Thursday, May 8, 2008

Booking Through Thursday--Manual Labor

Here's today's Booking Through Thursday question:

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?

I have a couple of old stand-by reference books that I use, mostly The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and The Chicago Manual of Style. But I don't refer to them that often, really. Maybe I need to check in with them a little more!

I also hear a lot of good things about Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, which is supposedly an entertaining book.

This Booking Through Thursday question is now prompting a confession I have to make. I'm addicted to books about writing. I am married to a writer, and I write some, too. So it's not entirely inappropriate. But I think I've carried it a bit too far. I'll list a few of my favorites here. And this is just a sample, not the whole writing reference library. Okay, here goes:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. I love Lamott's personal style, and I especially like the anecdote that inspired the book's title--I use it to inspire myself when I'm stuck, and my kids when they have a particularly troublesome homework assignment.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg is a Zen Buddhist and her approach to writing is both accessible and reflects her beliefs.

Writing To Learn, by William Zinsser. A great reference if you're writing non-fiction.

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, by John Gardner. The subtitle says it all. Gardner's style is very readable.

The Fiction Writer's Silent Partner, by Martin Roth. This is a sort of cheesy book put out by Writer's Digest but there's nothing better to get you unstuck.

Backwards & Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, by David Ball. This is really a book about reading plays, but it really helps you understand dramatic structure, which is a must for any kind of fiction writing, not just plays and screenplays.

Okay, I could go on and on. Scary, really. I also love a bunch of memoirs about writing, including Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, Louise Erdrich's Blue Jay's Dance, and then there are all those great books out there about books and reading...


Matt said...

I stand by The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style, which is now available online. Writing Down the Bones sounds like the book I'll need to read to improve my writing. :)

Literary Feline said...

I am not familiar with many of the books you mention. I have heard of Anne Lamott's book as well as Lynne Truss' book.

I have a couple of books in my TBR collection of authors writing about their writing process, but I didn't get those books to use as any sort of writing guide. I am just curious about the authors' motivations and writing processes.

Gentle Reader said...

matt--I'm a big fan of both those books, as I mentioned. And Writing Down the Bones is very readable, full of interesting anecdotes, so I'll bet you'd like it :)

literary feline--I'm always curious about the motivations and process of writers I like, too, which is part of the reason I like books about writing :)

litlove said...

What a fantastic collection of books you mention! I must print this out and keep it. And I can vouch for the Lynn Truss - it's very funny.

tanabata said...

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is very amusing. Backwards & Forwards sounds interesting. Although I'd usually rather watch a play than read it. :)

jenclair said...

I used to use The Elements of Style, The Chicago Manual, and the MLA Handbook, but I have little need for them these days as the only writing I do is blogging!

I liked Writing to Learn and Bird by Bird, but loved Writing Down the Bones. I used the audio version with my seniors with excellent results.

Megan said...

This is sooooo coool! Guess what? Today I just bought Backwards and Forwards for 25 cents and was really wondering if it was a good investment (it is so thin!)

Then I saw it on your list and it totally validated my book buying experience. I too love Writing to Learn. I think it can be helpful to any type of writing if you ignore some parts of it. I tried to use some of his techniques in my fiction writing and it really helped me.

There are two books on your list I don't have but rest assured that I will be finding out more about them very very soon.

Great post.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--I'm going to get the Lynne Truss as I keep hearing such good things about it :)

tanabata--I would rather see a play, too, but sometimes it's helpful for me to read it as well. And sometimes I write drama, so I like to study the structure.

jenclair--Do your seniors do the writing exercises? I would imagine Writing Down the Bones would be great for seniors, for helping them to write memoir, or just for self-expression :)

megan--I'm so glad you got such a bargain on Backwards and Forwards! I hope you like it. Let me know if you like the others, too :)

Lisamm said...

You might also like Matrimony by Josh Henkin- it is fiction but it is about writing and writers.

Gentle Reader said...

lisamm--it's on my list! Not only did I read Henkin's guest post on your blog, and your review, and was intrigued, but my sister-in-law really liked the book, too. I'll be reading it soon!