Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught Words 101

Today I’m linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for their weekly feature, Top Ten Tuesday! This week’s prompt is “top ten books that would be on my syllabus if I taught X 101.

This prompt is particularly apt now because I started college classes this week! EEEK. I mean, I’ve attended dual-credit classes before, but I’ve never been a full-time college student. IT IS EXHILARATING AND INTIMIDATING ALL AT ONCE.

Anyway, if I could teach any class ever, I would teach one about words! I LOVE WORDS. In this class, my students would learn about grammar, vocabulary, writing, stories, etymology, the history of books, and much, much more! AHHH I WOULD LOVE TO TAKE THIS CLASS. I DESIGN THE BESTEST CLASSES, OBVIOUSLY.


1. The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson

OMG BILL BRYSON IS SO FREAKING FUNNY. I have never laughed out loud while reading a book about language before… OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. His nonfiction works are crammed full of information, and they’re hilarious!

frindle2. Made in America:
An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
by Bill Bryson

This was a really interesting look at how the English language evolved in America. I loved the comparisons between UK and US vocabularies!

3. Frindle by Andrew Clements

BECAUSE NEW WORDS ARE CREATED ALL THE TIME. I would include this book because it shows that words aren’t created by a Highly Official Committee of Wordiness – ordinary people create them, and then others start imitating them!

4. The Professor and the Madman:
A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

OMG THIS BOOK WAS SO WEIRD. And really, really good! The two men in charge of creating the OED worked together for years and years and years, but did not meet one another in person until several decades had passed… because one of them was in prison. For murder. And he hadn’t told the other man. Like I said, this was such an odd book… and a really interesting look at life in the Victorian era!a step from heaven

5. A Step from Heaven by An Na

An Na’s use of language in this book is absolutely freaking wonderful. Her protagonist, Young Ju, moves from South Korea to California, and the novel follows her from age four to age eighteen-ish. Along the way, she learns English, and her understanding of language grows by leaps and bounds. This is BRILLIANTLY portrayed through Na’s use of vocabulary and sentence structure. OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, I LOVE THIS NOVEL SOOOO MUCH.

6. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English
by Patricia T. O’Conner

This book is so so so so helpful! It’s funny, down-to-earth, practical, and packed with examples of what to do… and what not to do. There’s even a special section about grammar on the Internet!Matilda[1]

7. Matilda by Roald Dahl

I wanted to include a book about the power of stories on this list… this one’s my favorite!

8. Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter

Technically, this is a kid’s book, but “how to” manuals for kids are so much better than those for adults, aren’t they?! I find them to be funnier, much more creative, et cetera. They’re so helpful when you’re trying to learn the basics of a particular subject! hurt go happy

9. Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

This is a story about – among many other things – American Sign Language! I think it’s important to understand the validity of all forms of communication: Speaking, writing, sign language, and more.

10. Misery by Stephen King

If you want to understand the relationship writers have with their creations – or if you already understand it and just want to find someone else who knows that feeling – then you need to read this book. IT IS SO SO SO GOOD.


What class would you love to teach? (What class do you think you’re QUALIFIED to teach?!) And which books would you require your students to read as part of that class?


About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
This entry was posted in Books and Reading!, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught Words 101

  1. moosha23 says:

    Wow wow wow this list is superb! Love the one about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary…that is so bizarre – and scary and GAH. Words are so interesting!

  2. Cait @ Paper Fury says:

    I think I would totally be qualified to teach a class on…BOOKS ABOUT CREEPTASTIC FAIRIES AND MONSTERS. MWHWHAHHA. (Okay, I do read an unreasonable amount of creepy books, but I loooove them and #noregrets) But otherwise, pfft. I can’t even remember anything I read. OH OH I DO SO LOVE A STEP FROM HEAVEN. You give awesome recommendations. 😉 I read this book once about a Mowgli-type kid who was living with dolphins all her life and it did the same kind of style, where she started off in HUGE letters and not knowing much…and then developed her language as the story progressed. I LOVED IT. I just can’t remember the title anymore dangit.

    • nevillegirl says:


      Aww, I’m glad you liked it so much! ❤

      The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse, isn't it? I've heard a lot about that book… I thought I'd added it to my Goodreads TBR already, but I checked just now and I guess not. *adds to remind herself to finally get around to reading it*

  3. What a cool idea for your list this week!

  4. This was awesome. I feel qualified to teach “how to find trivia” or possibly “How to trip over and spill things as awkwardly as possible. In all seriousness though, I would love to teach a social studes course or an english class,but I would want the kids to be very polite. My three favourite classes (currently) are AP human geography, AP English composition, and AP Environmental science, so I would love to teach one of those, but a ‘books and the human psyche’ would be fun to teach too.

  5. I actually used to teach a class called Writing for Expression, History, and Legacy that was for senior citizens who wanted to write about their lives — it was less about the technical art of writing and more about the health benefits of telling your stories, as well as the value of leaving something for the future. I was encouraged *not* to issue any “required reading” as some of the students were on fixed incomes and hesitant to buy textbooks, but I used a lot of handouts/examples from “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg (people loved or hated it, a sentiment which I share), “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, and even “Wild Ink: Writing for Young Adults” by Victoria Hanley because it has a *great* exercise I call the “first experience inventory” that asks you to recall the first time significant events happened to you — the first time you realized someone was lying to you, the first time you fell in love, the first time you grew apart from a friend, etc.

    If I were to teach a class now, I think I would like it to be on Fairy Tales. I’d have to spend some time thinking about the official texts, and how to balance “original” tales with retellings. I think Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment” would be a must, along with samplings from Grimm, Anderson, Perrault, and the Arabian Nights. Probably also something about Disney, since that’s how most people are introduced to fairy tales in our culture.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ooh, that class sounds AMAZING! I would totally take that class, senior citizen or not. 😛

      And OMG FAIRY TALES. YES. I would love to teach that class… or attend it! 🙂

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