A Contemporary Classic on Editing Nonfiction Prose

★ : Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (11th Edition) (Paperback) by Joseph Williams, reviewed by C. J. Singh on amazon.com, copy posted June 8, 2013 (11 of 14 people found the following review helpful.) – See all my reviews

 

Years ago, I attended a weekend workshop for instructors of college composition that was led by Professor Joseph Williams, the author of STYLE, visiting from the University of Chicago and Professor Richard Lanham, author of Revising Prose , visiting from UCLA. They presented lucid and witty summaries of their books, Lanham focusing on revising at the sentence level and Williams on paragraphs. Although their books have gone through several editions since, the core concepts remain the same. Both self-teaching books are on my amazon Listmania’s list “Expository Writing: Top Ten Books.”

While teaching Advanced Editorial Workshop, a ten-week course, at the University of California, I regularly assigned the earlier editions of STYLE as the main textbook. Each term, students rated the book as excellent. (The prerequisite to the workshop was a review course, with the main textbook “The Harbrace College Handbook.” Although STYLE includes a 22-page appendix summarizing grammar and punctuation rules, most readers would be well-advised to reread a standard college handbook, such as Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers’s A Writer’s Reference with Exercises. See my review on Amazon.)

Even a brief browsing of Joseph Williams’s STYLE would persuade most readers that it makes the much touted Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” look, well, elementary. Simplistic. If the seductively slender “Elements” — easily read in a day, no exercises to do — could deliver the claim on its jacket, by the end of the day there’d be millions of excellent writers.

The 11th edition of STYLE has been ably co-authored by Joseph Bizup. Among the enhancements Bizup presents are reordering of two chapters so that the trajectory is from clarity to grace instead of from sentence- to document-level. He has added many new exercises “grouped under the heading `In Your Own Word,’ that invite writers to work with their own prose” (p v).
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Part One, Style as Choice, focuses on different kinds of rules – – real, social, invented. Three of the many examples of invented rules presented are the usage distinctions between that/which; fewer/less; and who/whom. An invented rule says: “Use the relative pronoun `that’ — not `which’ — for restrictive clauses” (page 15). Williams traces the history of this invention and quotes several noted writers who disregard it. His discussion is included in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (See my review on amazon.)

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