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Reviews: Books about Writing
Basic Books for the Writer
(annotated list)
compiled by Gloria T. Delamar

Absolute Basics

 At least one GOOD DICTIONARY, preferably more. 
       - A nice hefty four or five inch thick dictionary.  This should be in every writer's library--the two inch thick "collegiate" size is standard, but watch for sales of the larger dictionaries, or seek one out in a used-book store. 
        - A paperback dictionary.  For when you travel and plan to write, especially if you're re-writing. 
        - Bonus: The Oxford English Dictionary (The OED).  This is tops, of course, even in the tiny print version that comes with a magnifying glass, but most libraries have this if your needs are that broad or esoteric and it's available on the internet.  The OED is very expensive.

          Choose a dictionary by looking up words that are special to your areas of interest and choose the one that best seems to fill that need. 
          Also, check the typestyle and choose one that you find easiest to read.

 A THESAURUS.  This will give you words that are variations on what you want to say. From the synonyms listed, you can find just the right word.  A thesaurus should be used in conjunction with a dictionary, so that the subtlety of the words can be verified.  Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."  One of my favorite quotes--and a terrific prod to rewriting and polishing. 

          Thesauruses come in two styles, you may want to own both as complements to each other.
          - dictionary form: usually entered according to the most common form of the word--this method allows for considerably more entries than classification form, but has it's limits if you don't have a good vocabulary to start with.
          - classification form: entries are listed under idea and subject classifications, with a word index to guide you to various entries for each word--the limits here are the number of inclusions possible in the same size book as dictionary form.

ELEMENTS OF STYLE BY STRUNK & WHITE.  This is a classic on usage--a slim volume--available in paperback.  The  axiom among writers is "Inhale it."  Most libraries carry it, but you really should own it.  Paperback/various publishers.  Inexpensive.

A good current USAGE/STYLE-GUIDE.  There are numerous ones available. Just be sure to choose one that's general, as apposed to one that's aimed at (for instance) newspapers, where more short-cuts are freuently employed.


General Reference Books

Of course, internet research may well provide the information you are seeking, but many writers like having these resources in a home library.

An ALMANAC.

An ATLAS.

 A set of ENCYCLOPEDIAS, plus annual yearbook updates.

BOOKS OF QUOTATIONS
         - BARTLETT'S BOOK OF FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS. (This is the classic)  or
         - OXFORD DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS.
         - a more contemporary book, arranged by topic (as apposed to author).
There are many others--some devoted to contemporary quotes, etc.

A RHYMING DICTIONARY. Optional, but nevertheless a standard addition to a writer's library.

THE CONCISE DICTIONARY OF TWENTY-SIX LANGUAGES IN SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION COMPILED BY PETER M BERGMAN. 
      This may not interest everyone, but it's a handy (and fascinating) reference book to have on hand. Just remember that if you use a foreign word, that you also provide a translation, either in the form of a parenthetical notation, dialogue that clarifies the meaning, or obvious inference. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction.
 


Magazines to Read Regularly (recommend having subscriptions)

Writers' Digest MagazineMonthly.  Available by subscription and at newstands and at many libraries (current edition 
       usually on reading stand, and previous issues available for circulation).  Marketing information and articles. The articles in this magazine tend to be nitty-gritty.

The Writer Magazine.  Monthly.  Same comments as above.  This magazine tends to be more philosophical. 

The two magazines above complement each other and the serious writer should be reading both. There are several other writer-targeted magazines, but none are as accepted by the p;rofessional writing communityas the two above.

WRITER'S YEARBOOK PUBLISHED BY WRITER'S DIGEST BOOKSDespite its name, this is a magazine; issued yearly at beginning of year.
 


Highly Recommended Classics

BECOMING A WRITER BY DOROTHEA BRANDE. see review  A classic of inspiration and advice on "getting to it."  Tarcher, 1981.

THE SUMMING UP BY SOMERSET W. MAUGHAM.  A classic that transcends its time.  Mentor/New American Library, 1938. 

ON WRITING WELL BY WILLIAM ZINNSERA wonderful book.  Indispensable guide to nonfiction with applications to fiction; attitudes toward language and craft; etc.  HarperCollins, 1990.

THE THIRTY-SIX DRAMATIC SITUATIONS BY GEORGES POLTI. see list of Polti's 36 situations  Classic guide to plotting.  The Writer, Inc.
 


Miscellaneous Reference Books that Evoke Ideas

GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDSLots of esoteric information.  Biggest, smallest, oldest, etc.  All sorts of "records set."  Bantam. 

THE PEOPLE'S ALMANAC #1; #2; #3  edited by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace. 
       Incredible, sensational, entertaining, and educational facts.  Politics, history, science, geography, literature, art, sports, the entertainment industry, etc.  Good research adjunct.  Marvelous "browsing"--ideas, ideas, ideas.  Hardback; Morrow.  Paperback; Bantam.

THE BOOK OF LISTS #1; #2; #3  edited by Amy Wallace, David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace. 
       The same range of material as "The People's Almanacs," but all in lists.  Fascinating "browsing" reading--and more ideas. Hardback; Morrow.  Paperback; Bantam.
 


Reference Books about Reference Sources

FINDING FACTS FAST: HOW TO FIND OUT WHAT YOU WANT AND NEED TO KNOWBY ALDEN TODD.
       Very good.  Provides information on library resources, as well as other ways of getting information.  Discusses fact-gathering techniques, how to find and interview experts, how to get government documents, and even how to enlist the help of your congressperson.  Paperback; Ten Speed Press.

THE NEW YORKTIMES GUIDE TO REFERENCE MATERIALS BY MONA MCCORMICK
       Descriptions of reference books by type; lists reference books by subjects: science, philosophy, religion, art, books, literature, education, politics, government, history, current events, etc.  Paperback; Popular Library.

REFERENCE BOOKS: A BRIEF GUIDE BY MARION BELL & ELEANOR SWIDAN
       Annotated bibliography of most-used reference sources; includes encyclopedias, yearbooks, indexes, guidebooks, atlases, periodicals lists, biographical sources, government publications.  Paperback; Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD.

THE WRITER'S RESOURCE GUIDE EDITED BY WILLIAM BROHAUGH
      Useful information--who's got it, where to  get it:  public information officers of foreign embassies and consulates, government information services, historical and medical information sources, trade and professional organizations, associations, and foundations.  Also tips on ways to do research.  Writer's Digest Books.
 


General Books

THE BEGINNING WRITER'S ANSWER BOOK EDITED BY KIRK POLKING
     Useful and chockfull of answers. Hardback;  Writer's Digest Books 

THE COMPLETEGUIDE TO WRITING NONFICTION BY THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF JOURNALISTS AND AUTHORS
     This fat book is chock full of helpful advice on the art of nonfiction article and book writing and selling.

THE WRITER'SHANDBOOK
     Full of chapters by famous writers telling about various aspects of writing.  Your library may very well have this. Hardback, slightly changed and periodically reissued; The Writer, Inc.

TIPS FOR WRITERS EDITED BY MARVIN WEISBORD
      Tips from members of American Society of Journalists & Authors  (ASJA): from Finding and Using Sources; Working in Libraries; Using the Telephone; Interviewing; Taking Notes; Organizing Research Material; and more.  Paperback; Writer's Digest Books.
 


Marketing Guides

The two magazines mentioned above.

THE WRITERS'MARKET PUBLISHED BY WRITER'S DIGEST BOOKS
      If you've never seen this, check it out of the library (most libraries of any size order an up-date every year; the new one will be in reference, but the previous year's can be checked out.  Buy a new edition every second or third year. but then verify the current address or editor at the library.  This hardback tome will be an eye-opener in terms of the many magazines and book publishers there are and what they are looking for. 

There are also books with targeted markets, all published by Writer's Digest Books.  There is some overlap with the above in the listings.
NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER'S MARKET
CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY WRITER'S SOURCEBOOK
POET'S MARKET

There are numerous books about specific areas of writing: article writing, nonfiction books, short stories, novels, mysteries, romances, science fiction, juveniles, humor, poetry, etc.  Look in your library, check Books in Print, check the offerings mentioned in The Writer and Writer's Digest, and look in bookstores including used bookstores.  Add to your library books that discuss current styles and trends, and those older ones that are classics.

Choosing a book by its author isn't always the best guide to the book's quality. Some reference books (or chapters in group-written books) are more puff pieces by the writer than helpful guides; others are solid with good nitty-gritty advice. 
 


A Few Reference Books to at Least Know About

ABBREVIATIONS DICTIONARY BY RALPH DE SOLA.  Elsevier. 
       Abbreviations, acronymns, anonyms and eponyms ( ), appellations, contractions, geographical equivalents, historical and mythological characters, initials and nicknames, short forms and slang shortcuts, signs and symbols.

STATISTICAL ABSTRACTSOF THE UNITED STATES.   US GOVT.PRINTING OFFICE.
      Statistical information from U. S. Bureau of Census; data about government agencies, business, finance, population, etc.

UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT MANUAL.   U. S. GOVT. PRINTING OFFICE.
       Updated annually. Describes government agencies, with names and telephone numbers of press officers, backgrounds on agencies and  government functions.  Also lists  members of Congress, their party affiliations, etc.

A Note About Internet Research

Writers tend to think in terms of books. For research, much that can be found in books is also available on the internet. There's a lot of good information available. There's also a lot of misinformation. Be sure of the reliability of the resurces you consult. This is particularly important in consulting health/medical sources.

--copyright © Gloria T. Delamar
 

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