A Bookstore is Gone, Long Live the Books! Part 1.

A local used bookstore is closing after 25 years. They’re having a fantastic going-out-of-business sale (although Saturday is, alas, their final day in existence). While part of me feels “guilty” for taking advantage of their sad circumstances, the rest (and logical) part of me knows that they need to sell as many books as possible. And that, with each book they sell, a bit of their entrepreneurial and intellectual spirit will live on. With that idea in mind, I’m going to do a limited-run series where I’ll spotlight each of the books I’ve “adopted” from this sweet little shop. Shine on, you bookish gems!






I love reference books, y’all. I love reference books so much that, for exuberance’s sake, I feel compelled to use a word (y’all) not otherwise in my personal lexicon. Reference books were my first big literary love, from the age of five. And look at me now, using the phrase reference books four times in as many sentences. That’s true passion, coming from this gal. Facts, figures, names, dates: they still bring infusions of deep joy, especially when organized into neat little categories. What beauty! I also have a penchant for writing about long-since obscured and quite dead wordsmiths and their equally forgotten creations. These are people who are not only absent from Wikipedia, but whose lives and artistry barely rate a mention anywhere on the Internet. From that standpoint, volumes like this are actually vital and necessary to my work. Yes, dead writers still rule my world.

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Thanks for reading! I hope you like the new series. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


A Year in Books/Day 221: Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors

  • Title: Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors
  • Author: Bill Bryson
  • Year Published: 1991/This Edition: 2009 (Anchor Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2012
  • Source: The Book Loft, Columbus, Ohio
  • About: Any book written by Bill Bryson is worth the cover price. In fact, I’d pay double the cover price for most of his books, including this one. The only fault I can find is with myself, and why I didn’t buy Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors sooner. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 217: The New York Public Library Desk Reference

  • Title: The New York Public Library Desk Reference Fourth Edition
  • Year Published: This Edition-2002 (A Stonesong Press Book)
  • Year Purchased: 2005
  • Source: Writers Digest Book Club
  • About: This is my go-to reference book. It is the perfect companion for when you don’t feel like searching the internet, with the added bonus of being undeniably factual. None of the entries were written by drunken or vindictive idiots trying to mess with us (as far as we know). At nearly a thousand pages, it does the word comprehensive justice. As with all good research materials, it’s fun to read, too. Really. I also love flipping through it for no reason, and randomly landing on facts or figures that have nothing to do with my life, writing career, interests or hobbies. Just like when I was let loose with an almanac as a 3-year-old. What bliss!
  • Motivation: My lifelong obsession with reference books had nothing to do with it, nothing at all.
  • Times Read: Used as reference resource only.
  • Random Excerpt/Page 331: “myth of Er A parable at the end of Plato’s Republic about the fate of souls after bodily death; according to Plato, the soul must choose wisdom in the afterlife to guarantee a good life in its next cycle of incarnation.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+

A Year in Books/Day 192: The Right Word II

  • Title: The Right Word II A Concise Thesaurus Based on the New American Heritage Dictionary
  • Staff: Houghton Mifflin Company Reference Division
  • Year Published: 1983 (Houghton Mifflin Company)
  • Year Purchased: 1980s
  • Source: My lovely mother
  • About: Concise is the key here. The Right Word II is the sparest thesaurus I’ve ever read. Although not meant or marketed as such, I think it is ideal for a bright child’s use: tiny, portable, informative and easy to navigate. I relied on it for countless elementary age writing projects. I was a budding playwright then, before switching to short stories and essays in middle school. During the genre shift, I upgraded to a thicker, wordier thesaurus. I still own both of them, and every other reference book I have ever used. Even though I have not consulted this one in years, there is so much nostalgia attached to it that I cannot throw or give it away. It reminds me of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place, so it will live forever on a shelf in my studio.
  • Motivation: I didn’t need this for school, as one might assume given my age. I’ve always loved reference books, and have been collecting them since I was 5.
  • Times Read: Unknown
  • Random Excerpt/Page vi: “Discriminated Synonymies. The foundation of The Right Word II is a block of synonym paragraphs in which the meaning shared by all the words is supplemented by additional material that discriminates the various shades of meaning for each word.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10 (as a child)

A Year in Books/Day 187: Grammatically Correct

  • Title: Grammatically Correct The WRITER’S ESSENTIAL GUIDE to punctuation, spelling, style, usage and grammar
  • Author: Anne Stilman
  • Year Published: 1997 (Writer’s Digest Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Writer’s Digest Book Club
  • About: This volume is essential. It’s like taking a refresher course in grammar without having to socialize with anyone. I enjoy that. I’m guilty of knowingly flouting some of the rules in the book but at least I am aware of my transgressions. You should be, too.
  • Motivation: A writer needs reference books. Many, many reference books.
  • Times Read: Cover-to-cover: a few/As reference tool: countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page vi: “For one thing, I’ve sought to liven up what can be a somewhat dusty subject by excerpting passages from very quotable literary works, both classic and modern. Academic explanations of how to use a certain punctuation mark or stylistic technique are all very well, but a “real-life” illustration can be a lot more convincing-and entertaining. My thanks here to all those authors whose work I have cited.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

A Year in Books/Day 166: The Writer’s Book of Matches 1,001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction

  • Title: The Writer’s Book of Matches 1,001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction
  • Authors: The staff of fresh boiled peanuts, a literary journal
  • Year Published: 2005 (Writer’s Digest Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2005/2006
  • Source: Writer’s Digest Book Club
  • About: It took buying a book of prompts for me to realize that it is not for me. Not just this book, but in general: I’m not a prompts type of person. My mind doesn’t work that way. I don’t spark off of random sentences that are thrust in my face as something that will drive my creativity or discipline. I already have too many ideas, phrases, plots and sentences of my own to get bogged down with these. I also get bored, instantly bored. Not a few exercises in, but pronto. Basically, before I even open the book. I’ve tried several times to learn something from this perfectly sound tool, something useful. Something to propel my fiction forward to the place (or places) I know it can go. I am ready to admit-finally, after six or seven years-that the only lesson I have learned is that I really don’t like this kind of thing. At all. But maybe you do, which is lovely and brilliant and just as it should be for you. This book is portable, comes with 1,001 nicely varied prompts, has nifty photos and illustrations. It’s funny, too. I’m actually ready to part with this one. I think I’m going to give it away in a future post, pass it on to a writer who appreciates the idea. Stay tuned.
  • Motivation: I had never used a book of prompts before, or any prompts period. Not in school, not on my own. Now I know why.
  • Times Read: Casually, a sentence here and a sentence there
  • Random Excerpt/Page 80: ” A young woman must run errands while wearing an embarrassing and inappropriate outfit.” (This sounds like that feature in Glamour magazine. Or is it Cosmo?)
  • Happiness Scale: 3 (but only because it is not my thing)

A Year in Books/Day 162: The Associated Press Stylebook

  • Title: The Associated Press Stylebook Fully Revised and Updated
  • Year Published: 2004 (The Associated Press)
  • Year Purchased: 2004
  • Source: Writer’s Digest Book Club
  • About: I am not a journalist. When I write non-fiction (which is most of the time), it is always of the creative variety. I still appreciate good form, however. I believe every writer should have a fat arsenal of reference books, including one style guide. This is mine. I use it more than I anticipated, much like fractions. The part of my brain that appreciates orderliness considers this book a necessity, and well worth every penny. The creative part doesn’t give two figs. Fortunately, on most days they enjoy a mutually productive collaboration. Yay for cooperation-and the AP Stylebook.
  • Motivation: I love reference books. I regularly sing their praises here; you’re probably already sick of my fan-girl like devotion to the genre.
  • Times Read: Used only as a reference book.
  • Random Excerpt/Page vii: “Today, the 21st-century Associated Press has become the essential global news network. And the AP Stylebook has become the essential tool for anyone who cares about good writing.”
  • Happiness Scale: 7

A Year in Books/Day 151: Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder

  • Title: Roget’s Descriptive Word Finder A Dictionary Thesaurus of Adjectives
  • Author: Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D.
  • Year Published: 2003 (Writer’s Digest Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2003/2004
  • Source: Writer’s Digest Book Club
  • About: The title is its own best review. All I will add is that this book is helpfully broken down into alphabetized categories, from Abandonment to Zoology. It also includes, as an addendum, a Quick Word Finder. As with all good reference books, it is practical and easy to use. Its highly specific nature-the twist of being composed entirely of adjectives and adverbs- is what gives it an edge
  • Motivation: Writers need reference books. Although I use modern technology daily, I am comforted and nourished by old-school reference materials. I love them and, as far as my personal collection goes, I say “the more the merrier.”
  • Times Read: Cover-to-cover: 1/As reference: countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page 1: “This book contains thousands of entries for describing people, places and things with adjectives. It is a combination dictionary and thesaurus exclusively for adjectives and adverbs. Writers can avoid clichés by using fresh, accurate details and by finding the most evocative word or phrase for what they want to describe.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8