Thursday, May 08, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Manual Labor

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.


  1. Wendy, it is always good to have someone at home to encourage you to cultivate good reading habits and/or to refer to a dictionary when one is in doubt, isn't it? I don't have any encyclopedias at home, I hardly refer them anyway and think they occupy a lot of space! However, I do think of them as a great treasure. Nowadays, I turn to online dictionaries because they are so convenient.

  2. I use internet dictionaries alot too. Definitely easier sometimes! Thanks for the mention of that Punctuation site. I'm going to check it out.

  3. We don't have encyclopedias but we have dictionaries which I point my fifth grader at ALL the time. Even with the Internet at our fingertips, I still think it's essential to know how to use a dictionary reliably. I guess I'm old fashioned that way.

  4. True! When net is not there, one has to get down to paper reference books. I do it pretty often for my poetry writing!

  5. I love the way you're able to build a story around even the more mundane BTT topics, Wendy; it's inspiring. This one got a fairly short answer from me, and I liked your more thorough discussion.

  6. Melody - Looking back, I really think I was lucky that way. At the time, I used to get so mad though. Why couldn't he just tell me, I'd steam. And what if the word began with a "ph" but I was looking under "f"? Haha

    I don't have encyclopedias in the house either. Growing up, we always did, but it's never really crossed my mind as something I need now that I'm on my own.

    Susan - The internet is definitely easier, sometimes. Since I'm in front of the computer more often than not, it's also very handy.

    Trisha - I don't think it's old fashioned. Well, maybe, but I agree with you that it's important to teach children to use those actual bookish tools. I hope that is never completely lost because of advances in technology.

    Gautami - It's happened too! I didn't mention it, but since I don't have a laptop computer, sometimes it's best to keep a paper dictionary near the bed when I'm reading a book that I know will require occasional word lookups. I can't exactly take my PC to bed with me.

  7. Florinda - Thank you! I do try to make my answer interesting, but sometimes I struggle. I actually made a little joke in my original version of the post, but my husband made me take it out because he thought it was too obvious.

  8. No set of enclyopedias here I am afraid. All I have really read is Eats, Shoots & Leaves and I use online sources if I am really stuck with a spelling if my husband isn't home. As he is dyslexic it is probably better to use the internet!

  9. We have a copy of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves here too along with many other reference books I have collected throughout the years. I go online for tips now. I gues I'm lazy because it is just quicker than looking it up.

  10. I love going to the books, too. Sometimes it's just easier.

    I got your book today in the mail. Thank you! I'll be posting about it soon. Have a good weekend.

  11. I haven't had a set of encyclopedia's since I was a kid. They would just take up room now and if I wanted to I could just go to the library across the street but Wikipedia sure does come in handy!

  12. We used to have a full set of encyclopedias when I was a kid. I wonder what happened to them. They'd take up too much space nowadays.
    I use the internet a lot too. Like you said, it's usually so much faster and easier. It is nice to know that the books are there though.

  13. A sure sign that my students were using the thesaurus for their papers was that the word used did not make sense. I love my thesaurus as well (and Shift F7 on Word), but after being slighty embarrassed by a misued word I alway made sure I was using the word correctly. I have a few guides on my shelf--including MLA--my best friend in grad school, but I rarely use them anymore. In a pinch I will look up Purdue's Online Writing Lab (OWL), which is a great resource--even though I didn't attend school there. I'm curious to see Deb's site--I'll have to check it out!

  14. Hi Wendy :)

    I really need a book on punctuation, I think I have it down pat in my native language French, however in English definitely NO....:(

    Will look up for a good one

    Have a nice week-end Wendy

  15. Rhinoa - I use my husband a lot to verify meanings and spellings of words. He's not a very good thesaurus though.

    Jaimie - I really don't think looking things up online is a matter of being lazy. It just seems that way because it's faster and more convenient. ;-)

    Nikki - I'm glad the book arrived safely! I hope you enjoy it.

    Jen - A set of encyclopedias always took up a lot of room, didn't they? And they go out of date so fast . . . It's really better just to use the internet or library for that type of thing, I think.

    Tanabata - I think my parents still might have the set I grew up using. Imagine how out of date they are!

    Trish - Haha Yes, you have to be very careful when substituting in a thesaurus word you are not familiar with. I bet you get a few laughs from reading what your students come up with. :-)

    Sylvie - Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss is a good one and funny too. Unfortunately, it is aimed more at the British than it is for Americans, although there are some American side notes as well. I hope you have a good weekend too!


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