Two days ago I posted a photo of my workspace on my Facebook page, and one of my writer friends commented she downloaded the photo to see my reference books.


The lightbulb over my head started to glow, and gave me the idea to write about some of my favorite reference books.

Almost a year ago, I wrote Julius: A Bibliography that listed many of the books I used for research. But what about the tools of the trade like dictionaries, thesauri, and other sources?

First let me say the dictionary I own, Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, is terrible. And what’s a crying shame is that I got rid of my two good dictionaries because they were so big, heavy, and the print was too small. However, thanks to the Kindle, I am very pleased to write that it comes with two dictionaries. One of them is the Oxford Dictionary of English. It’s easy to use, the print I can adjust thank’s to a feature the Kindle has to enlarge print, and it doesn’t take up any space or weigh fifty pounds.

Other dictionaries I’ve acquired include:

  • The Word Lover’s Dictionary: Unusual, obscure and preposterous words. For example, need another word to say, “He snapped his fingers.” Try “lirp.” A “teen” could also be a “hafling”, but you knew that, right? And if you’re not too pleased about still being a virgin you can “depucelate” or dislodge one’s virginity.
  • Dictionary of Word Origins: The histories of more than 8,000 English Language Words (compliments of Skyhorse Publishing Inc.)
  • Flip Dictionary: For when you what you want to say but can’t think of the word. I am in love with this dictionary, and although I haven’t used it often (I recently bought it), I know in the very near future it will be getting quite a bit of use. One of the features of the Flip Dictionary that I love is that it has grouping of certain terms. For example, I’m not very musical, but if I needed to describe vocal music and could only come up with opera or a ballad, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for I can select the following: anthem, aria, canon, cantata, chanson, chant, chorale, hymn, madrigal, round, or serenade (I actually knew most of these, but I rarely use them). But there are also Jewish terms, Japanese terms, digestive or gastroenterological diseases, castle terms, psychiatric disorders, and much more.

Style guides include:

  • Associated Press
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition (probably time to get a newer version).

Among the thesauri in my collection, I have:

  • Roget A to Z: The definitive thesaurus of synonyms in dictionary form
  • The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale, which I’ve used very often and found it to be much better than Mr. Roget’s (plus we’re dealing with one million words as opposed to Roget’s wimpy 300,000).

As far as books on craft. I own most of the Writers Digest books, but for me the two books that I think are top notch and highly recommend are:

  • The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life, by Priscilla Long. What’s so special about this book? Priscilla has managed to write in one single volume the best advice from her own writing experience, examples from top writers (she likes more literary types) and the best exercises to learn craft. In 326 pages, her advice is more detailed than the all the Writers Digest books.
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques no Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore, by Elizabeth Lyon. Like Long’s book, Lyon offers the best techniques to edit. I used to heavily rely on Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renne Brown and Dave King, but Lyon’s book is far superior.

At a later date, on Alvah’s Books, I will have full reviews of these two books, but I urge anyone who wants to improve their craft and their self-editing skills to purchase these two books.

I have many more books and foreign language dictionaries (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic) but the books listed above are the ones I use the most often. As for the Internet and my bookmarks, well that’s for another post.



One Comment

  • Hi Rebeca,

    I see in your picture that you have a copy of The Writer’s Market. I bought one last year and was disappointed on the agent selections and the examples of query letters. I write Science Fiction / Fantasy, YA to adult crossover novels. The single example of a SF/F query letter was a letdown. I found two older copies in a used book store for a dollar each. They both had the same problems and that is why I am a member of Agent Query and Query Both places make it easier to match up my genre with agents representing this field.

    My two favorite writing books are both written by Literary Agent Donald Mass—The First Five Pages and Writing the Breakout Novel.