Over the last few years I have started gathering a few books that I find myself constantly returning to over, and over, and over again. These rarely remain tucked on a bookshelf, instead they lay next to me at my desk as I write. I carry them with me around the house. They get highlighted, bookmarked, an annotated. They are apart of my toolkit. They are the opening salvo in my arsenal. In all the research material I’ve purchased these books are the four that have been used more times in more manuscripts. I figured since I found them so valuable, other writers might also find them handy:

1. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrases and Fables

This is my go-to tome when I am stuck with prose. Brewer’s is laid out like a dictionary but works more like an encyclopedia. Explaining the origins and histories associated with particular phrases, expressions, historical fables, and even lists of organizations both real and fictional. It’s very handy, especially if I am looking for an obscure term or turn of phrase or if would like to invent something but still keep it rooted in reality. Brewer’s has definitely become the “most used” out of the four I list today.

Brewer’s also happens to work very well alongside  my next and most recent acquisition…

2. Dictionary of Word Origins

I picked this up towards the end of The Stars Were Right and I wish I had it all along, I keep going to it again, and again, and again, wondering if someday it might replace Brewer’s. If you like working in a bit of local flavor as I do, but want to keep words rooted in linguistics having the Dictionary of Word Origins is vital. While not as grand as Brewer’s Dictionary – it tends to remain focused on the word itself – it does a great job exploring a word’s history and it’s evolution.

Now, departing from the english lesson comes something a little different…


3. Carol Rose’s Giants, Monsters & Dragons and Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, & Goblins

If you ever want to create a strange race, a new creature, or challenge your hero with a non-traditional monster I’ll bet you find Carol Rose’s encyclopedias invaluable. There is so much information in the pages of both these books. Detailed information on the history and legends surrounding mythic creatures from all parts of lore. As a westerner it’s very handy to have access to historical creatures that I don’t otherwise know from my childhood. Everything seems to be in these books from Western to African to Eastern cultures all cross referenced and organized in a myriad of ways.

In a similar vein, I also have to recommend…

4. Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols

I love symbolism. Blame my career as a designer and my obsession with Stephen King‘s The Dark Tower series, iconography plays a large role in all my manuscripts. When I picked up The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols from a bargin bin at a defunct bookstore I had no idea how handy it would become. On the surface it’s one of those kids/young adult reference books that happens to lay everything out in easily digestible snippets (including illustrations) – however it is laid out perfectly, from religious iconography to the symbols hidden behind types of vegetation there’s a lot it covers. Plus it’s easy to flip though and organized well making it a great jumping off point for further research.

So that’s it. Those are my four most invaluable books. How about you? What’s in your toolkit? What books do you use the most? Link ’em! Share ’em! I’d love to see other titles writers find as their invaluable resources.