Books we love
American Slang, by the Book
We recently interviewed Orin Hargraves about his new book, Slang Rules!: A Practical Guide for English Learners. Orin consulted a wide range of sources to build his guide to American slang, including works of fiction. We asked Orin to recommend books by writers with a keen ear for the American vernacular.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This is the great American novel by the great American writer who was the first to have his ear to the ground and write down what he heard in local dialects. Huckleberry Finn may be the first title that gave respectability to varieties of slang and dialect. It gets better with every reading, and seems to grow more resolutely politically incorrect as it ages.
JR by William Gaddis
This challenging novel from the 1970s is told almost entirely in dialog, one of the speakers being an 11-year-old boy. It captures the rhythms and nuances of American speech from that time (which is not much changed today) and allows the idiom to seep thoroughly into your head ? if you can get all the way through its 700+ pages.
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
All of Tom Wolfe's novels do an admirable job of documenting contemporary society through its own language. I like this one especially for its jarring juxtapositions of various levels of New York society in the 1980s, all revealed through the characters' carefully captured speech.
Jackie Brown, a Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
Perhaps it's cheating to count a screenplay as a book, but you've got to hand it to this guy: he's the master of capturing modern American slang. If you don't want to read the screenplay, just see the movie. I excerpted the dialog from one scene in Jackie Brown for a lesson in my book about slang. I should probably note that this film is inspired by a novel of Elmore Leonard, another great capturer of slang dialog.