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DEAR READER: Fueling the book addiction adds to editing resources

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:55 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 6, 2013

COLUMBIA — Books, books and more books — they keep jumping into view from websites, leaping from mentors' mouths, burdening the bookshelves and bedeviling plans for other activities.

Even so, it's an affectionate addiction. No cure sought. None needed, really. It's not as if I'm headed for the poor house of old because I've squandered the rent money on more books.

But read, I must. The dishes get washed, eventually. The laundry folded, if necessary. The work schedule honored, always.

Within the past month, however, I've managed to buy four books on the topics of editing and grammar. Plus, Bill Walsh's "Yes, I Could Care Less" is due to arrive any day now. And the 2013 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook, which was released May 29, is on the to-be-ordered list. 

The most recent acquisition found at an estate sale for $4 is "Kirkham's Grammar." I couldn't read the title on the spine, but Gwendolyn Girsdansky, an eagle-eyed graduate teaching assistant, deciphered the title. Written by Samuel Kirkham, a Maryland teacher, and first published in 1823, the book was so popular it went through more than 100 printings in the nineteenth century, according to FineBooks.com.

According to Templegate Publishers, "Kirkham's Grammar" is a "comprehensive 228-page (compendium) of the rules of English grammar. ... Kirkham's Grammar was ordinarily the first book, after the Bible, in the collection of every frontier library.

"(Abraham) Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, wrote of the future president's early days in New Salem: "Acting on the advice of Mentor Graham he hunted up an owner of Kirkham's Grammar and after a walk of several miles returned to the store with the coveted volume under his arm. With zealous perseverence he at once applied himself to the book. Sometimes he would stretch out at full length on the counter, his head propped up on a stack of calico prints, studying it; or he would steal way to the shade of some inviting tree, and there spend hours at a time reading it."

The contents of the book reveal a deep devotion to learning and the proper use of language. The section "English Grammar in Familiar Lectures" offers a treasure trove of essays, exercises and examples. Like Lincoln, it's going to be easy for me to get lost in its pages.

Brian Brooks, the former associate dean for undergraduate studies at the Missouri School of Journalism and director of the Dow Jones News Editing Internship boot camp held annually at the Journalism School, suggested two additional books for developing editing skills. "The Solid Gold Copy Editor" by Carl Riblet Jr. and "Five-Minute Mysteries" by Ken Weber await closer study.

Riblet, described in the About the Author blurb, as having "an opinion about everything to do with the newspaper business to which he is wholly dedicated." He describes a newspaper copy editor as "a friend of the writer and a servant of the reader."

First published in 1972, this 608-page treasure is packed with solid advice for beginners and professionals alike. The book is out of print now, but it can be found from used-book dealers. At $7.77 plus shipping and handling from an Amazon.com used-book dealer, it was a bargain, too.

Weber's "Five-Minute Mysteries"  — another steal at $5.87 — offers 37 puzzlers for readers to solve. Since editing duties delve beyond correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation by asking "what else does the reader need to know?" the task becomes much like like solving a mystery. These short but challenging stories help to sharpen the mind for closer reading.

Last, but not least by far, is "Punctuation Celebration" by Elsa Knight Bruno and illustrated by Jenny Whitehead. I suspect it's meant to be a children's book, but it's so colorful and lively that it easily appeals to anyone wanting a bit more clarity on when to use a comma or a colon.

For example, here's the ditty about periods:
"The period is just a dot
Found sitting in
its favorite spot.
When a sentence ends,
it comes and plops,
And where it plots,
the sentence STOPS.

Thanks to Jacqui Banaszynski for the tip-off on the book and the website offering a sweet deal of $7.

So for less than $25, four new treasures join the abundance burdening the bookshelves and the addiction is satisfied. At least for today.

* * *

For the May contest of Show Me the Errors, there were nine participants who submitted 18 suggested corrections.  Jim Terry, who submitted 10 corrections, is also the winner of the monthly drawing. He will receive a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of "The Professor and The Madman" by Simon Winchester.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at ColumbiaMissourian.com. 


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