On a kid-lit chat board a writer asked for input on whether a glossary is advisable when writing fiction set in another time or place.
Good experienced writers chimed in, and most were in favor. I was in the minority.
I have nothing against glossaries. Some of my best friends are… er, working on and with them. Most of us, who spent many years in school reading non fiction, are comfortable with them. A good friend is working on an academic project that will yield the definitive glossary to a fourteenth century poem. Let me tell you, it’s a lot of work. Glossaries have my respect.
Glossaries freed us from having to remember a definition after looking it up in a separate book the first time. There was always the Glossary of Terms, in the trusty back of these textbooks. Isn’t it an advantage if literary fiction for children looks more like a textbook, now with the New Common Core standards for Language Arts curriculums?
But that is my reservation. They give a book a textbook feel. Glossaries interrupt pleasure reading. They should rarely be used in trade fiction.
It’s much more challenging to find a way to make the paragraphs vivid, complete, and comprehendible without the easy and neat use of a glossary.
My fun example:
“She left the Shtetl* and never looked back. Her Bubbe** might cry a bisel,*** but she didn’t give bupkes.****”
*Shtetl= a segregated Jewish quarter, typical of European cities and towns until the mid 20th C.**Bubbe= Grandmother
***Bisl= a little bit
****Bupkes= trivial, little, not much (literally Polish for “beans.”)
All right, the example is flavorful. The equivalent- “She left her childhood home in the Jewish quarter and never looked back. Her grandma might cry a little, but she didn’t give beans” does not have the exact same feel. But the first isn’t fun to read unless Yiddish is your second language.
I had thought about this long and hard when writing The Voice of Thunder, set in another time and place but written for American young readers. I managed to use a little Hebrew and work the English meaning in as seamlessly as I could. I felt I had succeeded when Kirkus referred to the book’s “readable style.” Mazal Tov*- Success!
;=) *Mazal Tov= Hebrew for “Congratulations!” (Literally “good luck.”)