Book Review: Can You Eat, Shoot & Leave? by Clare Dignall

Can You Eat, Shoot and Leave? by Clare Dignall

“Abuse of the apostrophe is … a symptom of its very character.  It is obedient, enthusiastic, and capable of carrying out many important tasks.  A bit like a spaniel, you might say.  However, that’s where the analogy ends, because we are usually quite nice to spaniels.”

As my loved ones know only too well, I have a bit of a thing for punctuation and grammar.  I often have to suppress a shudder at the over-enthusiastic use of apostrophes.  I can’t send a text message without reading it over twice.  And I sometimes put semicolons in my emails.

But despite the tutting and rolling of eyes at badly-punctuated local newsletters and online reviews, secretly I know that it’s not the be-all and end-all if people get it wrong sometimes.  In fact (big confession time) I’m not sure of the rules myself a lot of the time.   I have a love-hate relationship with those semicolons: I want to use them to jazz up my writing, but I’m terrified of including one incorrectly (yes, I said terrified).  Not to mention that I’ve always been puzzled by where you’re supposed to put the punctuation marks when your sentence ends with speech or a quote: inside or outside the speech marks?

Not having been taught all this properly at school – in the belief that this would allow me to express myself “freely” – but possessing a seemingly unnatural interest in such boring, mundane things as developing my writing, my punctuation lessons were very much picked up as I went along.  But it’s not easy.  Once you’ve “skipped” the basics of grammar and punctuation (through your own choice or your teacher’s), it’s difficult to find out how to apply certain rules to real-life examples.  You wouldn’t believe the number of times I have looked up explanations of what a semicolon does and where to use it, and yet it never seems to stick.  So I completely understand that someone who has not been taught (or who has forgotten) these rules from school, and who does not have a specific interest in writing, is unlikely to go to the trouble of looking up something everyone’s “supposed” to know, just to be confronted with boring and confusing descriptions.

Luckily, despite my heavy-hearted observations, all is not lost.  This brilliant book may not have all the answers, but it’s certainly cleared up the foggier areas in my brain surrounding punctuation.  Can You Eat, Shoot & Leave? is a follow-on from the best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss: a humorous yet passionate appeal to preserve the art of punctuation.  This book takes you one step further than appreciating punctuation (and laughing at the misuse of it) and actually shows you how to use it in a practical way.  It’s not patronising; it’s not mocking: its author merely wants to help.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

If you’re someone who occasionally hears that niggling internal voice saying, “Does that go there?” or, “I wonder which one of those would be best here?” then you would really benefit from the accessible lessons in this short book.  It includes clear outlines of the different punctuation marks at your disposal and short exercises designed to test your skills, showing you how to use punctuation to enhance your writing

Even if you are confounded by punctuation and have no desire to write a novel, you can benefit from this book from both a personal and a business perspective by quickly learning how to better emphasise your point, clarify your writing and come across in a more professional manner

Alternatively, if you’re the type of person who is obsessed with punctuation and who thinks they’ve got all the answers already, then you’ll love this book because it gives you the opportunity to use a red pen and complete tests.

A major issue people have with punctuation is that usage can be subjective, and it can be difficult to know for definite whether you’re right or not.  This book doesn’t hide away from that, but it turns the problem on its head and instead shows the creative potential of punctuation.  You really can change the emphasis (and meaning) of a sentence just by rewording, moving a comma, or replacing a full-stop with a colon or semicolon.  And certain rules of grammar can be broken, according to your personal artistic code: whether or not to use the Oxford comma, for example, or starting a sentence with the word and

At only 160 pages (including answers) this book guides you gently through the punctuation jungle and gradually builds your confidence with engaging exercises.  I just read it through from cover to cover, and got a lot out of it, but it’s something I’m sure I will come back to every so often for reference or for a quick refresher course.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who has the remotest interest in brushing up on their punctuation skills and wants quick results!

Oh, and you’ll be pleased to know that I’m now not quite so terrified of getting it wrong; semicolons aren’t quite so scary after all …


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barry Cotrrell
    Jan 12, 2012 @ 23:03:12

    Thanks for this review it’s one I’ll add to my reference bookshelf. I noted you started a sentence with And.. very brave!


  2. Garfield Cleaver
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 02:33:38

    Thank you. Your writing is very good.


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