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Bill Walsh – Lapsing into a Comma

November 22, 2007

114. Lapsing into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things that Can Go Wrong in Print — and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh (2000)

Length: 256 pages

Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 19 November 2007
Finished: 22 November 2007

Summary: This book is divided into two parts: the first contains short chapters on various topics in writing (capitalization in the Internet era, vagaries of punctuation, etc.), while the second is a style guide written in short entries.

Review: While I found this book to be interesting, and frequently amusing, I didn’t find it as applicable (and therefore useful) as I was hoping. The book is geared more towards copy editors than towards writers, and specifically towards newspaper employees. I am always interested in improving my writing, but a large chunk of this book just didn’t apply. Conciseness is always important, but I don’t have the same space worries as newspaper writers, nor am I particularly concerned with headlines. Some entries in the style guide are more relevant, although if I don’t already know the correct way, I doubt I’ll be able to remember it’s a problem, much less figure out where to look for the issue in the (admittedly very thorough) index. Part of the problem is that it’s not a comprehensive style guide, but rather an potpourri of issues with grammar, style, and spelling that Walsh finds annoying or problematic, so any particular style issue a writer faces may or may not be included. Finally, I had the same problem with this book as I did with Eats, Shoots, and Leaves – I get so hyper-style-conscious about my own writing that soon everything starts to look wrong, and I probably introduce more errors through overcorrecting than would have been there had I not read the book in the first place. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: A diverting-enough book, but I’m having a hard time pinpointing the target audience. It’s too specialized to be really applicable to the general public (or to writers in general), but those who would find it relevant and helpful would probably want something more comprehensive.

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