Sunday, September 1, 2013

Review: Punctuation..?

I've posted a number of book reviews on this blog, but I think this one is the first I have concrete plans to use in the near future. I was asked to review "Punctuation..?", a short 35-page saddle-stapled book published by User design press. The main definitions for correct usage are taken from the Oxford English Mini Dictionary (can you imagine -- a usage book that actually cites its sources). The book briefly covers usage and suggestions for apostrophes, parentheses, colon and semicolons, dashes, slashes, and more. Each usage description is accompanied by an (often humorous) line drawing referring to or illustrating the usage. One thing I liked about this book is its mostly descriptive attitude. This isn't a prescriptive diatribe about how texting is ruining our punctuation use; it's a light-hearted and well-informed instruction manual for actual English. The errors it discusses are real errors that everyone, native speaker and learner alike, should avoid for the sake of clear writing, not elitist shibboleths for posh hipsters to complain about. Since this is a British publication, some of the terminology might be confusing for American audiences (though I would guess that most people are familiar with the main differences across the pond: period vs. full stop, single vs. double quotation marks). The only difference that would introduce a genuine error for American writers would be the claim that we should not use a period after abbreviations like Mrs., Mr., and Dr. (where in America we obligatorily do use a period in such cases). Other than this all the advice is applicable for American as well as British audiences, modulo terminological differences. As an erstwhile teacher of English as a Second Language, I definitely plan to use ideas and usage suggestions from this text in the classroom. Not only is the advice clearly presented and playfully executed, but also great attention is paid to proper typesetting. I would guess that most anyone who has occasion to write/type in English would fine use for the section delineating the typographical and usage differences between the hyphen, en dash, and em dash. The comma usage section, also, should prove useful to anyone teaching writing. While some of the advice is too simplistic (we use commas to join any two independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction, not just ones with a change in subject), there's a lot of information packed into this very short and eminently readable book.