Thursday, January 24, 2008

Strunk Has Style!

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, as we all know (at least, my residency posse knows), is a tiny book filled with nuggets of gold for writers. That can include everyone, if you're still in school working on college papers and whatnot.

The book is the smallest grammar/style book I've ever encountered, due to (ah, now here I almost wrote "the fact that" - Strunk would be hitting me in the head with a ruler) only a certain number of "rules" listed. Where to put a comma, a semicolon, how to handle yourself with apostophes and so on. I have another grammar book leftover from a creative writing class that lists more usage rules for em dashes, puncutation inside and outside of quotation marks (which I wish Strunk had addressed), and other such items. You get the idea. There's also a nice list of words; how to not screw up allude with elude. Again, you get the idea. If you remember those Mead folders with all the junk on the inside, you should remember the English one with the list of commonly confused words.

But enough about what's inside the book. What about it? It's good (what did you expect?). Strunk wrote this for his students, something I thought was a fantastic idea, and when I started to think about it, I wondered why I'd never heard of the book before. I think everyone in my high school English classes could have used this book. Especially since our teachers (except a one of them) didn't do jack to teach us. It's amazing I love English at all, considering much of the time was spent either watching movies or filling out sheets of busy work. Or doing nothing. I recall doing very little in my senior English class. Right, so I don't get on a rant about poor English teaching, back to the book. Strunk chooses brevity over wordiness, a good idea since wordiness can kill a sentence. I loved some of the ideas he put down on ways to cut out unnecessary words and phrases. I was happy reading, knowing that many of these things I was already doing through choice. You know, that feeling of "That just doesn't sound right" before you reword a sentence? I think a lot of us tend to do that, not because a teacher told us to, but because it isn't hitting our ear right. We want ear candy. Ear candy!

I did feel a bit ignorant when reading words like "gerund" and "participle" and other grammar terms because I couldn't remember what they meant. Ok, shut up, it's been years since I was in a 7th grade English class learning these things. Even then the lack of enthusiasm the teacher had made me drowsy and I couldn't ever stand picking sentences apart and graphing them. I always thought, "This isn't right! A sentence shouldn't be subjected to this!" I was too busy being indignant on the sentence's part to accept what I was supposed to be learning. Now that I sound like a bad student (wasn't, really, I aced the class, but our teacher needed a vacation or to spice up the class somehow). ANYWAY, to get back on point, I had to go look up what some of those meant, only to find out later that (duh) there was a glossary in the back of the book. I laughed to myself and hoped I wasn't the only one who needed it.

I wonder who put it there - Strunk or White? Either way, good move.

I only borrowed the book from work (yeah, again I look like a bad student, I didn't buy it right away, but I have learned that when I do, I'll opt for the paperback instead), but it's on my list o' books to buy. I have no shelfspace (no, seriously, I don't. But I am the God of Organization, so I'm sure I'll be able to think of something), even though I did find a great deal on a pristine copy of Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. Yeah, my description has been sucking this time around. I think this surprised one person at residency who had my submission piece. Looking at some of my other works, I don't know what's going on. I have some lovely similes and metaphors.

Strunk and White, eventual revision buddies.

Currently: Whoo!

1 comment:

annesible said...

Yeah, Element's of Style is a peach.