Ask any five writers what’s on their bookshelf, and you’ll get five different answers. Still, you should see some similarities among their collections. There should be at least one decent dictionary, a thesaurus and more than a few volumes on grammar and punctuation.
Here’s a peek at the ones in my office, most of which have well-cracked spines and smudged pages. These are my staples—the ones I use frequently, sometimes daily—to keep my usage on track and hone my editorial skills.
Webster’s II New College Dictionary; American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language; The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. The first two are my trusty workhorses on American English. Not only do they define but they also provide an array of useful information: geographic and biographic entries, abbreviations, a list of colleges and universities, measurement conversion tables, foreign words and phrases, forms of address, etc.
I use Oxford to compare American and British English because the two are separate and distinct languages. If you harbor any doubts about this, just ask my husband, a Brit who, despite living in the U.S. for more than a decade, still parks his car in a car park.