2004; 209 pages. Full Title : Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Non-Fiction; Punctuation; Reference; Humor. Laurels : Winner: “Book of the Year” – British Book Award 2004; New York Times #1 Bestseller for three straight weeks (May 30 thru June 13) in 2004. Overall Rating : 9½*/10.
Are you a punctuation stickler? Does it grate your nerves when people mess up using its/it’s? If you saw the sign: “Come inside for CD’S, VIDEO’S, DVD’S and BOOK’S!” would you have the desire to run screaming into the store, telling the proprietor to correct that atrocity immediately?!
Do you yearn to know the eight different uses of the apostrophe, the six uses of the comma (plus a couple of situations where they’re optional), and the ten (count ‘em, ten!) various uses of the hyphen?
Do you worry that the semicolon is heading toward extinction? Do you have an opinion about the Oxford comma? What about double possessives (“a friend of the couple’s”)? Are you aware that brackets come in no less than four different forms?
If your answers to one or all of these questions is “Yes! Damn right!”, then Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a must-read for you. Prepare to be excited! Motivated! And join with others of us in shouting the slogan coined by the author of the book :
Sticklers unite! You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion (and arguably you didn’t have a lot of that to begin with).
What’s To Like...
Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ sole subject is punctuation. Normally, this is an yawn-inducing topic, but Lynne Truss keeps you entertained with fascinating anecdotal history, eyebrow-raising trivia, and dry, British wit that will have you chortling.
But don’t be lulled into a false sense of hilarity; this book will also answer any questions you may have about proper punctuation. I was particularly keen on this because commas have always been daunting to me. When do you use them? Where do you place them? Are there “gray areas” where their use is a matter of opinion. This book answered all my questions.
The anecdotes are great. You’ll learn about the Jameson Raid telegram and its disastrous consequences due to ambiguous punctuation. You’ll discover that the Bible in its original form has no punctuation marks, leaving some critical passages open to Catholic-vs-Protestant interpretation. And I’m eager to get my membership in the Apostrophe Protection Society, which really exists.
I liked the book’s structure. A whole chapter on the apostrophe, followed by a whole chapter on commas. Then one detailing the finer points of colons and semicolons; followed by one on a bunch of the “lesser” bits of punctuation: exclamation points, question marks, italics, quotation marks, the dash, brackets, “sic”, and the esoteric ellipsis (three dots). After a short chapter about hyphens, the book closes with the author’s “where do we go from here?” speculation. Yes, emoticons get some ink, but it was the interrobang that really caught my eye.
It should be mentioned that, like grammar, the rules for proper punctuation change with time. And that the British rules for punctuation are sometimes different than the American rules. Lynne Truss points out these variances along the way, but Eats, Shoots & Leaves is written, and punctuated, in English, not American.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Solecism (n.) : a grammatical mistake in speech or writing.
Others : Loudhailer (n.); Naff-all (adj.).
The stops point out, with truth, the time of pause
A sentence doth require at ev’ry clause.
At ev’ry comma, stop while one you count;
At semicolon, two is the amount;
A colon doth require the time of three;
The period four, as learned men agree. (loc. 1100)
(T)here will always be a problem about getting rid of the hyphen: if it’s not extra-marital sex (with a hyphen), it is perhaps extra marital sex, which is quite a different bunch of coconuts. Phrases abound that cry out for hyphens. Those much-invoked examples of the little used car, the superfluous hair remover, the pickled herring merchant, the slow moving traffic and the two hundred odd members of the Conservative Party would all be lost without it. (loc. 1568)
Eats, Shoots & Leaves sells for $11.99, although I snagged it when it was discounted for a short time. Lynne Truss has three other reference books; they are in the $10.99-$14.99 range. She also has written several humor-fiction novels, and they are more modestly priced in the $0.99-$3.99 range.
“Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation.” (loc. 521)
The quibbles are minor. My main gripe is that the book is very short. There are only 209 pages, and the first 24% of the book is consumed by a Forward, a Publisher’s Note, and Preface, and an Introduction. Also, the “reference” links didn’t work and worse yet, didn’t give you an option to get back to your original page.
But that’s about it for the quibbles. The bottom line is, I was looking for a book that would amuse me to no end, teach me the right and wrong usages of punctuation, and most importantly, tell me where I have options. Eats, Shoots & Leaves did all of this, and more.
9½ Stars. I remember Borders Bookstores promoting the heck out of Eats, Shoots & Leaves when it first came out. For quite a few months, that cute, homicidal panda on the book cover would beckon to you as you stood in line waiting for the next available cashier. I regret now that I didn’t give in to that bit of enticement. <Sighs> RIP, Borders: b. 1971, d. 2011.