Read Someone Like a Book or Write a Book on Something

November 13, 2019

On this show, we explore words and expressions in the English language. We can also tell where they come from. And probably more importantly for those learning to speak English, we explain how and when we use these terms.

Reading is a popular activity for people all over the world. There is nothing quite like getting lost in a really good book. It can be a special experience. Minor problems melt away as the characters in the story seem to come to life.

The best part about books is that they can take you anywhere you want! They can take you to places that do not even exist. We can also understand the world around us and its people better by reading stories.

So, it is no surprise that Americans sometimes use expressions involving the word “book.” Today we will talk about two such terms. Both use the two main verbs you need when talking about a book — “reading” and “writing.”

Let us begin with an expression from a reader’s point of view. The following example sounds like an enjoyable activity — reading someone like a book.

Yet “to read someone like a book” means that you know the person very well — and usually not in a good way. We often use this expression in special situations. A person may be trying to trick you, but you know their true objectives. In other words, you can see through their attempts to fool you or someone else.

Now, let’s hear how this expression is used in this exchange between two co-workers.

A: Were you able to get him to agree to the deal?

B: No. He didn’t sign the agreement.

A: Without his signature, we cannot make the movie.

B: Don’t you think I know that! I thought it was a sure thing. He said he was really interested. So, I took him to dinner. I spent a lot of money on a bottle of wine. I even offered him front row seats to that sold-out show next weekend.

A: And he still didn’t sign.

B: If you ask me, he had no interest in signing the contract. He just wanted a free dinner and more!

A: Yes, he read you like a book.

So, that is an expression with the verb “read.” Now, let’s turn to one with the words “to write.”

When you become an expert at something, you may write a book about it. After all, many experts write about what they know. They want to share their expertise or make a name for themselves. Or both.

In any case, we use the expression to write the book on something to describe a person who knows a lot about something. And this person does not need to have published an actual book. But it can be funny to tie the two together, like in the following example.

A: What’s keeping you so busy these days? I haven’t seen you in weeks.

B: I am studying for my exams on building materials. But I’m having a lot of trouble. I’m not sure what materials are the best or worst for natural disasters.

A: You should talk to Madeline.

B: Madeline? Is she good with building homes in disaster areas?

A: Are you serious? She is THE leading expert on building for natural disasters, from earthquakes to hurricanes.

B: I had no idea.

A: Oh yeah! She wrote the book on the subject – literally and figuratively. In fact, do you want to borrow her book? I have a copy.

B: Yes. And please give her my number. I would love to pick her brain!

And that’s all for Words and Their Stories. Until next time, I’m Kelly Jean Kelly, for Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

melt away – v. to cause something to lessen and disappear

character – n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

point of view – n. a way of looking at or thinking about something

literally – adv. involving the ordinary or usual meaning of a word

figuratively – adv. used in a way that has a meaning that is different from the basic meaning : not literal

pick her brain – v. To ask one questions in order to get detailed information or advice