As it’s the season of gifting – and we happen to know a few people who make a living off the written word – we’ve put together a list of the top five loveliest writing manuals to give this December. The below editions of some of the best-loved guides are as aesthetically pleasing as they are insightful. Because when it comes to art, it’s okay if beauty is on the outside as well as on the inside.
5. Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. Penguin Books reprint edition.
One of the more fanciful and subtle writing guides, Letters to a Young Poet is meant to be consumed as an epistolary novel rather than a traditional reference book. As you might expect, the text is a correspondence between the famed writer Rilke and a 19-year-old student looking for guidance on whether to pursue a career as a writer or a military man. This geometric, art deco-inspired edition pays homage to the era in which the letters were written: the book was originally published in 1929, compiled by Franz Xaver Kappus, the ‘young poet’ in question.
4. Spunk & Bite, by Arthur Plotnik. Random House USA hardcover edition.
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke expresses to Kappus that writing can benefit more from emotion than from memorised skill. Spunk & Bite, while more instructional than the former, encourages readers to do just that, claiming that edginess and the injection of self will draw readers in in a way that more technical texts sometimes can’t. Says one reviewer, ‘Plotnik has written a wonderful primer for writers desiring to move beyond competent writing into exceptional writing.’ We agree: this book would be a welcome gift for a writer whose New Year’s resolution is to expand on the talent they’ve already found. At the very least, they’ll appreciate the punny title inspired by another book on our list.
3. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Original Anchor books edition.
Probably best for those pondering how to become a writer or pros who’ve lost their inspiration, Bird by Bird has long been considered a moving look at both writing and life. The title is derivative of some of the earliest advice the writer herself received (by way of eavesdropping) from her father, also a professional wordsmith. After finding himself needing to write a book report on multiple bird species, with only a night to go before his deadline, Lamott’s older brother was given the zen advice, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ The book’s cover echoes the sentiment that simplicity can be the best approach, with lovely illustrations of a robin’s egg, a weathervane, and those inspiring creatures themselves.
2. The Elements of Eloquence, by Mark Forsyth. Mark Forsyth’s Ternion Set, Icon Books.
A favourite of Copylab’s ilk, The Elements of Eloquence is lauded not only for its insight on the craft of writing, but for the way it takes its own advice: by all accounts, Eloquence is beautifully written and a pleasure to read. Though the book is thoroughly modern, referencing works from the King James Bible to recent pop songs, the Icon Books hardcover edition would not look out of place in the happy golden days of yore – its gilded text set into an evergreen cover is seasonal and Victorian. If you’re feeling generous, spring for Mark Forsyth’s Ternion Set, which packs Eloquence in a box set with the author’s The Etymologicon and The Horologicon, books that explore the stranger side of rhetoric while looking just as gothic on a bookshelf.
1. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk & EB White. Illustrated edition.
While there are those out there who believe that The Elements of Style, the current version of which was written in 1959, has become somewhat outdated, it is still considered one of the ultimate guides to the English language. In fact, Time magazine named it one of the 100 best and most influential books just three years ago. Looking beyond the lasting relevance of its words, this particular edition, illustrated by Maira Kalman, is, frankly, just plain special. ‘Appreciation for this slim volume has taken a turn toward the whimsical and even surreal,’ said The New York Times of the illustrated edition, which was revamped in 2005. Kalman’s cover features a sweet drawing of a hound dog, and it’s easy to associate the innocent image with EB White’s other masterpiece, Charlotte’s Web. The nostalgia only adds to the little book’s appeal: it’s hard to imagine a lover of literature or art who wouldn’t adore this bright edition.
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