Friday, August 15, 2014

A Writer's Reference Library

What’s in your reference library? There are basics that we should all have, like dictionaries and thesauruses. Beyond that it depends on our own individual needs, specialities and tastes. If you speak and write in more than one language you’ll probably have reference books to reflect that. Alas I only speak one language.

In my library I have six dictionaries: five American and one English, plus two combination dictionary/thesaurus, one American and one Canadian. Dictionaries are among my most used books. I also have five straight thesauruses. A thesaurus comes in very handy when you’re at a loss for words or rather tired of using the same word or words over and over again. J. I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder is or was supposedly the largest, most comprehensive thesaurus then in print (1986).
One of my favorite reference books, which I recently acquired, is The Barnhart Concise Dictionary Of Etymology: The Origins Of American English Words. I’m fascinated by the origin or words, as I mentioned in a previous blog. From time to time I pick up the book and just look through at the various word origins.
And no journalist’s reference library would be complete without good old Strunk & White’s The Elements Of Style. It’s a small little book, which packs a lot of punch. For example it has sections on using the active voice, omitting needless words, placing yourself in the background and words and expressions commonly misused, like “Thanking you in advance.”, unique and farther, further.
About 1987 I bought Funk & Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia at IGA. It came out two or three volumes at a time. It was fun collecting them as I soon discovered that sometimes one IGA would have some volumes that other IGAs didn’t have yet. Today all the IGA stores I bought the encyclopedia at are closed. I also bought for a time the annual year books as well the two volume dictionary, which is still heavily used, and the atlas. I still refer to them from time to time and still prefer a physical set of encyclopedia to an electronic set.
When my local library owned it, I used to periodically borrow A Treasury Of Great Reporting edited by Louis L. Snyder and Richard B. Morris. While published in 1949, it is still a classic book on reporting with the earliest example dating from 1587. Surprisingly it does not mention the Titanic or the assassination or the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, it does cover the American civil war, World Wars I and II and numerous other stories. It is chiefly American focussed with a few English stories.
Other reference books I have for writing include: various versions of the Bible,  Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules Of Writing, The Huffington Post Complete Guide To Blogging, Facing The Line: Writers On Life And Craft, The Business Writer’s Handbook Ninth Edition, James J. Kilpatrick’s The Writer’s Art, The Handbook Of Good English and another old standby H. W. Fowler’s A Dictionary Of Modern English Usage, which although dated (The edition I have came out in 1952.) is still very useful.