Monday, 11 July 2011

20 reference books you never knew you couldn't live without

 Let's face it.  Reference books are designed to sit on the shelf of your mind, making you feel secure in the knowledge that you have a book somewhere on that subject. You can grab it at any time, and with but a quick flick through the index find the answer you're looking for, so you can come off all smug and correct.  Right?  But all they really do is...well...sit there on your bookshelf taking up space.  And gathering dust.  I mean when was the last time you opened up 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'?
 But there are some seriously cool reference books that just grab you, shake you, and suck your brains out via your eyeballs.  Here's a list, in alphabetical order if no other order, or 20 reference books you never knew you could live without.  And no, the Necronomicon isn't on the list.  As much as we'd like it to be.
 Warning: seriously addictive book list to follow.  Enter at your own peril!

The Atlas of Middle Earth
Everyone loves a good atlas.  Especially of a made-up world.  You will never have to ask for directions again in Middle Earth.  Pub crawl in the Shire?  Quickest way from Weathertop to Isengard?  Average annual rainfall in Mordor?  This atlas will cover none of that, but you can follow the Fellowship day by day, peer at maps that cover the three ages of Middle Earth, and have way more to look at that that classic old poster map of Middle Earth that's been around since hippie-dom.  Karen Wynn Fonstad did several atlases based on fictional worlds, but this is the best, and a must have for Tolkien fans, or just map fiends.  Or both.  Or neither.  Just get it and frighten your visitors with your odd tastes.  What are you waiting for?  Mordor to fall?

 Baldur's Gate Official Strategy Guide
Strategy Guides are the ultimate (analog) reference works for those infernal pc games that eat our minds from the inside out.  Yes, it's cooler to figure it out by yourself and earn that 'Ah Ha!' moment.  But for the rest of us, especially the power gamers that can't miss a single thing the game has to offer, there are the Strategy guides.  Walkthroughs, maps, cheats, weapons and spells lists, whatever floats your boat.  All the info you need, and unlike looking it all up online, it doesn't permamently burn itself on your retina.  My choice of game? Baldur's Gate (and expansions, and BG II and expansions).  Because I like slaying Demogorgon over and over again.  Did I need the reference guide for that?  Well no, but it helps memorizing his stats for bragging rights at conventions.  And for the record, I survived a critial hit from Demogorgon!  Now where's my t-shirt?

 Yep, more maps, coz maps rule!  Inside this seriously oversized coffee-table sized tome are glorious double over-sized page spread of maps of cities of Rennaisance Europe.  Taken from the Civitas Orbis Tettarum published in Cologne in 1572, these are engraved maps contemporary to the Renaissance era, and containing bird's eye views and street maps of European cities, from Galway to Constantinople, from Alexandria to Zurich.  They are large, detailed, lush, and awesome reference material for your inner Dungeon Master.

 Coined by Shakespeare   
Words & Meanings First Penned by the Bard
A list of words coined by Shakespeare?  Hell yeah!  Now Shakespeare didn't invent all the words that appear in this hefty little collection, but he was the first to commit them to paper.  But he is generally credited with adding approximately 1,500 words to the English language, many of which are still in common use.  Others have mutated in meaning from when the Bard first coined the phrase.  Bed-room, for example was originally intended by the Bard to mean a space for sleeping i.e. the space in a bed, as opposed to our present day meaning of a room that contains a bed.  But just try to read through this book, and imagine trying to speak English without the words in this book.  Also contains little quizzes for the super-attentive. 

 Fielding's Guide to Dangeous Places
Attention Diplomats, Journalists, Foreign Business Folk and Information Junkies, this is the book for you.  It's Lonely Planet on steroids for places that Lonely Planet fears to tread.  This book, when it came out, offered invaluable advice as to why particular countries were dangerous, what kind of dangers to expect, the players involved (insurgent groups, corrupt governments, thieving bastards), and advice on how to avoid sticky situations.  My vote for Best Travel Guide Ever in the History of Travel!  Even dated now as it is, it is written with black humour and knowledge earned the hard way. 

 The Wordsworth Dictionary of Drink
Says it all really.  A Dictionary.  Of Drinks.  Alcoholic drinks.  If this book were a red wine, I would describe it as dry, bountiful, full-bodied and one that ages well. 

 The Dune Encyclopedia
A Dune Wiki in a book!  This is an awesome companion piece, compiled by Willis E. McNelly, and illustrated by underground comics legend Matt Howarth (responsible for Those Annoying Post Brothers), this daunting tome is much more that just extra stuff about Dune.  Some of the entries are enthralling stories unto themselves, and while the canon status of the book is in question, the demand for this classic would indicate where the fans stand.  Accept no substitutes!

 A Field Guide to Demons
 At Last!  A guide on which demons live in what kind of habitats for all you demon-spotters out there.  Covering demons and various malevolent spirits from all corners of the world, it also offers dispelling and disarming techniques for each entry, and gives a who's who in different environments.  Belphegor on the cover may look like he's sitting on the toilet, but he is Sloth Incarnate, and a formidable Demon of the Psyche.  Be aware!  Be forewarned!  Behave!!!
 Le Mystere Des Cathedrales  or The Mystery of the Cathedrals
 A vital but confusing old school treatise on how to read the artitecture of French Cathedrals in an Alchemical light, and become enlightened.  Then how to keep it a secret.  Written in a book.  Which is for sale in bookstores.  Publically.  KEEP SILENT
 Japanese School Girl Inferno
 Outrageous Tokyo Teen Fashion Subculture Handbook printed on one of those kinds of shoddy books that tend to break when you open them, but an invaluable colourful tome of Tokyo Teen Fashion starting with the Shinai-weilding Bad Girls of the late '60s to late '70s, right up to the Material Girls of just a few years ago.  A fantastic spotters guide to those crazy Shibuya and Harajuku girls and the stuff they wear, with bonus Must Have Items and Ideal Boyfriends section.  Never be lost again!  Sound like an authority as you discuss the difference between the Ganguro and the Gonguro, and what the ideal boyfriend for the Pajama Party girl would be.  Alba Rosa eat your heart out! 
 Knight  The Medieval warriors Manual
 Everything you needed to know about becoming a Knight in medieval times, including costs for armour, where to crusade, pros and cons of entering a siege, which Chivalric Order is right for you, jousting techniques, medical care on campaigns, mercenary companies active in your part of the world, respecting and protecting damsels, and ultimately leaving a good-looking canopied tomb.  No medieval warrior should be without one. 
 The Languages of Middle-Earth
 Yep, another Tolkien-inspired reference book, this one on the languages that live in Middle-Earth.  An up-to-date English - Elvish/Dwarvish/Hobbit/Rohirrim/Numenorian/Black speech (etc) glossary, the inevitable guide to pronunciation that no-one can quite commit to memory, a guide to the runes and letters, and translated quotations.  Want to learn how to utter the runes carved on the One Ring in the Black Speech of Mordor?  Dare to utter it, it's all in here.  Impress/disturb your friends.  Cooler than Klingon for sure.
 The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City
 Batman has his Gotham.  Superman has his Metropolis.  But the Marvel characters were set in a very real city.  Manhattan. Now, this travel guide to places in New York that have featured in Marvel Comic's decades of history is right here.  Forget Lonely Planet!  Go to Brooklyn Bridge to see where Gwen Stacy was thrown to her death by the Green Goblin.  Having a hard time finding Doctor Strange's Sanctom Sanctorium? Want to show those punks on Yancy Street what's what?  Wanna visit the place where Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson were married?  They are real places, or inspired by real places for the most part, and this guide will lead you right there, or close enough that you will feel like you're there.  The coolest way to see Manhattan.  Also the home of the (very real) Marvel headquarters, which you can visit for real.  For those who need to do stuff for real.
 The Otaku Encyclopedia
An Insider's Guide to the subculture of Cool Japan
 Otaku rejoice!  'Moe' is explained in (kind of) plain English!  Learn the disturbing secret behind Kigurumi cosplayers!  Argue with your (Japanese) wife/girlfriend over whether X-Japan should or shouldn't be included in a book on Otaku!  A slab of Otaku sub-culture (although I'm still scratching my head over why Scott McCloud gets an entry in a book about Japanese sub-culture).  Don't leave your 4 tatami-mat one-room apartment without one!  More fan-service!
 A Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake
 Just one comment on this.  There are other people out there who can understand the monster that is Finnegan's Wake?  The masterpiece that drove blind it's own creator?  Well, if anyone else could do it, it's Joseph Campbell (Hero of a Thousand Faces, The Masks of God, mythological mentor to George Lucas).  Nuff Said.
 The World of the Dark Crystal
 A lush over-sized guide to, well, the World of the Dark Crystal.  Includes lavish illustrations by Brian Froud, grease-paper overlays explaining the meanings behind the Ur-ru sand paintings, and heaps of background on this beautifully realized cinema world by the Kings of the puppeteers, Jim Henson.  Did I mention lush and lavish already?  And oversized?
 The Doctor Who Programme Guide
 All you will ever need to keep on top of every episode of the original epic Doctor Who series, or at least the first 4 doctors (volume 1).  Story by story guide, episode names and screening dates covering all eighteen seasons of this stupidly good series.  Just the facts.  For the rest, sit down and watch the whole thing from the start.  I did.  It took a year and a half.  It was great.  Please, no gushing...
 Understanding Comics
 Simply The guide to the visual language of comics, written as a big comic, deceptively simple, and an instant masterpiece.  An indispensable guide to the weird world of comics by the guy that did Zot!, and also inexplicably has an entry in the Otaku Encyclopedia (see above).  Stands right next to Comics and Sequential Art by the Super-God of comics, Will Eisner, who was so good at doing comics, that comics were nearly re-named eisners in his honour.  True story.

 X-Treme Latin
 All the Latin you need to know for surviving the 21st Century
 If you were to time-travel to Ancient Rome, this would be the one phrase book you would take with you.  For those of you who haven't mastered the art of time-travel yet, you can still impress/disturb your friends by swearing in Latin, interjecting meaningful phrases in modern language translated into this not-dead-yet language that just doesn't know when to quit.  Banter like you were one of the Mob, learn some Latin Bar chit-chat, or tell terrible jokes in Latin, for example:
Quem ob rem pullus sacer viam Appiam transivit?
(Why did the sacred chicken cross the Appian Way?)
Nescio.  Eum evisceremus ut, extane ostensura sint illius infausti facti causam, comperiamus!
(I do not know.  Let us cut it open and see if the entrails provide an explanation for this inauspicious behavior!)
And, let's face it, road rage sounds so much better in Latin!
Currus magnus, mentula minuscula

(Big car, little dick)
 The Zombie Survival Guide
 This is The indispensable guide to surviving the looming Zombie Apocalypse!  Learn how to react to Class 1 to Class 4 outbreaks!  Understand why a Machete will be your best friend!  (No reloading!)  Learn why a hospital will be the worst place to visit during an outbreak of zombies!  You know it's coming, you'd better get Real Ready for it!  Are you ready?  You better be, or I'll be putting a bullet or a machete in your zombie brain when the time comes!

Bonus Essential Reference Book

 The Voynich Manuscript
 It's been dubbed "the world's most mysterious manuscript".  Recent re-dating of the manuscript dated this vellum places it to within the middle-ages, and it is a bizzare compendium of cosmological and botanical sketches, and written in a script that to this day defies translation, despite the best efforts of cryptologists and generally curious folk since it's re-aquisition in 1912.  No-one knows what the hell this book is about.  Is it a hoax?  Is it the real deal?  What the hell is it all about?  Well, I reckon if it was important to hide its contents in indecipherable gibberish, it must be real important like.  So download your own PDF copy today, and get cracking!  It could save the world!  Then again, it could be a book of recipes.  In any event, be the first to find out!  Chop chop!

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