Top critical review
12 people found this helpful
Not very good
on 16 January 2015
I was going to award this book two stars, but decided that -- in fairness -- I should add a third. My first reason for this generosity is that I'm obviously not the reader at whom it's aimed. The second is that the title contains a clear warning that I'm not the intended reader. The book seems to be aimed at a youthful and semi-illiterate American person who's reading a printed copy. I am sixty-eight years old, adequately literate (if I do say so myself) and English. Moreover, I read the book (or most of it) on a Kindle.
To take the specifically Kindle trouble first, there are several points. One is that occasional passages are in a tiny font which I defy anyone, even half my age, to read. My guess is that these have been reproduced photographically from a printed copy. A second annoyance is that, in the exercises at the end of chapters, the reader is sometimes invited to circle answers in pencil. Admittedly, I wouldn't have done this anyway, but there is something chagrining in an invitation to perform an impossible task.
The book contains many cultural references that were lost on me, but might have signified something to a younger and/or American person. Here lies the warning in the title, which I was foolish enough to ignore. The pun on the first syllable of 'Asterisk' and one's nether regions doesn't work with my accent. Given that fact, I have only myself to blame if I found the book too American.
This volume contains some good advice on grammar and English usage, wittily presented, albeit the wit is often a little heavy-handed. Unfortunately, the bulk of that advice is unnecessary for a reasonably literate person. As an example, there is a woeful chapter on spelling. It is entirely given over to distinguishing between homophones, or what the author evidently believes to be near-homophones. These include mistakes I have never encountered, notably confusion between 'than' and 'that'. In the name of the sweet goddess, who would make such a blunder? I have seen other people and computer software, including Microsoft's grammar check, confound 'its' and 'it's', for example, so -- although I would not do this myself -- I have to concede that there's a place for it in a book such as this. That said, there are no examples here which (to my mind) should be necessary for an educated reader. The volume might have been improved by the inclusion of some more easily confused pairs of homophones, such as 'discrete' and 'discreet'. I've devised a mnemonic for this, of which I make a free gift to Ms Baranick, should she read this review and produce a revised edition. It is this: Crete is a discrete island. The word meaning 'separate' is spelt like the island of Crete. The word meaning 'trustworthy with confidences' is therefore the one ending '-eet'.
I would add that a chapter on spelling could do worse than to address such difficult to spell words as 'diarrhoea'. Double 'r'-h -- who'd have thought?
Ms Baranick includes a chapter on mistaken grammar strictures. I was surprised to find that it does not include the split infinitive. My view on this is that avoiding spit infinitives is not an inflexible rule, but that they should be avoided if a more elegant word sequence is available. I noticed at least three points at which Ms Baranick splits her infinitives and, on each occasion, I had no difficulty in correcting the sentence so that it reads more fluidly. One of these is 'to only (verb)' which, I would say, is always better expressed with 'only to (verb)'.
But (note, Ms Baranick, that I have no trouble in beginning a sentence with that word) to my mind, the most egregious offence against the English language to be found herein is 'second of all'. 'First of all' strikes me as acceptable English whereas, in my opinion, '(larger ordinal number than first) of all' is an abomination. Such slips as this do not give me much confidence in Ms Baranick's ability to guide us in the use of our beloved tongue.
The reason I read this book was that I'd just finished Lynne Truss' excellent 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' (to which I'd award five stars) and was in the mood for something similar. Alas, I was sadly disappointed. As I've already intimated, this book would be well suited to a semi-illiterate young American reading a printed copy. The further one deviates from that template, the less satisfactory Ms Baranick's work proves to be. All of that said, the occasional good jokes and satisfactorily waspish comments kept me reading, and I should have been warned by the book title.