by Jeanette de Beauvoir
If I were writing this column ten years ago, the truth is that the shelf I’m about to describe would be far more extensive than what I’m suggesting today. It’s not that we read less in the internet age—if anything, we probably read more—but if you have high-speed access to the information highway, you don’t have to read less to own less. Many of the books we used to thumb through are available now as searchable entities, making our work a lot easier.
Still, I don’t know an editor who doesn’t feel more secure with a bookcase to back him/her up, and while your bookshelf will vary based on the type of editing you do and the level of your interest in language, there are a few volumes that would be useful for you to own.
I will say here that I’m not recommending any books on the business of freelancing, because to be honest, they become obsolete quickly and a freelancer’s exchequer has limits. I know; I’ve spent a fair amount of money on them myself in the past, and nearly all of those books have ended up at my local library’s annual book sale. We’ll talk in the near future about websites, online guides, and articles that I recommend, but for today we’re sticking to editing and language.
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Associated Press Stylebook
MLA Style Manual
Words into Type
The Grammar Handbook (Feigenbaum)
English Grammar and Composition (Warriner & Griffith)
Grammatically Correct (Stilman)
The Copyeditor’s Handbook (Einsohn)
Handbook for Proofreading (Anderson)
Write Good or Die (Nicholson)
Copyediting: A Practical Guide (Judd)
So that’s it for the “usual suspects.” You either already have these books on your shelf—or have consciously decided not to for reasons of your own. As always, your mileage may (and perhaps should) vary.
But now, let’s talk about some books that are really great to own … this is the fun stuff!
A couple of books I love are Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors, and Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace (Williams). Bill Bryson’s dictionary is lacking in many regards, but his wit and humor make the reading remarkably worthwhile; I read it, rather than using it as a reference book. And if the title of Joseph William’s book didn’t grab you as it did me, then the lessons it contains surely will. This is a grand book for developmental editors, as it shows how to organize a sequence of sentences logically and in an easy-to-read manner.
Venturing farther afield, check out Grammar and Good Taste by Dennis Baron, which discusses deliberate language reform, something debated in editing circles for years. It’s fascinating and will make you look at words differently than you did before. And Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct is one of the best and most entertaining introductions to linguistics I’ve ever read.
For humor (and some oddly useful precepts), The Transitive Vampire, Much Ado About A Lot, and Lapsing into a Comma are all old favorites. But for something even older and truly funny, read some Edwin Newman, especially Strictly Speaking and A Civil Tongue.
Nobody took me up on my offer last week to reward a helpful blog commenter with a copy of another fabulous book, Empires of the Word, so I’ll extend it again this week. Tell us what’s on your bookshelf, and you can add that one to it!