Book Review: Woe is I

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain EnglishWoe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner

This book is recommended reading for a course on Grammar, Mechanics, and Usage for Editors offered by UC Berkeley. Patricia O’Conner’s portfolio and the list of endorsements at the beginning of the book make her work unassailable, at least by the likes of me. Woe is I is, nonetheless, entertaining and enlightening. If you like Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, you will probably like Woe is I, and vice versa.

Beyond its entertainment value, Woe is I is a valuable reference for an editor or writer. It would be helpful if the chapter titles and subtitles, for example “Spellbound: How to Be Letter Perfect,” were a bit less cryptic, but that is a minor quibble. The glossary, bibliography, and index are helpful. Keep a magnifying glass handy for reading the index. I also wish the author had said more about reading good writing to improve one’s own, but that coverage is limited to the last paragraph of the last chapter. Again, a minor complaint.

I don’t think of myself as a grammar nerd, but I might use “shall” instead of “will” when writing or speaking in the first person. More pedantic authorities might say that is good and proper, but O’Connor does not. Subject and verb must agree, but prepositions don’t always need to precede their objects. This is not iconoclasm for its own sake, but in the service of effective communication.

If you find English grammar puzzling or unappealing but would still like to improve your communication skills, reading Woe is I is worth reading and keeping for reference.

Thanks as always for stopping by!

Pat

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