Adventures in Reading

Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik

While reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird I also sank my teeth into Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite. If Bird by Bird attempts to serve the basics then Spunk and Bite is the garnish, the raspberry sauce drizzled over a slice of cheesecake. For those of you familiar with perhaps America’s most famous style manual The Elements of Style by Strunk and White you may have already picked up on the double entendre of Plotnik’s book. Where The Elements of Style functions as a manual with the “right” and hard line answers, every chapter in Spunk and Bite poses arguments and examples to bend and break the rules to add spunk and bite to your writing.

Plotnik begins his book touching on the writer’s love and hate relationship with The Elements of Style. The style guide works as a useful tool if you’re looking for a precise answer but many of the rules offered can debilitate and suck dry more creative writing. Spunk and Bite leads the reader through chapters and exercises chock-full of suggestions (as well as cautions) to add color and enthusiasm to your writing. These exercises range from use of adjectives, to the hyphen, to narrative tense, to color depiction, to the use of a thesaurus.

Perhaps my favorite suggestion of Plotnik’s was to maintain a list of writerly words that you may find useful in the future. He encourages the use of word reference collections and listed a few interesting websites that can help expand the writer’s language.

Ironically, early in my reading of Spunk and Bite I scanned through a New Yorker article making the claim that the extravagance of language usage and excess color hurts language. While this more conservative language reflection is nothing new it was an interesting presentation of problems with poor word choice. Unfortunately I cannot recollect the title or writer of this article, but it began with an excerpt from another article (or a fake excerpt intended to mock similar articles) describing the sinfulness and decadence of a scene in a wealthy area of a South American city. The author’s argument is that when words used to describe serious issues are used too casually they begin to lose significance.

I found Spunk and White rather difficult to read straight through but it does contain excellent suggestions for writers from all fields (creative, journalism, research papers, business documents, etc.) to inject pizazz into their writing. My only other concern with the book is a timeliness issue. The book is not particularly old but I discovered that at least one of the suggested websites was now defunct (or misprinted in the text). Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite is a sensational book for anyone looking to add some punch to their writing.