Why Reference Books Matter

It is easy enough to look up information on just about anything these days. Many people have a mobile phone within easy grasp, or a tablet or laptop to look up some elusive detail. Search engines have become part of our vocabulary. Our conversations are littered with references to googling something or someone.

Having easy access to information is beneficial in many ways. Sometimes what you find isn’t quite what you were looking for. It may take you off on a winding track, and there can be delights as well as curious discoveries along the way.

But there are times when only a book will do. One of my favourite references is the Reader’s Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary. I found this handsome set in a window of an op shop a couple of years ago. The gold-embossed covers twinkled in the afternoon sun. Before I knew it, someone was climbing into the window display to bring the books out for a closer look. They were dated but still informative.

The Reader's Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary
The Reader’s Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary

The pages are full of diagrams and photos as well as pronunciation keys. Besides standard definitions, there are extra insights available on various subjects. It is easy to slip from one thought to the next throughout the pages of the dictionary. Illustrations add to the understanding of a word. It is encyclopaedic in nature, with historical, geographical and biographical entries.

Sample pages from the dictionary
Sample pages from the dictionary

It is easy to do an internet search on something but these dictionaries remain a handy reference. They appeal to my love of books. The illustrations provide a deeper understanding and context for unusual words.

Do you have a favourite reference book?

[Photo: Reader’s Digest Great Illustrated Dictionary]

8 thoughts on “Why Reference Books Matter

  1. Absolutely… we should not forget IMO that if we rely on Wikipedia, we are relying some anonymous person’s decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Apart from dictionaries (and yours are much more gorgeous than mine) I have a collection of reference books about Australian literature, a good example of how for many years WP ignored Australian authors and their books because from their US PoV they were not ‘notable’ enough. I made a couple of WP pages and edited others and for my trouble had my content removed, so I stopped bothering. The situation is better now, but there’s still a lot missing and even more that’s too scanty to be useful, so I often still rely on my books.
    I was very lucky this week: I went to a book swap at U3A and picked up a copy of Peter Pierce’s illustrated Oxford Literary Guide to Australia. I already had a paperback copy of the revised edition, but the hardback with its pictures is gorgeous. I’m keeping them both:)
    Another one that I use a lot is the PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, and I want to buy my own copy of the PEN Anthology of Indigenous Writing, because I keep having to go to the library to read it. Alas, these books are usually expensive to buy…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lisa, for your thoughts on this post. You are so right – we rely on sources such as Wikipedia but of course someone is editing the material and there may be errors or omissions, or content may simply not be considered ‘worthy’. Books have their limitations as well but at least you can usually be sure of the author.
      I will keep an eye out for the Oxford Literary Guide to Australia – the illustrated version sounds particularly inviting! The PEN Anthology of Australian Literature is a great resource – I like the content about authors plus the sample of their work, and I always feel better informed after reading an entry. I also like Geoffrey Dutton’s ‘Australia’s Greatest Books’ which I’ve spotted at book fairs quite a few times. It is like seeing an old friend when some of these books appear again. Best of luck with tracking down a copy of the PEN Anthology of Indigenous Writing – another excellent reference book for the shelf.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The 1967 edition of Reader’s Digest Complete Book of the Garden. It was a hidden gem I picked up years ago at the Spring Library book sale. It has never stirred me in the wrong direction 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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