Holiday Gifts for Writers and Teachers
Need holiday gift ideas for writers, teachers or business associates?
You can skip the fruitcake this year because here are three great holiday gifts that will go on giving long after the holidays are over: Stephen King's On Writing, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and Schwalbe and Shipley's Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Home and Office.
You'll find you won't need mistletoe if you give your wordsmith friend one of these helpful and entertaining books on the craft of writing. Your kiss will be on its way as soon as the package is unwrapped.
Please scroll down to read a description of each holiday gift idea.
On Writing by Stephen King
Great Holiday Gift #1: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Maybe it's because I was born in the San Fernando Valley, home of the Valley Girl, that I don't really care for the word awesome. I'm not sure whether Moon Zappa used it or not, but it's seems very much like a Valley word to me. And I didn't move all the way from California to the East Coast because I liked the Valley.
That's probably more information than you need to know about me, but I wrote it for a reason. I want you to know there has to be a special reason for me to call anything awesome. So, with that explanation out of the way, here's my assessment of Stephen King's On Writing: it's awesome.
Part memoir and part writing primer, this book is a must-read for anyone who writes -- or reads, for that matter. King's life story, which takes up the first half of the book, would be interesting even if the prose weren't well written. But it is, and his accessible writing style elevates the material even more.
As interesting as the first half is, the second half is the reason I recommend it for writers. Full of tips, On Writing not only educates; it inspires. King obviously loves the craft of writing, and not just for the enormous amount of money it has earned him. In this book, he honestly lays bare his own creative process, which happened to incorporate a life-threatening car crash and the struggle to came back to productivity again. He then goes on to hand out excellent common sense advice and practical tips for writers, along with sincere encouragement.
So if your loved one has a tendency for his or her creative gas tank to get a little low, appreciation is sure to result if you give this awesome little book as a gift.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Great Holiday Gift #2: The Elements of Style by W. Strunk and E.B. White
The Elements of Style manages to condense all the important rules of grammar into a package so small, you could mistake it for a drink coaster. Well, maybe it's not that small. But small enough to give the impression that it wouldn't cover enough territory to be worth buying. But it does and it is. That's why writers have loved it since it was published for mass distribution in 1959.
When Professor William Strunk self-published the original version in 1919, it was even smaller than it is today. E.B. White (of Charlotte's Web fame) was a student in Strunk's Cornell University English class at the time, so he had to read The Elements of Style along with the rest of his classmates. After graduating, he promptly forgot about the book. He couldn't have known then that 38 years later Macmillan would ask him to revise it for the college market and general trade.
A master of economical writing, White used not one word more than was necessary to spruce up Strunk's original take on grammatical style. And that's exactly the point of the book; it advocates a lean economy. Thankfully, it also allows for flexibility. The book still counsels to omit needless words and to use concrete, specific language instead of the abstract, but it also gives advice on using colloquialisms and avoiding fancy words. And the glossary alone is worth the price of admission. Especially for those of us (ahem) who can't seem to remember the names of all the parts of speech.
The book covers a vast array of grammar questions, although White insists in his forward that The Elements of Style isn't meant to be comprehensive. The topics it covers are too numerous to mention, but here are some:
- Commonly misused words and expressions
- Nouns used as verbs
- Writing in a way that comes naturally to you
- Not taking shortcuts at the cost of clarity
- The number of the subject determines the number of the verb
White's plainspoken authority intimidated me when I first read the book years ago. It helped me relax, though, when I read the forward in the fourth edition by White's stepson, Roger Angell. He tells of observing White's weekly efforts to come up with copy for the "Notes and Comments" page of The New Yorker. Angell said that sometimes after the copy was in the mail from Maine to New York, White would say, "It isn't good enough. I wish it were better." Experiencing this fundamental anxiety writers are prone to led him to infuse The Elements of Style with practical, no-nonsense advice. He probably even needed the reminders himself.
Although White died in 1985, his little book is still among a writer's best friends. This is due in no small part to his understanding of a wordsmith's plight.
Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home
Another Holiday Gift Idea
- Eats, Shoots and Leaves
Author Lynn Truss clarifies punctuation with wit and style in her fun book "Eats, Shoots & Leaves."
How About a Little Wit and Wisdom for the Holidays?
Great Holiday Gift #3: Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by D. Shipley and W. Schwalbe
A few weeks ago there was a cautionary tale in the news about an Atlanta man's e-mail to a woman who rejected him on Match.com. In an attempt to persuade this woman that she was missing out on a hot catch, he enumerated his many charms, including that he "has an 8.9 rating on HotOrNot.com, drives a Beemer, can bench press over 1,200 pounds and has had lunch with the secretary of defense."
His e-mail made the rounds on the Internet until it found its way to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where I read the story. But the guy didn't just embarrass himself in Georgia. His rant also was featured on gossip Web site Gawker.com. The story generated 285,000 Gawker.com page views and over 3,000 online comments, most of them negative. That's a great argument for thinking before you click the Send button.
The concept of thinking before launching words into cyberspace permeates Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. This compact but powerful book covers diverse aspects of modern communication, including:
- When you should substitute a fax, letter, instant message or phone call for an e-mail
- How to apologize for an inexcusably late e-mail reply
- The politics of Cc and Bcc
- Flame wars
- How men and women use e-mail differently
Every aspect of electronic communication seems to be covered in this handbook, which was written by two seasoned professionals: David Shipley, Op-Ed page editor of the New York Times and Will Schwalbe, senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion books. They write with wit and style, which makes taking our medicine almost fun. They've also infused the book with an understanding of the human condition behind our communications, making Send oddly comforting.
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