Thursday, May 08, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Manual Labour (Labor)

This week's Booking Through Thursday's question is:

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?

My English teacher at school, Miss Orr, would be pleased and amazed if she could read this now - I like books on grammar and punctuation! I love dictionaries and writing guides.

I regularly use The Chambers Dictionary, which boldy says on its cover "the largest, bestselling and most comprehensive single-volume English dictionary" and also "the richest range of English language from Shakespeare to the present day". It's more than a dictionary as it also has lists in the back - first names, phrases and quotations in Latin and Greek and modern foreigh languages, books of the Bible, plays of Shakespeare, chemical elements and so on and so forth. It's the meaning that I'm looking for because you have to have some idea of how a word is spelled to look it up. I do use on-line dictionaries but really prefer my "real" dictionary, somehow it's more satisfying. I just opened it now to check the word "labour" (that's how I would spell it not "labor" - I'm not too bothered about spelling) to see if my idea of using writing guides etc is covered by that word. "Labour" means, among other definitions "physical or mental toil; work, especially when done for money, or other gain, pain, a task requiring hard work". So no, using these books is not all laborious for me.

I also have The Oxford Library of English Usage which I really ought to read more than I do. It's a box set of 3 volumes - Grammar, Spelling and A Dictionary of Modern Usage. I bought the set some years ago when I realised that my memory of English Grammar from school was fading fast (sorry Miss Orr).

More recently I bought Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, which I think makes grammar so much more interesting. I love her examples and the wrong use of the apostraphe in "its/it's" infuriates me, although not quite as as much as it does her:

"No matter if you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, "Good food at it's best", you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave."
My typing is not always up to much and I cringe when I see I've typed "it's" instead of its".

I'm really good at reading writing guides in hope of improving my writing or to give me inspiration to actually write something creative, but I never do what they say. I have a few books on Creative Writing - my favourite is Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer. I'm encouraged by her analysis of the difficulties of writing, her practical approach to the business of writing and this sentence in particular strikes a chord:

"Writing calls on unused muscles and invloves solitude and immobility."

Although not a writing guide in the usual sense I also love Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. She writes about what is a writer and how she became one; the drawbacks of being a female writer; and asks question such as, "For whom does the writer write?" and "Is there a self-identity for the writer that combines responsibility with artistic integrity? If there is, where might it be?" She quotes many other author, enticing me to read yet more and more books.


Table Talk said...

Thanks for leaving the link, although I pop over to you daily anyway. I'd forgotten about all those wonderful lists at the back of dictionaries. I can pour over those for hours. As a child I even used to learn some of them. Consequently, I'm hot stuff when it comes to the countries of the world and their capitals in the 1950s, but not so good on what's happened to the global village since.

Lesley said...

I'm with you — I use an online dictionary only for speed, and only because it is created by the publisher of the dictionary I most often use for work.
But give me paper and the hard stuff! I do not trust the internet, or the in-built spelling and grammar checking of Microsoft Word. It will never pick up the inappropriate apostrophe!

John Mutford said...

I love the title of the Atwood book. I used to make a list of all the authors and/or books I'd come across in books and use it as a TBR pile. Sounds like I would have had quite the list with that one.

tanabata said...

Eats, Shoots and Leaves was amusing, wasn't it? :P

gautami tripathy said...

I am yet to read Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It is lying there with me for so long!

I love my thesaurus as well as my dictionaries!

My BTT post!

Megan said...

For some reason I was feeling much peppier at 4am when I was posting last night than I do right now.

Becoming a Writer sounds like a book I should check out. At first I loved this BTT, now I am worried I will not be able to afford reading the rest of the posts. Writing books are one of my greatest weaknesses. Books are a great weakness to begin with, but writing books.......

Anyway, let's step away from the scary place inside my mind and thanks for your post.

jlshall said...

I'll have to check out Atwood's book - sounds interesting. I used to have an ancient Chambers, but lost it moving from one city to another, many years ago. Still miss those lists!

Rebecca said...

I agree with john mutford--Atwood has a great title for her book. I'll add that and Brande's to my reading list! Thanks for the ideas.

kat said...

Oh, I have that Idiot's Guide to Creative Writing too. I haven't really used it much, but I've browsed it a bit. :D

I love poking through dictionaries and finding new words. Then the next challenge is to see if I can use it in everyday conversation. Given the fact that we don't really use English to converse, that's quite difficult! :)v

GeraniumCat said...

Lists in the back - um yes, my elder son's name came from the back of my first dictionary. Not entirely sure he thanks me for it!

StuckInABook said...

Lynne Truss did do a lot for the genre, if it can be called that - and I still haven't read Eats, Shoots and Leaves! Did read Talk To The Hand, about etiquette, and came away thinking what an abrasive person Lynne Truss was...(!)

Charli and me said...

rzeezjeLike you I also like my on line dictionary but love all of my old books.