November 13, 2006

Kick Up Your Heels

God bless Strunk and White and Rudolf Flesch and William Zinsser. Their handbooks are useful and we need to read them. But the other day I pulled from the shelf a delightful little volume by former National Review editors Linda Bridges and William F. Rickenbacker called The Art of Persuasion: A National Review Rhetoric for Writers. Unlike most "how to write" books, this one is actually a joy to read. Here's a taste:
It is assumed (yes! that vicious criminal, the passive voice! Take that, Strunk! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, E.B. White! Like it or lump it, Rudy Flesch!) -- it is assumed, we say, that you, the reader, already know how to write a clean, lucid, standard, normal, "correct" English sentence. You can spell, you can punctuate, you can parse. ... You have been taught to prefer short words, to avoid the passive voice, to write short sentences, to avoid foreign phrases, to use concrete terms, to avoid expressing opinions, to sit straight in your chair and not play with your food -- and, Lo and Behold, it has come to your attention that your sentences all look alike and you are putting your readers to sleep. What? You, dull? Your vanity has taken a heavy drubbing. You do not like this one whit. You desire to reform yourself. Congratulations. You have come to the write place. ...

Dig in! The whole language and all its strange ways and all its history are yours for the asking. Use them, play the whole keyboard. Who sez you can't write a long sentence when it's already there inside your head? Who sez you can't invent a word if you want to? ... Who sez you can't say merci beaucoup? Write backward and upside down who sez you can't?
Not a book for grade-school students, granted. But it's a fun little book, and it deserves a place on the shelf next to Strunk and White.


  1. Don't tell anyone, but I carry Strunk and White around in my back pocket. Some might say that I should take it out more often and read it.

  2. Wow--right up my alley! Thanks for the recommendation...I'm going to jump right over to amazon (prime, of course!), order it and have it here Wednesday.

    It is assumed I will love it!