09 August 2009

Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Illustrated Edition)

Hold the press! There’s been a last minute change here at zellakate. I was going to post my review of To Kill a Mockingbird today. However, circumstances have intervened. I used to believe that there was no better book on Planet Earth than Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I’ve spent all summer badgering family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and complete strangers, pleading with them to read this book. But I was sadly mistaken. Yesterday I was introduced to a book that supplanted Eats, Shoots and Leaves for my undying affection: the illustrated edition of Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

And exactly what is the topic of this book that is so near and dear to me? Punctuation. Yes, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is an entire book on punctuation (with cute, armed pandas on the cover no less.) This is hardly a fitting description for one of my all-time favorite books though. In this book, British journalist Truss manages to explain all of the basic rules of punctuation, vent about the public’s apathy toward proper punctuation, provide hilariously awful examples of said punctuation apathy, and delve into the surprisingly fascinating history of punctuation. Sound boring? Not in Truss’s able hands. With sarcasm, wit, and snarky commentary as her weapons, Truss has declared war on bad punctuation…and the results are beyond merely entertaining. I can honestly say that I’ve never laughed so much (or so hard) at a nonfiction book in all of my life. Truss takes a potentially snooze-inducing subject and turns it into a book that is positively addictive.

Everyone who develops chest pains, throws temper tantrums, or lapses into mild depression at signs that cheerfully announce “Sorry Were Closed” will love and cherish Truss’s militant punctuation manifesto. You’ll laugh (and cringe) at some of the truly abominable examples of bad punctuation, and you’ll learn some very intriguing trivia along the way (including the case of the man who was “hanged on a comma” and the ill-fated Jameson raid which was triggered by a misplaced period.) What if you’re not a grammar geek? Will you feel hopelessly lost or annoyed reading this book? No! Truss’s writing is hilarious even if you could care less about apostrophes, commas, and semicolons. And, if you’re a bit rusty on your basic punctuation rules, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is the best tutorial that you could ever have. Truss’s memorable examples and witty observations enable her to explain punctuation much, much better than most droning English teachers. Now, I loved this book when I first read the original, but the illustrated version is even better. It’s full of delightfully absurd drawings of beneficent punctuation fairy pandas, revolutionary pandas picketing improper punctuation at Harrods, and shady pandas peddling “dangerously habit-forming” semicolons. (The panda theme originates from a joke that also gives the book its title.) I had fun just flipping through the book looking at these fine illustrations by The New Yorker cartoonist Pat Byrnes.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is the rare book that is both truly educational and entertaining. If you’ve never read this book, I urge you (as I have everyone) to read this book. If you’re already a Lynne Truss fan but have never seen the illustrated edition of this book, you must get yourself a copy – it’s well worth moving heaven and earth for. (And, Mom, thanks for the book. I can now, ahem, return the non-illustrated copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves that I've held hostage for the past two months to the library and pay my fines.)

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