Five Books Every Blogger Should Read or Own

Writers need to read if they want to improve. We learn, we borrow, we’re influenced, and in some cases, we steal.

Whether you’re a blogging veteran or wet-behind-the-ears rookie, there are certain books that will give you the knowledge, insight, and ability to be an effective blogger.

I am always reading books, sometimes in my industry, sometimes outside (my favorites are Christopher Moore humor novels and British murder mysteries), and trying to learn some of the techniques these writers use.

I have five books that I think every blogger should own, or at least read, if they want to improve their writing and become a better blogger.

These five books vary in industry and focus. They may tell you how to blog, how to write, or how to spell. But these are the five books that I have found to be the most valuable in my own professional blogging career.

  • Corporate Blogging for Dummies: My good friend, Douglas Karr (@douglaskarr), and Chantelle Flannery wrote this tome for corporate bloggers everywhere. And while the title suggests it’s for corporate bloggers, anyone who wants to be a blogger can learn from this one. It talks about why blogging is important, what tools are available, and even how to write blog posts.
  • The AP Stylebook: I’ve long maintained that blogging should follow AP Style when it comes to settling confusing questions of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. After all, we’re becoming citizen journalists, so we should follow journalistic style. The AP Stylebook can answer odd and esoteric questions, like the “proper” abbreviation of state names (AP style does not use the two letter postal abbreviations), whether to capitalize job titles (you don’t, unless you’re referring to the President of the United States), and even whether to use an Oxford comma (they don’t, but I think they’re horribly wrong about this one.)
  • Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: (affiliate link) I am a regular listener of Mignon Fogarty’s (@GrammarGirl) “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips” podcast, and recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their grammar and punctuation usage. Her book on Better Writing is also a must for anyone who wants to improve their writing mechanics, and avoid the little nagging errors that are so tiny but seem to throw everyone into a terrible tizzy. (I’m also a fan of the A Way With Words show on NPR/podcast, but they don’t have a book out. Plus, I made Grammar Girl’s “Wordsmiths” Twitter list, which I’m very proud of.)
  • Ernest Hemingway’s short stories: If you want to learn how to write with punch and power, read Hemingway. Especially his short stories. Especially anything with Nick Adams (Big Two-Hearted River). It has that punchy, short dramatic style that tells you how to craft short sentences that carry a lot of impact. Hemingway cut his teeth at the Kansas City Star in 1917, learning the style that made him the most recognized writer of his day. While some of his language and ideas are definitely from the early 1900s, his writing style is still something to study and learn from.
  • Once More Around the Park

  • Roger Angell’s Once More Around the Park: Roger Angell is the baseball writer for The New Yorker, and the master of the long meandering sentence. If Hemingway is a boxer, writing short, punchy sentences, Roger Angell is the old dude doing tai chi in the park on a warm Sunday morning, moving slowly but fluidly, and never stopping until he has achieved inner peace and gotten a low-impact workout in at the same time. Angell’s descriptions of baseball games, baseball fans, and even the parks is something even the non-fan will enjoy. It’s a book I definitely recommend reading, whether you’re a baseball fan or not. While the fan will appreciate his explanation of the games and the names of the fan’s childhood, the writer will appreciate the images Angell is able to conjure up, and the ease at which he writes long, smart sentences that carry the sounds and smells of a faraway day.
  • What are some of your favorite books for writers and bloggers? Are there any that you recommend? Any that you would stay away from? Leave a comment and let’s hear from you.

Did Merle Haggard Marry Two Men? Another Reason to Use the Oxford Comma

Did Merle Haggard marry Kris Kristoferson and Robert Duvall?

Of course not! Don’t be stupid!

But you might not know it if you look at a newspaper clipping from an unnamed newspaper (which was originally posted on James Joyner’s Outside the Beltway blog, “Merle Haggard and the Gay Serial Comma“). The clipping features a photo of the country music star with the caption, “The documentary was filmed over three years. Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.”

Photo from newspaper about Merle Haggard

Look very carefully at the last 9 words — “his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.” The sentence, as it’s written, looks like Rural Merle was married to Kristofferson and Duvall.

That’s because the newspaper forgot to put the Oxford comma after “Kristofferson.” If they had, it would look like the documentary interviewed four people: two ex-wives, Kristofferson, and Duvall.

But the Associated Press typically does not use this device, and as a result, most newspaper writers and editors have taken it to mean “There will be NO Oxford Commas EVER!” What they forget is that the Oxford comma may be used if it will clarify a confusing sentence. And the sentence about Merle Haggard’s marriage partners is about as confusing as it can get.

Adding the Oxford comma would have told us that Kristofferson and Duvall were not part of the previous group, “his two ex-wives,” but rather, were two additional people. It’s exactly like the book author who dedicated his book “To my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.”

I may have the occasional argument with an editor or punctuation stickler about the use of my beloved Oxford comma, but I have never seen an instance where using the Oxford comma caused confusion. On the other hand, there are occasions where blindly adhering to the “no Oxford comma” rule can cause all kinds of confusion. Or at least raise some interesting questions.