Best Books for Writers

Lists of the “best books for writers” abound on the internet. Most of these lists focus on books that teach readers about writing, or how to become a better writer — by instruction, example, or inspiration (eg, On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, or The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron). Other lists focus on widely-accepted style guides (eg, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the AP Stylebook).

Assuming that a writer has read some of these popular books on writing, and has mastered the mechanics of writing, it is worth addressing the most common mistake that writers make: using the wrong word. As Mark Twain once observed in a letter to George Bainton (1888): “The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” Every writer has experienced the frustration of knowing what they want to say but not being able to come up with just the precise word (lethologica). For writers, finding the right word is immensely rewarding; Michael Mackenzie, a Canadian playwright, elaborates: “People often forget the sheer joy of finding the right word which expresses a thought is extraordinary, an emotional rush of an intense kind.” Bookshelf presents the best reference books for writers that helps them choose the right word — and experience that intense emotional rush.

The Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotations by David Grambs
A unique dictionary that list adjectives and quotations related to the entry words.

Random House Webster’s Word Menu by Stephen Glazier
This reverse dictionary is the reference book that many lexicographers wish they had written. It arranges more than 75,000 words by subject matter using more than 800 categories. So if you know the meaning of a word (or a related word), you can probably find the target word.

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary by Marc McCutcheon
A thematic dictionary that presents words according to 20 larger categories, which are then broken down into smaller subcategories.

Roget’s International Thesaurus (7th Edition) by Barbara Ann Kipfer
The most up-to-date and comprehensive thesaurus, with 325,00 words and phrases presented thematically.

Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (3rd Edition) by David Auburn, et al.
A book that belongs on every writer’s and language-lover’s bookshelf: it is one part thesaurus, one part word list, one part usage guide, one part quotations, and several parts inspiration. The book features more than 300,000 synonyms, 10,000 antonyms, and 200 literary quotations and entries (favorite words) by well-known modern writers. Unlike many reference books, this book is one that word lovers will enjoy browsing. 

Bartlett’s Roget’s Thesaurus by Elizabeth Piza
The book promotes itself as “the world’s best word finder — the only thesaurus that combines two of the most trusted names in reference books, Bartlett and Roget.” Although the book does include some quotations, it really shines when it comes to finding words. The book is comprehensive, including more than 350,000 terms and phrases. What makes this different from other thesauri is that a writer can find words alphabetically or thematically, and better yet, find many levels of cross references (after each key word, related words are presented in three categories: nouns, verbs, and adverbs). Like the previous book, another great reference work that can be browsed.

Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases (2nd Edition) by Andrew Delahunty
The hallmark of any good writer is knowing when to borrow from another language when an English word or phrase just won’t do. This dictionary presents 6,000 of the most commonly used words and phrases from more than 40 different languages.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th Edition) by William R. Trumble
Most writers cannot afford or have the bookshelf space for the highly respected and definitive 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED) published in 1989. In 2010 Oxford University Press announced that the OED will never be published in print again. The 3rd edition, which will be completed about 2037, will only exist online. Fortunately, writers can purchase an affordable, up-to-date, and abbreviated version of the OED, known as the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED). The SOED consists of 2 large volumes, featuring more than 500,000 definitions, 83,000 quotations — using more than 7.5 millions words in total.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th Edition)
One of the best-selling, most current and best designed dictionary with more than 210,000 word entries and 4,000 dictionary.

Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd Edition) by Bryan A. Garner
An authoritative and comprehensive guide (written by over 120 writing experts) to the proper and effective use of the English language, focusing on troublesome words and phrases, in addition to addressing punctuation and grammar.

Read related posts: Most Common Writing Errors
Best English Dictionary

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