Sunday, May 17, 2015

BOOK BRIEF: "The Sense of Style" by Steven Pinker

You cannot go wrong by reading a Steven Pinker book on language because you're bound to learn something. The Sense of Style has plenty to offer to those who have always felt that many English grammar rules border on the ridiculous as well as to those grammar snobs who wish to restrain prose writers in a linguistic straitjacket devoid of all imagination and elegance. 

Early in this book, which serves as both an argument for clear reasoning about language issues and a writing style guide, Pinker makes the revelatory statement that all successful writers he knows do not use a style guide such as The Elements of Style, The Business Writer's Handbook, or The Gregg Reference Manual. In fact, they learn to write by reading relentlessly, co-opting the style of admired authors until they cultivate their own.

As he does in The Language Instinct, Pinker cogently explains that grammar rules are arbitrary, therefore inviting the professional writer to take liberties with them in the name of original, fluent style. He takes on many of the myths about "correct" grammar, comparing popular belief with expert opinion and concluding with his own practical solutions. This book is worth a patient read.