Thursday, 20 May 2010
"What's the most useful book you've ever read and why?"For more Booking through Thursday posts check out the blog here
I'll confess that for a moment after reading what this week's question was about I was thoroughly stumped. I mean I don't read a lot of non-fiction unless all the grammar and verb books that I have for my language studies count so I was pretty stuck for a clue on what could be the most useful book I've ever read.
Another good question is what would actually make a book "useful"? Is it when you've learnt something from it which you didn't know before or is it when it contains things you can actually put into practice?
Because in the case of the first reason I can name two books that I've read in the past 24 hours which mention facts which I didn't know before and they were fiction books.
These may be rather wooly examples but it's what my still sleepy brain can pull together (I *shouldn't* be sleepy since it's nearly 3pm over here but the book I'm about to mention keep me up rather late).
In John Green's An Abundance of Katherines in amongst the footnotes - which were totally awesome I weirdly love footnotes - there was a very interesting mnemonic which could help someone if they felt the inclination to memorise the first 99 numbers of Pi (It's footnote no. 33 at the bottom of pg 63 & 64). Most people wouldn't find that useful, I myself have no urge at this moment to reel off the digits of Pi but I thought it quite a quirky mnemonic and it has the potential to be very useful to a select few people. Even if the book as a whole is not useful to everyone who reads it, it should still be acknowledged as having some use aside from the entertainment & enjoyment factor which is the principle reason for people to read a fiction book.
My second example of a book which has the potential to be useful in the fact-providing quarter is probably quite a surprising one. Pride by Rachel Vincent is not usually the type of book where you'd expect to find useful information but if you happened to tune out your high school biology classes when you studied genetics there is a, albeit very brief and simplistically put, explanation of how people end up with a certain eye colour (Ok I *did* already know about dominant and recessive alleles but for people who maybe didn't know about how someone whose parents both have brown eyes could end up with blue eyes the explanation is actually quite useful).
So those are my rather pitiful examples of Fiction books which are useful in certain ways to certain people but on the point of non-fiction books which tend to be the ones which contain information we can actually put into practice thinking of one book which is more useful than the rest I've ever read even part of, is really quite difficult. Some people would say that cookbooks are very useful because obviously you're making what the book is describing but despite the fact I own several cookbooks I rarely use them because I'm not much of a cook so those books are therefore not very useful to me except if I want to make myself feel very hungry by looking at the pictures.
Another type of book which I have read which is considerably more useful to me are those self-help writing books which suggest characterisation tips, methods to help with plotting and world-building, editing and publishing advice etc. Although I wouldn't like to try and copy exactly the methods given in one particular book I do find these books useful in sparking the old grey matter into finding the methods that work for *me*. Now I don't talk about my writing very much since it never really gets far past planning (I can plan and plot for England but never really seem to finish any stories) but since my favourite genres are fantasy, historical fiction and YA realism those are the areas where my story ideas would end up in and although I haven't as yet read any books which give tips on writing YA or historical fiction I have read the rather helpful book by Orson Scott Card called How to Write Science-Fiction and Fantasy (link goes to the Goodreads page for the book). I know Card is primarily a Sci-Fi author but I found the sections on Fantasy World building to be very useful and some of the other methods he talked about gave me much food for thought. So despite the fact that my writing is currently rather pitiful I do find writing advice books to be some of the most useful non-fiction books I own.
Finally to talk about the book(s) which I find to be universally useful although there's no way in hell I'll ever read all of one. A Dictionary. No joke I think dictionaries are the most useful books on the planet - I find myself distracted whenever I look through my French Dictionary for one particular word as I always find at least 5 other words that I didn't know and thought to be freaking awesome. If I owned a proper English Dictionary I would probably be flicking through it for brilliantly interesting words whenever I could as I'm one of those people who find obscure and weird words really cool (Yes Nerd am I). I wish sometimes I spoke more languages so I could have the excuse of needing more language dictionaries to look through when I wanted to know how to say a particular word in Japanese for instance. Maybe in the future once I have my own house and library (I must have one or I will never be satisfied) I shall try and teach myself some more languages and build up a collection of dictionaries to pore over whenever I felt the urge.
So there you go, my *very* rambling thoughts on useful books. Lord knows if it makes sense to anyone other than myself but it was really fun to think about. If anyone has opinions on what books they find to be useful do leave me a comment below :)
Now I must go do some work as my afternoon is disappearing.