Fire the Grammar Police and Read this Book
- April 17, 2019
- C. Michele Dorsey
Read this book. Just do it. It doesn’t matter if you are a writer or not.
Words are the building blocks of communication and how we use them matters. There are rules, some of which are okay to break, but there are others that signal a lack of talent using your native language. This is not going to win you points in your professional or personal life. A judge once told me that if he sees an attorney spell “judgment” with an “e,” the lawyer immediately loses credibility with him. (Unless the lawyer was from England where the word is spelled “judgement.”)
Dreyer’s English, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, was written by Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House was released on January 29, 2019, and is currently #359 in all books on Amazon. It is #1 in several word and grammar categories. Dreyer’s English is that good. The fiction writer in me marvels that a book about grammar soars above great works of fiction. What is going on here?
This is the second time this week I have confessed that I attended Catholic school. In addition, I was raised by a father who received a master’s degree in English when few people went on to get a master’s degree in anything and who pioneered in television communication. Believe me, grammar was revered in our home. And those nuns. For them, diagramming sentences on a blackboard was the new math, which was “alright” (my use of the Gertrude Stein version of the word would make Dreyer’s nose wrinkle) by me since I like words far better than numbers.
Rules are created for a reason. If rational, they create order and consistency. As an attorney who practiced law for 35 years, I respect rules. As a writer, I understand most of the rules when followed result in better writing and that before you deviate from the rules, you must know what they are.
Enter Dreyer, whose ability to discuss and explain all things grammar in an entertaining and mostly non-judgmental way is exceptional. He covers the rules, punctuation, grammar, words frequently misused, and just about everything else you need to know, as many authors before him have done. What is different is that somehow Dreyer manages to entertain his readers while (never “whilst”) expounding on a topic as dry and vexing as powdery mildew.
I’ve got a little bit of the rebel in me (another instance where Dreyer would likely object to my usage) and confess that I can be drawn to rule-breakers, especially writers who are major successes after breaking the rules. Go ahead and tell New York Times bestseller Louise Penny that you never change point of view in the middle of a chapter.
Dreyer has a tolerance, if not a speck of respect for rule-breakers. He is refreshingly not patronizing. His book is the first grammar book I could read from cover to cover without falling asleep and one I’ll keep handy when I write.
What grammar/writing books have you enjoyed and learned from?
P.S. My apologies to Mr. Dreyer for all of the errors in this blog. But not for the rules I broke intentionally.
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