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Best books for building vocabulary? Options
NickN
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 12:29:12 PM
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Does anyone have any good recommendations for novels that use sophisticated vocabulary that even the most avid bookworms would find challenging?

I just read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and there must have been at least two words on each page that I had never seen before. His descriptions of a bleak, post-apocalyptic world were so stunning that language itself became a character.
Wolfie
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 1:48:39 PM
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I would like to recommend a few titles, such as "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett(and the sequel, to which I can't remember the name at the moment), where I found a lot of words concerning monks and monasteries, chapels and cathedrals and other words with relation to the house of God.
And perhaps most of all, words of masonry and architecture, for those who are interested in such of course :)
Sarachan
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 3:13:22 PM
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For "language as character" reading, I like anything by W. Somerset Maugham, especially The Razor's Edge. Boy, he can use some big words!
There's also this from Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon:
"Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr'd the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind of Delaware,- the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking'd-floor Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the Ringing lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices..."
And that's not even the end of the first sentence! As is often-times with great writing, it's not necessarily the difficulty of Pynchon's words that makes his work challenging, but rather his unusual usage. Like Faulkner, demanding much of the reader, who receives much from the effort involved.
wordnerd
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 5:10:07 PM
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There's an odd, interesting, compelling book called Little, Big by John Crowley. I am not a big fan of science fiction or fantasy, and this book is not quite either, but a little of both. Amazon's editorial description is this:

Quote:
John Crowley's masterful Little, Big is the epic story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man who travels by foot from the City to a place called Edgewood—not found on any map—to marry Daily Alice Drinkawater, as was prophesied. It is the story of four generations of a singular family, living in a house that is many houses on the magical border of an otherworld. It is a story of fantastic love and heartrending loss; of impossible things and unshakable destinies; and of the great Tale that envelops us all. It is a wonder.


It sent me to the dictionary frequently, and delighted me on almost every page with infrequently used words in well-crafted prose. To give you the faintest idea of some of the unusual words you might find: chesterfield, orrery, extirpated, declivities, rooks, harmonium--any of which might show up on an SAT or GRE. I'm not even close to doing justice to the richness of Crowley's vocabulary.

The book is a lovely diversion and a good vocabulary builder.
Tamara
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 6:45:16 PM
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I'm currently reading Jose Saramago's, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. While I wouldn't necessarily say he uses a sophisticated vocabulary (although he does), it's more that he uses basic words in new and different ways. He tears apart the usual concepts of sentence and paragraph structure and leaves you with long flowing, stream of thought, discussions on the world around and within the main character. Definitely a worthwhile read.
ajmilner
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 7:32:50 PM
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There's a good one-volume book by the late Stuart Berg Flexner titled "Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley" which has derivations and meanings of American words and phrases.
kaliedel
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 7:41:19 PM
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It might be a long book series, but Patrick O' Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels contain a wealth of vocabulary. Much of it details 18th/19th century British naval terms, but there's a lot of culture in the books apart from the seafaring, so I'd recommend it as a great way to expand your English vocabulary.
wordnerd
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 4:02:08 AM
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I have to second kaliedel's recommendation of the Aubrey/Maturin series. Those books are extraordinary! I ration them out for myself--one a year--or I'd consume them all too fast and then not have them to look forward to.
kaliedel
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 3:39:28 PM
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Another one that completely slipped my mind yesterday is "A Confederacy of Dunces," a hilarious novel by John Kennedy Toole. The main character Ignatius is a bit of an idiot savant, but has a wealthy vocabulary and a fascinating grip on history (particularly philosophical history.) It's worth a read purely for the crazy humor.
Sarachan
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 12:42:55 PM
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Hi,
Thanks for the Patrick O'Brian recommendation. Sounds great.
If you're interested in upping your science/health vocabulary, I suggest reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Though I learned a lot more about the FDA and US food policy in general, I now also understand what omega-3's do in the body and the chemical difference between sugar, sucrose, and fructose. d'oh!
krmiller
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 10:38:28 PM
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wordnerd wrote:
There's an odd, interesting, compelling book called Little, Big by John Crowley. I am not a big fan of science fiction or fantasy, and this book is not quite either, but a little of both.


Oh dear, I wonder if I have a skewed idea of what vocabulary words are difficult! I read the first post on this topic and thought "hmm, I don't really read things like that, I like to be able to just sit and read," but Little, Big is one of my very favorite books, and I only remember going to the dictionary once on my first read (for "orrery"). And that was in high school! I also adore Shakespeare and Chaucer (and other writers in Middle English, such as Malory) and don't have to check the glosses often for them. I guess I had nothing to do but read as a child (or at least, nothing I wanted to do) so I built a big vocabulary quickly!
catskincatskin
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:50:57 AM
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Will Self's work. The short story collection Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys is a good starting point, before investing time on the longer novels. His vocabulary can border on the obnoxious.
kaliedel
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 3:46:15 PM
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I would also suggest anything and everything by Ray Bradbury, who in my opinion, belongs on the literature shelf, not the science fiction one (not that there's anything wrong with that.) Farenheit 451 remains an excellent read (and vocabulary-builder), as well as the Martian Chronicles.
Gil
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 5:30:58 PM
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Ulysses, James Joyce.

"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a blow of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

--Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:

--Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding land and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.

-- Back to barracks, he said sternly.

He added in a preacher's tone:

-- For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Christine: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, gents. One moment. A little trouble about those white corpuscles. Silence, all.

He peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Chrysostomos. Two strong shrill whistles answered through the calm.

-- Thanks, old chap, he cried briskly. That will do nicely. Switch off the current, will you?"
Sarachan
Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 1:29:45 PM
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Thank you, Gil, for the Joyce. I hadn't read that passage in years. When I was younger, it just seemed difficult and pretentious; this time I found it funny. LOL! (But, that's for a different topic.....)
Joseph Glantz
Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 9:49:45 AM
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Well, he didn't write novels. But you can't read any of Shakespeare's plays without picking up a few new words.
walirlan
Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 9:50:37 AM

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I've found a very interesting link

HERE
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 9:59:59 AM

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Thanks walirlan - the GMAT-Club looks interesting.

You may have noticed that none of the members who posted in this thread have been around for some years - but I'm sure your comments will be read!
anniepol
Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 1:13:24 PM

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If you need a challenge I would recommend you anything of Wiliam Faulkner's body of work. I am a great admirer his books, I read everything that has been edited in my country in my native language, than I started struggle with the original ones; I have recently complited two of them - The Sound and the Fury and Absalome, Absalome.
After all it's literature of the highest quality.
Jyrkkä Jätkä
Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 2:42:59 PM

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Once again I have to recommend Terry Pratchett. Pick up any book of your choice from his large and remarkable output.
Ifeoluwa
Posted: Friday, October 3, 2014 6:39:48 AM

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I know people have their biases against my dearest and most inspiring book of this decade "Fifty Shades of Grey" but if you look past the amorous and lascivious scenes in the novel, you will find it an educative, literary, linguistic and grammatically innovative piece. infact if you have an e-book device like "kindle reader" or "zo reader", you are set to ace even the most challenging of english exams.

Its filled with words like censorious, concupiscent, feral, ornery, prissy, sequestered,vitrolic, etc.
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