Susie Dent: Books that changed my life
Susie Dent is Britain’s most-loved word expert, and has appeared in the Countdown’s “Dictionary Corner” since 1992. She shares three impactful reads
Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier
This was the first book that really stopped me in my tracks. I was a convent girl of around 14, and lapped up its romantic but melancholy story of the twilight world between childhood and adolescence.
I’ve never found as acute a description of longing as I did here, and for many things: for the mysterious chateau, for love, and for freedom. It is an eerie and dreamy book.
What adds to the magic is that this was the only story that Fournier wrote—he died on the front line in the early months of the First World War.
Buy Le Grand Meaulnes on Amazon
The Oxford English Dictionary
If I could take just one book to a desert island it would (of course) be the complete Oxford English Dictionary—all 20 volumes. It may sound predictable, but the OED is anything but.
In its pages you’ll find comedy, passion, tragedy, and thousands of hidden stories. Even the simplest of words have had quite a journey—“nice”, for example, has gone from meaning “stupid” to “pleasant”.
Add to that a host of words that have inexplicably disappeared when—to my mind—we could really do with them, and you have entertainment forever.
Among words hidden in its corners are “apricity” (the warmth of the sun on a winter’s day) and “bellycheer” (good food).
And which of us hasn’t met an “ultracrepidarian”: one who loves to talk about something they know nothing about?
Buy the Oxford English Dictionary on Amazon
Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman
The graphic novels Maus and Maus II by the American cartoonist Art Spiegelman are not easy reads, but they’re important ones.
They’re really a tale within a tale, in which the narrator interviews his father about his experiences of the Holocaust and his liberation from a concentration camp. Here the Nazis are drawn as cats, and Jews are mice.
Overarching it all is a haunting tale of a son’s relationship with his broken father.
Given that German has always been my first love, it felt necessary to read these books. Spiegelman takes the unspeakable and gives it an immediacy I’ll never forget.
Buy Maus I & II on Amazon
Banner credit: Stewart Williams
Interesting Stories About Curious Words (£14.99, John Murray) and Roots of Happiness (£16.99, Puffin), both by Susie Dent, are available now
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