Books : reviews

Lynne Truss.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation.
Profile Books. 2003

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 1 January 2004

This is the unexpected best-seller of 2003, and deservedly so. It is witty, laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written, full of fascinating historical factlets and asides, and is also about punctuation: how to used commas, semicolons, dashes, hyphens, and most important of all, apostrophes. It should appeal not only to those anal about punctuation, those who froth at the sight of a "greengrocer's apostrophe" [for some reason, I was given this as a Christmas present], but also to anyone who wonders why some strange people froth at perfectly innocent signs like "carrot's and onion's", and anyone who wants to know how those funny little squiggles can help us present our thoughts more clearly.

Read this, and you will know the answers to "what's the difference between it's and its?", "should the punctuation go inside or outside the quotation marks?", and "should there be a comma before the last item in a list?" You will also discover how punctuation marks and rules have changed over the centuries. And you will have enormous fun on the journey of discovery, too.

Like the author, I was delighted to discover the existence of the Apostrophe Protection Society, and, like the author, I want to know if it has a militant wing. Wonderful.

Lynne Truss.
Talk to the Hand: the utter bloody rudeness of everyday life.
Profile books. 2005

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 5 January 2019

For hundreds of years, we have had books on manners. The subject preoccupies us. What is acceptable behaviour? After how long should you write your thank-you note? What sort of wedding gift is appropriate for the second marriage of a widowed ex-hermit, twelfth in line to the throne, whose fiancée is set to inherit all of Wiltshire south of Devizes?

Talk to the Hand is not a book about manners or etiquette. It is about the rudeness of the modern world, and the sense of outrage that infects us every day as we discover that other people are – generally speaking – crass, selfish, and inconsiderate. That man just dropped a cigarette packet on the floor. Should you do anything? You say to the shop assistant, “Can you tell me the price of this? There doesn’t appear to be a label”, and she says, “What do you think I am, psychic?” In her follow-up to Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss asks why rudeness is a universal flashpoint and examines specific sources of affront.

What ever happened to “please” and “thank you”? Why does the customer have to do all the work? Why do people behave in public as if they are in private? What ever happened to the idea of public spiritedness?

It’s a big rant, essentially. But on the plus side, it’s quite short and has virtually no hard facts to detain the reader or slow the argument. Potential readers are advised that there is nothing about pandas or punctuation in this book, and that anyone scouring the text for grammatical errors will be considered a bit of a bore. Is that a rude thing to say? As always, it isn’t easy to be categorical.

Lynne Truss has another rant, this time about rudeness. People aren’t polite any more. There are no apologies, we are ignored, and when we protest, we are told to eff off. Why? What has changed? Truss has some ideas, and reckons some (but not much) of the loss of politeness may even be an improvement. Not as great a rant as the punctuation one (that might just be me: I’m more interested in apostrophes), but still good for a wry smile.

Lynne Truss.
Cat out of Hell.
Arrow. 2014

A dead librarian, a charismatic cat and a mystery involving the Devil himself.

If you’ve ever been suspicious of that evil glint in your cat’s eye, this book might just confirm all your worst fears…