Remember that one time, a few weeks ago, when I suggested that grammar lovers have finally climbed a few rungs on the coolness ladder? Scholar and editor Roy Peter Clark must have seen my column and immediately written his new book about it. (OK, probably not—the hardcover came out last year. But I’ll just keep telling myself I helped inspire this month’s paperback release.)
In The Glamour of Grammar, Clark looks at many of the same topics covered in other popular books about language: punctuation, spelling, style, usage, and so on. But his lighthearted tone carries none of the self-righteousness that mars most grammar lessons. He never slaps our wrists for being wrong (“My errors in grammar and usage are bigger and more embarrassing than yours,” he reassures us), and he seems to take genuine delight in his subject, offering up personal anecdotes as examples. To demonstrate neologisms, for instance, Clark tells us that in his family the left hand is known as the “fooding hand,” a term coined by one of his daughters when she was a toddler. And he can turn a phrase with the best of ’em: a dash becomes a “miniflatline”; a misplaced modifier results in “contamination by proximity.”
Of course, despite its many attributes, The Glamour of Grammar isn’t really glamorous at all. It’s chock-full of academic references, sentence diagrams, and so-bad-they’re-good jokes—in other words, this book is a hypernerdy indulgence for those of us who would happily spend an evening tucked into a favorite chair, giggling over the author’s stories about his high school garage band, T. S. and the Eliots. Clark may not be the guy you want on your arm at the next Chanel launch, but he’d make a pretty great Thanksgiving guest. Please pass the bon mots, Uncle Roy?