Saturday, January 7, 2023

A reader wonders about books about writing

A reader mentions that I long ago recommended books about writing by Claire Cook, Michael Harvey, Verlyn Klinkenborg, and Virginia Tufte and wonders if I’ve since found other books as good or better. That reader must be thinking of this 2013 post, which recommends Cook’s Line by Line, Harvey’s The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences about Writing, and Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style.

Several others I’d recommend:

Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

Sir Ernest Gowers, The Complete Plain Words, revised by Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut

David Lambuth et al., The Golden Book on Writing

Richard Lanham, Revising Prose

Bruce Ross-Larson, Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words

Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose

And for authoritative and extensive guidance in usage: Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern English Usage
Four highly touted books I wouldn’t recommend:
Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz, Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less
Reader, I hope you find these suggestions useful.

Five review posts
Dreyer’s English : The Golden Book on Writing : How to Write a Sentence : The Sense of Style : Smart Brevity

From The Complete Plain Words
If and whether : Incongruity : Involve : Thinking and writing

From Edit Yourself
Managing items in a series : That and which

[Full disclosure: I was a member of the panel of critical readers for the new fifth edition of Garner’s Modern English Usage.]

comments: 3

Matt Thomas said...

What, no The Elements of Style? 😉

Michael Leddy said...

I’m glad I zoomed in to see the emoji on my iPad, Matt. I thought at first that you were sending a sign of genuine woe.

But no, no Elements — it’s too dated in various ways. (David Lambuth’s book seems far more resistant to fading.) Another book with much merit that I didn’t recommend is Lucile Vaughan Payne’s The Lively Art of Writing — as with Strunk and White, the sample sentences are painfully dated. If I remember right, they’re about guys and cars and gals and silver service, again and again and again.

I wish Pearson would publish E.B. White’s chapter about style as its own little book, along the lines of Penguin’s Great Ideas series. But they have no reason to do so, as countless instructors (mostly outside of English studies) continue to assign or recommend the book as it is.

Matt Thomas said...

I was joking. (Mostly.) Good to know about the Lambuth and Payne books. And I like your idea about a Great Ideas book version.