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Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose Paperback – August 13, 2013
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“This new grammar book is light-years ahead of what you’d read in eighth-grade English: With vivid, contemporary examples of what to do and what not to do, it’s fun to read.” —Charlotte Observer
“In ‘Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose,’ Constance Hale provides a plugged-in, cutting-edge alternative to the must prescriptions of Strunk and White. Here you will find an open-minded, exuberant approach to style that is intelligent and refreshing.” —Charles Harrington Elster, in The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Hale has put together a writing/grammar manual that is fresh and fun. The basic rules are here, and they are well explained. The ‘sin’ from the title is partly advice on when and how to break these rules. The other sins are examples of oft-repeated mistakes…..this guide will help [readers] use effective and artful language. The examples range from Dr. Seuss books to John F. Kennedy's speeches to commercials…. Easy to understand and appealing to a broad range of readers, this book is highly recommend for all libraries.” —Alisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI, in Library Journal
“This is a wonderful how-to-book about writing stuff people want to read. Those who have studied the subject might think of Hale as a peacemaker between the Strunk and White tribe devoted to precision and the more entertaining descendants of Henry Mencken, full of energy and inventions. Nonwriters who just want advice that won’t put them to sleep will find sentences they can dance to.” —Make Maza in The Dallas Morning News
“Constance Hale, in ‘Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose,’ is the first grammarian I’ve seen in a long time brave enough to revive diagramming.” —Ed Gray, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“Hale’s analyses of texts, from Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! To the jargon-laden prose of government and corporate documents, are full of insight because she lets the reader in on how language has the power to move us or confuse us.” —Charles K. Bultman, in California Lawyer
“Hale [is] good at explaining rules, and she provides a lot of examples of writing that really is sinfully good. Osmosis alone should help you here.” —Gary Kaufman, in Salon
"Move over, grumpy schoolmarms everywhere. Your time has come. For the writer or wannabe, Sin and Syntax is an urgently needed, updated, and hip guide to modern language and writing. Nobody but Connie Hale could make the elements of 21st-century style so much fun." --Jon Katz, media critic and author of Running to the Mountain and Virtuous Reality
"Sin and Syntax is one of the rare books that recognizes--and even celebrates--the fact that good writing has little to do with 'rules' and much to do with a true understanding of effective prose. Connie Hale provides us an invaluable service by showing us what works and what doesn't in the real world, regardless of what the pedants say."--Jesse Sheidlower, Senior Editor, Random House Dictionaries, and author of "Jesse's Word of the Day" column
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Here are some thoughts:
A. On the one hand, Hale promotes an economy of words: getting rid of all those distracting adverbs, for example! Use a simple word like “use” rather than “utilization”! Hale is also critical of being so formal as to sound pompous, by, say, using “one” as a subject rather than “you” (i.e., “one must do such-and-such”). On the other hand, Hale wants writers to be imaginative and creative about the words that they do choose to use, as opposed to being banal. The prose that she advocates does not just tell but shows, enabling readers to see or to feel what is being described.
B. Hale overlaps with other writing manuals in that she encourages writers to keep their prose simple. At the same time, she qualifies the advice of other writing manuals, as when she states that writing manuals are often correct to discourage the use of the passive voice, but that in some cases the passive voice is appropriate.
C. Hale is sometimes a stickler for grammar, and at other times she is more liberal, as in her discussion about whether a writer can end a sentence with a preposition.
D. The book has a lot of political references. Political junkies like me will appreciate that! She even has a sarcastic comment about Donald Trump, before he became a politician.
E. In some cases, Hale could be dismissive, and I rolled my eyes at her corny put-downs of others’ prose, even as I understood why she was criticizing it.
F. The book confirmed something that I have long suspected, and that is that some of the rules that students are taught in school can hinder effective prose. For example, I have often felt as if I have to qualify everything that I say to avoid generalizations or misrepresentations of people’s position. Thus, I use what Hale calls “wimp verbs,” namely, “seem” and “appear.” The problem with this is that readers gravitate towards prose that manifests conviction and a sense of authority.
G. Hale shows what effective prose looks like and explains why it is effective. The book is not as helpful in explaining how writers can become imaginative enough to write it, however. It does not provide much of a road map.
H. I think that there is a place for formal prose, especially in academic writing. Formal prose—-as is four or five syllable words—-can command respect. But, even then, there is a place for getting rid of disruptive jargon.
I give this 5 stars but I am assuming readers know this isn't going to be Harry Potter. It's 5 stars for a book about grammar.
And all that I appreciated. I subtracted one star because the examples given in the text I found to be odd and I couldn't quite put what was stated in the instructional parts of the book with the quality of the examples. So many came from political speech, some from odd sources, and others from books I have no desire to ever read (Hemingway, being a noted exception). So it is hard to blame the author here as the material was subjective and some people may love it. I did not.
The other star I sadly had to deduct due to the price of the book. Yes, I know it is usually not in the author's control, and I might be unfairly judging based on price, but still, the e-book was over $10 (when I purchased) for material that is perhaps worth about $5. At $5, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.
But, being that this is Amazon, and I wrote the original review on Goodreads, I gave this book four stars here.