Anyone who already values grammar, arguments about rules or the checkered glories of verbal style, however, is in for a...



America’s most popular language maven preaches 50 zippy sermonettes on grammatical truisms so often misunderstood that even he seems to get them wrong.

“1. No sentence fragments,” begins Safire (No Uncertain Terms, 2003, etc.), establishing the self-contradictory pattern for each of the “fumblerules”—laws of highly variable authority set forth in terms that call attention to the lessons they teach by gleefully breaking them—he’s culled from readers of his weekly “On Language” column for the New York Times Magazine and his own copious and often cantankerous experience. Purists will be happy to learn that Safire takes a zero-tolerance approach to dangling participles (Rule 25); more permissive writers will be relieved to know that he allows split infinitives (Rule 41) and prepositions at the end of sentences (Rule 49) under the proper conditions; editors and schoolteachers will nod in weary sympathy at Rule 33: “Of all the statements about indefinite pronouns, none is useful.” Whether he’s inveighing against subject-verb disagreements (Rule 12) or urging, “Don’t use contractions in formal writing” (Rule 5), Safire is invariably shrewd, witty and provocative. The one constituency likely to be disappointed by his sparklingly matter-of-fact approach to the tired but important rules of writing is readers most in need of grammatical help, for Safire’s ready facetiousness throughout both his fumblerules and his glosses often obscures the difference between the rules he actually endorses (“11. Write all adverbial forms correct”) and mere circumlocutions or canards (“38. One will not have needed the future perfect tense in one’s entire life”). The target audience throughout is writers who already have a pretty good idea how to write and are looking for practical advice about how to mess up.

Anyone who already values grammar, arguments about rules or the checkered glories of verbal style, however, is in for a treat.

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-32723-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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