Every few years, a book comes along that is an absolutely perfect gift for those brave souls who never confuse their pronouns nor mix their tenses. Four years ago, that book was Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss; three years ago it was Maira Kalman’s elegant, witty illustrations that made it imperative that I own a new copy of Elements of Style. This year, my writer and reader friends might (I said might) each receive a copy of Things That Make Us [sic]. As for me, I already own a copy, so I’ve thoughtfully included some other grammar books that may be just as good to give as to receive.
Things That Make Us [sic]: The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World by Martha Brockenbrough
Last week I refused to buy an eye pencil at Sephora because the manufacturer’s display copy said “compliment” when, clearly, the taupe-based brown would prefer to “complement” hazel eyes. If you’ve ever had similar feelings or if you weep over a subject-verb disagreement, then this is the book for you. Funny and useful, with charming spot illustrations. Both the author and illustrator (Jaime Temairik) live in Seattle.
Literally, the Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again by Paul Yeager
It may not be the best language book, but it’s a lot of fun to have someone acknowledge just how wrong it is to verbify nouns. Short and breezy examples drive home common clichés and redundant repetition. My favorite chapter is titled “What a Way to Make a Living,” filled with ineffective workplace words (or is that words of an ineffective work place?).
Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs — Even if You’re Right by June Casagrande
The author of Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies is back—and she’s still funny—with chapters tackling “Adverb Adversity,” “Verbal Abuse” and “Noun Sequitur.” You may not agree with all of her examples, but I suspect that’s part of the fun of feeling grammatically superior.
When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse by Ben Yagoda
Actually, this book is arguably mostly the author Ben Yagoda dissecting the English language’s idiosyncrasies. (Look at that! Four of Yagoda’s pet peeves in one sentence.) This author is a cranky grammarian who is entertaining in small doses—and often that’s exactly how one wants to read a grammar book.
Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey
The nuns taught Florey well. My friend and co-worker David introduced me to this book, which he says brings a “fresh wrinkle to the genre.” Perhaps that is the genre of diagramming, which is new territory for me. This book is fun for those who truly know grammar—as well as for those of us who might (I said might) be faking it.
Related Shelf Talk posts: Books for fiction writers and author Martha Brockenbrough’s essential books for writers.