Saturday, September 24, 2011

Books for Dummies

We've all seen them--those yellow and black paperback volumes touting their function as 'a reference for the rest of us'. They're everywhere you turn: brick and mortar stores, online sites such as Amazon, flea markets, garage sales. Here is an official looking site boasting 141 pages of such helpful tomes. And here is THE official site where you can subscribe to an email newsletter, browse among books covering 16 different categories from 'business and careers' to 'travel', shop, and read how it all started.

With over 250 million books of kind in print, I think the 'dummies' books rate standing as a valuable resource for writers.

A good rule of thumb is to check out the credentials of the author(s). Does he have a stellar background in the field? Good enough to explain the topic to the rest of us? Look for information in 'About the Author' at the front of the book.

Next, skim the detailed Table of Contents. It's generally lengthy and perhaps even a bit intimidating. But if you're only looking for certain information, why plow through the entire book?

Before you read, familiarize yourself with the icons used to the left of the text throughout the books. (See Introduction) Be prepared for sidebars, which are chock full of facts, but don't let them distract you. Likewise, be aware of the appendices at the end of the book, as well as the index that follows. And, like any serious researcher, don't sit down to read without your notebook and pen. It's easier to jot down a fact (and a page number) than to go back later and try to find it.

I'm currently reading (parts of) Catholicism for Dummies. No, I'm not planning to convert, although the explanations I've read so far of its various theological tenets go right along with my own Protestant ones. (Yes, really--we're more alike than different, my friends.) My purpose is literary--the heroine of my cozy mystery series (currently in book four of six), Penelope Pembroke, is a practicing Catholic--which the reader needs to know in order to understand and appreciate Penelope as she goes about solving mysteries in the sleepy little town of Amaryllis AR.

What I need to know to make Penelope believable is right here within the pages of the 'dummies' book. (It also helps that I have a writing friend who is Catholic and can explain anything I don't quite understand.) While research ought to be verified with more than one credible source, these books are a good starting point for whatever you've a mind to delve into and import into your writing.

Have you used a 'dummies' book in your writing research? Which one--and what was your experience with it?


Beth Trissel said...

How very interesting. I never would have thought of these for research.

Judy said...

Actually, I didn't either, Beth, until I needed information on the latest topic and found the "dummies" book in the library.

BTW--Congrats on your newest accolade--keeping good thoughts for you!

Calisa Rhose said...

I've never used a 'Dummies' book but now that you mention it... If I use true facts that I research for I always try to keep track of where I learn it, a) so I can use it later if I need to, b) to give the author credit. Thanks for this unusual new idea.

Judy said...

I like the fact that the book gives the credentials of the authors.