Thursday, February 14, 2019

"Dreyer's English" by Benjamin Dreyer

Neither speculative fiction nor even fiction at all, I must recommend this in the highest of terms, regardless. A sometimes-snarky love letter to reading and writing, equal parts useful and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the controlled demolition of many illegitimate "rules" of English, tempered as it is with constant attention to how the look, sound, and meaning of the language is being conveyed—the spirit the "laws", such as they are, should be serving.

It was a rare page of this book that passed without at least a chuckle on my part, but Dreyer doesn't feel like he's stretching (much) for laughs. The wit is baked-in.

Structurally, the book is a bit front-loaded—the latter third or so is rather list-y with specifics, though Dreyer keeps it interesting. The book shines most in carefully-drawn examples, illustrating the differences small changes in word choice or punctuation can make. Dreyer mounts a number of impassioned arguments for or against specific grammatical points without seeming fussy or overblown. If you are a writerly type of reader, or a readerly type of writer, one who has opinions on serial commas or the species of dash: this is for you.

Genre fans will also note a few lovely passages on Shirley Jackson—a comma in the opening paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House is, Dreyer says, his favorite bit of punctuation in written English—and the use of Gollum to indicate what manner of phrases may properly be said to be "hissed".

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