Book review: How to escape the grammar Nazis and write with clarity and grace

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

Senseofstyle

Like a lot of writers, I’m a sucker for a book that seems as if it’ll help me write better.

Thing is, a lot of books that promise this don’t really help. In fact some of them seem designed to make me a much worse writer — stilted, robotic, monotonous, and confused.

Especially stylebooks.

While some stylebooks are helpful, even mission-critical for writers, many are a crazed hodge-podge of duh advice (“omit needless words”), grammar myths (“don’t split infinitives), and flat-out terrible advice (“never use passive voice”). If you follow that kind of advice, God help you.

(I’ve ranted elsewhere about the much-loved but mostly destructive Strunk and White stylebook.)

Pinker’s book can save you from the stylebook poison. The Sense of Style is kind of an anti-style-book style book. It’s about common sense and paying attention to your writing, not following misleading myths and pet peeves of the self-proclaimed grammar mavens:

…incurious about the logic and history of the English language and the ways in which it has been used…. They have a tin ear for its nuances of meaning and emphasis. Too lazy to crack open a dictionary, they are led by gut feeling and intuition rather than attention to careful scholarship. For these writers, language is not a vehicle for clarity and grace but a way to signal their membership in a social clique.

If all this book did was poke grammar Nazis in the eye, I’d recommend it. But it does more than that: It proposed a better way to think about writing. It can help you with anything from word choice to sentence structure to overall coherence.

It can make you a better fundraiser.

Highly, highly recommended. Available at Amazon, Powell’s, and probably everywhere else.


Comments

2 responses to “Book review: How to escape the grammar Nazis and write with clarity and grace”

  1. Kivi Leroux Miller Avatar
    Kivi Leroux Miller

    I bought it awhile ago, but couldn’t get into it, despite thinking I would love it! Thanks for the reminder to try again.

  2. Kivi Leroux Miller Avatar
    Kivi Leroux Miller

    I bought it awhile ago, but couldn’t get into it, despite thinking I would love it! Thanks for the reminder to try again.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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