Monday, December 17, 2007

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

So since I have fallen seriously ill before my new shipment of books has arrived, I've had to make do with something else on my nightstand. A girlfriend gave me Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation ages ago, and whereas I agreed it was an excellent and exciting topic, I consistently put it aside in favor of some work of nonfiction, usually assigned by my book group. But I'm so glad I picked it up. There is so much I like about it, starting with the tale on the back of the dust jacket:

A panda walks in a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a poorly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

The author's point, of course, is that punctuation, rather than being ornamental embellishment meant to confuse people, influences meaning in important ways. She uses an analogy with good manners to illustrate the point that it often does this in ways that are subtle:

Truly good manner are invisible: they ease the way for others, without drawing attention to themselves.

What's not to like about that? Subsequent chapters then take on a piece of punctuation each and dissect what all has gone wrong in historical and contemporary usage. Examples like this ensue:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.

The author, a British journalist and BBC writer, enlivens this all with comments only a writer of that milieu can produce, for example

Look at that sentence fly. Amazing. The way it stays up like that.

Both words and punctuation spring to life in the most amusing way. I'm feeling better already!


ElleBee said...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book! I am a self-proclaimed grammar freak and this book only fed my addiction. :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a neat book!

Hope you're feeling better!

Libby said...

I've heard of this book but I haven't yet cracked its spine. It sounds like a good one- though I'm afraid it would make me so worried about my punctuation that I might lose my nerve and stop blogging!

(If you like this one you should flip through Anguished English. It's great for a laugh.)