Roy Peter Clark, one of the finest writing teachers on the planet, has written a new book about the most unglamorous of subjects—grammar. I cracked it open for its advice, but I found myself reading it for pleasure.
Hard to believe? Of course. I can hardly believe it myself. The Glamour of Grammar, A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English, is a remarkable achievement.
Disclaimer: I’ve known Roy for about twenty-five years and consider him a friend. He’s quite the raconteur: glib and witty, with the perfect anecdote for every occasion. Roy was trained as a medieval scholar; played piano in a rock ‘n roll band; teaches writing at the Poynter Institute, a prestigious school for journalists; and loves baseball. He may be a medievalist, but he’s definitely a Renaissance man.
His new book has the appeal of a great conversation. It’s wise and witty, practical and inspirational, and laced with bits of arcane yet fascinating tidbits. Every page vibrates with his love of language.
In my forty years as a newspaper reporter, wire service editor, writing coach, college teacher, and novelist, I’ve read—or skimmed—scores of books about writing; and I’ve developed a quick and easy system for determining which ones are worth my time. I sample the opening chapter and toss aside the ones that aren’t well-written. If writers can’t practice what they preach, why should I pay attention to them? Some of these books, including William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Stephen King’s On Writing, are beautifully written. Many others (no names here) read like they were written by the guy who did the manual on how to put together that Swedish-modern chair I bought at IKEA.
The writing in The Glamour of Grammar is superb from beginning to end.
Best of all, Roy doesn’t present his advice as a series of rules to be followed. Instead, he offers tools we can all use to write clear and engaging prose, and challenges us to “live inside the language.”
“Living inside the language,” he writes, “requires a love of words: the sound of words in the air, the sight of words on the page or screen, the feelings and images created by words in our hearts and heads. Words can even stimulate our senses; I can almost smell pungent, taste honeycomb, touch sandpaper.”
If you are a writer, or want to be, you owe it to yourself to buy this book. Crack it open for the advice and you’ll find yourself reading it for pleasure.