Sunday, May 29, 2011
The Glamour of Grammar by Roy P. Clark
Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections. Period, comma, semi-colon, colon, dash, ellipse, parentheses, apostrophe, quotation mark, exclamation point, and question mark. Dangling participle, and split infinitive. Restrictive clause, non-restrictive clause. Indicative mood, subjunctive mood, and interrogative mood. Active and passive verbs. Present, past and future tenses. Sentence fragments, and simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences. Run-on sentences and comma splices. So many rules. So little memory.
I was never good at grammar. My teachers recognized it. When I was a freshman at Baylor, I tested into a Honors English program. It was mostly luck. The placement exam include an essay. One of the topics we could write on was "Americans abroad ugly or beautiful?" This was about the time that the novel The Ugly American was a best seller. I had read the novel, and I had lived in Japan the previous year. I wrote an inspired essay drawing upon my personal knowledge. They let me skip the basic, freshman English 101 and enroll in the Honors English 102 class. Their mistake. My professor, Mrs. Caskey, was a tough task master. She demanded excellence. One day in frustration she called me to her office and gave me her personal copy of a grammar book. I don't remember its name but there was a drawing of Shakespeare on the front cover. I used that book and made it through the course. But the rules didn't stick.
The book is more than just rules. It also speaks to what makes good writing and reading.
One of my favorite passages: "Writers must always remember that the sounds of language precede the symbols we use to represent those sounds on the page."
Clark's message to me is loud and clear. Learning to write means more than premise, structure, characters and settings. It's also means learning about the art of composing words, sentences and paragraphs. Using language to make spoken music on paper. I've got a very long way to go on this journey.
This is a good book. I needed it. I give the book three stars.