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Pen IN Hand
Shelf Life
By Peggy Bechko
November, 2005, 21:14

hatís the question of the month. Deal with it.

I hope your answer is reference books -- or at least that reference books, of some variety, occupy space near where you write. I may well get scoffed at by some in this the age of the web and reference access at your fingertips, but here goes. 

Yes, you can find the world at your fingertips online. Yes, itís simplified research to an amazing degree. I still recommend books. 

Why? Because theyíre like old friends, always there -- maybe a bit dusty, but dependable. 

For starters get yourself a good dictionary; and I mean one of those big, fat, almost every word in the language kind of dictionaries. 

Itís true your word processing program probably has a good dictionary, though a good many words pop up in those that arenít there. Then when you reference a good old trusty hard copy dictionary, there it is! 

The same goes for thesaurus. I have the Synonym Finder, the Flip Dictionary, and The Word Menu. I also have the Thesaurus Of  Phrases, which comes in handy every once in a while. These books arenít simply dry references for words, they spark ideas. Amazing what you come across in those pages when looking for something else!

Then there are the books to help with grammar and punctuation. I love the two volumes on my shelf by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The Well-Tempered Sentence (A Punctuation Handbook For The Innocent, The Eager And The Doomed) and The Transitive Vampire (A Handbook Of Grammar For The Innocent, the Eager And The Doomed). 

I donít know about you, but Iíve felt doomed a time or two. These books, or their equivalent, are great because theyíre slim, given to succinct simplicity and divided into categories to make it easy to locate your problem. After theyíre used a time or two the writer knows just where to look for an answer to a question. 

It doesnít stop with the basics. Over the years Iíve accumulated other books I consider reference. Iíve collected books on mythology (of many cultures), werewolves, Atlantis, the American West, time travel, Egypt, magic, the paranormal and much more. Books I donít necessarily read cover to cover, but are perused when Iím fishing for a new idea or direction. I ask for odd books for Christmas or birthday gifts.

Iíve subscribed to magazines as well, at different times; magazines on science, nature, the unexplained, certain locals. The books and magazines are fun, interesting and ignite a whole lot of strange and fascinating thoughts. 

There are times when I use those ideas, jump on the web and do more in-depth research. Those times prove one thing definitely leads to another.

The books remain on my shelves until such time as I no longer have a use or interest. Then I usually donate them to a library.

Magazines? I scan them, see what catches my attention and then read through. When an idea really explodes out of one of them, I take the article out, put it in a plastic sheet protector and give it a place of honor in my ideas binder (which, by the way, is broken down into topics so I can find that article again).

My reference library is small but ever-evolving. A living thing. I recommend yours be the same.

So size does matter!

But it's a personal choice, just as evolution is a necessity. And the web is only a part of it.
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Author of Doubledaywestern novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (Ebook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating on a animated series.

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