Skip to main content

Review: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White


Pages: 105
Original date of publication: 1919
My edition: 2000
Why I decided to read: Read it for a class I’m taking
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, January 2012

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, is a short, concise guide to effective writing. This short guide covers everything from basic grammatical usage to composition, but it is more than just a guide to good writing. The book is filled with provocative axioms to keep in mind while writing. Because writing is a form of communication, a hallmark of it is to be succinct.

There is an overwhelming emphasis in this guide on clear, concise writing. “When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.” (p. 19). The best-known writers—Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare are mentioned—grab the reader’s attention by being “specific, definite, and concrete” and use words to create pictures (p. 21) in order to create impactful writing. It is always important to use the active voice in writing and to avoid conditionals such as should, could, and would, in order to prevent a piece of writing from sounding as though it lacks authority. The authors therefore recommend rewriting and revising and to “ruthlessly delete the excesses” (p. 72).

Composition is a major element in creating clear, readable writing. To be effective, writing must be organized and follow a specific plan—although that plan may not always follow the order of a writer’s thought process. However, it forces the writer to think; “the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind” (p. 70).

In the course of their writing, writers end up revealing something about themselves and their identity, and this is what makes good writing stand out. A writer develops their style through practice and patience. EB White suggests that the writer first place themselves in the background, so that a sense of style can be achieved by first having none. “Style is the writer, and therefore what you are, rather than what you know, will at last determine your style” (p. 84).

Although the authors are very definite in their opinions, they present them with humor in some places, preventing this book from becoming too pedantic. It is also important to consider that this guide is not the last word in what is “correct” writing or style; “the shape of our language is not rigid” (p. 39) and that “there is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rule by which writers may shape their course” (p. 66). However, The Elements of Style is an invaluable guide that gives a reader advice on how to think about their writing, how to write clear and concise prose, and how to achieve a unique sense of style.

Comments

Classic guide. More people should read this book and apply its principles.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancée, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…