A few odd books

My bedtime reading has taken a decided nerdy turn lately. Mostly I’ve been delving into  chemistry-themed books which have included the good, the bad, and the snarky. My warped mind particularly enjoyed The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. (All except the final chapter. Give that one a pass.) In general, it’s a fascinating combination of crime detection, toxicology, the Jazz Age, and biographical sketches of two pioneers of forensic science. (It's not for the squeamish, though.) 
Seeing it on top of my bedside bookshelf for a week or so, however, did make my husband uneasy.

But for sheer fun, nothing I've read recently compares with Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Maybe it's her droll British humor, but somehow this woman manages to make essays on punctuation uproariously funny. At least it kept me giggling several nights in a row.

Here's the joke behind the title:

    A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
   “Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuation wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
   “I'm a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”
    The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
   “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Eats, Shoots and Leaves offers more than just a comical look at what happens when punctuation goes awry; it also describes the history of the marks we use to give cadence and accurate meaning to our written words and includes a basic primer in their usage. However, do keep in mind that British and American rules of the grammar road differ at points, so it is more of an inspirational (can I use that terminology in reference to grammar?) book than a totally dependable handbook. Apparently there are a whole lot of other dweebs out there, because this book, to the astonishment of its author, became a runaway best seller when it was first published.

Happily, Ms. Truss has also written some children's books which take the same humorous approach to teaching young people about commas, apostrophes, and various other marks.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves:Why, Commas Really DO Make a Difference!  shows how the sense of a sentence can be totally changed by the use and abuse of commas. Each two-page cartoon-like spread illustrates two completely different meanings.


The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You CAN'T Manage Without Apostrophes! makes kids laugh while showing them how to properly use apostrophes to show ownership and in contractions. Compare for example these two sentences:

- Students' refuse to go in the garbage. (Along with a picture of kids putting trash in garbage can.)

- Students refuse to go in the garbage. (Accompanied by an illustration of a man trying to put a boy in a garbage can and all the other kids standing open mouthed or running away in horror.) 

And finally,
Twenty-Odd Ducks:Why, EVERY Punctuation Mark Counts! takes on hyphens, parentheses, colons, and other grammatical traffic symbols. I have yet to see this one, but if it is as good as the first two, it should be both fun and instructive.

Compare, for example
The king walked and talked. A half hour after, his head was cut off.

If you omit the first period and the comma, however, you end up with this absurdity:

The king walked and talked a half hour after his head was cut off. 

I was able to find the first two children's books on ABE Books for less than $8 including shipping. The last book is newer, so goes for more, but all should be commonly available at libraries. We've enjoyed laughing and figuring out the jokes, and they make a great way to reinforce lessons about a subject that is entirely necessary, but too often rather dull.


Janet Howell said…
I read Eat, Shoots and Leaves a few months ago, and enjoyed it. I passed it on to a friend I've been trying to convince for months to hire an editor for his business. He did read it, wasn't offended, and, I think, finally got the message.

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