Thursday, June 9, 2016

Book 14 of 2016: The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White


“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

― 
Dorothy Parker
 
In 1978, Clint Swift, a staff writer on the Stars and Stripes newspaper in Darmstadt, West Germany, acted on Dorothy Parker’s advice and gave me a copy of The Elements of Style.  Click on Clint's name for a longer version of that story.

In the four decades between then and now, I have re-read Strunk and White at times when I start to learn a new language and when the self doubt common to all writers starts to attack my mind.  The Elements of Style, like a good coach, reminds the player that practicing fundamentals is the way to stay at the top of one’s game. 

I also start to use “one” as a pronoun after re-reading Strunk and White because it is the original and best gender-neutral singular pronoun and is a lovely, if stuffy, way around saying “he or she.”


If you are not a writer, or don’t aspire to be a writer, reading this book is like reading about the specific rules for a sport you don’t actually play.  It can be interesting, but will be not captivate. 
For a writer who has wrestled the alligator of grammar, the wit and brevity of Elements of Style will help you navigate the choppy waters of fluency.