Wednesday, May 17, 2006

In Reference to Reference

I don’t know about you, but I used to be a compulsive reference book collector. The kind of books I’m talking about are the ones specifically aimed at writers. This has come to mind because as I set up my work area in my new place, I find myself unpacking boxes and boxes of reference books.

A sampling of titles:

Smart English
Crime Reference
The Dictionary of Clichés
A Writer’s Companion
20 Master Plots
Dictionary of Modern Slang
Barlett’s Familiar Quotations

The list goes on and on. The thing that I find funny is that once I purchased each book, I would typically put it on a shelf and never open it. It was a comfort just to know that they were there. In a way, I think I purchased them to prove to myself that I was serious about being a writer. Weird, I know, but it worked.

Nowadays I seldom even open my dictionary as my computer has a perfectly adequate one. Even when I’m looking to name a character, the baby name books I own sit on the shelf, there are now better resources on the Internet.

I contemplated getting rid of some of my growing reference library, but just couldn’t do it. And chances are in the future, if I’m browsing through a bookstore and see a reference book I think might be interesting, I’ll probably buy it. It’ll join the others, but I’ll be glad it’s there.

And by the way, if anyone wants to know “How to Create A New Identity,” I have a book on that, too.


J.B. Thompson said...

I have the same problem - I've even received such books as GIFTS (like Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors). I also have Gramatically Correct, Building Better Plots, How to Write Romances, The Writer's Complete Crime Reference Book (which I actually DO use on occasion), and at least three of the Writer's Digest Howdunit Series.

My buddy Problem Child over at The Writing Playground posted once on the books that writers shouldn't live without. It's a great list, and I printed it. (It's somewhere in this pile of paper on my desk. Really.)

Here, I'll share my good fortune: Books I Can't Live Without

Bartlett's Quotations is on her list, too. I gotta get me a copy of that!

tammy sparks said...

I LOVE reference books. The one I think every writer should have is "The Elements of Style" by Strunk & White. I also have "Deadly Doses" and "Armed and Dangerous" which tell you all about poisons and firearms, for all you people out there who write books with guns in them. I also love my Super Thesaurus (much better than the one on my computer.)

Brett Battles said...

J.B. Thanks for sharing that list. It's a good one.

Tammy, Elements of Style...right on my desk. Good call. But you're going to have to show me this Super Thesaurus of yours. Sounds intriguing.

JT Ellison said...

I'm bad like that too, Brett. Shelves upon shelves. I took English Lit/Creative Writing in college, kept all of those goodies, plus the new ones. Elizabeth George's WRITE AWAY is excellent, as is Betsy Lerner's FOREST FOR THE TREES, if you don't have that already.

Brett Battles said...

I do have FOREST FOR THE TREES, but not WRITE AWAY. I'll check that one out.

I forgot to mention that I do have a book Robert Gregory Browne was talking a while ago on Anatomy of a Book Deal, called HOW TO WRITE BEST SELLING FICTION. It's by Dean Koontz. I thought I had a copy, and as I was unpacking my boxes last night, I found it. Lots of good stuff in there.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I love reference books. How to kill your husband and not be convicted sits on my night table. Seriously, I have criminal investigation books, profile of a criminal mind, forensic for dummies and forensics for not-so-dummies, books on description, setting, dialogue, the Chicago manual of style, a Canadian dictionary...

Because the damn computer speaks American and when we get stories for Spinetingler, they get to use their local spelling. So I'm permanently confused.

I think the only thing I'm missing is a book on how to lose your virginity. But so far, commenters on my website have helped plenty with any sex-related issues.

tammy sparks said...

I forgot to mention my all-time favorite inspirational (to me anyway) book about writing and getting published, Stephen King's "On Writing." Every writer should own it!

Brett Battles said...

That's definitely one of my favorites, too, Tammy.

Brett Battles said...

Great....So I'm the oldest? That's fun.... (read sarcasm)

Does that mean you all have to follow my example?