Friday Reads: Fun with Reference Books


“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 


If you think reference books by definition are dry, academic type tomes with small print and fat bindings, give me a couple minutes here.  I’ll show you some fun ones.

We have the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations and in it I found these quotes: “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” Can you believe Abraham Lincoln said that?  And “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” I can believe Mae West said that.  This little book is full of amusing quotes organized by subject, just the thing if you want to lighten up a presentation or impress your friends.

In Book Lust to Go:  Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers, librarian Nancy Pearl recommends great armchair travel books, both fiction and non-fiction.   Many times, patrons have asked me to recommend books to read before they go on vacation, to help get them in the mood.   Going to Niagara Falls this fall?  Nancy has several suggestions, including The Falls, a novel by Joyce Carol Oates.

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase, “Seven Wonders of the World,” but fess up, can you actually name them?  If you hesitated, I recommend flipping through, What Are the Seven Wonders of the World? And 100 Other Great Cultural Lists Full Explicated.  Then you can ace trivia night at Liam Maguire’s this winter.

If you are the type to toss salt over your shoulder to ward of bad luck, you may be interested in Witches: an encyclopedia of paganism and magic.  In there, you’ll discover Alomancy is the term for your salty ways and that the term’s first meaning is an ancient practice of divination.  So, toss the salt to be safe this Halloween, then read the pattern of sprinkled grains to see what your future holds.

You have probably seen tattoos frequently, ranging from a single small flower to ones covering much of the body.   People from most cultures around the world have tattoos and they are popular in advertising in the U.S. now.  But, have you seen eyelids tattooed with open eyes or a balding person with a tattoo of a lawn mower at the hairline?  Read all about the many varieties of joke tattoos in Inked: Tattoos and Body Art Around the World.  Maybe it is just the inspiration you need to get a moustache tattooed to your index finger, so you can hold it under your nose when you’re feeling jaunty.

Are you a political junkie?  You may want to consult Hatchet Jobs and Hardball:  the Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang to expand your vocabulary with some fun terms such as: bafflegab (confusing or unintelligible speech), Foggy Bottom (the U.S. Dept. of State, because it is located in the district by that name) or dope story (speculative or false information planted or leaked).   Each entry tells you where and when the terms were first used.  Dope Story, for example, was first used by the New York Times on January 3, 1929 when former governor Alfred E. Smith said, “When you get these reports that I’m going to take all kinds of jobs; that I’m going to be a baseball player on the Giants; why, I wish you wouldn’t come running up here to ask me about them because you’ll know there’s nothing to all these dope stories.”

I could go on, but hopefully you now know there is more variety to reference books than you may have first thought.  Yes, we have lots of encyclopedias, directories, gazetteers, catalogues and bibliographies.  Most of them will make you say, “Now that’s interesting!”  and some of them will even make you laugh.

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