Published January 2nd 2003 by Profile Books Ltd
Author: Lynne Truss
Genre: Non-fiction, language, reference, humour
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Either this will ring bells for you, or it won’t.”
Everyone knows the basics of punctuation, surely? Aren’t we all taught at school how to use full stops, commas and question marks? And yet we see ignorance and indifference everywhere. “Its Summer!” says a sign that cries out for an apostrophe, “ANTIQUE,S,” says another, bizarrely. “Pansy’s ready,” we learn to our considerable interest (“Is she?”), as we browse among the bedding plants.
In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss dares to say that, with our system of punctuation patently endangered, it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them for the wonderful and necessary things they are. If there are only pendants left who care, then so be it. “Sticklers unite” is her rallying cry. “You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion – and arguably you didn’t have much of that to begin with.”
This is the book for people who love punctuation and get upset about it. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to Sir Roger Casement “hanged on a comma”; from George Orwell shunning the semicolon to Peter Cook saying Nevile Shute’s three dots made him feel “all funny”, this book makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.
I’m not a ‘stickler’ as Lynne Truss describes people who are passionate about punctuation. All I want is to understand it, how to use it and how to get it right. After reading this book it occurred to me how much thinking goes into the placement of commas, apostrophes, dashes, hyphens etc. and that most of the time I’m not thinking about it. I mostly know where to put an apostrophe, and after many ups and downs struggling with its role in “it’s” I have finally got the hang of it.
I’m on a journalism course, and this means grammar and punctuation can be the different between getting a job writing for a magazine, and not getting a job. So I found my way to this book on recommendation from my tutor, and also because it’s been on my TBR for way too long.
Unlike The King’s English by Kingsley Amis, this book is entertaining as well as informative (my favourite kind of non-fiction) and it made it very easy, and funny, to learn and try to understand punctuation.
Truss treats each punctuation mark with a kind of respect for its existence and place in language. She characterises them, which may be a ploy to help understand their roles better, but it worked for me.
She explores the apostrophe and comma in the first half of the book, then colons and semicolons, dashes, hyphens and finishing the book off by touching on emoticons, strokes, ellipsis, question marks and exclamation marks.
As I read this, I couldn’t help doing two things: considering my own use of punctuation (do I use too many exclamation marks? Yes. Should I use more semicolons? Yes), and looking out for signs to see if they are grammatically correct. The whole book makes you think about the way language has developed, and Truss does a good job of including the history of punctuation and how its use has changed over the years.
It didn’t take me long to read, and it’s a nice humorous guide that can be read by anyone who is curious about whether their punctuation is up to scratch, and where they could improve. It can be dipped in and out of too; Truss includes numerous example sentences to leave you in no doubt what is right and what is wrong.
After reading this, there’s really no excuse for a misplaced apostrophe anymore.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Eats, Shoots and Leaves