As a writer, I take pleasure in my reference books. If I need a piece of information, it is at my fingertips within a few seconds. I imagine that all of the information contained in my reference books is easily accessible online. But I don’t derive the same pleasure typing a search into Google that I do flipping through the pages of a book.
I have five reference books that I make frequent use of when writing. They are:
- Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style.
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.
- Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
- The World Almanac, 2017 edition.
- The Oxford Atlas of the World, 23rd edition.
A sixth book that often comes in handy as a supplement to the Oxford Atlas is my Rand McNally Road Atlas, 2017.
I turn to Strunk and White frequently when uncertain about word usage (is it “farther” or “further”). Sometimes I flip through it just to remind myself of all of the rules I break or ignore when writing. I’d likely be a much better writer if I heeded Messrs. Strunk and White more closely.
My dictionaries are there to help clarify the meaning of words, or in the case of Fowler’s, how we use words today. I often use the dictionary to get the proper pronunciation of a word. (Is it Caribbean or Caribbean? In this case, the dictionary is of little help; either pronunciation is valid). I don’t use my dictionaries for spelling. For one thing, the spelling checker in my word processor can handle most corrections. And if I am writing and need to know the spelling of a word, I typically pause, and say aloud, “Siri, how do you spell ‘sanctimonious?’”
The World Almanac is my starting point for any quick facts I need. I use these books frequently when pulling up facts for a post I am writing, or for a story I might be working on. I generally invest in a new edition each year, in order to ensure that the facts I am getting are up-to-date. Google might prove faster for some of these facts, but with Google, I have to take the time to vet the source from which I get the information. Admittedly, I get lost in my World Almanac as much as I might do going down some rabbit hole on the web.
Google Maps is a wonderful tool, particularly when integrated with other applications. But when it comes to maps, nothing beats pour over the large, glossy pages of my Oxford Atlas of the World.
For the kind of writing that I do, these reference books have proven extremely useful. I sometimes thing I might benefit from a few additional books: more detailed references on the physical sciences, or a biographical dictionary. But for the core of what I do, my reference books are good soldiers, and I would be lost without them.