Writerly Book Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

If you don’t think a book on grammar can be funny, entertaining, or interesting, you haven’t read Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

This gem of a book with a super cute cover (the American version has pandas on it) made the rounds in 2003, but it’s applicable to today’s grammar and I have to admit I wonder what Truss thinks of ChatGPT, but I couldn’t find that information on her website. As I prepared this, I also wondered if she had an anniversary edition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, but I didn’t find one. I did find a few workbooks, and a number of other books I did not know she had written, so it seems I have some reading ahead of me, which is wonderful.

I freely admit, I’m not sure I want her to read this post, for fear I’ll make some glaring typo or other error that she would find with her clear, grammarian eyesight.

All that aside, I am thankful for the humor she includes within its pages and the pacing of this excellent guide to punctuation grammar. It is written by a UK author for UK grammar, but Lynne Truss points out the differences between UK and USA grammar in several places, so I believe it’s a good book for any author who writes in English (American or British).

As a writing teacher, an English major, and an author, I like to think I know what I’m doing with grammar, but I have a tendency to sprinkle in commas like I’m quoting William Shatner’s version of Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek, and I am quite capable of producing monstrous numbers of typos.

Even if you feel you have perfect grammar, I recommend this book for the humor. Here’s a small sample of that and the reason for the title of the book:

“A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

‘Why?’ asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.

‘I’m a panda,’ he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Even if you aren’t a writer, you might like this book. My mother-in-law, who once taught Spanish and French classes to high school students and prides herself on excellent written and spoken grammar loved reading it when I gave her a copy for Christmas a while back. She also loved Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I will be showcasing next week.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves can usually be found at libraries and in bookshops, as well as the usual online places.

Why read it? I’ll leave you with a quote from the book to answer that:

“The reason it’s worth standing up for punctuation is not that it’s an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive elite who have attacks of the vapours when they see it misapplied. The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.”

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves

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