Monday, May 11, 2020

Grammar Mini-Reviews: Dreyer's English and Semicolon

Benjamin Dreyer is the copy chief at a little-known publishing house known as Random House. He knows a thing or two about ensuring that prose is clear, error-free, and perhaps even delightful to read. Dreyer insists he is not writing an essential style guide (there is probably no such thing). Instead, he shares the rules that aren't quite as concrete as you might think, and the conversations he has in the margins with the writers he works with. (Don't worry, we get over our objections about ending a sentence with a preposition in chapter two).

The first half of the book is a meandering sort of meditation on how to write well. The second half is a list with explanations: what's the difference between affect and effect? How do I spell the name of that author? (It's Virginia Woolf with two O's.) Dreyer's English is a book for writers who want to improve their craft, editors who want a better handle on the why of things, and any reader who is fascinated by language. It's also delightfully funny. The footnotes alone are worth the price of the book. If you find yourself in need of a good style guide (or twelve), you might as well have one that will make you laugh while you figure out if you should be using further or farther.

Dreyer's English:
An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style from the Copy Chief of Random House
By Benjamin Dreyer
Random House January 2019
256 pages
Read via Netgalley

Ceclia Watson used to glory in the rules of grammar and punctuation. She knew that there was right way and a wrong way to use the comma and the semicolon. But as she researched the history of usage, she discovered that things were not as clear cut as she had believed. In Semicolon, she breaks down the origins and history of the much-beloved and much-maligned mark. She examines the ways grammar can become a weapon and how it could change the meaning of a law, and analyzes the much-beloved prose of writers like Raymond Chandler, Herman Melville, and Rebecca Solnit.

This book is well-researched and easy to read (two things that don't often co-exist). Watson's passion for language, grammar, and punctuation make the reader very interested in this tiny symbol that has both furious detractors and fierce advocates--a tiny dot and curl from a pen can change everything. If you are the kind of person who is interested in how language evolves and how it affects the people who use it, this is the perfect book for you.

The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark
By Cecelia Watson
Ecco July 2019
213 pages
From the library


  1. I am so happy to read your review of Semicolon, and I was delighted to find that it is at my library.

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