Top positive review
21 people found this helpful
"best small all-rounded writing book in the market"
on 10 September 2004
As somewhat who communicates for a living, I recently purchased The Little Red Writing Book to add to my personal library. Notwithstanding its hard cover, this book clearly reminded me of an earlier soft cover classic, The Elements of Style. I couldn't help reviewing both books while noting their similarities and differences. Here's my take.
The Elements of Style is really a grammar book with a dose of style added. The Little Red Writing Book is foremost a writing skills book with grammar added. Case in point: The Elements of Style devotes half its coverage to "rules of usage" and "words and expressions commonly misused"; it doesn't even address structure, whereas The Little Red Writing Book wastes no time in discussing the "top-down approach to writing" and the "high school five-paragraph approach to writing". In terms of writing style, the essence of The Elements of Style is "cut out unnecessary words", while the gist of The Little Red Writing Book is "be specific, give adequate support for what you say".
The Elements of Style contains no exercises. The Little Red Writing Book does, and this is an indisputable strength of this book, for I know of no other small book that deals with writing and also contains short exercises. I have secretly marveled at writing books that attempt to teach writing without providing exercises. Of course, any handbook of English grammar will contain exercises, but its thickness will prove intimidating for all but the bravest student.
Which brings me to another point. In dividing the world of writing books into manuals, handbooks, and pocketbooks, there certainly exist a number of excellent books in the first two of these categories. The Chicago Manual of Style and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage are examples of renowned manuals; Warriner's English Grammar and Composition and Prentice-Hall Handbook for Writers are just two of many superb handbooks.
The Little Red Writing Book brought home to me the idea of all-roundedness. All of the pocketbooks that I've reviewed to-date are focused on grammar. TLRWB is broad reaching and the book's introduction highlights this:
*Writing has four pillars-structure, style, readability, and grammar-and each pillar is like the single leg of a sturdy chair. Structure is really about organization and deciding in which order to present your ideas. Style describes how one writes, including how to use specific examples to support what is written. Readability is about presentation, and how to make a document visually pleasing and easy to read. Grammar, including diction, is about expressing language in a correct and acceptable form.*
One of my pet peeves with other writing books and writing courses is that they focus on grammar. I believe this has in large part led to the belief that if a person masters grammar, then he or she has mastered writing. I know people who can write technically correct sentences but are still not effective writers. As TLRWB points out, writing is based on macro elements as well. Grammar, including spelling and punctuation, represents only a single leg.
In my assessment, this is the most all-rounded small writing book in the market today. It's "fun" too. I would most highly recommend it to any high school or college student. (I've left my copy at the office to "encourage" a few colleagues to review basic writing fundamentals for themselves.)
Other recommendations. My four favorite grammar/punctuation books include: The Elements of Style (the best of grammar in the shortest period of time), Write Right! (this book's emphasis is on punctuation but in a very distilled manner), The Penguin Guide to Punctuation (excellent for understanding the differences in punctuation between American and British English) and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire (a grammar book built around the eight parts of speech and written with real verve).
I should point out that I've concentrated on non-fiction books in this review. My two favorite "fiction writing" books include Stephen King's On Writing and John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist.
P.S. I also judge a book in terms of its memorable lines, and this book has its share. "An airline pilot never leaves the runway without having a destination and flight pattern." (page 13; refers to writing structure); "A valued technique, which can be used when writing rough drafts, is to stress the point you wish to make by placing 'for example' immediately after what you write." (page 38; refers to support techniques); "Unpolished writing is like shifting sand in a desert storm. Eventually the storm ceases and the sand sits still." (page 99; refers to readability and the need to let writing "sit" before being called finished); "It is said that 90 percent of writers can use the comma correctly 75% of the time, but only 1 percent of writers can use the comma correctly 99 percent of the time. (page 132; refers to punctuation).