Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Sense of Style

Finished July 30
The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

This book had a lot more grammar in it than I expected. The audiobook included a pdf of the glossary of terms, and the grammar trees that Pinker discusses, but if you're familiar with grammar and sentence parsing, it isn't strictly necessary to view them.
Pinker talks about the dangers of writers forgetting that their readers don't have the same knowledge that they do, one that occurs for all nonfiction writers, but more so for academics. There is a lot about coherency in writing, and he uses lots of examples to illustrate how changes can be made to make sentences more coherent for the reader without losing the intent of the writer.
When discussing grammar, Pinker addresses rules that really aren't rules, those that have become widely quoted, yet have no basis in reality in terms of language. Many of these came about through rules in other languages such as Latin, or hypercorrections such as the use of I when combined with another person as object.
Pinker's aim is towards greater clarify for the reader, and writing that flows gracefully rather than sounding stilted and awkward. He has lots of examples of both good and bad, and shows how to improve a sentence through simple changes to structure, wording, or punctuation.
Near the end he includes two lists: one of common rules that should be disregarded, and one of rules he feels are important to apply. He includes comments for both that are useful in understanding.
I like his sense of humour that often surprises, and his focus on the reader.
A useful and interesting guide.

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