Monday, February 11, 2013

The Glamour of grammar: A guide to the magic and mystery of practical English

The Glamour of grammar: A guide to the magic and mystery of practical English
By Roy Peter Clark

Review by Richard L. Weaver II

I had no idea what this book was about when I picked it up. My first impression was that it was a book on grammar, and, as a writer, I have enjoyed extending my knowledge and understanding of grammar since my high school days of English classes. I was in an Advanced English course at Ann Arbor High School with a great teacher, Mr. Granville. He taught his students that you can never stop learning about the English language, so I thought this book might simply be an extension or elaboration of the book I regard as my bible with it comes to language usage: Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I recommended this book to undergraduate and graduate students alike, and when I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation, I depended exclusively on Strunk and White for any questions I had about my use of words, grammar, or sentence construction.

I thought so much of Strunk and White that when I wrote my basic book on public speaking called Public Speaking Rules! All you need for a GREAT speech! (And Then Some Publishing, 2008), I made the cover plain and simple (and in a cream color)—like the cover of Strunk and White’s first edition. That was my tribute to them.

If you know this book, or if you have read any of the many reviews at, then you know at once that I was mistaken. Happily mistaken, I might add. Oh, the grammar is there, but the beauty of this book is that there is so much more, and the "so much more" can serve as the primary motivation for purchasing this book—no other motivation is necessary!

There a number of delights in this amazing book. First, it is truly a grea read with terrific examples and an extremely well-written narrative. Second, there are 50 chapters and 264 pages of text, making each chapter, on average, 5.3 pages long—succinct information and to the point. Third, each chapter ends with a section called "Keepsakes" which lists 3-5 items from the chapter tha are worth reviewing or, perhaps, remembering. Fourth, the author’s true love of the language is revealed throughout, and it is an inspiration. Fifth, the way Clark incorporates his own personal experiences adds both freshness and perspective—as well as knowledge and understanding.

As an example of how Clark incorporates his personal experience, here is just one sentence (chosen at random), from his chapter, "Avoid speed bumps caused by misspellings": "When I was just a little writer—skinny, myopic, prepubescent, growing up in a New York suburb—I began to feel the first tremors of emerging manhood, and I felt them most powerfully in the presence of a local teenage girl whose nickname was Angel Face" (p. 15). His example is delightful and makes an unforgettable impression about the importance of correct spelling. The rest of this example must be read for complete appreciation.

The sixth reason I liked this book (awarded 5 stars out of 5), is the tremendous range of examples Clark cites. His extensive knowledge, the variety of sources, and the specificity and exactness of the quotations he offers is remarkable. Admittedly, Clark has "taught writing at every level—to schoolchildren and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors—for more than thirty years" (back flyleaf) and is "vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute" (one of the most prestigious schools for journalists in the world" (back flyleaf)), so he should have accumulated a great deal of information (his wide variety of sources) from his extensive experience as a teacher, but it truly overwhelms the senses!

To show you (my reader) just how much I admired this book, I did something I seldom do. My father-in-law, Edgar E. Willis, is an emeritus professor of speech communication at the University of Michigan, and besides his textbooks, he has written a book on humor, How to be Funny on Purpose: Creating and Consuming Humor (2005), a book on his experiences in World War II, Civilian in an Ill-fitting Uniform: A Memoir of World War II (2009) and his work of fiction, Moss on the Ivory Tower: A Novel of Mystery and Intrigue, published by And Then Some Publishing LLC, became available at the first of this year.

Willis has an extensive writing career, a long and distinguished teaching career at the University of Michigan, including serving as chairman of the speech-communication department, is a continuing speaker, a Shakespearian scholar, and takes special pride in being a learned expert in the use of the English language. English usage often becomes a topic of conversation in my daily meetings with him. It was this book by Roy Clark that I chose to give him as a gift on his 98th birthday (July, 2011). There is no greater accolade I can bestow on Roy Clark and his book The Glamour of Grammar, for it takes a very special book to satisfy the interest and pleasure of such a learned man as Willis---and he absolutely loved the book!

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