Top positive review
46 people found this helpful
on August 14, 2013
I can't stop gobbling down the pages of this book, even as I force myself to stop, re-read and savor.
I have a theoretical linguistics degree and the title made me smile. I thought it would be like The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, sort of another satirical reference book for (the seemingly millions of) eager new writers.
I decided if it wasn't a satire, then I wasn't going to read it, since I'm not a fan of handbooks on writing. I'm a bit jaded. Out of the 50 or so I own, I think only a few are written so well I can read them just for the pure pleasure of the words. And this is one. (Another is 'Your First Novel' by Laura Whitcomb, in case anyone is curious.)
This book is a thing of beauty. Just as she quotes Sam Tanenhaus describing Updike's prose as 'lathe-turned' so has every word and phrase in this book been carefully, lovingly chosen. Imminently quotable, unendingly encouraging, I found beauty and truth on every page so far.
The linguist in me is thrilled that she draws a distinction between grammarians and linguists (the former see eight parts of speech and the latter see four 'major word classes') and the writer in me is reveling in her pitch-perfect prose.
My favorite lines at this moment, which are now scribbled on a slip of paper and taped to my monitor:
"After having suffered the hyperactive red pens of the schoolmarms and the hypercorrect rules of the inflexible pedagogues, too many of us have retreated to the realm of the safe, the standard, the unimaginative. We stick to common words- or, worse, pull out a hackneyed phrase. We yield to the conventions of a profession, rather than pushing ourselves to be unconventional. We use jargon rather than coming up with original language.
Hidden in such prefab prose is a fear of going to the edge. But it's romping on the fringes of language that gives writing its frisson. The right word might be snagged off the street, snatched from another language, or hatched in the sand tray of the imagination. Dive into the polyglot English tongue, taking a cue from Walt Whitman, that high priest of the rambunctious..."
Amen, amen! Sin and Syntax is worth the price of entry. Enjoy.