When I was in the sixth grade at Barret Elementary School in Shreveport, I longed for a set of World Book Encyclopedias. Those books promised to me all the information a person could ever need. Alas, an expensive set of books wasn’t in our family budget.
However, the next best thing was available: a pristine set of Childcraft books in the brand-new library at Barret Elementary School. As editor of the Barret Banner in the sixth grade—first of my many editing jobs—I wrote a column about the school library and its resources. I can almost smell those never-before-used books and remember thumbing gently through the reference books.
Many of you may recall “Childcraft,” created in 1934 by the publishers of the World Book. The series was called “Childcraft: The How and Why Library,” and it is one of the first research materials I remember soaking up like a sponge.
Now with the Internet and its instant info, sets of books like “Childcraft” aren’t much in demand (although I almost bought a set on e-Bay while writing this column). Nonetheless, all word nerds and book lovers need reference books at the ready—no matter the wonders of the World Wide Web.
I can look up a word online, but I’d much rather pull out my heavy thesaurus, which weighs as much as a piece of carry-on luggage, or my thick dictionary and meander through pages. I also keep a copy of the “Associated Press Stylebook” handy; it’s amazing how often I refer to it. Versions of the AP stylebook have been part of my reference library since 1974 at Baylor University, and I’d think even non-journalists would enjoy its entries.
My new favorite reference book is one most wordsmiths and book lovers will appreciate, and it makes a great gift. “Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style” by Benjamin Dreyer came out last year and is newly out in paperback, and I highly recommend it.
I came upon this book when writing a nonfiction book and felt oh-so-smart when I ordered an early hardback copy—but I wasn’t the only one who thought it was funny and useful. It quickly shot onto bestseller lists. Yes, I’m talking about a book about clarity and style. Yes, a bestseller.
Dreyer is chief copy editor at Random House—and vice president and executive managing editor. He’s known for his editing skills and his wit. He has copyedited books for such authors as E.L. Doctorow and Elizabeth Strout. He appreciates language and gives tips in an amusing and expert way—with just enough cheek to make you want to sit down and argue semicolons with him.
Whether you need emails and texts to be more engaging, want your business communication to sparkle or hope to up your game while helping your children with school at home, this book can help. And if you want to write your own book or learn more about language in an authoritative but not stuffy way, I recommend “Dreyer’s English.”
Dreyer will tell you better, stronger and more effective ways to make your point. He even suggests, rather strongly, such things as words to go a week without using.
This has become a favorite gift for me to give people who appreciate language and the story of language, those who love books and savor sentences, including friends like the late Allan M. Lazarus, who set a high standard for word usage in his decades as an editor at The Times in Shreveport.
“Dreyer’s English,” with a wonderful cover (including a punctuation wink in its title), is now available in hardback, paperback, audio and as an e-book. A version adapted for children is in production.
For more about Dreyer and his work (and his dog), see www.BenjaminDreyer.com.
We’ve been having a fun discussion at our house about books that we try to read but can’t get into—until we do. The most recent, read by my husband, Paul, is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, a classic philosophical novel that some love and others loathe.
Paul started this book two other times before tackling it during our days at home during Covid-19. And I quote: “It was worth the slog.”
Another on his list is “Moby Dick,” which he finally read a couple of years ago.
I own books I’ve picked up several times but not finished, and I’m always chagrined. One is “A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeline L’Engle. Go ahead, judge me. Another is “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. And the latter confession comes after once setting a goal to read all works by Lewis.
Other books that friends rave about somehow don’t get up to the top of my list—even if I buy or check out a copy. An example: “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese. I’ve actually bought copies of this book twice with every intention of reading it. Friends love it. A book club I belong to read it. But I’ve given each of my copies away, and I don’t understand why I haven’t dived into it.
I’d love to hear books you’ve had trouble getting into. Did you ever make it through them? Or did you toss them? What takeaways might you offer other book lovers? Email me: email@example.com.
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Book columnist Judy Christie is the author of 17 books and co-authored with Lisa Wingate “Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society,” the nonfiction sequel to Wingate’s bestselling novel “Before We Were Yours,” For more info, see: www.judychristie.com. Follow her on Facebook at JudyChristie/Author.