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The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English

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  • Posted August 27, 2010

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    A must-read for any aspiring writer

    So, what do you think about when you hear the word "grammar"? As a kid, I would think "Uh oh; I guess I wrote something wrong again." As a young adult I'd say, "Hey, that's just the way I speak." As an Englishwoman moving to America I'd groan that it's not just the spellings that are different here but the grammar rules as well. And after reading this book I'd say, "Wow!"
    So, what about my punctuation above? Why did I put that question mark outside the quotes when the exclamation point went inside at the end of the paragraph? I'd often wondered how to punctuate quotes, and since I want to be a writer, I'd often thought I really ought to learn. At last I have.
    Clark's book starts by pointing out that "glamour" and "grammar" come from the same root. I guess is makes sense. After all, we "spell" words correctly or otherwise, and wizards cast "spells." Grammar's just the next step.
    I used to teach chess, and I'd explain to the kids that there are two types of rules. Some have to be obeyed (pawns move forwards for example), or else you're not playing chess. Others are there to be understood and used judiciously (such as "Don't get your queen out too soon") to set or avoid falling into traps. Once you know the rules, you know what it means when they're broken.
    Spelling's probably the first sort of rule, and Clark includes a chapter on how meanings can change where the wrong spelling or wrong word is used. Suddenly you're not saying what you thought; your reader's dragged out of the writing; you're not playing the same game. But other grammar rules can be judiciously broken. We just have to know what we're doing and why-be prepared for what the reader will see, and be ready to make sure it's what we intend.
    Clark's chapters are written with delightful style, great voice, amazing examples, and just pure fun. (Yes, grammar can be fun!) There's advice for aspiring writers that any of us could use-the value of the well-chosen long or short word, the nuances of sound or foreign phrase, the alliteration of short and long sentences. And then there are chapter endings with quick and easily read "Keepsakes." There he might emphasize a point, help the reader practice a technique, or simply list the rules. (That's how I learned how to punctuate my first paragraph.)
    Clark doesn't want to regiment our writing. He acknowledges how different countries (UK and US for example), industries (newspaper vs book), and even publishers have their own chosen styles. Obey the rules of your intended audience he says. But then he frees us to shift those chess pieces round and win the game.
    Is grammar glamorous? It certainly is now. I love this book, and I'd recommend that everyone who loves reading or writing really should read it. I can hardly believe how lucky I was to get a copy to review-you'll hardly believe how lucky you are if you get your own copy too. And, just for reference, since Roy Peter Clark is vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, I have no qualms about trusting him to give me, and you, the right facts.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A book that teaches you something without feeling like a textbook.

    What I liked the most about this book is that it wasn't written like a grammar book. It was written more like a story that had grammar tips added into it. It was kind of like a copy of Writer's Inc. with a story behind it. And while I'd never get rid of my copy of Writer's Inc. I think this will make a nice addition to my grammar tools arsenal.

    I have to admit that I'm not the best grammatical writer. I don't remember most of the rules I learned in school (frankly I didn't care to really remember them). So while I was reading this some of it seemed new to me. The greatest thing about this book is that it taught me something without making me realize I was being taught. Since I'm finishing up my degree, reading for learning isn't something I want to do with my spare time. After reading this I have to admit that I didn't get that feeling even once throughout the book. I think that was a great feat within itself, writing a book that is meant to teach something not feel like it was teaching anything at all.

    I still don't remember all the rules that were in this one, but I think I have a better understanding of why some rules of grammar exist and why some are breakable. I'm sure this one will be quite worn out before I finally finish my degree. It's already helped me write a few papers.

    A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. This is not a paid review and is a truthful and honest review.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Theh Glamour of Grammar

    Roy Peter Clark has taken the dull subject of Grammar and turned it into an interesting topic that I found quite enjoyable to read. I really had no idea that the word grammar and glamour actually meant the same thing, but I do now, thanks to the author. He tells us to embrace grammar as a box of tools not a set of rules, and encourages us to read the dictionary for fun. I really like how he ends each chapter with a little segment called Keepsakes, reviewing the most important points of the chapter in a way that would be great for quick reference. The authors wit and storytelling peppered throughout the chapters make this a fun book to read, who knew reading about grammar could actually be fun. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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