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The runaway success of Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves is rather inexplicable. One would think that the number of people who both know how to use grammar properly and are genuinely bothered by the apparent illiteracy of the masses would be so insignificant that Truss could never rely on such a small minority to be interested in her book. Perhaps they simply make up for their lack of numbers with devout fanaticism, but are people really as concerned about the endangered state of the apostrophe as the book sales suggest?

Truss' book, subtitled The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, is a mix between an instruction manual for the grammar nazi in your life and a eulogy for a time when people still cared enough about the power of language to take the time to learn to punctuate their sentences properly. In our modern age of text messaging and cable news crawlers, proper writing seems to have fallen by the wayside, or so the author suggests.

The book is peppered with British examples and usage, and so American readers may find some parts of the book a little idiomatic or even hypercritical. But continental differences aside, the spirit of the book remains intact, even for us Yankees. Good writing cannot exist without proper punctuation; it is the basis of clear and precise communication as well as the most beautiful and timeless prose.

Of course, the book is also just fun to read. Truss offers would-be grammarians advice that is as funny as it is helpful. The book abounds with such gems as: "Don't use commas like a stupid person." It's a refreshing evolution from Strunk and White's Elements of Style.

Even if you are not an English teacher, you may find something of value in Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Proper grammar is quickly falling by the wayside, but it ought to be universal. Even if you never bothered to learn it, or if you have just forgotten some fundamentals, Truss offers up a book that is accessible for everyone. If nothing else, you can perfect your knowledge of punctuation and thus enjoy a smug sense of personal superiority.

-- Eddie Kovsky


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