Feel free to browse and peruse any of the listed books, even if I have listed them under a seemingly unhelpful heading. After all, we find in a book not what someone else had meant us to find, but what we meant for us to find (with the author’s help).
Indeed, as Alberto Manguel puts it in A Reader on Reading:
No book is entirely innocent of connotations, and every reader reads not only the words on the page but the endless contextual waves that accompany his or her very existence.
Happy contextual surfing.
Books on Figures of Speech:
- The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase, Mark Forsyth, (2013, 200 pp). A humorous and loose introduction with examples. If you like his writing you may consider his other books, or his blog Inky Fool, where you’ll find his fun language-and-word insights.
- Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase, Arthur Quinn, (1982, 100 pp). A gentle, slightly more formal, introduction with examples.
- A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Richard Lanham, (1969, 200 pp). Lists the different names for figures of speech and provides a brief definition&discussion for each.
- Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, (1965, 575 pp). A lengthy overview of Rhetoric, perhaps dry, and perhaps classical, but well-written and illuminating if given a chance.
- Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, (1980, 275 pp). Discusses types of metaphor in-depth.
Book of Quotations:
- Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, John Bartlett, Edited by Geoffrey O’Brien, (18th ed. 1450 pp). Collection of quotations from ancient Egyptians to present day authors.
Books on Writing (with explicit hints):
- The Elements of Style, by William I. Strunk and E. B. White, often referred to as Strunk & White, (1959, 100 pp). The vade mecum of writing books.
- Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, Clair Kehrwald Cook, (2006, 350 pp). Exactly what the title says; particular, hands-on, and helpful.
- Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark, (2008, 275 pp). The first 100 pages especially teach the basics of improving any piece of writing. Occasionally draws some inspiration from rhetorical elements and figures of speech (but then very few writing books don’t).
- Wonderbook, The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Jeff Vandermeer, (2013, 350 pp). Any visually minded person (person, not writer!) should feast his or her eyes on this book. If you didn’t want to write before, you might just after a few pages.
- Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing The Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (1998, 200 pp). In particular, Chapters 7 and 8 on Point of View and Voice are useful. She rewrites the same paragraph from different viewpoints—an exercise worth following along. Also, replete with excerpts and examples of what she says, more so than in any other writing book I’ve encountered.
Books on Writing (mostly inspirational):
- Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury, (1987, 150 pp). An inspirational, biography-sprinkled, fun read.
The lists will extend and multiply as I trawl my library for the best books.
NB: If you found the entries not to be entirely accurate, here’s why.