How do I love Eats, Shoots & Leaves?
Let me count the ways
So put up for feet and relax
This may take several days
Apologies to “Funky Winkerbean” creator Tom Batiuk and to William Shakepeare
What is the main quality of a brilliant book? One which can take a boring subject and transform it into a laugh-out-loud page turner. Such a brilliant book is “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” (Gotham; 2004) by Lynne Truss. Despite the finger-shaking title, this is a very lighthearted look at proper English punctuation that became a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic. Just the dedication alone is worth the price of the book.
One warning about “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” – you will never look at pandas in exactly the same way again.
British English Vs American English
Lynne Truss is a British writer and that does need to be pointed out to American audiences. American English is not British English. For example, what the Americans call a “period” is called in the UK a “full stop”. Some of these changes might be a little confusing for an American reader, but you can pick up the differences very quickly. There are also some British English passages, but they are minor and should be able to be easily interpreted by Americans, even if they’ve never been to England or watched a minute of PBS or the BBC.
Canadians won’t have any difficulty with British English and British punctuation, since they favor using British English over American English, anyway.
Is Punctuation Still Relevant?
There are some that argue that proper punctuation isn’t relevant anymore, due to the ever changing nature of the English language. For example, you never see semi-colons as much as you did a hundred years ago. Some punctuation marks seem to come and go like pop bands.
But there are many places today where proper punctuation is vital, including filling out a job application, writing articles on Helium or reading a business contract. Truss has been reported as saying that she never thought the book would catch on beyond a small circle of teachers and freelance writers, but it caught on anyway.
No one should have been surprised, since the book is so well written. If a good writer gets a hold of any subject, no matter what it happens to be, then readers just can’t get enough of it. The book doesn’t take itself seriously but doesn’t cross the line into abject absurdity.
The Sticking Point
Perhaps the only negative observation that this writer can say about “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” are about the sheets of stickers that come with the paperback edition of the book. They are called, with tongue firmly in cheek, a “punctuation repair kit”. However, they just seem gimmicky rather than helpful. Stickers were appropriate for the children’s edition of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, but not for the adult edition.