Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte (Graphics Press, 2006) 308 pp. $16. paper.
If style is your passion, then you must read Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Virginia Tufte, a former Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California, provides an invaluable resource for reflecting on style, especially for those who are professional writers.
While most business and technical writers (I would even say essayists and novelists) eschew a focus on grammar for a more “natural” approach to style, Tufte proves that a deep understanding of grammar empowers writers to achieve greater impact in their prose. In proving her point, she draws from thousands of sentences written by hundreds of renowned writers, most of them from the twentieth century and twenty-first centuries to maintain a fresh look at style. By attacking parts of speech, parts of the sentence, and structural considerations such as parallelism and cohesion, the book plainly details how exceptional authors apply variations of standard sentences—and, in places, break the rules of standard English—to capture a mood, evoke an image, or drive the action.
Reading Tufte’s book reminded me of how I reflect on the director’s role when watching a film: I see only the actors, but I feel the director’s presence. Tufte’s summary introductions and closings to the remarkable passages are succinct enough to let the masters do the talking, yet they are thorough enough to make for lively reading and capture the essential points.
What’s more, a reader is bound to learn something about grammar in a uniquely engaging way, as Tufte describes participial phrases, appositives, adverbial clauses, rhetorical imperatives, and many more grammatical conventions. It’s hard to believe, but she achieves this masterful trick through her diligent attention to a vast range of writing styles—most of which will capture the imagination just for their entertainment value.
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Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/.