Adventures in Reading

Revisted Reviews: Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande and Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Connor

While reading Grammar Snobs, I kept wondering if it was healthy to be laughing so much at a book on grammar. I read the book in one sitting (excluding a short walk with the dog and a few minutes hiding from a door-to-door salesperson) and it has to be one of the most-user-friendly books I’ve ever encountered when it comes to grammar. In addition, Casagrande may be the first author I’ve encountered who doesn’t immediately disparage modern “netspeak” and attempts at countering racism and sexism in language. A great read for anyone looking to brush up on grammar or to become more familiar with writing.

Woe Is I was suggested to me some years ago by an English literature professor and I’ve only finally gotten around to finishing it. As the title states, it’s a grammar guide written in (mostly) plain English. Woe Is I is a an easy and enjoyable read for anyone wanting to brush up on their grammar, spelling, and punctuation and O’Connor makes use of terrific and creative sentences that make the various rules easier to recall. I certainly had some disagreements with the book (after all, language is living) and the biggest turn off for me was the lack of acknowledging more progressive and modern language.

It’s not really much of a secret: I’m quite the fan of evolving language and progressive usage. This has led to heated arguments with more antiquarian language sticklers, but unless you’re writing for a specific style guide (e.g. for work or an academic paper) most usage rules (and even some grammar) seem pretty damn flexible. (Even dictionaries disagree!) In nearly a year of blogging at Adventures in Reading, I have received a small amount of nit picks from persnickety grammar readers, which I always find curious because my blog of all places is so casual and informal. Regardless of the “snobs” out there, language is fun and entertaining and one of my secret joys is perusing recently published grammar and usage guides.

June Casagrande’s Mortal Syntax

I very much have a love hate relationship when it comes to grammar and the like: I think it’s completely fascinating but in my experience too often people are complete sticks-in-the-mud about it. The first style guide I ever read was Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I, which was suggested to me by a college professor and it wasn’t too long before I discovered June Casagrande’s Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies. I adored Casagrande’s book and had been excitedly waiting for her sophomore style book: Mortal Syntax.

Mortal Syntax is a list of 101 frequently used and sometimes abused phrases and words. However, unlike most style guides, Casagrande’s objective is not to tell you what to do, but rather she provides practical advice and suggestions based on her readings of dictionaries, style guides, and usage books. Each chapter (mostly quite short) ranges from humorous to hysterical.

And if that wasn’t enough you might actually learn something. I can now hold my head up high and correct my partner the next time he rants how itch is not a verb (even if it’s only to frustrate him). Likewise, I found myself corrected in more than a few chapters (my personal favorite being the usages of gender and sex in chapter 51). Whether you consider yourself a grammar expert or are fortunate enough to string a few paragraphs together, Casagrande’s Mortal Syntax is an engaging look at style that will leave you laughing and help boost your confidence.