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A Meeting of Art, Reason, and Fun.
on October 25, 2002
Patricia O'Conner's Words Fail Me presents so many practical insights into effective writing that I suspect it would be valuable to almost any writer. And there's a bonus: she has a great sense of humor. She debunks the faux pas fallacies that snobbishly tell us how not to write -- don't use contractions, don't start sentences with conjunctions, etc. And she tells us how these supposed `rules' came to be. Wisely, O'Conner's most important rule is this:
"Your first duty to the reader is to make sense. Everything else -- eloquence, beautiful images, catchy phrases, melodic and rhythmic language -- comes later, if at all. I'm all for artistry, but it's better to write something homely and clear than something lovely and unintelligible."
I read quite a lot, mostly nonfiction (philosophy, reference, science, theology, and wilderness travel). Inevitably, reading compels me to write -- I've submitted more than fifty book reviews to this forum. Yet I'm never quite happy with my writing. This is not unusual. "Your favorite novel or history or memoir is just someone's last revision," says O'Conner.
As a student I disliked studying the nuts and bolts of English. Words, their accuracy, economy, and artistry, interest me far more now, and this book is the first "how to write" text I have read. At the risk of belaboring the obvious (because good writing doesn't): it was a good choice.