Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reading, Writing, and Reference

by Tracy Kiely

When I first set up my “office” (a desk/hutch off the kitchen) I stocked it with every single reference book I’d ever acquired over the years – even the ones I never liked or used. Among the many tomes stuffed in my shelves is a dog-eared version of Strunk and White, an embarrassingly pristine copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, a mildly worn Eats Shoots and Leaves, one thesaurus, and three dictionaries, one of which is so massive that it’s mainly used to press flowers. Of course, I don’t need three dictionaries, and as my prom going days are a thing of the past, I don’t really need the flower-pressing dictionary. However, I love it because it’s fun to look up modern words in the version I was routinely sent to in my youth as the all-knowing resource center and find…nothing. 
I stacked my writing desk with these items because I thought it lent the area an air of authenticity and made me look like I knew what I was doing. However, the thing is, I hardly ever use them. I find that when I need the thesaurus, I use the online version. And can I just send out a special “Hallelujah” to the creators of SpellCheck? Seriously, I would be lost without that technology. Although it’s horribly embarrassing to admit, considering I make a (paltry) living as a writer, I’m a terrible speller. Terrible. You don’t even want to know how I just butchered the hell out of hallelujah before SpellCheck stepped in to save the day – and most likely – my eternal soul.
Of course, the grammar check thing is for the birds. I would love to write a blog one day in which I accept all of grammar check’s helpful suggestions.
So, while those books sit forever at the ready like patient soldiers for the times I need them, they are not the books that I constantly reach for when I write. Those would be my battered Jane Austen books, their pages covered in various shades of gold highlighter, with half legible (and mostly misspelled thoughts) scribbled in the margins. I have two sets of all her books (and, in some cases, more); one for my “proper” bookshelf and one for my desk. The ones I keep at my desk, I write in and make notes in without feeling like I’m defiling a masterpiece because I know there’s a pristine version in the next room. That is, until I can’t find my research copy and have to steal the “good” copy (FYI: grammar check just recommended this: “Those is, until I can’t find my research copy and have to steal the “good” copy.”) That’s why I have more than two copies of some books. Once I’ve scribbled in a copy, I have to buy a “clean” version.
It’s a thing. Don’t judge.
Anyway, those are the books I constantly reach for when I write. While I have read Austen’s books so many times I can practically recite most scenes (which makes me a huge hit at any gathering where sports are a focal point), there are times when I can’t quite remember it all. That’s when I reach for my book –and find myself losing a solid thirty minutes because once again I’ve become lost in Austen’s prose.
Ohhh, Lost in Austen’s Prose. That’s a fun title, eh? I’m calling dibs on it now.
I think I’ll make it a research book.


Catriona McPherson said...

Wonderful! I did that too - Latin Dictionary, 1930 pictorial dictionary, Fowler's Modern English Usage . . . I wonder if they're still there.

TracyK said...

I love both the smell of the pages in my old one - and the tissue-like quality of the pages! Yeah. I just admitted I smell my dictionary. STOP JUDGING ME! :)

Unknown said...

That's beautiful !

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Readingprincess said...

Love your series! When will your next book be available?