Review: The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark
Title: The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English
Author: Clark, Roy Peter
Length: 294 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Reference
Publisher / Year: Little, Brown and Company / 2010
Source: Won from Caught Between the Pages in 2010.
Why I Read It: Seemed like a book from which I could benefit.
Date Read: 21/04/12
It’s not often the words glamour and grammar are used in the same sentence, but in this book Clark attempts, in fifty quick chapters, to put the magic back into the language and remind us of the origin of the words glamour and grammar – and that they mean similar things. The chapters are divided into sections looking at: Words, which talks about the basic building blocks and the importance of using the right ones; Points, discussing punctuation; Standards, which looks at the basics of Standard English; Meaning, in which we start examining full sentences, and; Purpose, the reasons why we write and harnessing the power of English in everyday life. In closing, Clark gives some appendices which include lists of commonly misspelled words, words which are often confused, and more.
Although Clark is very American in the sense that he takes aim a few times at British scholars of grammar and the English language, his book is sure to be enjoyed by anyone who writes regularly. The book is full of useful tips and tricks, and Clark’s writing keeps it fun and enjoyable. One of the main points he makes throughout is that writing should be fun and that the English language gives much room for any writer to play around with words, meaning, and more. If a writer knows what they are doing, the rules are there more as general guides, he says, than as strict barriers.
The writing and grammar were impeccable, as would be expected in a book about grammar. The book is also well-written in that the chapters flow, the information is easy to understand and the Keepsakes sections at the end of each chapter makes it easy to go back and reference at a later point. Clark has also managed to make a book about grammar exciting and fun to read. In addition to all this, Clark has written about a few subjects dealing with language that I find especially interesting and so I will share them with you briefly.
Under the section of Standards, the author has included a chapter discussing on writing gender equality in English. I loved that this was included, highlighting the issues that any writer can face trying to avoid the pitfalls of sexism. In this chapter he alludes briefly to the sexism of the language, and he lists the ways in which writers can avoid these pitfalls.
Another chapter, under the section Purpose, takes on the issue of dialect. In this chapter Clark points out that dialects, although not linguistically superior or inferior to one another, will still bring out biases or prejudices in readers. We all, he says, speak in dialect and although one may be privileged over another, that doesn’t make it better. When writing, it is important he says to ensure that your characters aren’t ridiculed based on the assumptions or prejudices of the dialect in which they are speaking.
Lastly, still under the section on Purpose, Clark talks about word choice. In the chapter discussing denotation and connotation he talks about how words and sentences have ideological meaning and that these words and phrases are used to champion or denigrate causes or issues. Take examples such as rebel, terrorist, freedom-fighter – each one has a different meaning in the minds of those who read it. Although it can be easy to take the lines which are fed by government or corporations, Clark argues that it is important for any writer or journalist to think critically about word choice. And while I may not agree with all of his own choices, he points out that we should disagree and keep up discussions on word choice.
I recommend this to all who write regularly, as it is both informative and an enjoyable read. I will leave you with Clark’s ending, because he really does put it best:
For what good is freedom of expression if you lack the means to express yourself? (page 264)