… the little marks that use their influence…

Book Review for “Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynn Truss.

Summary: “Anxious about the apostrophe? Confused by the comma? Stumped by the semicolon? Join Lynne Truss on a hilarious tour through the rules of punctuation that is sure to sort the dashes from the hyphens. We all had the basic rules of punctuation drilled into us at school, but punctuation pedants have good reason to suspect they never sank in. ‘Its Summer!’ screams a sign that sets our teeth on edge. ‘Pansy’s ready’, we learn to our considerable interest (‘Is she?’) as we browse among the bedding plants.”

Age: Adult; Genres: Literary; Non-Fiction; Settings: N/A; Other Categories: Reference, Language; Humor.

Eats Shoots and Leaves

The introduction of this book says: “Either this will ring bells for your, or it won’t. A printed banner has appeared on the concourse of a petrol station near to where I live. “Come inside,” it says, “for CD’s, VIDEO’s, DVD’s, and BOOK’s” If this satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes causes no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse, you should probably put down this book at once.” Since I’m a bit of a grammar freak, as they say, “you had me at hello!” so, there’s no reason why I would not finish this book. In fact, since was a writer for most of my career (mind you, I was writing grant proposals and reports to donors), I had wanted this book since it came out in 2003. When this became the starting book for the #6Degrees of Separation meme, I knew I had to finally get myself a copy, and as you can see, so I did!

I think I’ve been obsessed with proper punctuation and grammar for most of my life. I’m not sure where this came from – aside from a very good education, I suppose. One thing I had in mind while I was reading this book was the TV show from when I was young, called “The Electric Company” which was a PBS show to help kids learn how to read (including a character called ‘Easy Reader’ played by none other than Morgan Freeman, who – at the time – was relatively unknown). In the video below (sorry about the poor quality, but it was the only one I could find), there’s the song that was performed by the amazing Rita Moreno (among others) about punctuation. The line “they are the little marks that make an influence, to help a sentence make more sense,” is something I’ll never forget (hence the title of this review). This show aired in the 70s, when I was already too old for it, but I loved it anyway.

Maybe that song was where I got my love for proper usage of punctuation – who knows? But certainly, the element of fun was something that drew me to watching a TV show that was targeted to a much younger audience. This is probably the reason that I enjoyed this book so much, and remember, I hardly ever read non-fiction. I mean, I have several reference books that have helped me with my writing over the years, and frankly, I don’t believe I’ve ever read any of them from cover to cover. This book, however, is one that can almost be read like a novel, and in fact, I found it as fascinating as any good book I’ve ever read. Not that I actually learned all that much about the proper use of punctuation – both American and British – but there were a couple of things about usage I learned.

No, the really interesting bits of this book weren’t the reference parts, but the historical parts. See, Truss includes details about how the various types of punctuation, such as when they came about and how they developed over time to become used as they are today. With this, she often includes quotes from writers and linguists regarding their usage, as well as their opinions of what punctuation is outmoded or problematic. She quotes several authors on these subjects, and most of them are pretty funny, even when they’re really spot on in their assessments. Mind you, there are those who are just stupid (in my opinion), but hey, we can’t all agree on everything. These pieces, along with the historical development of these funny marks are what lifts this book out of the realm of just being a reference guide, to something much more fun to read. Because of this, I’m sure I’ll refer to it far more than I do my copy of Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style,” and therefore, I’m going to give it a full 5/5 stars! (Oh, by the way, Ms Truss, there actually is a backwards question mark for Hebrew & Arabic, but I’m afraid even today, our multi-lingual keyboards don’t give us easy access to it! See: ؟ But we have to do the dreaded “copy+paste” juggle to get it into our texts.)

This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.

This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: 20 Books of Summer 21 (#15).

20-books

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16 thoughts on “… the little marks that use their influence…

  1. If only it were true that “We all had the basic rules of punctuation drilled into us at school,”. Some of them of course we got taught (capitalisation, full stops etc) but I don’t remember ever getting as far as the correct use of semi colons, colons. Most of my usage relies on instinct!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, back when I was in High School, the Illinois State Board of Education required that all students pass what was called “the hurdles” in order to graduate (and yes, they would hold kids back if they failed). The tests were on spelling (which also included correctly using words like there, their, and they’re in sentences), capitalization, and punctuation. Pass meant a score of 75% or higher for regular students, and 85% or higher for honors students. Some kids took the tests several times just to pass. But you couldn’t graduate without passing.

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  2. You had me at references to the Electric Company! I have my own grammar pet peeves and misuse of apostrophes is one of them. However, I am not great at comma use and have a mental block about remembering all the rules about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember Easy Reader! I’ll bet most people these days won’t know that Morgan Freeman was easy reader before he became famous for blockbuster movies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Electric Company was actually a project by Bill Cosby (yes, I know, but still…) for Temple University, with which he launched their Multi-Media Education master’s degree program. I know this because my sister got her masters in multi-media education from Temple. Freeman is actually Cosby’s nephew or cousin or something.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Really! I remember there was one book that was SO filled with sentences that had SO many commas that I had to DNF that book. It was like… having a constant stutter or an annoying light that flickers constantly.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, she does talk about quotation marks, where they came from and how they’re supposed to be used today, as well as other accepted ways of writing down speech, which was fascinating, frankly.

      Liked by 1 person

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