Eats, Shoots and Leaves — Lynne Truss
This is a short, fun, improbably successful book that manages to be both informative and hilarious at the same time. And amazingly enough, it does so on the subject of English punctuation. Lynne Truss is a British author who has been a punctuation stickler all her life. She addresses the use and abuse of all the common punctuation symbols, from the comma and apostrophe through the subtleties of the dash and ellipsis. Although I’m not perfect at punctuation, I tend to have a pretty good eye for spotting gross errors. Ms. Truss liberally salts her text with examples of the most hideous punctuation misuses, and usually adds on a sarcastic comment or two that pretty closely mirrors what I was thinking when I saw it.
This book actually does accomplish a purpose other than ridicule and humor, however. It is full of useful information on the subtleties of using punctuation symbols effectively. In addition to the lists of rules for using punctuation symbols such as the comma and apostrophe, there are many examples of both effective and ineffective use of punctuation. There are many places in the text where she shows a snippet of text punctuated two different ways. Sometimes the effect is a stark distortion of meaning; sometimes it’s a very slight change of emphasis. Often the resulting differences are hard to actually put into words, but they are there.
I had purchased this book for my Mom as a birthday present. I have fond memories of helping my Mom grade her college English papers when I was in junior high, and sharing a good laugh over the best examples of the horrific illiteracy of the students. I remember being somewhat scandalized that these college students — almost godlike creatures to an eighth-grader — wrote such pitiful English. After Mom finished reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves, she was kind enough to lend it back to me. I had originally expected to read this book and solely be entertained, and was pleasantly surprised to also learn many rules I never knew about the proper use of punctuation.
The book takes only about three hours or so to read, as it is written in a very conversational style that makes even the driest minutiae go down fairly easily. I greatly enjoyed it, although I do think that the subject matter is not going to be of true general appeal.