Words to Live By
Ever laughed aloud while reading? While reading a book on grammar? You will, thanks to language maven Patricia O'Conner, who celebrates the written word with vibrant passion and exceptional clarity. Her style is refreshingly engaging, as she parses sentences economically and with flair. Whether hacks or scribes or yeoman users of English, readers who delighted in O'Conner's bestselling Woe is I will rejoice once more, for her new book -- Words Fail Me -- resumes her direct, humorous assault on misbehaving modifiers, comma sense, and other linguistic maladies.
At the core, communication is a two-part process: An idea is expressed, then it is received. Ideally, that idea is received exactly as intended, and the communication succeeds. Of course, experience demonstrates the fragility of this model. Drawing from a lifetime of writing and editing, including years at The New York Times Book Review, O'Conner explores the reasons behind the rules of written engagement. Then, she nimbly demonstrates strategies to strengthen the message. O'Conner says it best:
"You think nobody cares about grammar? The next time you post a message to an Internet newsgroup, try mixing up it's and its, lie and lay, or there and their, and see what happens. The grammar police will be on your case, and you'll get so many flames that your modem will smoke.
"Believe me, people care. Whether you're writing e-mail or snail mail, a Web page or a page of memoir, grammar counts. Readers may dismiss writing that's otherwise okay, even terrific, if the grammar is screwed up. This is no small matter, particularly when you're trying to make a good impression -- applying for a job, say, or trying to sell a book proposal, or writing an essay for admission to college."
As with her first book, O'Conner's latest effort delivers on many levels and for many readerships. Average writers will find the advice tangible and interesting and the anecdotes memorable. For semipro lexicographers, the pleasures are even more immediate; O'Conner is a master wordsmith of nuance and weight. Words Fail Me, punny title and all, is another startling success, infusing fresh vigor into everyday English.