Self-help for aspiring writers, who need, it seems, to zap the red sauce of their prose with tangier verbs.
In a text that looks like many others in the self-help genre (lots of sidebars, multiple appendixes, forests of exclamation points, bushels of bullet points and gee-whiz-this-stuff-is-easy! diction), Hale (Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose, 1999, etc.) offers plenty of advice for would-be writers. Each chapter follows the title’s structure, dealing, in sequence, with things that vex writers, grammar myths the author wishes to discredit, the failings of “writers famous and infamous, hapless and clueless” and, finally, exemplary passages. This soon grows tiresome. However, the author has done considerable homework and is careful to credit her sources and mentors (David Crystal, Steven Pinker and many others). She also assails dragons long-ago slain or grievously wounded—split infinitives, for example, or prepositions at the ends of sentences. Her attacks on the language of politicians (often George W. Bush and Sarah Palin) fail to recognize that everyone makes grammatical mistakes in extemporaneous speech and that speechwriters deserve the credit and the blame for the rest. She calls Ronald Reagan a “rhetorical genius,” though it was more likely Peggy Noonan. The author tries to make it all seem so easy, and she enjoys chiding the strict grammarian types who are more fastidious than she. Hale’s explanations of the differences between affect and effect and lie and lay are generally clear.
Bubbling with energy and conviction but less practical than an old-fashioned style manual.