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Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose Paperback – 13 Aug 2013


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Rev Upd edition (13 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385346891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385346894
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.7 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 300,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ms P M Osborne on 9 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent book, very good for struggling writers and teachers who want to help their students with grammar etc. also enjoyable
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 23 reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Unbelievably delicious 14 Aug. 2013
By M. Munoz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
I can't stop gobbling down the pages of this book, even as I force myself to stop, re-read and savor.
I have a theoretical linguistics degree and the title made me smile. I thought it would be like The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, sort of another satirical reference book for (the seemingly millions of) eager new writers.

I decided if it wasn't a satire, then I wasn't going to read it, since I'm not a fan of handbooks on writing. I'm a bit jaded. Out of the 50 or so I own, I think only a few are written so well I can read them just for the pure pleasure of the words. And this is one. (Another is 'Your First Novel' by Laura Whitcomb, in case anyone is curious.)
This book is a thing of beauty. Just as she quotes Sam Tanenhaus describing Updike's prose as 'lathe-turned' so has every word and phrase in this book been carefully, lovingly chosen. Imminently quotable, unendingly encouraging, I found beauty and truth on every page so far.
The linguist in me is thrilled that she draws a distinction between grammarians and linguists (the former see eight parts of speech and the latter see four 'major word classes') and the writer in me is reveling in her pitch-perfect prose.
My favorite lines at this moment, which are now scribbled on a slip of paper and taped to my monitor:

"After having suffered the hyperactive red pens of the schoolmarms and the hypercorrect rules of the inflexible pedagogues, too many of us have retreated to the realm of the safe, the standard, the unimaginative. We stick to common words- or, worse, pull out a hackneyed phrase. We yield to the conventions of a profession, rather than pushing ourselves to be unconventional. We use jargon rather than coming up with original language.

Hidden in such prefab prose is a fear of going to the edge. But it's romping on the fringes of language that gives writing its frisson. The right word might be snagged off the street, snatched from another language, or hatched in the sand tray of the imagination. Dive into the polyglot English tongue, taking a cue from Walt Whitman, that high priest of the rambunctious..."

Amen, amen! Sin and Syntax is worth the price of entry. Enjoy.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Vince Lombardi Teaches Writing 15 Sept. 2013
By Ryan J. Dejonghe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When the Packers needed help reversing their seasonal losing record, they brought in the now Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi. As the story goes, Vince began his tenure by holding up a football and saying, "Let's start at the beginning. This is a football." In Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale is standing in the proverbial locker room, saying, "This is a noun."

I've read or flipped through about ten grammar books this year and this is the first book that starts with the basics. I have a high school grammar textbook on my nightstand that doesn't even talk about parts of speech until page 150 or so. Each book I've read begins with lessons about being concise, word choice, or commonly misplaced words. Sin and Syntax is the first book I've read this year that starts out with Chapter 1: Nouns.

If I had to change anything about this book, it would be the cleverly worded title. As another reviewer stated, I thought this book would be salacious, but the author misses such easy innuendo set-ups like copulative and transitive verbs. (Side note: I'm still confused on the author's perturbation about the misuse of the word `like'. I'm sure I just misused it, but I'll daringly roll with it.) I would have liked more antidotal asides to help ease the starchy grammar lessons, but alas, no gun-wielding pandas or road-crossing aardvarks were to be found.

The sin in this book's syntax was the formulaic setup of each chapter. To some readers, this may be quite helpful. To me, this moves the book from being an interesting read-through to being a shelf-puller. Meaning, instead of keeping this on the back of the toilet for a quick jab at the expense of some pop star, this book will be kept on the shelf for future reference--and that's a good thing. But again, this goes back to the lustful sounding title giving me false expectations.

While I did appreciate the book's organization, the heavily structured chapters drained the organic voice of the author. This was painfully apparent when the chapter on interjections followed the same outline as the chapter on verbs. If it's not there, it's not there--why force it? On the other hand, I'm tired of seeing other grammar books that read like the author hit "view all entries" on their blog, hit print, and then bound the random blog entries in a book. Sin and Syntax is very organized, almost to a fault.

There is also some confusion about the updates contained in this book. Beside the one bolded line at the top, Amazon's description for this book and the older version are identical. I bought the printed version of the updated book and read it side-by-side with the Kindle version of the original. The new book follows the same hardened structure, but has been vastly updated. The author has done a LOT of work to update this book. I don't recall seeing this many outside samplings in any other writing book. The author has also added exercises at the end of each chapter. What I didn't find is a lot of references. The author does a great job explaining why certain rules are in place, but doesn't always tell us who defined these rules.

For those looking for warm and inspiring writing advice, you may be better served elsewhere. The final chapters have some of that, but mostly this book is a study on the particulars of the craft. Those willing to take the time and study the samples and practice the exercises will be plentifully rewarded. Those looking for a quick read and instant improvement may be disappointed.

On an enjoyment level, I can't offer this book many stars. However, if I put in the time to re-read the chapters and practice the exercises, I have no doubt this book will improve the strength of my writing (but maybe taking away some of the creativity?).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
It would be a sin to pass up this book 16 Feb. 2014
By Annelisa Dieterich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is extremely helpful in understanding and applying proper grammar to ones writing. It is fun to read, easy to understand, and satisfying to utilize!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Never knew (dynamic) VERBS could be this much fun 1 Oct. 2013
By Don E. Nelson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you're a writer . . . if you love to write . . . if your serious about writing . . . if you have a passion for writing . . . if you write for a living . . . if you are writing your first novel . . . then you probably already have read this book, at least once and then refer to it often.
If you only read one book a year - you really should get out more often. The author is a 1st class grammarian. If you get a chance to take any of her classes - do it. You can do things with the English language that few others can. Buy two copies, one for yourself and one for yourself when you wear out the first copy. This lady makes nouns and verbs fun again. Funny, concise and examples galore. I hope that Spielberg of J.J. Abrams makes this book into a "block buster" movie. It would be a wickedly good film. I could see Brad Pitt as the Noun Avenger and Jo Lo dancing with the Verbs in the burbs. I just wish this book came with a CD full of music to help a writer choose dynamic verbs over static verbs. This would be a great Christmas gift for anyone you know that can speak English. Get ready for a plethora of thank you cards when you give these books away. I'm planning on buying the books by the case so I can use them year around as gifts and presents and charities and hand outs. I'm glad I own a van so I can buy ten cases at a time. I also have a large garage so storage will not be a problem. The only downside to buying this book is: I have a hard time not reading it while I drive but I solved that problem recently. Now I only take public transportation, ferrys, planes, buses, etc. So now, every time I read this book, I am saving the planet, one dynamic verb at a time. In fact, I sold my van and the money I got, I put it in the bank because some day I want to go to Europe. That has nothing to do with the book, I just wanted to let all my friends know that I am still planning on going to Europe someday and you can be sure I will be packing two copies of this book just in case somebody steals one while I'm walking around Paris with my nose buried in this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic for new writers and old-timers like myself 9 Mar. 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Old-timer as in writing for over a decade, not actual age! I could tell from reading the first couple of pages of this book that it was going to be a good kick-in-the pants to get inspired and rev back up. I'd been on a hiatus from writing for a while and needed something to put me back that "eager to tell a story" mode. This book did that and more. So whether you're just starting out or have been writing for a while, check out this title for an abundance of examples on how to keep your work lean and fresh. Recommended.
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