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

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Roy Peter Clark

Grammar is a subject that typically induces wincing, wheezing, or worse. Clark, a lifelong whiz at the subject, wants readers to fully appreciate the importance of good grammar and the qualities of superior writing. To that end, he has laid out several … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Roy Peter Clark
Genre: Reference, Nonfiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
1 review about The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic...

A must-read for anyone who wants to write

  • Aug 27, 2010
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.

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