Monday, April 14, 2008

A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation

Have you ever heard of going through an "Ayn Rand phase?" It is what happens when somebody reads a couple of her books and then goes around acting like a jerk for a few months afterward. This person usually misunderstands Rand's championing of the individual to justify a blooming of his latent arrogance.

I am going through a grammar phase, and it is ugly. For the past month, to my horror, I find myself stopping in the grammar section of the bookstore. This is my third book so far and I just began another. Help me. To be clear: none of this has helped my writing. In fact, it has only added anxiety to the writing process and left my papers with an obscene amount of unnecessary and probably misplaced punctuation marks. I am trying hard to learn sophisticated writing, but it is fitting like a bad suit.

Enter " A Dash of Style", by Noah Lukeman. This book was the worst of the grammar books I have read so far. Instead of explaining the rules of correct punctuation, Mr. Lukeman offers vague advice: Use the semicolon as a bridge, he writes. What does that mean? The book comprises interactive exercises (yeah, right), his ideas on what it means about you as person if you use certain punctuation (I don't care), and examples in literature (You don't learn how to paint by looking at paintings).

He did write well, and so it was a fairly enjoyable read. In the end, however, I think he is too concerned about the creative uses of punctuation to be a reliable instructor for the beginning writer. I would not recommend this book to someone looking to learn how to use punctuation properly.

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