Sunday, January 25, 2009

#37 - "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" by Lynne Truss

I first thought that Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003) by Lynne Truss would be too short for Cannonball Read, but when I spotted it in the library, it measured in at a surprisingly wordy 204 pages (not even including the Foreward and Preface). Eats, Shoots & Leaves has been on my radar for awhile, but I was recently reminded of my lack of practical grammar and punctuation knowledge while reading Consider the Lobster, which included David Foster Wallace’s essay on grammar and usage. Some of my more obsessive compulsive tendencies would naturally put me more in the more “stickler" cateogry, but a general lack of formal grammar learnin’ often leaves me guessing as to what is correct, what is not, and what can be left up to my discretion.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves was a rather fun and informative book. The running theme is Truss’s love of the English language and the importance of punctuation in communicating fully and clearly through writing. Truss illustrates the necessity of punctuation through a couple of examples, including:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Truss then goes on to explain the history, basic rules, and general guidelines for some punctuation marks, including: the period (or in England, full stop), comma, apostrophe, colon, semi-colon, dash, exclamation mark, italics, and the ellipsis. Truss even manages to fit in a little rant against emoticons near the end. Now, I don’t have any particular interest in the history of punctuation, but there is just enough here to give some kind of context for how writing has developed throughout the centuries.

Truss writes in a friendly, engaging, and often amusing manner that made this book easy to read; she manages to go over the main rules without being pedantic, monotonous or boring. This book is certainly not thorough enough to use as a grammar or punctuation reference, but it was an entertaining way to refresh my memory on some of those pesky punctuation rules. Probably most important, though, is Truss’s call for society to defend the importance of clear, thoughtful writing and not to surrender to the wayward pressures of lazy e-mailing and texting habits but to continue to pursue the quality and subtlety of the English language made possible through punctuation.

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