Now that the first couple weeks of January are a tired memory of back to work, back to school, back to healthy eating, a wee bit of self-care and readjustment to routine, I'm ready to get things rolling again here. I have a lot of things I'm excited about this year, and one of them deals with my reading life, of course.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a few sort-of goals for 2017 that were more in my head than written anywhere, but since I had so few of them, they were pretty easy to remember.
For my professional growth, I set out to have one non-fiction book—related to editing or writing—happening at all times. This one yielded some fun reads. And before you say that there is nothing funny about grammar and "How to Write the More Better Stuff" books out there, I need to stop you. There are some terrific books that are instructional but far from boring (even for those who hate grammar rules). I firmly believe that reading books geared toward the writing craft helps my editing.
Copy editing deals with the hard and fast rules more often than not—the nonnegotiables, as I think of them—so a quick search through The Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster, the Associated Press Stylebook or similar books will yield answers without much fuss. Commas, punctuation, common spellings, even UK v. US styles . . . all very black and white.
However, line editing is slightly different and involves sentence structure, POV inconsistencies, awkward phrasing, clichés, verb tense, ambiguity, and more. This is where the writing books come in handy for me. The more I know about why sentences are constructed in a particular way for a particular purpose, the better I become at spotting when something is "off." This not only makes the editing itself more thorough, but it also speeds up my work process as I become more adept, and errors sort of jump out at me. I also may or may not get a teeny thrill when I catch something particularly tricky.
One of my favorite books from 2017 was It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande. This is, as the subtitle claims, "a writer's guide to crafting killer sentences." The book is practical but filled with good, sarcastic, wicked sass, and that's one of two reasons I loved it. The second reason is that the writing advice is as solid as they come. It covers a lot of ground but never gets boring. Casagrande has a handful of books out there I plan on working my way through, including Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite. I'm a sucker for a great title.
The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon is also a favorite of mine, though not technically one I read in 2017. Again, like Casagrande's book, it's filled with humor while not compromising on solid information. Where else can you find a chapter on serial commas that includes the following example?
She attended the wedding feast in her Buster Brown collar, her water moccasins, her spring-loaded pelvic girdle, and her coiffeur's interpretation of Medusa at the Mardi Gras.I also own another book by Gordon, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, which looks promising but which I've not yet gotten through. It is set up as a gothic narrative with a cast of characters that includes a vampire (of course), bat, wolf, pizza chef, mastodon, and more. I don't see any reason why this book shouldn't be a win.
I finally got around to reading Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which has been read by probably every writer out there, and a great many non-writers who simply like Stephen King. I didn't know what to expect from this and was almost overwhelmed by how much I enjoyed it. I used to love reading his books when I was in college and then somehow got away from them as life got busy, marriage and kids took over, and my reading tastes shifted. But the autobiographical portion of this one rekindled my desire to read his stuff, and the writing advice portion of it was just so practical and no-nonsense that it made me want to write a book. If you happen to be in the .001% of the population who has not read this gem, I suggest you get your butt to the bookstore.
I'm currently in the middle of Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read by Brooks Landon. This one is slow going for me, probably because I've now become spoiled by funny, entertaining writing/editing books like the ones mentioned above. However, I'm persevering through this one, because it's actually good. It's just not entertaining, which doesn't diminish the kind of writing advice it includes. At first, I found it ironic that the subtitle talked about the kind of sentences I "love to read" but the sentences I was reading in it were not as lovable as I'd expected. I don't agree with 100% of his advice, because he seems to be a lover of longer sentences, and I imagine his more devoted followers might lean toward purple prose if given the opportunity. However, I have to admit the sometimes-tedious detail he goes into when deconstructing sentences for analysis is helpful when all is said and done. He even says, at the end of an exercise on page 93, "We do not actually think like this when we write! This is a highly artificial and arbitrary exercise, but there is no better way to internalize the various logic patterns available to the writer who knows how cumulative sentences work." So let me say that I do recommend this one, but know what you're in for when you pick it up.
I've shared some of my favorites with you in this post. Part 2 will be focused on your favorites, and the books I've seen recommended over and over again in writer and editor groups. So if you would, please drop me a line at email@example.com and tell me what your favorite writing books are, and why. I'll gladly include them.