Good Grammar

I never thought I’d recommend a grammar book as interesting reading.

Over the weekend in Saratoga Springs I spent a half hour on a lunch break rummaging through the book tables at Barnes and Noble. (There are no bookstores in New York north of Saratoga.) I found The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker sandwiched between the cookbooks and teenage vampire romance novels. I’ve been thinking a lot about writing ever since the Writing 101 course, so I picked it up.

It’s not your ordinary grammar book. It’s about how cognitive processes work to turn strings of symbolic representations into thoughts, and what it takes to translate ideas from one mind to the next. So, even though it’s in the form of a style manual for writers, it reads more like an adventure novel. Nouns turn out to be so much more than just “a person, place or thing.” There really are no such things as conjunctions. Dangling participles and split infinitives aren’t the menace to society your 8th grade English teacher told you they were.

If you ever had to diagram sentences and the experience has left you scarred for life, this book will restore your faith in the English language.