Friday, December 23, 2011

Best writing books...

Sometimes people ask me what reading material I would recommend for young writers. I have been privileged of late to read a lot of great writing from young writers who are doing quite brilliant stuff and aside from a fresh set of eyes to purvey their work, not sure they really need much more assistance than gentle encouragement to embrace the passion for their art. Sometimes I read work that is so literate, so remarkably, consistently brilliant that I feel as if I have stumbled across a nascent John Irving. Amazing and humbling to witness. (And yes, Sam Kirshaw - I'm talking about you.)

As a writer, I feel I can honestly learn as much from others as I can in teaching them. It's an odd supportive community that somehow oddly works.

But since folks ask, I will trot out my list of helpful tomes.

The old standby is Strunk and White's "Elements of Style". Essential. In the midst of all those horrific English classes we endured growing up, EoS was the saving grace. Dang - it was readable even. In terms that are easily understood the authors wend their way around the common mistakes we as writers make and help us avoid pitfalls of grammar and usage irregardless of the intent. (And yes, that was a joke.)

In a different way, Stephen King's "On Writing" can serve a similar purpose. It is really a heartfelt loveletter to the craft of writing and talks about the dedication and technical aspects of writing in a way that magazines like Writers Digest can only aspire. I was always a little queasy about Writers Digest - it seemed to be written by people who were very self-assured and dogmatic and yet had never written anything I really wanted to read. It was kind of self-referential in a way that made me uncomfortable. It occasionally had some good thoughts and bully to you if you enjoy it and find it useful. I know a lot of folks think it is great so it must simply be a taste thing for me. I just think that King brings a street cred that lends his musings so much more relevancy - he is you know a somewhat successful author himself.

Another book in the essential category is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage. No mere dictionary - this massive tome has information on word usage and the etymology of how certain words have evolved in meaning. For example, we might wonder whether 'farther' or 'further' are correct for our intent. There are paragraphs describing historic usages (citing examples) and what common practice has become. (Farther = distance. Further=additionally. Though not always.)

Those three books can probably get you by for the mechanics of writing. But truly, the most important book to read if you are a fledgling writer is the one that is in your hand. Read. Read. Read. Stephen King agrees with that. Read for the sheer pleasure of the words. Different styles. Just appreciate language in all its myriad forms. By delving into literature - from Dante and the Bible to Steinbeck and Hemingway all the way up to Jackie Mitchard - the journey will take form. Upon this path - the one that you have made - you shall go farther, uh, and further...

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