Book Reviews: Elephants of Style and Lapsing into a Comma by Bill Walsh

 Book:  Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary English
Author:  Bill Walsh
Pages:  238
Format: Paperback
Publisher:  McGraw-Hill
Book Source:  Independent Purchase
Category:  Language Arts/Reference
Style:  Funny, smart & eminently readable

 Book:  Lapsing Into a Comma:  A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How To Avoid  Them
Author:  Bill Walsh
Pages:  256
Format: Paperback
Publisher:  McGraw-Hill
Book Source:  Independent Purchase
Category:  Language Arts/Reference
Style:  Funny, smart & readable

Okay.  I can hear you already.  You think I've lost my mind in calling a book funny that's about the do's and don't's of Style (meaning, where to underline titles, where to italicize them, how and when to use acronyms, etc., etc., etc.).  I can't really say that I disagree.  It is crazy.  But, Mr. Walsh manages to pull it off.

As a stickler for correctness and very old school when it comes to dangling participles and split infinitives, not to mention the whole issue of constantly morphing comma usage, I find myself wandering through mine fields of doubt when writing in a contemporary voice.  American English is not what it was fifty or even thirty years ago when I was diagramming sentences in sophomore English.  We've loosened up.  We've accommodated change.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter for debate, but it is so, and so we adapt or become obsolete.

Mr. Walsh does a terrific job of guiding writers around the pitfalls and ambiguities which have resulted in American English getting hip.  And, he does it with authority:  Here's Goodread's author bio:
Bill Walsh was born in Pennsylvania coal country but grew up in Madison Heights, Mich., and Mesa, Ariz. He is a 1984 journalism graduate of the University of Arizona and has worked as a reporter and editor at the Phoenix Gazette and an editor at the Washington Times and the Washington Post. He is now the chief copy editor for national news at the Post.
Language is my living.  I forge words and thought into meaningful communication.  Whether someone else's words or my own, I manipulate them in image, print and page, hopefully creating a coherent whole.  And that coherence depends a great deal in understanding my audience.  Whether I'm editing a manuscript or a master's thesis, transcribing medical documentation or personal history interviews, constructing business prospectuses, blogging, or writing historical fiction in my Regency voice, the form and style I use must connect with the reader, rather than throw up roadblocks because we're not really speaking the same language.

Changing voices strikes dread in my heart at times (I'm much better at clinical than casual) and I accept the degeneration of change in language usage kicking and screaming.  However, Mr. Walsh is of my generation, far better educated, and is editor of one of the most respected journals in the country.  So, whenever I argue with myself about who vs. whom or the proper placement of commas this week, I find refer to his opinion.

Then, I go and do what I want anyway.

FTC Disclaimer: These books were independently purchased. I received no compensation from the author or their agent for this content.

1 comment:

Britney Gulbrandsen said...

Thanks for sharing! I've been wanting to read a book on language to refresh my memory as I edit my first novel, but I always back out of it because I know it'll be boring. So maybe I'll try these ones!