Sunday 29 March 2020

Confessions of a Browser

     The internet is the most fabulous research tool available. I’ve used it to learn about Exmoor; riding the rails in the Great Depression; wildlife in Scotland’s Western Isles; lifeboats on the Dutch islands and Gaelic. I wouldn’t deny the help it’s provided for a second. But it gives me a headache.
     That’s not hyperbole. Scrolling through endless links and screens on my computer makes my eyes hurt and my brain feel like porridge. So I go to my books. 

     There’s something intensely soothing about lifting the book off the shelf and then leafing through the pages. It’s tactile. The feel of the paper – be it rough or smooth, matt or shiny – is, for me, an almost instant stress-reducer. Life simply slows down as I turn the pages looking for a word in what has become my favourite dictionary: the Dorling Kindersley Illustrated Oxford Dictionary.

     Of course, there’s a ‘danger’ in this: getting lost and moving from one link to another as new ideas are sparked. The DK, with its excellent illustrations, is wonderful for this. I say ‘wonderful’ because it encourages more soothingly tactile page-turning and world-slowing.
     Yet there’s an even better book for random-link-following and that’s Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I only bought a copy a few months ago and I simply can’t believe I’ve managed to live my life up to now without it. It is the most fabulous collection of unrelated information I’ve ever come across. Opening it up is like stepping into a thousand-storey museum with no floor plan. I love it.

     I could go on listing many other favourites. Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words – who knew the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’ could be so interesting; The New York Public Library Desk Reference – Mr T to Brewer’s Rocky Balboa; The American Vision – a stunning collection of photos of the Great Depression.

     My latest acquisition – and current favourite - is The Lore of the Land, a guide to the folk legends of every one of England’s counties. I bought it for background research for a story I’m planning. I’m sure I could find everything I’m looking for online, but it would only be what I’m expressly looking for. Stroat? Urchfront? Dilworth? Marazion?

     I never would have found them with a mouse click.


Ness Harbour said...

OOh the Lore of the Land...I am looking for something similar but that covers more than just the UK. I am like you. I love the Internet. It is a great starting point but give me books all the time. I like to browse, finding little nuggets that I can slip into my story to add that bit of added authenticity. Nobody will probably ever spot it, but I'll know it is there. Great post. Thank you, Nick.

Penny Dolan said...

Agree, Nick. The magic tech-mouse can't do everything.

Enjoyed this - and off to look through my own shelves. Lore of the Land is exactly the kind of "dipping into" book that's useful for days and nights like these.

Ann Turnbull said...

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is wonderful. And I do so agree with Ness about the little nuggets that add authenticity.

Enid Richemont said...

Brewer's - YES! Collins Rhyming Dictionary by Andrew Motion, too. Now want The Lore of the Land! And Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses, which can still make me giggle at any time.

Andrew Preston said...

Well, I don't buy print newspapers any more. Except for Sunday, that is. I still buy an Observer. A little bit right wing, but anyway. However, with current events, I've been so involved in internet activities, that this morning I needed a rest from screens and clicking on links.

Decided to just read. A book, while I ate my bacon rolls. 2 of them, with onions and mushrooms. 6 days a week it's nailed on healthy eating, muesli, oats, sliced banana as breakfast. Sundays, I let it go a bit.

So, I had a wee scan of the book shelf/piles, and settled on an old enjoyment, Small Island, by Bill Bryson.

Jess Stockham said...

I love this and share that simple pleasure of reading or dipping into a real book. Quite often when browsing the bookshelves I'll come across something I've forgotten about....a real treat! I'm ordering the Lore of the Land and Brewers right now! Thank youx