Book Review Tuesday

Book Review for The Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms and Literary Quotations for Readers and Writers by David Grambs


While crafting a research paper or a creative writing assignment, do you ever find yourself stumped on a perfect descriptive word? Does it ever feel frustratingly out of your grasp? If you are like me, thesauri and dictionaries can be a useful tool to help pull you out of the word blank mire, but these resources can only go so far; if I’m in search of a word to describe “light,” yet don’t know exactly what kind of “light” I’m looking for, a thesaurus can be limited. Terms such as “sunny” or “bright” are familiar, even overused, synonyms. But what about more nuanced words like “twinkling” or “shady?” Both describe “light” in vastly different ways.

While this resource has been around for a while, I continue to find it especially valuable in my academic and personal pursuits. David Grambs’ The Describer’s Dictionary (W.W. Norton and Company, 1993) is a writer’s dream, dividing words by subject: Things, Earth and Sky, Animals, and People. From there, the categories further narrow so you can search for items such as shapes, climate, even coiffures. Instead of definitions, Grambs provides us with related literary quotes on the left of each page as well as grouping similar words together in the list. As I enthusiastically read through this, I found myself coming up with more words and creating my own personal lists. Which leads me to a minor quibble; the book is by no means comprehensive. I almost wish that the quotes had been dropped to fit in more word lists. The color section could have been a lot longer than a mere twelve pages, seven if you discount the pages with multiple quotes for the same words. I would have liked to see a much longer work, perhaps with illustrations (ie, color swatches, images of patterns, face shape drawings beside the corresponding descriptive words) so you can choose the word that more closely matches what is in your head. Grambs does have a newer edition out (1995), so perhaps I will take a look at it to see if any updates have been made.

In short, I find this a unique resource for physical descriptions. It is suited for writers, but just about everyone can find a word of worth in this practical work.

The library call number for this item is PE1591 .G67 1993.

-Melody Steiner, Access Services

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