Books about the English language with a dash of humour

Being a booklover and an avid reader, I occasionally enjoy reading and learning more about the English language. I’ve read some great books on the topic over the years and thought I’d share some of them with you below. Let’s start with two Australian books for those with a general interest in the origins and future direction of our English language.Aitch Factor by Susan Butler

The Aitch Factor, Adventures in Australian English by Susan Butler (Australian)
Susan Butler is the Editor at Macquarie Dictionary, having started there in 1970 as a Research Assistant. Butler regularly engages the community collecting new words, and providing advice on the correct spelling and usage of a variety of words. She’s even been consulted by politicians and has some funny and interesting anecdotes to share.

According to the blurb: “The Aitch Factor is the perfect book for word warriors, punctuation pedants and everyday lovers of language,” so you can’t go wrong.

Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History by Kate Burridge (Australian)
Kate Burridge is a Professor of Linguistics here in Australia, and covers many categories in her book, some of which include: slanguage on the move, shocking words, word origins, and pronunciation on the move. Burridge takes an amusing and insightful look at how the meaning of a word – as well as its pronunciation – can change over time, and I found it fascinating and educational.Gift of the Gob Kate Burridge

As in The Aitch Factor, Gift of the Gob comes with a dash of humour and looks at the language of the past and where the English language is taking us in the future.

Literally the Best Language Book Ever – Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again by Paul Yeager
Hopefully the title of Paul Yeager’s book captured your interest immediately, but if it didn’t, perhaps some of the chapter titles will hook you in: Illogical Words and Phrases, Excessively Trendy Words and Expressions, and Inarticulate Language.

Yeager writes about the cliches, buzz words and double speak that irritate him on a regular basis, and I was laughing out loud and wanting to share them with anyone who happened to be close by.

Amidst the humour, buzz words and misused phrases it’s hard not to learn something along the way. I realised I was guilty of committing one of his grammar errors early on, but was determined to press on, ever hopeful that would be the one and only offence.

Literally the Best Language Book Ever is a terrific read, and makes the perfect coffee table book.

Between You and Me by Mary NorrisOne book in this genre I haven’t read yet is the bestselling book from Lynne Truss called Eats, Shoots & Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. According to the blurb: “in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled.”

This definitely sounds like a book for me, but I haven’t read it yet in the fear that it could be a little too serious. If you’ve read it, what did you think?

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris is another on my radar at the moment, has anyone read it? Are there any in this genre you’d like to recommend?

Chatting with Toni Jordan

toni-portraitAs much-loved Australian novelist Toni Jordan sees it, some writers have ideas banked up like circling planes waiting for their turn to land, but her creative mind is more like a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed.

Well, that’s some impressive tumbleweed that’s rolling along on the breeze!

AdditionIn her debut novel, Addition, Toni Jordan introduces us to Grace, a woman who counts everything to hold her world together. Jordan provides a fresh take on the romantic comedy and a unique perspective on living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in a novel that is charming and enlightening.

Another quirky young woman takes centre stage in Fall Girl, about a professional con artist who falls for her mark. The novel is woven with humour and intrigue, making it a lively and compelling story.

Jordan departs from the chick-lit genre in her most recent novel, Nine Days, delivering touching snapshots of Australian family life. It begins in a working- class suburb of Melbourne on the eve of World War 2 and bounces between decades, telling the story of the Westaway family. Each chapter is dedicated to a crucial day in the life of a different member of the family. Jordan manages to give each character a fresh and authentic voice that makes this story a beautiful and memorable read.

So, what’s next? Toni Jordan visits Boomerang Books to tell all.

JF: Welcome, Toni Jordan! You’ve written best-selling romantic comedies – Addition and Fall Girl and a touching historical family drama in Nine Days. What can we expect from your next novel?

TJ: I’ve been trying for about two years to write something a bit more serious, along the ‘touching’ vein. But it’s not happening (or at least, not very well). So it’s another romantic comedy—a kind of sexy romp/satire thingee. I’m amusing myself, at any rate.

JF: You’ve likened your creative brain to a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed. Can you expand on this and explain a little more about the inspiration for your work.

TJ: Yes, this is exactly right! I had these grand ideas for my next novel but on the page it was this lumpen, doughy thing. I’d decided to abandon it and then, while I was on holidays over Christmas, I re-read Anna Karenina. The beginning is amazing: Stiva wakes up on the sofa in his study and wonders why he’s sleeping there instead of in his wife’s bed. Then he remembers that yesterday, she found out he was having an affair with their children’s governess. Awesome. So an idea sprang into my head about this complicated group of couples, all falling in and out of love with each other over the course of a weekend, beginning at the same point.

Nine Days began with the photo on the jacket, of a woman reaching up to kiss a departing soldier through the window of a train. I never thought I’d be one of those people who could write from a photo, and it took a long time but eventually it all came.

Nine DaysJF: I was intrigued by the structure of Nine Days. It is written in first person from the point of view of nine different characters. How did this test you as a writer?

TJ: I was really worried if I could pull this off. The worst thing would be to stuff this up, I think, and have them all sounding the same. The nine of them were very clear in my own head—I knew each of them very well—so I set myself a kind of challenge. My aim was that, if a reader looked at any three sentences that were together in a chapter, they should be able to tell which character it was. I’m still really happy about the way it turned out.

JF: Nine Days jumps back and forth between the decades. Did you write the chapters in the same order that they are presented in the book?

TJ: This is funny—I also teaching creative writing and over the years, a number of students have asked my advice about writing non-chronological narratives. I always told them the same thing: that they should write the story chronologically, then move things around to sit in the order they wanted.

When it came to doing it myself, however, do you think that this is how I did it? No, I didn’t. I found it much easier to conceptualise how the reader would unravel each clue if I wrote it in the order it appears in the book. My advice to all those students was rubbish.

JF: Nine Days was inspired by a photograph of an unnamed young soldier heading off to war on a train, his sweetheart reaching up to kiss him farewell. Has anyone come forward to claim they know the couple?

TJ: We’ve had a few ‘maybe’ people. The most likely is that the photo is actually an aunt seeing off her nephew. But the romantic in me doesn’t want to think about that.

Fall GirlJF: You spoke at the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australasia conference. What advice would you give to aspiring historical novelists?

TJ: I honestly think that research is not as important as emerging novelists think it is. What matters in historical fiction are the same things that matter in any other kind of fiction: a wonderful story about interesting people, well told.

JF: Can you name a few of your favourite historical novels?

TJ: Of course I’m Mantel mad. I also loved Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Possession by AS Byatt, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey and anything by Sarah Waters. One of my former students, Ilka Tampke, has just published her debut novel, Skin. It’s historical fantasy set in iron-age Britain and it’s just wonderful.

JF: Thank you Toni Jordan and good luck with your next story. I can’t wait to read it!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.