Reviewed by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
the Describer’s dictionary: A Treasury of Terms and Literary Quotations
by David Grambs
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
409 pages, Reference
Roget’s Thesaurus and I never much got along. When I am sure there is a better word for something than the one in my head, it never agrees. When I can’t think of the word I want or one even close, it isn’t any help at all. So I didn’t hold out much hope for the Describer’s dictionary, when my fellow author, JayCe Crawford recommended it.
The reason I like this reference so much is that if I don’t find exactly what I’m looking for, I may very well find something I like better. Further, this is the kind of reference you can actually read. Open this book to any chapter (segment) on, say, “hair”. You’ll find several quotes about “hair” that are entertaining and may stir your own creative juices before you even get to the part that that lists adjectives for all kinds of– ahem– tresses, locks, strands, shocks, hanks, coils, tendrils, curls, ringlets or swirls.
My favorite was this:
The skinny girl with fiery, chopped-off red hair swaggered inside, and stopped dead still, her hands cocked on her hips. Her face was flat, and rather impertinent – Truman Capote, Other voices, Other Rooms
As you can see, this offering gives an author an idea of how the best might have handled the same problem she faces. Many are mightily amusing.
So, if you don’t just keep reading instead of handling the problem at hand, you might eventually find adjectives for some 96 possible “hair situations” and one of them will likely be exactly what you need.
Then there are usually several descriptive words under each possibility. So for “oiled hair” you will find, “greased, slicked, slick, pomaded , brilliantined, plastered, pasted”. You can choose one, let one speak to you so you can come up with a simile or metaphor, or move on down the list to see if there’s something more to your liking.
When I get into a writing snit, it’s often this book to my rescue.
About the reviewer: Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author of This is the Place, an award-winning story about a young journalist who writes her way through repression into redemption.
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