Being a science and medical writer at my day job, I often end up spending more time researching an article than I do writing it. And after 14 years, I’ve come to relish the research phase. When else can I so freely indulge my inner knowledge hound?
One of the greatest joys of researching is discovering unusual and obscure reference works. If you look hard enough, you’ll find a wealth of information about even the most obscure topic. Here are some of my favorites:
Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia.
Referred to as “the supreme reference on world literature,” this encyclopedia contains 10,000 entries on everything from author biographies to plot synopses.
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.
Because you never know when you’ll need to look up the definition of Narnia.
Why Do We Say It? The Stories Behind the Words, Expressions and Clichés We Use.
A word nerd’s dream come true.
The Compleat Cast of Characters in Literature.
It features 8,000 entries from all literary genres.
Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World.
A reference book devoted to explaining the varieties of hand gestures in 82 countries.
Who's Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists, and Non-Theists.
They have those Who’s Who
books for everyone.
TV Sets: Fantasy Blueprints of Classic TV Homes.
Features “extrapolated” blueprints from shows such as “The Brady Bunch” to “The Addams Family”: “Incredibly, all the plans are drawn to be architecturally feasible; that is, one could actually build from them.”
The Order of Things: Hierarchies, Structures, and Pecking Orders.
Explains the orders and classifications in science, religion, history, business, the arts, sports, technology, mathematics, society, and domestic life.
The Macmillan Visual Dictionary: 3,500 Color Illustrations, 25,000 Terms, 600 Subjects.
Billed as, “The only dictionary to allow you to see what you are looking up and to look up what you are seeing.”
Never Coming To A Theatre Near You.
A collection of film reviews from Los Angeles Times
and NPR film critic Kenneth Turan.
The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers.
This reference book features entries on 1,000 interesting numbers. Each entry provides odd little facts that give each number depth and suggest deeper patterns.
Dictionary of Symbols.
A dictionary of 2,500 graphic symbols including each sign’s history, meaning, and classification system.
The History of Underclothes.
A look at undergarments worn by the English over six centuries.
A Dictionary of the Underworld: British & American: Being the Vocabularies of Crooks, Criminals, Racketeers, Beggars and Tramps, Convicts, the Commercial Underworld, the Drug Traffickers.
The title says it all.
A discussion of sexual and non-sexual expressions and allusions in the works of William Shakespeare. This reference book “puts the nudge and wink back in Shakespeare.”
Wye's Dictionary Of Improbable Words: All-Vowel Words And All-Consonant Words.
Keep this one close by when playing Words with Friends.
readers, any unusual reference books you’d like to share?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. She is the author of the writing/editing/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.