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 father was the kind of person who often directed me to reference books when I had a question about the spelling or meaning of a word or wanted to know more information about a particular topic (do people still keep a set of up to date encyclopedias in their house?). I learned very early on how to use a dictionary. One of my best friends in high school was my trusty thesaurus. It was a most welcome gift from my parents that was well used, a sure sign of love. I used it quite religiously through college, along with a dictionary to ensure I was using my chosen words properly (Those who have read Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated know why this can be important). The Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) writing guides proved to be necessary evils for many of my college courses. Footnotes, annotations and bibliographies had to be just so, depending on the class and the professor. Remembering which was which was the hard part.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss is the only grammar related book I have read since graduating from the university all those many years ago. The closest I come today is keeping up with Deb's Punctuality Rules! blog, which I not only enjoy but have also used during grammar emergencies. More often than not, when I have a question about the use of a certain word, spelling, or definition (and I frequently do), I am more likely to turn to the internet for answers as opposed to looking anything up in any of the reference books sitting on my shelf. It is faster and often more convenient.
I have quite a few reference books, some placed neatly on a shelf and others crammed into a corner in my closet (like the MLA and APA writing guides). On the shelf outside the kitchen door, I have a giant Webster's dictionary, a couple of English/Spanish dictionaries, an Italian/English dictionary, my trusty thesaurus, and several reference books full of quotations. Many sit on the shelf untouched these days, but it is nice to know they are there. You never know when the power will go out or the internet might go down.