Friday, January 05, 2018

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White


This last review of the week is a bit of a stretch for a couple reasons.  For one, it wasn't commercially published in 1918.  Best I can tell, it was first distributed by William Strunk to his college students that year but even that is iffy.  Also, I'm reviewing a style manual.  I realize that I have a bit of an uphill struggle here.

The Elements of Style is not like most writing reference books.  It has some hard and fast grammatical rules in it but the majority of this book is true to its title - it's about style.  These aren't laws that every writer has to live by, they're suggestions for improving your writing from an English professor and a professional author.  The chapters are short and everything is laid out succinctly and logically.  If you write even slightly often, you should have this handy at all times.  If you think your writing could be improved, you should at least peruse it.  If nothing else, you'll come away with a handful of tips that will stick with you.  Things like not using four words when one will do.  Or simplifying sentence structure so meaning is clear.  Those may seem obvious to some but it's very helpful to have tons of suggestions like that, all with reasoning and examples.  What other style manuals also have some humor and charm?  E.B. White, the author of Charlotte's Web, keeps this guide book from feeling totally like a guide book (quick confession:  I had never put together that the White from Strunk and White was E.B. White until I decided to do this review.)

There isn't much else I can say to convince you of the quality of this book so I'll just tell you why you should look into this particular edition.  The Elements of Style has been updated and reprinted many times over 100 years but the edition pictured above is the best one I've seen.  The cover alone is much more stylish than the drab, gray edition I had in high school.  And the "illustrated" on the cover is not a typo, there are illustrations in a book about writing style.  They are paintings meant to illustrate some of the examples but they really help create a feeling.  They help create a feeling in a reference book.  I think that's worth a look.  Don't you?

If you like this book, you could also try the far more straight-laced MLA Handbook.  

Bonus mini-review of a 1918 book that I didn't get a chance to finish:  The Education of Henry Adams is a classic autobiography from a smart, self-deprecating man who counted two presidents in his direct ancestry.

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