Last week I told you about my writing books, those valued, printed friends who’ve gone through this writing/editing/agenting journey with me. This week, I want to introduce you to some buddies that are too often ignored. Or avoided. Or cursed.
Yes, my friends, I’m talking about grammar books.
I, too, am less than delighted with grammar. However, I’m delighted by the following books that are a wonderful—and fun!—resource for those of us who work with words. So, without further ado…
Of course, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is front and center. I have the little book with a white and red cover, but in ’05 I received a wonderful gift from writer/editor Erin Healy: The Elements of Style, Illustrated. It’s a beautiful clothbound version of EoS, with lovely, four-color illustrations that bring the examples to life. I love it!
Then there are the style and grammar books by Karen Elizabeth Gordon:
The Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed
Torn Wings and Faux Pas: A Flashbook of Style, a Beastly Guide through the Writer’s Labyrinth
The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed
I’m telling you, no one can make grammar more fun than this author! She uses gothic narrative to explain every rule with precision and clarity. Consider the following examples:
The werewolf had a toothache.
The afflicted fang made him wince.
The chimera coughed.
The god thundered.
And this explanation of Participles:
Now we’re encountering a beast that is so multifariously useful that it tempts you to overuse and misuse and misplace.
And the illustrations are outstanding! Great fun.
One that I discovered in recent years is Lapsing into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How to Avoid Them. This gem was penned by Bill Walsh, the copy desk chief of the business desk at the Washington Post. Just reading some of his chapter titles and section headings tells you what fun you’ll have reading this one:
Dash It All, Period
Retronyms, or Sometimes a Muffin is Just a Muffin
And last but not least, there’s the old fav, Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande. The subtitle on this one says it all: “A Guide to Language for Fun & Spite.” Again, perusing the chapter titles gives you a glimpse into the fun contained in these pages:
For Whom the Snob Trolls: Who/Whom and Why You’re Right Not to Care
To Boldly Blow: Only Windbags Fuss over Split Infinitives
Snobbery Up With Which You Should Not Put: Prepositions
SO, those are my go-to grammar grapplers. How about you? What books do you rely on…no…upon which books do you rely…hmmm…In which books do you put your reliance…
Oh, never mind! Just share!
Great suggestions, some I have never heard of. I will be adding them to my pile 🙂
What do I rely on? Years of experience. . . No, I don’t read grammar books, yes I do read writing books. I keep atlases and commentaries near me. The two commentaries I most often reference are The Expositor’s Bible Commentary and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. The atlases I keep at hand are The Sacred Bridge, Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, and the New Moody Atlas of the Bible. Near the atlases are a couple of archaeology related books: The Bible Rocks and Time, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, and Archaeology and the Old Testament. And of course, there’s whatever I’m reading at the moment: a Phillip K. Dick novel, The Hole in the Gospel, and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution.
I confess I have no grammar books. I’m probably over-confident, but with a degree in Journalism, I think I know most of the rules pretty well. The one I want (but haven’t been willing to cough up the cash to buy) is the Chicago Manual of Style. There are some things I learned one way that the CMS dictates should be done differently. For instance, in Journalism school(we used the AP Style Manual), we learned to spell out numbers below ten only. So: “I have three children, 15, 13, and 11.” I think the Chicago Manual would spell out all those numbers. But I don’t remember, which is why I ought to buy the book.
Some of those titles sound so fun! Worth reading, just for the humor.
I confess (hangs her head), I have no grammar books. If I was going to get one, I’d probably buy the Chicago Manual of Style, however, some of the books you mentioned today sound interesting and fun. 🙂 Thanks for sharing these, Karen.
I’m rather fond of Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style — Arthur Plotnik’s answer to Shrunk & White. Yes, you can learn a lot & it’s wonderful for developing your voice but it’s also just fun to read!
I have a worn-out copy of Strunk and White–your new one sounds wonderful. I’ll have to look for it. I also keep a freshman college grammar handbook for basic reference. For fun, how about “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” by Lynne Truss. Very clever, and she makes her points with humor.
Good post, Karen!
Perfect timing, Karen. Just this week (while helping my daughter with her 6th grade grammar) I discovered one of my favorite sentence constructions is actually a run-on. Time to brush up on the grammar books. Thanks for the list.