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News > Pangbournian Stories > Book Reviews: 'Every word tells a story' & 'On the tip of my tongue' by Tom Read Wilson

Book Reviews: 'Every word tells a story' & 'On the tip of my tongue' by Tom Read Wilson

Tom Read Wilson (98-03) is a well-known polymath. These two books, published simultaneously in September 2022, underline again his amusing versatility, knowledge and tremendous dexterity with words.

EVERY WORD TELLS A STORY – Tom Read Wilson (98-03)

ISBN: 978-0-7112-7751-9 (Aurum/Quarto Publishing; £12.99)

ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE – Tom Read Wilson (98-03)

ISBN: 978-0-7112-7667-3 (Aurum/Quarto Publishing; £12.99)

Tom Read Wilson (98-03) is a well-known polymath – an actor, a regular on TV screens in word games and talent shows, a prolific social media poster, an occasional singer and now a most eclectic author. These two books, published simultaneously in September-October 2022, underline again his amusing versatility, knowledge and tremendous dexterity with words.

Every Word Tells A Story is aimed at children aged eight-and-above and is also adorned with superb illustrations from Ian Morris that bring alive Read Wilson’s short, erudite and pithy entries on every subject under the sun from A for Ambulance to Z for Zoo. A random sample is F for Friday:

“Our monthly calendar might be very Roman, but our weekdays are very old Norse. Friday is short for Frigg’s day. Like Venus in Ancient Rome, Frigga is the goddess of love in Norse mythology. Venus gives the French their word for Friday, which is vendredi. No wonder Friday is date night! I always feel a great surge of romance from the pit of my tummy (funny place to feel it, I know) on a Friday. Thank you, Frigga.”

To illustrate this entry, Morris has drawn a coloured version of his idea of Frigga. She stands upright wearing a long, flowing dress adorned with two striking red breast plates, golden wings on her ears and one hand holding what looks suspiciously like a broomstick and the other a bunch of keys. Morris writes at the end of the book that it has been a dream project for him, pushing his creativity and allowing him to develop his visual style.

This book is humorous, learned, digestible and fun – surely a winning combination with youngsters discovering for the first time maybe the joys of the English language. The second offering, On The Tip Of My Tongue, claims to be “the perfect word for every moment in life.” Permeated by Tom’s wit and wisdom and life experiences, it fully deserves the acclaim it has received from such renowned wordsmiths as Channel 4’s Countdown dictionary wizard of the past 30 years, Susie Dent – “my kind, munificent big sister of logophilia” (‘the love of words and word games’ to those who don’t know) as Tom elegantly puts it.

Composed of 173 smallish pages with minimal illustrations, the book is divided into 18 sections, each one themed to a distinct How to…topic – such as ‘How to talk about money (if you must)’ and ‘How to navigate the many metaphors of sex.’ As such, it is a classic bedtime read of short, punchy ‘chapters’ and it will endure for many years. Here is one typical entry from the section on ‘How to be Brave’:

“Intrepid: I like this synonym for ‘fearless’ more than any other because it conveys a sense of unphased stoicism. The in means ‘not’ and, at its core, is the Latin trepidus, meaning alarmed. That is the most successful kind of fearlessness in my experience: the variety where a cool mind triumphs over alarming surroundings; where clarity wins over panic.”

Here is another from a section on ‘How to…describe each chapter of a love affair’:

“Passion: The marriage of opposites is most present in the word passion. From pati, you may be surprised to learn, the Latin root meaning ‘to suffer.’ It gives us words like patience (a silent suffering) and compassion (to suffer with). Passion is the purest transmutation of the Latin root. Romantic passion is connected to the intensity of feeling connected with suffering. Love makes one’s being suffer. It is an exquisite pain that the body endures.”

Writing this review has had me scurrying to my dictionary despite a lifetime earning a living from words. On The Tip Of My Tongue, in particular, is that sort of book – a pleasure to read and a pleasure to digest, scrutinise and absorb. It is a fine achievement. “Lexical greed is the one exemption from the sin of gluttony,” Tom avers. I can only agree from my lesser platform of journalism, histories and biographies.

Pangbourne does have a walk-on role in these productions. At the end of Every Word Tells A Story, Tom credits his father, Crispin Read Wilson, the Head of the Senior School and the head of the English department at the College in the 1990s and 2000s, for his skill with words. As he puts it most graciously:

“My father was an English teacher before he retired and he devoured books. I have so many fond memories of the pleasure he took in using words, saying things like, “Well, this has been lovely, but all too brief, fleeting, short-lived, ephemeral.” Though Tom works today more in television than theatre he still recites a Shakespeare sonnet every morning and night “to keep my life’s libretto as zestful as it was in my acting days.” He ends, “whether we are performers or not, words are our universal currency and they enrich our souls and our lives.”


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