Booking Through Thursday: Manual Labor

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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 love writing guides, grammar books, dictionaries, etc. When I studied English in college I borrowed (I must have borrowed because I can’t believe I would have sold it again!) someone’s copy of Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. I loved it and would just sit and read it.

I previously worked as a proofreader in (1) a scholarly environment (while in college), then (2) in a business environment, and then (3) at a publisher. When times got slow, I’d sit and read (1) Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage and Chicago Manual of Style; (2) The Gregg Reference Manual; and (3) The Chicago Manual of Style and the in-house style guide. I love Chicago style the best, but like I said, I have a soft spot for the Usage Guide: 900+ pages of basic usage debates (and everything is a debate). It’s great. It’s been more than a year since I’ve been in that world. Sigh.

As for how many I own: sadly, I don’t own many. I had some of the reference manuals in college, but I sold them to other students. I always had them in the office at work for obvious reasons, so I didn’t need my own. I own a Merriam-Webster dictionary, but it’s sitting in storage in Chicago while I live in Australia. I debated taking it until my husband pointed out that we have an online subscription to Merriam-Webster ( unabridged. That is definitely worth $29.95 a year. After a year relying on the internet, why would I need the hard copy any more? It’s so much easier to search online, unabridged none-the-less.

I once owned the online subscription to the unabridged Oxford English dictionary, but at nearly $300 a year, that wasn’t worth it. I think my local library in Chicagoland had a subscription, anyway.

I don’t think it’s necessary to own those things any more. Roget’s Thesaurus and Merriam Webster’s is online, and it’s easier and much more time efficient to search online. But, I’m always interested in “how to get started writing” books and some day I hope I can sit down with M-W’s Dictionary to English Usage again. Those were good old days. Sigh.

What’s your thought? Link to your answer if you want!

Reviewed on May 8, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I love online thesauruses. The concept of having them hyperlinked is an amazing one. I love to just click through the words. I use them all the time in my writing. But I don’t just go and find a replacement word, I keep clicking and clicking until I get to a deeper word that truly expresses what I am thinking or feeling. Sometimes it goes in a totally new direction. Last week I wrote a poem on desperation and it took me to ominous. And I just went with it and I love what I turned up with.

  • These days I use online sources, too, I’m afraid. But I still really prefer the print versions – especially late at night when I’m doing the Times crossword and don’t want to fire up my computer just to help with a clue!

  • @Chris–I doubt they’ll become completely obsolete–look at the responses of gautami, Ann, BooksPlease and JLS Hall! There is something romantic about a bound book, I concede that!

    @Megan–I love Thesaurus online. I agree it’s much easier to find the perfect word I’m looking for!

  • Have you heard of It’s a pretty handy Web site. It has the American Heritage Dictionary online. I don’t think it’s unabridged, but it’s free. It also has Roget’s, Bartlett’s the Elements of Style, Gray’s Anatomy, even Emily Post.

  • @Matthew:

    Yes, I have seen Bartleby! Very helpful. I prefer M-W over American Heritage any day, though. I guess it goes back to that’s always been the accepted dictionary at work and school, and I’ve just stuck with it. I didn’t realize Bartleby had Elements of Style. That’s great too!

  • I agree it is easier to check online. However picking up a dictionary helps me learn new words as I do not stop at that particular word. I can spend hours happily going through the tomes!

    My BTT post!

  • I know it’s easier to look things p on-line, but there is something about holding those old books and pouring over them in the real world that I wouldn’t swap for all the web subscriptions.

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