A few weeks ago, a dear friend who also happens to oversee our student publications, recommended the work of Benjamin Dreyer. The recommendation probably came up as she was working on a piece and we were talking about proofreading, something I’ve had the chance to do many times over the last few years (you have to use that English degree every chance you get). She mentioned the humor of Dreyer’s Twitter feed. And she pointed out that he had a writing style book out. The next day, I snatched up the only copy that Barnes and Noble had at the time. I read as much of it as I could before passing it on to the one who suggested it (and ordered my own copy as soon as I realized what a treasure the book was).
I finished Dreyer’s English a few days ago (oddly enough while at a Starbucks watching the filming of a scene for Hawaii Five-O. I’m not totally sure why it took me so long. Part of it was the chance to savor an enjoyable read. Another part of it was the busyness of the season. It’s the kind of book you want to revisit often, though, particularly if you find yourself writing and reading often.
The Paris Review posted an excerpt from the book close to its publication date. “Three Writing Rules to Disregard” is a great example of what makes the book both enjoyable and challenging. Dreyer writes with an amusing authority, often drawing on pop culture great works of literature. In this particular piece, he tackles some things that most English teachers bring up every chance they get. From the piece:
A good sentence, I find myself saying frequently, is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection. (If you want to puzzle your reader, that’s your own business.)
As much as I like a good rule, I’m an enthusiastic subscriber to the notion of “rules are meant to be broken”—once you’ve learned them, I hasten to add.
From there Dreyer tackles the questions of beginning a sentence with a conjunction, splitting infinitives, and ending a sentence with a preposition.
Dreyer’s English is the kind of book that both makes you appreciate the nuances of good writing and makes you want to become a better writer. You can read the whole article here. And the book can be bought wherever great books are sold (though you might have to search for the reference section to find it).