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_Book Review: "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" (Lynne Truss, Profile Books, 2003)_

I had been half-hoping that one of my book-loving relatives would have bought me this book for Christmas, when it was first published - it's the sort of book that makes a good present when you're not sure what else to get, and the number of copies in the bookstores (at least the ones near me) in the lead up to Christmas bears out that point. Having the words "Book of the Year 2004" in bold letters on the cover doesn't hurt, either.

Sadly, however, my relatives were obviously fairly sure what I wanted, so I didn't get it. (I did get a few other good books, though, so I'm not complaining). I toyed with waiting till next Christmas, but in the end I couldn't wait, so I went out and bought myself a copy.

Well, with a subtitle like "The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation", I felt I had to at least have a look. (The main title, by the way, is a reference to an old joke about a panda that walks into a bar; The key point being the misinterpretation of the phrase 'eats shoots and leaves', by the addition of a comma).

Lynne Truss writes well, and the book has a wonderfully light-hearted feel to it thoughout, even though it's dealing with a subject that the author obviously feels quite strongly about (In fact, she proudly declares herself to be a punctuation stickler).

At its core, the book is an instruction manual, setting out the rules of use for pretty much all the punctuation symbols in common use today. But in getting to that point (pun intended), she covers a wide range of other ground, from amusingly mis-punctuated signs to the very history of punctuation, and how we arrived at the system we have today. In between, she tells of the perils of ambiguity caused by bad punctuation: the criminal who was famously "hanged on a comma", and the army sent in answer to a desperate-sounding telegram only to find it wasn't needed.

The book has chapters for all the various types of punctuation. Some are longer than others, but all are covered in detail, and with the same entertaining wit. But the chapter that really catches the reader is the first one (after the lengthy introduction): the chapter on apostrophes. I suspect that it was the apostrophe and its mis-use that drove Ms Truss into writing this book in the first place; she gets quite worked up over them, and in fact a fair amount of the introduction talks about them too. Only the comma comes close in the amount she writes about it, but this is understandable, given the number of different tasks the comma deals with (I'd never realised it was so versatile; I've always just used it without thinking about it).

But the one thing that struck me as I read the book was just how much I agreed with it. When she rails against bad comma use, I know I've thought exactly the same thing. The author has struck a chord that will resonate with just about everyone who seriously calls themselves a writer, and hopefully with most readers too. If you've ever seen a sign selling "Book's and Tape's" and inwardly cringed at the sight, you'll love this book. (On the other hand, if you saw that and didn't see anything wrong with it, you probably ought to be made to read it!)

"Eats, Shoots & Leaves" can be found in most good bookstores.
The publisher can be found online at

Spudley Strikes Again

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The following comments are for "Book Review: "Eats, Shoots & Leaves""
by Spudley

I LOVE this book!
I am SOOOOOO happy to hear that someone else shares my enthusiasm for this amazing book!! I am still only on about page 20 or so. But I absolutely LOVE the book! I just purchased the book last weekend on my sister's recommendation. We had been eating lunch at a restaurant with a sign that read "Ladie's Room," my sister joked that she wished she had a sharpie.
Anyhow, great review!! I just thought I'd add that I share the high opinion of this book!!

( Posted by: everybodyelsesgirl [Member] On: August 16, 2004 )

Commas R the Enemy
I hate punctuation. If I could only be allowed to use exclamation points, question marks, and periods then I would. Commas especially put me in a quandry about how many and where and whether it's necessary. Ugh! I will definitely have to buy this book if only for the commas alone!

( Posted by: Shel [Member] On: September 7, 2004 )

I actually found this book absolutely dreadful, though perhaps I'm in a minority! When I first read it, I kept finding punctuation errors everywhere. I thought, "Is something wrong with me? Surely this can't be so!"

Then the New Yorker came out with its hilarious review of the book: "Bad Comma: Lynne Truss's strange grammar," by Louis Menand. So I wasn't crazy after all! Menand does a wonderful job of pointing out the constant errors of punctuation and grammar, and drawing attention to the fact that Truss seems to admit that she doesn't really know anything about the subject, and has only a vague notion of what the rules of grammar and punctuation are.

I wouldn't have been as pissed-off by the book, nor by Truss' own questionable English, if she hadn't been so arrogant about her own superiority. Her tone is condescending at the best of times; usually she just sounds like a bitter old schoolmarm (see how I used the semicolon to separate two independent clauses? Truss could learn from that!).

On the other hand, I share her desire to see better punctuation in books, signs, newspapers, and church bulletins. But, having spent a lot of time combing through letters and newspapers (British and American, primarily) from the 1860s to the 1940s, I realize that grammar, punctuation, and spelling aren't much worse than they used to be, either. And people complained about it then as they do now.

But let's not give in to the English-challenged among us, even if we're outnumbered!

( Posted by: Viper9 [Member] On: September 25, 2004 )

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