Here is my book review of ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss:
Sticklers unite! I never thought I’d enjoy a book about punctuation as much as I did. I could have easily read it in one sitting but I took a break after the introduction because it felt like it would never end! I mean, it was over thirty pages long! The chapters that followed were much more interesting and entertaining, and deeply informative. I never imagined that I would get excited reading a book about punctuation!
Truss writes with humour, conviction, authority, and shamelessly shames those who don’t know the difference between a comma and an apostrophe (yes, they exist!), and misplace apostrophes in contractions, plurals (unnecessarily adding them, i.e. banana’s – banana’s what?) and possessives. She explains, in great detail, when and how to use various punctuation marks with numerous literary examples. She even provides a historical background for each of them! I was surprised to learn that George Bernard Shaw once campaigned to reform the spelling of the English language (most notably ‘bomb’ into ‘bom’, because, well, it just saves time!) and even to abolish the use of inverted commas and italics font for titles.
I’d thought I knew the difference between a colon and a semicolon, but after reading the twenty-nine-page chapter titled ‘Airs and Graces’, I learned that there was more to their story than I had originally thought. I did try teaching the colon and semicolon to my students once and immediately thought better of it, then swiftly removed the items from the syllabus. It’s one thing to say you understand the difference, it’s quite another to teach it. Well, I never tried again. One of the reasons Truss says people use for not mastering the colon and semicolon is that “The difference between them is too negligible to be grasped by the brain of man”, which literally made me laugh out loud and choke on my own saliva! And I definitely will be rereading that chapter again, more than once if I have to!
Punctuation has always fascinated me; I even campaigned to include punctuation worksheets and exercises for students during my time as an English panel-chairperson (though a somewhat short-lived role). It deeply frustrated and irritated me when students (and even my fellow colleagues, who were native speakers, mind you!) consistently misused you’re/ your, it’s/ its, they’re/ their and the like. I highly recommend this book to them!
Well, I tremendously enjoyed reading all about punctuation – the history, function and usage – and how important they are to language and communication. I will surely be paying close attention to punctuation from now on (not that I hadn’t already before). I did, at times, find Truss rather obnoxious and snobbish, arrogantly sitting on her high-horse while silently mocking or yelling at greengrocers, editors and a poor old pen-pal named Kerry-Anne. It can come off as either incredibly pretentious or utterly hilarious.
Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments.