Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Gotham, 2006).

Lynne Truss makes an interesting observation in her peculiar little book about punctuation: "The reason it's worth standing up for punctuation is not that it's an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive elite who have attacks of the vapours when they see it misapplied." She goes on to explain what that reason is, but she does so, at length, in the language of an over-sensitive elite recovering on a fainting couch from those very attacks of vapours. The existence of an apostrophe-free film entitled Two Weeks Notice has sent her into paroxysms of grief.

This is the silliest, fussiest book that I've nevertheless ever found sympathetic. I have an eye for public misspelling, but it delights me. When Coors started marketing a beer called "Artic Ice," I was in seventh heaven. So I understand where Truss is coming from, but I don't understand where she goes. True, there is some interesting research and background to the stories of apostrophes, commas, and Oxford commas, but it's all done in such a genuinely priggish way that her book feels exactly like the work of fiction's greatest handwringing, worrywart of a fussbudget, Hercule Poirot. I don't like Poirot.

Well, I mock, but there are occasional funny moments scattered throughout. I did love the story of a bedraggled teacher who came to a book signing despairing that she would like to learn punctuation, having studied it at school and forgotten it. I understand being a stickler. I was among the crowd that was once so concerned that, having taken over the production of graphic novels from DC, Rebellion might change the design of the book series' spines in any fashion, never considering that the new designer might improve upon them, that writer Gordon Rennie mocked the group in an episode of Judge Dredd. What I don't understand is letting stickler behavior turn you into an aged schoolmarm instead of a fired-up fun-lover. Sadly, not recommended.

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