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Are You a Grammar, Usage, and Style Junkie?

Have you heard about Ammon Shea, the man who’d read all twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary and then written a memoir about it? When I’d heard about him I became jealous. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to read an entire dictionary. I’ve never done it though. I have, however, read some style and grammar guides from cover like Strunk and White’s The Element of Style (a few times–who hasn’t?), Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s The New Well-Tempered Sentence and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire (both excellent and fun to read), and, most recently, the technical manual Grammar Desk Reference by Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson. Besides a number of dictionaries, I often thumb through the Chicago Manual of Style and Garner’s Modern American Usage.  Which reminds me: check out this article on the so-called usage wars by David Foster Wallace.

So what about you? What grammar, usage, and style guides do you prefer?

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

11 thoughts on “Are You a Grammar, Usage, and Style Junkie?

  1. I look things up specifically either as they occur to me, or as I encounter unfamiliar constructions, but I’ve never had an interest in reading usage or style manuals as such.

  2. HELL YES.

    The Chicago Style of Manual is an amazing read. I had to read it once for a job, and I was in heaven.

    I also adore the The American Heritage Dictionary, not so much for the definitions (which are OK), but because of all the “extras.” The Usage Panel sections are like crack, and the Indo-European Roots appendix…oh my god!

    Of course Strunk and White, which I always assign to my students (and which I think is a blast to read—I like the Third Edition best, though).

    …I also really like usage work that’s more eccentric, less reference-oriented. For instance, Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte, which is a stellar book (and filled with great advice).

    I’m also a big fan of Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction, not because of its grand arguments about what postmodernist fiction is and isn’t (I don’t really care about that), but because the book reads like an inventory of every pomo fiction trope. (McHale is amazingly well-read.) I use the thing like a reference book. (It has a great index, too—as a reading list. As an actual index, it’s not very good: a lot of the page numbers are wrong.)

  3. Nice. CSM, cover-to-cover.

    Third edition of S&W is the one I’ve read more than a few times.

    When I saw the name Tufte, I thought why does that name ring a bell? and after skimming his website just now I found a book that I have read by Tufte, an excellent one, except it’s not by Edward but by Virginia Tufte: Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Highly recommended.

    1. I’ll check that out. Meanwhile, VDQI (as people call it) is a contemporary classic, one of the bibles of graphic design. It’s a quick read, too (although, as with chess, you’ll spend a lifetime pondering it).

      I really adore that third edition of S&W. “WITH INDEX.” God, every book should come with a triangle in the lower right corner of the cover, stating that!

        1. No, not really. I’ve played it, of course, and I have friends who are great chess enthusiasts, but just like with speaking French and playing the oboe, I never took the time to learn how to do it properly.

          I do play Magic: The Gathering, however. More precisely, I no longer really play, but rather follow the game professionally.

          I understand if that causes you to lose all respect for me, but I’m honest about my poor obsessions, and Magic is a pretty interesting game. I think that Raymond Roussel would have preferred it to chess himself, were he still alive.

          …Which, is to say, yes, that were Raymond Roussel still alive, he’d be a 132-year-old Magic: The Gathering enthusiast.

          1. Oh, I have a great respect for role-playing games though I haven’t played much myself. I used to run after school programs for teens and have several times asked them to explain the salient aspects of the various games. Seems to me there’s a great deal of complexity in them. Yet another thing I’d love for you to post about.

          2. Sweet, another Magic enthusiast. I support a version of history where Roussel time travels and is an avid Magic enthusiast.

            More on topic: Curme’s “A Grammar of the English Language” is dope. It reads like a traditional, in the sense of Latin/Greek/Hebrew, grammar. I love dead grammars :)

  4. Love love love THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, and I love love love love Patricia T. O’Connor’s WOE IS I. I also like SLIPPING INTO A COMMA, and WRITE RIGHT!

  5. I really love this post. Damn it all, it got buried. More people need to fucking know their way around a sentence. Boy, I tell ya.

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