Geek Girl Learns

From When Good People Write Bad Sentences by Robert W. Harris

A catch up post from June

A 12 step program for people with bad grammar…Hilarious!!!


Ok guys, I swear this will be the last craft book critique for a while…er…except for next week, when the regularly scheduled craft book critique happens? How is next week the first of September, anyway???

Ahem, so maybe I’ll switch some of next months regulars around so that we have some variety, but I just couldn’t let my class go without telling everyone about this book. After the slog through Lessons in Clarity and Grace from last week, this one was an absolute pleasure to read. I might not end up actually keeping it, but it was fun and it taught its lessons with humor and grace. Just what I want in a grammar book!

The Good

It treats bad grammar and unclear writing like an addiction, one that we all fall prey to, and one that we can spend a lifetime recovering from. The steps read like Alcoholics Anonymous, and it made me giggle while I was reading. I’d never thought I’d do that with a grammar book. Plus, each individual lesson is such a small tidbit of information that it seems perfectly reasonable to learn it, incorporate it, and move on.

Plus, in explaining all the rules, Harris gives examples that incorporate the mistakes that he wants you to learn from. When you find those mistakes, you feel so good! (And don’t worry, if you can’t find the mistakes he does tell you what the mistakes were at the end of the chapter.

The Not-So-Good

Not so much bad, this week, as just not as great as the rest of the book. Harris has some “testimonials” from “real life” malescribes (the word he uses for bad-grammar-addicted people). While they follow the theme of the 12 step program of the book, I was pretty tired of them by the time I reached the second one.

Fortunately, there are very few of these fake testimonials. (I’m not sure they are fake, but that would seem to be in the spirit of the book!) Ad they are usually offset by margins and italics, so they are easy to skip. Bad reader, I know, I shouldn’t skip anything when reviewing a book. Oh, well.

The Brilliant

Now back to the good stuff. When this book tells you a problem that needs fixing, it doesn’t just give one or two examples of that problem. A lot of the advice in this book is about lists of words, phrases and clichés that you should cut out of your writing.

Not only does Harris, at multiple times in the book, give you those list, he pairs it (usually) with a list of fixes for that overused word or phrase! This is the reason I might end up keeping this book, because of those lists. It’s nice to have something at my fingertips, so that I don’t get lost on the internet trying to find one thing and dropping into the rabbit-hole of Wiki.

(On the other hand, I have already bookmarked several pages that have such lists, and corrections for them.)

The Verdict

I’m still up in the air. Ask me in a month or so, when I have lost the high of how easy a read this was as compared to Joseph Williams’ style guide.


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