My third summer book is called Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. It’s written by Lynne Truss. I purchased the book at a farmers’ market near my house. Side note: how awesome is it that there’s a book tent at the farmers’ market? (It’s given me new joy in going to the farmers’ market.)
This book was SO entertaining. I laughed out loud many times, prompting Nick to take a picture of me during one of the more uncontrollable and teary sessions (which occurred in a very quiet library).
Oh, right, the reason I was telling you that I found it at a farmers’ market is this: it came with a sticky note on the front that said, “A great book for grammar
Nazis lovers.” So that’s mainly why I bought it. As we were walking home I read the back and laughed out loud, as I hope you will when you read it in the picture I’ll include at the end.
The main result of reading this book is that I am now terribly self-conscious about all of the mistakes (or minor amateur-style giveaways) I’m making as I write this. The author goes through the main marks of punctuation that we use every day and gripes about their misuse (very cathartic – where most of the laughter was induced); gives brief instructions on the correct usage of each mark; and talks about the historical background and evolution of each one. It’s wonderful. I did consider myself a “grammar…lover” or at least a stickler, but I am ashamed (and delighted?) to say that I also learned some things about my grammar methods that will hopefully help me to improve.
The biggest thing she affirmed is that you must know how to use punctuation correctly in order to deviate from it strategically. I like to think that this is what I’m doing most of the time when I throw parentheses or dashes in the mix haphazardly for effect. But you have no way of knowing that, and I probably seem amateur (and definitely am) most of the time.
I’m currently kicking myself for not marking up the book’s pages with my pen, but I just didn’t want to bother stopping at the time for the sake of my future self. I also anticipate referring to it again from time to time for the laughs as much as for the advice and rules. There was one thing I put a star next to toward the end:
“Even in the knowledge that our punctuation has arrived at its present state by a series of accidents; even in the knowledge that there are at least seventeen rules for the comma, some of which are beyond explanation by top grammarians – it is a matter for despair to see punctuation chucked out as worthless by people who don’t know the difference between who’s and whose, and whose bloody automatic ‘grammar checker’ can’t tell the difference either. And despair was the initial impetus for this book. I saw a sign for “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it, and something deep inside me snapped; snapped with that melancholy sound you hear in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, like a far-off cable breaking in a mine-shaft.”
And I shake my fist in the air and say, “HUZZAH!” And I sigh in relief that there are people out there doing the good work of spreading the word and reminding losers like me to stop every now and again and go back and remember what I was taught. I need to teach myself these lessons again, especially if I’m going to purport to be some kind of a writer or nerd or grammar person. First good sign: I loved this book.