Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
I have been too busy with teaching and my new full-time job. Over the past month, I have not been able to finish reading one book. I did start a few, but I won't mention them because they didn't click with me at that time. Sometimes that happens. It's not that the book isn't good, but that you just aren't in the mood for that book at that time. However, I did get one book that I enjoyed so much that I bought the book. I had requested The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker. Pinker is an interesting guy, specializing in language acquisition. He also wrote The Blank Slate, where Pinker proposed that we aren't blank slates for our environment to write on. We have innate characteristics that may be shaped by our environment, but that aren't created by our environment. That's a story for another day.

I loved The Sense of Style because Pinker says many of the things that I tell my students. Audience is key, and it's important to understand why certain stylistic concepts are prized. For example, passive voice is a big no-no. I used it in the previous sentence. When someone says to use active voice, it's usually because active voice can be more clear and concise than passive voice. The subject is performing the action of the verb. However, there are times when the subject is more important, even if he/she is not performing the action. "Mr. Jones was taken to the emergency room." It's not important to know who took Mr. Jones there; it's important that he went. To blindly follow rules without understanding why is just plain dumb.

Pinker gives examples of good and bad writing. When it's good, he explains why. When it's bad, he gives examples on how to make it better. As I said, I got the book from the library. I was curious about how good it was. I found myself stopping to read aloud sections to my husband. That's when I knew I had to add it to my collection. If you want to know more about writing and style, and you think those skills are vanishing in the 21st century, you should get Pinker's The Sense of Style. You will find that our concerns about the loss of writing skill is overblown.

The Daily Bongo

November 2014