Good books for the Times xwd

Like my previous posting about Times xwd “house style”, this one is under the “tips&tricks” tag. You can use the link to this under ‘tags’ on the right to just see postings with the tag.

Having just suggested 1066 And All That as a crib for the sort of school history studied by older Times xwd setters, I then remembered i_am_magoo’s recommendation of the Hornblower books for naval vocabulary, over at Tony Sever’s RC blog. Then a comment today from 7dpenguin reminded me about another handy book, and so did something in the second championship qualifier published today.

So let’s see if we can build up a list of nifty books. Serious tomes don’t get in – the point is to pick up the necessary knowledge while having fun. That doesn’t mean a book that’s intended to teach is excluded, just that it must entertain as well. The book must be in print too. Add your own suggestions in the comments …

History: 1066 And All That – Sellar and Yeatman.

Other miscellaneous old Brit schoolroom stuff
: Molesworth – currently on offer from Amazon with 1066 and all that – they saw us coming!

Nautical / historical: Hornblower – C S Forrester. Ten books in three omnibus editions from Penguin, each about £10 – The Young Hornblower, Captain Hornblower, Admiral Hornblower.

Bluffer’s Guides: Series of small paperbacks, about 100 pp, which give you light-hearted intros to all sorts of topics.

Language, travel, science, American popular culture
, and whatever he turns his hand to. Anything by Bill Bryson.

Travel, history, food … read your holiday guide books. I have a soft spot for Cadogan guides which give you good coverage of the cultural side without getting too serious about it.

Sport: David Wallechinsky’s Complete Book of the Olympics. Not a huge help for the xwd, but great for finding out what the commentators are on about if they mention someone like Paavo Nurmi or Boris Onishchenko.

Poetry:  Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled which explains iambs, anapaests, trochees and all the others.

Books added to the list much later ….

Nature: Johnson P. Johnson’s The Armchair Naturalist. A short guide intended to help you identify plants and creatures that you might encounter in the British countryside. Sample: The thing to remember about shrews is that they possess extraordinary noses seemingly fixed like drill bits onto chubby bodies, thus giving them the appearance of miniature tunnelling machines.

4 comments on “Good books for the Times xwd”

  1. All good stuff, Peter, in its way, but giving people loads of books to read like this is a bit of a council of despair — you don’t really need to read all the Bluffers and Hornblower to have a good general knowledge base and to enjoy crosswords! Being interested in everything around you is the secret. Incidentally this Church Times crossword editor(also a Times setter) says that a knowledge of the Bible isn’t a bad idea. DFM
  2. I found it interesting to see how many of Peter’s books I had read. 1066 when I gave it to my children after discovering how poor the teaching of history had become; Hornblower as a lad; Bryson and Cadogan since. I was forced to study the Bible as a child.

    I suspect that a grammar school education of the 1950s has been very useful: high standards set and expected; a good all round education and the development of an enquiring mind.

    It was my English teacher that helped me to move from The Telegraph to The Times when I was 15. He gave me two pieces of advice: always read the paper every day before doing the xword – it will expand your general knowledge; when you check something in a reference book such as a dictionary always read and inwardly digest not just what you have looked up but the two entries on either side – same reasoning. Jimbo.

  3. I think the disappearance of Classics from the curriculum creates a problem, as the likes of ‘Theseus’ and ‘Argo’ continue to crop up in cryptic crosswords. I can’t think of an easy way to acquire the relevant basic knowledge, particularly on the Greek side. Tom Holland’s ‘Rubicon’ is an entertaining account of a key period of Roman history, in which several of the ‘big names’ appear.

    Tom B.

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