths

Updated: February 24, 2024

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Why would you want to read William Strunk Jr. and EB White’s “The Elements of Style” when there are fantastically fat fiction novels stacked high on your bedside stand? What are you, a literal sadist? Only the most hardcore of grammar hounds will spend their precious few reading hours on a…reread. I mean, let’s be honest. You want to find some books for wordsmiths that will get your lit side grooving. Start here.

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

Written by The Inky Fool author and etymologist, Mark Forsyth. It’s the same etymologist who did a TED Talk titled “What’s a Snollygoster? A Short Lesson in Political Speak,” in case you were trying to track your etymologists. In “The Etymologicon” Forsyth delivers on word origins on both sides of the pond. Perfect for some literary trivia. Even more perfect for pedants.

Wordsmith: A Guide to Paragraphs and Short Essays

In its 7th Edition, “Wordsmith” by Pamela Arlov does something you don’t see in most books on grammar. Here you learn how to structure sentences and pen paragraphs using examples of both. Tons of sentence writing exercises. Reading comprehension passages. It’s got it all.

List of Personal Fiction Recommendations

OK so here’s my little literary secret, the secret of the Whispering Wordsmith of the Woods. I don’t depend on just nonfiction books on grammar to learn about grammar. You shouldn’t either! Go to where your favorite authors work their own wordsmith magic. Some recommendations of the best works by my favorite wordsmiths include:

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut—“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”…”and so it goes”

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson—“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” by Alvin Schwartz—“Don’t you ever laugh as the hearse goes by, For you may be the next to die.”

“Barkskins” by Annie Proulx—“The door closed gently and she could look at the moon, a blood-streaked egg yolk rolling in the shell of sky,” and, “December brought stone-silent days though a fresh odor came from the heavy sky, the smell of cold purity that was the essence of the boreal forest.”

See what’s happening? See how these sounds and symbols sing in literal harmony? What books inspire you to be a better wordsmith?


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