How did Eats, Shoots & Leaves land on the best-seller list? I’d like to think it reveals a late-blooming hunger for self-improvement by the ignorant masses. Somehow, though, I doubt it. Truss certainly doesn’t seem to be addressing such people as her readers. “What happened to punctuation?” she wails. “Why is it so disregarded when it is self-evidently so useful in preventing enormous mix-ups?” This isn’t what Henry Higgins would say to Eliza Doolittle. It’s what Higgins would say to Col. Pickering, his linguist sidekick. Truss wants you to read her book not to learn the rules of punctuation but to join her in bewailing, as you review these rules, the sorry ignorance of those who don’t know them. It’s to feel superior, and smug, and, well, almost
—English. —Timothy Noah —Reads, Chortles, & Smirks: Why nobody’s learning anything from Lynne (Slate)
I’ve got this one on back order at the local library. I’m thinking of using it in “Intro to Literary Studies” next spring — the course is a kind of sampler of the flavors of English major we offer (lit, creative writing, & journalism) and I’m trying to find a way to more nonfiction and grammar into the course.
Full disclosure: I played Col. Pickering in high school, and it was mostly the reference to him that made me want to blog this.
I would guess that people are either buying the book to give to friends who like writing, or they are buying the book precisely because they want to be spoken to as if they know this stuff already. If the book really is that basic, then maybe it’s designed to flatter people who pick it up and tsk-tsk at all the examples of mistakes.