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Culture, Literature

OX Reads: The Glory of Words


The wonderful Kim Harvey, owner of The Mad Hatter Bookshop in Burford (and Creative Director of The Burford Literary Festival) shares her reading suggestions with our words theme in mind, whether that’s the sublime use of words, words through history or words to inspire positive deeds. 

My lovely assistant Sarah was perusing our vintage collection of books and came across Crowther’s Encyclopaedia of Phrases and Origins. This gorgeous pocket sized collection was published in 1946 and contains phrases that I have never heard but I feel must simply be brought back into everyday use, including; deaf as a beetle – this refers not to the insect but the heavy wood object; up the pole, as in ‘he must be up the pole’, a seaman’s term for the part of the mast above the rigging up which no man in his right mind would climb; my personal favourite – to play the giddy goat, the allusion being to frisk like a goat!  With the glory of words in mind I give you a selection of titles: from the sublime writings of Claire Keegan, to using your words to create positive change. 


So Late in the Day, Claire Keegan 

Those you who regularly read this column will know that I am a sucker for a pretty book and So Late In The Day ticks every box. Although it is more novella than novel it is stunning in its bijou compactness and worth every penny of its £8.99 price tag. It feels like a work of art in your hand and contains all the trademarks of Keegan’s sublime sentences. Quite simply she moves my world with every page. If I am being somewhat gushy about this book it is because it is worth it. Buy it – read it – gift it. So Late in The Day is one of my top ten for 2023. 


Papyrus, Irene Vallejo 

If you have ever pondered how the book went from Ancient Greece to modern paperback this is the book for you. But this is not a dry retelling of history, author and classicist Irene Vallejo will take you on an energetic journey of a lifetime packed full of heroic adventures, bloody revolutions and of course the clash of the titans:  ‘censorship’ and ‘free speech’. Can you imagine how Homer or Emily Bronte might feel if they walked into a bookshop today and saw their titles in all their printed and bound glory?   


Fungarium, Katie Scott and Ester Gaya 

When I think of Autumn I think of cashmere gloves, walks amongst crispy golden red leaves, the air filled with the scent of damp earthy aromas and the promise of a glass of a deep bodied red. Fungarium is this feeling in book form, from its earthy red cover to its stunning illustrations.  Published by Kew it is also jam packed with everything you need to know about fungi. Did you know that fungi are more closely related to animals than plants – we won’t talk about The Last of Us – or that in classical times it was believed that lightning strikes produced mushrooms. Pop this pocket-sized wonder in your pocket and explore the fungal kingdom in all its glory. 


LADS A Guide to Respect and Consent, Alan Bisset 

We cannot talk about words without mentioning that not all words have a positive effect. LADS will give teenage boys the tools to deal with…that guy. We all know one, that guy who cracks inappropriate jokes, makes dodgy comments and is somewhat leary. This book is not judgemental, it simply offers up tools to give you the strength and knowledge to call out bad behaviour. This is the handbook to help create positive change.  


And finally… 

The Little Book of Small Dick Energy, Donald Tate 

This is the book for that guy! Thankfully we don’t know about the size of his body parts but we sure are aware of the size of his ego. I contemplated keeping a pile of this pocket rockets on the passenger seat of my car to hurl through the window of passing cars who tailgate me through the 20mph zone or laughed as I attempt to negotiate my way out of a too-tight parking space – made tight by his parking his bumper 2cm from mine. Let’s be honest we all know this guy; I could even pass it out to a few helpful men who pop into my bookshop to offer advice on how I might improve my business.  Buy a copy, give it away and lets be honest that guy won’t even know it is about him because his ego is riding shot gun – but you will know and that will make you smile and we all need books to make us smile. 


Be kind, be gorgeous and keep reading. 

You can find all these books at The Madhatter Bookshop, Burford or order from our online shop at 


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