Guiding Principles By Which I Was Reared

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they provide a prompt for bloggers. This week’s prompt is Ten Facts About Me.
During the first minutes of my first time alone with my future father-in-law (an academic dean), he said, “Tell me. What were the guiding principles by which you were reared?” I’d never given that much thought, but being young and intrepid, I came up with the following—not in any particular order.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Finish what you start.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

Failing is nothing to be ashamed of, but not trying your best is.

Go as far as you can, as fast as you can.

Education is the union card to a better life.

Your word is your bond.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Always be there for family.

It’s better to be the one giving help than the one receiving it.

When all is said and done, be prepared to take care of yourself and yours.

When I think of these guiding principles, I always hear my father’s voice. I always see his face.
young man in military uniform, black and white photograph, guiding principles
My father when he was a young man

Reasons I Love Dictionaries–And You Should, Too!

Top Ten Tuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they provide a prompt for bloggers. This week is a freebie, so I’m writing about Ten Reasons I Love Dictionaries.
I once said that if I were stranded on a desert island with only one book, I’d want it to be the Oxford English Dictionary. Given that this is hypothetical, I’d define the entire 20 volumes as one book. Alas, I have only the condensed version at home.


Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Lots of Information

The joy of big, encyclopedic dictionaries such as the OED and the Dictionary of American Regional English—dictionaries too big to fit in one volume—is that they give you so much information: multiple meanings, pronunciation, origin(s), where and when it was used. They give you archaic words and highly specialized ones. Often they include examples of the usage, past and/or present. Altogether good reads.

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Specialized Topics

At the other end of the spectrum are dictionaries that cover very narrow or specialized topics, such as a medical dictionary, or dictionaries devoted to lust, wrath, body parts, or texting.

 Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Passions

 There are dictionaries that help one follow one’s passions. Everyone knows about cross-word puzzle dictionaries. Rhyming dictionaries fall into this category as well.

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Subcultures

I own several dictionaries acquired for writing authentically about specific subcultures.

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Time Periods

Some cover only certain regions of the country or time periods.

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Regions

Not all English is created equal. You might remember the line sung by Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady:
There even are places where English completely disappears. Why, in America, they haven’t used it for years!
So it’s no surprise that there are various versions of the Oxford English Dictionary, including the Oxford Dictionary of American English. Given the breadth of the British Empire, it’s no wonder that there are dictionaries such as this one.

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Age & Decade

As a writer, some specialized dictionaries are helpful, for example, when writing about children or when wanting to use slang appropriate to the age or year.

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: What’s That Word Again?

There are even dictionaries for people who know what they are looking for but don’t know the word for it!

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Foreign Words in English Usage

I enjoy The Browsers Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases. For one thing, it points out words that are in such common use that one forgets they are foreign!  Words like operetta and wanderlust.

Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Slang

But my all-time favorites for fun reading are the books of slang. They are full of colorful and often funny usages, and they come in both specialized and generalized forms.

Tip for Writers

Open any dictionary at random, close your eyes, put your finger on a word, and write it down. Repeat 3-5 times. Write a sentence, paragraph, scene, or story that uses all of those words appropriately.

Takeaway for Writers and Readers

Find your perfect dictionary and enjoy a good read!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

Top Ten Tuesday, Broke and the Bookish
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they provide a prompt for bloggers. Today’s prompt is Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed.


Some books seem to get better every day—or at least year by year. I find that many books I first read for entertainment have grown over time—or maybe I have! Into this category I put anything by Jane Austen.


Jane Austen

Her observations of human behaviors, foibles, and motivations are timeless. And I smile at the humor, even when re-reading.
Books by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Top Ten Tuesday picks
Books by Jane Austen

Mary Renault

Then there are Mary Renault’s books. She brings history to life and dealt with delicate issues of sexuality long before most mainstream authors.
Mary Renault books, book shelf, Top Ten Tuesday picks
Books by Mary Renault

Lewis Carroll

I first approached Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass as children’s books. Indeed, my elementary-school granddaughter read them recently. But reading them with an adult eye and understanding, I find the plot line and magical realism rich and the writing superb.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll, book, Top Ten Tuesday pick
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Waverley Root & Richard de Rochemont

I’ve had Eating in America: A History by Waverley Root and Richard de Rochemont on my shelf of unread books for years. But recently, The Food of Italy by Waverley Root turned up on a list of recommended reads for people planning a trip to Italy, and having started that book, I turned to Eating in America. It starts with seafarers and Native Americans and continues through refrigeration and the modern American sweet tooth. Why did I let it languish so long?
Eating in America: A History, Waverley Root, Richard de Rochemont, book, history, Top Ten Tuesday pick
Eating in America: A History


And that segues into cookbooks. Of all my book loves, cookbook loves are the most fickle. I’ve had my low-calorie, low-fat, low-glycemic-index, low-carb, pressure-cooking, microwaving, slow-cooking, blending, cooking-for-one-or-two infatuations. But two cookbooks have held steady in my heart: The Doubleday Cookbook—the best encyclopedic cookbook out there—and Culinary Classics and Improvisations—the best leftovers cookbook in the world!

Memoir & biography

As a category, I’m coming to a greater appreciation of memoir and biography. For example, The Glass Castle by Jannette Walls, West With the Night by Beryl Markham, and at the recent Gaithersburg Book Festival, I bought “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” by Annette Gordon Reed and Peter S. Onuf, a recent and atypical biography of Thomas Jefferson—which is still untested but very promising.

The Bible

When it comes to books about which my feelings have undergone a sea-change, the Bible is in a category by itself. Once upon a time, I believed it was literally the word of God. Now I don’t. Enough said.
Ryrie study Bible, The New English Bible with the Apocrypha, books, Top Ten Tuesday picks
Ryrie Study Bible and The New English Bible


As I’ve become a writer, my interest in the mystery genre has waned. I lost interest in Patricia Cornwell early on because her protagonist, Kate Scarpetta, didn’t grow or develop. But former favorites from Sue Grafton to Rex Stout just don’t grab me anymore.
Depraved Heart, Patricia Cornwell, book, mysteries, Top Ten Tuesday pick
Depraved Heart

Strange Maps

One of the books I bought on a whim, Strange Maps, turned out not to be as interesting as I expected it to be.
Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities, Frank Jacobs, book, Top Ten Tuesday pick
Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities

The Dictionary of American Regional English 

And last but not least, I’m no longer in love with the six volumes of The Dictionary of American Regional English. I really regret it. But being able to look up a word and find out where it’s used isn’t nearly as useful as it would be if I could look up a region and get typical word usage!
The Dictionary of American Regional English, dictionary set, Top Ten Tuesday pick
The Dictionary of American Regional English

What books are waxing, waning, or shifting ground in you heart?

Books I Bought on a Whim

Top Ten Tuesday, Broke and Bookish, Books I picked up on a whim
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they provide a prompt for bloggers. Today’s prompt is Ten Books I Picked Up on a Whim.
Actually, this could apply to most of the books currently on my shelves. I almost never set out to buy a particular book. I see it and I want it. And so, in no particular order, here are a few of my whimsies.


Books I Bought on a Whim: the Bizarre

I’m attracted to anything with bizarre in the title. Who wouldn’t want to know about peculiar precipitation, from colored rain to frog falls? It may be comforting to know that not even acid can dissolve a diamond. And if you ever came across a Hercules beetle, you’d know it by its 7-inch length.
Bizarre Weather and The Book of Bizarre Truths

Books I Bought on a Whim: Skulls

I like skulls. I have half a dozen pairs of skull earrings, 3 rings, 4 pendants, and 1 bracelet. I bought this book by mail-order, and it covers everything from the empire of the dead to tattoo skulls.
The Mammoth Book of Skulls, book whim
The Mammoth Book of Skulls

Books I Bought on a Whim: the Horrible

And then there are books that just appeal to me as a mystery writer—and as one fascinated by death.

Books I Bought on a Whim: Bob Dylan

I first loved Dylan lyrics when I heard his songs sung by others. It took a long time for me to appreciate his voice. And truth be told, I seldom even glance at this book. I just like knowing it’s on the shelf.
Bob Dylan lyrics, book, whim
Bob Dylan Lyrics

Books I Bought on a Whim: Writing Journals

I’ve written in my diary every night for decades. I’ve kept notes and files related to writing ideas and projects. But I’ve never kept a writing journal. Maybe that’s why I buy every one I see!
Journals by Hawthorne, Christie, and Cheever, books I bought on a whim
Journals by Hawthorne, Christie, and Cheever

Books I Bought on a Whim: Chagall’s Illustrated Bible

I bought this book after having seen it briefly in a writing class. You may remember my blog comments about cross-over art. Chagall’s illustrations cover only Genesis, Exodus, and The Song of Solomon. The text is set in paragraphs. The combination of format and paintings makes the words themselves fresh.
illustrated Bible, Chagall, books i bought on a whim
Chagall’s illustrations of Genesis, Exodus, and The Song of Solomon

Books I Bought on a Whim: the Dark Side

Books that deal with the dark side—for example, the books in the Postsecret series—are highly inspirational for writers. This book is similar. It covers shameful confessions to all the deadly sins, plus miscellaneous.
Not Proud: A Smorgasbord of Shame, Books I bought on a whim
Not Proud: A Smorgasbord of Shame
This book I bought because the title is such a cliché, and because it reminded me of BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (Mary Roach). 
Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll, books I bought on a whim
Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll

Books I Bought on a Whim: Repeats

Last but not least, here are 5 books I bought on a whim more than once! Don’t ask.
books I bought on a whim

Top Ten Bookworm Delights

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they provide a prompt for bloggers. Today’s prompt is Top Ten Bookworm Delights.

BOOKWORM DELIGHTS come in all guises! I’m talking about the periphery, the delights beyond lovely language, powerful characters, and compelling plots.

Bookworm Delights #1: I love old books.

 DIRECTIONS FOR COOKERY, IN ITS VARIOUS BRANCHES, BY MISS LESLIE, 1843, book, bookworm delights, top ten tuesday
Directions for Cookery, In Its Various Branches
My oldest books are cookbooks. The oldest is DIRECTIONS FOR COOKERY, IN ITS VARIOUS BRANCHES, BY MISS LESLIE, 1843; unfortunately it isn’t at all photogenic. It includes helpful hints, such as two jills are half a pint; preparations for the sick; receipts [sic] for perfumery, and pudding catsup; uses for peach pits and plum stones; and advertisements for a treatise on the physiological and moral management of infancy, a book on the culture of flowers and grapes, and THE HOUSE BOOK: OR, A MANUAL OF DOMESTIC ECONOMY BY MISS LESLIE.
White House Cookbook, bookworm delights, top ten Tuesday
White House Cookbook
Sometimes old books yield bonuses. This 1899 printing of the WHITE HOUSE COOKBOOK came with four 1917 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture pamphlets with titles like “Do You Know Corn Meal? ITS USE MEANS Service to Your Country, Nourishing Food for You.”
I don’t actually collect antiquarian books, cookbooks or otherwise. But I like having old books around, and many on my shelves date from the 1930s onward.
inexpensive paperbacks, bookworm delights, top ten tuesday

Given my druthers, I’d still read the fifty- and sixty-cent paperbacks rather than the shiny new editions from the bookstore.

Bookworm Delights #2: I love sets of books

books by Tony Hillerman on shelf, bookworm delights, top ten Tuesday
Books by Tony Hillerman

When I find an author I really enjoy, I want to read everything he or she wrote. And I keep the ones I like best, both fiction and non-fiction.

Bookworm Delights #3: I love books about places I’ve lived. 

Carroll, Ohio by Mildred Marie Clum, Virginia Curiosities by Sharon Cavileer, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday
Carroll, Ohio by Mildred Marie Clum and Virginia Curiosities by Sharon Cavileer

Therefore, I have an array of books about Upstate New York, Washington, DC, and Maryland, as well as Ohio and Virginia.

Bookworm Delights #4: When I travel, especially abroad, I love bringing home books of memories. 

I have everything from books of cityscapes to fiction in translation and historical summaries. I’ll spare you photos of all the foreign cookbooks I’ve accumulated. But here are a couple representing Germany and Italy, places I’ve visited more than once.

travel book, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday

Bookworm Delights #5: Oddball books give me great pleasure.

My favorites of these are the three volumes of Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter.

The first printing of the first volume was in 1960, and the three volumes are extremely entertaining examples of do-it-yourself publishing. The books contain wonderful paragraphs of opinion and assertion, with no attempt to document sources for the statements. For example, his recipe for Doves Wyatt Earp begins with four pages of purported biography of Earp. The recipe itself begins, “Pick ten doves and cut off their wings, feet and head. Remove the entrails and singe off the hair feathers with a candle.” Some of the recipes are quite tasty, the historical bits are fun reading, and all three volumes are illustrated with hundreds of black-and-white photographs, most of them by the author—at least, no photo credits are offered.

Closely related to oddball books are books on oddball topics—or if not oddball, at least on narrow topicswhich I enjoy immensely because of the information therein.

three oddball books, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday

There are whole books out there on toads, dung, how to hide one’s assets and disappear, and just about anything else you could think of.

Bookworm Delights #6: I love having shelves of unread books!

It feels like money in the bank.

With unread books on hand (and this can include unread books on an e-reader!), should you suddenly find yourself unemployed or otherwise short of money to buy more books just now, no problem! Ditto should you find yourself laid up with a broken back or a lingering case of flu.

Bookworm Delights #7: I love receiving books from family and friends.

It’s better if I actually enjoy the book. But opening books inscribed by loved ones, knowing they were thinking about me and my interests—however imperfectly—when they bought them, makes me glow.

Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson by Alan Pell Crawford, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday
Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson by Alan Pell Crawford

And what are books without bookmarks?

Bookworm Delights #8: I love bookmarks.

My favorite commercial bookmarks are book darts
book darts, Bookworm delights for Top Ten Tuesday
Book darts

They are simple, slim, and elegant. They stay put. They can mark a page at top or side or bottom (though I don’t see the point of bottom). Unfortunately, the local Barnes and Nobel doesn’t carry them anymore.

And did you know that Post-Its were invented by a man who was trying to create a bookmark that would stay put when reading on airplanes?

And speaking of bookmarks, decades ago I started using postcards as markers in cookbooks—books that often need more than one marker AND are opened frequently.

postcards, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday

Bookworm Delights #9: I love coming across a postcard sent thirty years ago by someone traveling near or far.

They make me smile and think of the sender. Many of those senders are dead now. And I suppose postcards are going the way of the dodo bird, as friends now send e-mails with photos. Oh, sigh. All the more reason to treasure the ones I have.

Last but not least. . .

Bookworm Delights #10: I delight in my reading chair! 

recliner where I read, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday
Recliner where I read
True bookworms read anywhere and everywhere. I read in doctors’ waiting rooms, and in the dentist’s chair waiting for the impression gunk to set up. In the car when it isn’t my turn to drive. When I’m in bed, lights out, the only glow that from my Kindle. Yes, I’ve even been known to read in the bathroom. But the best, coziest reading—whether with fireplace or AC—is in my recliner, feet up, padded armrests supporting my elbows.

Bottom line

Bookworm delights are as many and as varied as bookworms themselves. What are yours? Tell me in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Top Ten Tuesday: Funny Writing

Top Ten Tuesday, books on humor, funny, humorous books
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they provide a prompt for bloggers. Today’s prompt is Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh.
FUNNY WRITING : I don’t do that. It isn’t for lack of interest; it just doesn’t come naturally to me. I have sometimes written things that make people smile, and several of those short pieces appear in Different Drummer. But when writing those things, humor wasn’t my goal. On the other hand, I definitely chose the cover for smiles!
Different Drummer by Vivian Lawry, humor stories, short stories, funny
That said, I do like to laugh. And it’s a scientific fact that you can’t get ulcers while laughing. So for the sake of your physical and mental health, write funny if you can. And if you can’t, read some of the following.


My all-time favorite humorist is James Thurber—and not just because he lived and worked in Columbus, Ohio. Not only does he write funny, he draws funny! His stories, illustrated with his own cartoons, appeared dozens of times in The New Yorker. If I had to choose just one book of his, it would be The Thurber Carnival.
James Thurber, funny writing, humor writing
The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber
For one thing, it includes selections from several of his other books, as well as some previously unpublished stories. It begins with a third-person bio which Thurber wrote about himself. Even his titles make me smile, e.g., “Are You the Young Man Who Bit My Daughter?” and “Darling, I Seem to Have This Rabbit.” But really, snap up any Thurber you happen to come across.
James Thurber collection of novels, funny writing, humor writing
James Thurber collection of funny writing
I tend to like collections of humor writing. For example, Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures, edited by Jennifer L. Leo, contains stories by Anne Lamott, Ellen DeGeneres, and others.
Sand in my Bra short story collection, funny writing, humor writing,
Sand in My Bra
Two great classic collections are Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker, edited by David Remick and Henry Finder, and An Encyclopedia of Modern American Humor, edited by Bennet Cerf. Both include dozens of time-tested stories.
I also enjoy a number of writers who have assembled entire books of their own work. P.S. Wall’s My Love Is Free . . .But the Rest of Me Don’t Come Cheap comes to mind, as does David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and Erma Bombeck, All I Knew About Animal Behavior I learned in Loehmann’s Dressing Room.
Then there are the humor books targeted to specific groups of readers. The Primal Whimper (Glenn C. Ellenbogen, Ed.) a collection of made-up research that pokes fun at psychologists and psychiatrists. I like What Dr. Spock Didn’t Tell Us: A Survival Kit For Parents (B.M. Atkinson, Jr., with Whitney Darrow, Jr.). I recently found four copies on Amazon to gift to the “children” of friends who are now parents themselves. Maybe part of the reason I like it so much is that the drawings remind me of Thurber!
Perhaps the greatest admiration should go to people who can write entire novels that make us laugh. I’m thinking particularly of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones.
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, writing humor, humor writing
Tom Jones
Also remember P.G. Wodehouse and Steven Leacock. And who could forget Mark Twain? The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  But consider the slim volume The Jumping Frog. It pokes fun at literature in translation!
The Jumping Frog, Mark Twain, writing humor, funny writing
The Jumping Frog
And where do I fit in Peg Bracken? Most well-known for The I Hate To Cook Book, she is just as funny in But I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For the World.
But I Wouldn't Have Missed It For The World! by Pec Bracken, writing humor, funny writing
But I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World!
But we mustn’t limit our laughs to books written primarily for humor. Think Jane Austen and Mary Roach. 

Takeaway for Readers

Take your laughs where you can find them.


Takeaway for Writers

Good humor writing is timeless.


What books make you laugh? Tell me in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter.