The Book For Wordsmiths: ‘Dreyer’s English’ by Benjamin Dreyer

Benjamin Dreyer is making grammar cool. There’s a spectrum of grammar appreciators that swings from what I’ll call creative to…insistent, and Dreyer has taken the whole spectrum and said, “Here’s the rule, and something else you didn’t know, and this is why it’s funny.”

You might even compare Benjamin Dreyer’s approach to language in ‘Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style’ to Scott Schuman’s approach to fashion in the blog, The Sartorialist. Both have brought expertise and a touch of something special to their industry. What each one creates is a reflection of his artistry but also something larger than the artist himself. To put too fine a point on it, they have style.

If there was one word for the way Dreyer has written this modern guide for prose, it would be “approachable.” If there were two words I’d add “practical.” The book is a bit like a dictionary mixed with a glossary mixed with a comic strip without pictures, all sprinkled with witty phrases that take on a memoir-like quality. It’s a bowl of mixed nuts—full of nutrition, variety, and just a little salty.

It’s just the kind of thing a person might actually read if they truly needed to improve their writing. The advice he provides and rules he explains are not only useful but memorable. And if the book weren’t memorable enough, there’s now a game you can play to stay sharp.

That being said, it’s also the kind of book you’ll want to have around for reference, for the sake of remembering how many l’s are in the word skulduggery, and whether or not the word is in vogue (it is). As such, you might not find yourself reading it from first page to acknowledgements (which are thorough, btw, as is Dreyer’s wont), but every page is a treat.

In the vein of poking a little fun at the serious art of prose, this book reminds me of an amusing song commissioned for my friend who is a professional copy editor. The song was written by Trevor Strong of the Arrogant Worms, and if you like this bit of musical creativity, Trevor still writes personalized songs. You can commission your own at this link.

This Book Might Be Your Next Read:

  • If you love words and how they’re used
  • If you appreciate footnotes, particularly if they’re used to convey wit
  • If you can’t remember how to spell most things, and autocorrect be damned!
  • If you find yourself correcting the grammar and spell checkers that come with word processing software

The Book for Coping with 2020: ‘Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope’ by Mark Manson

(The headline probably tipped you off, but just in case, there’s some profanity in this book experience. Ye be warned.)

If you’ve reached the stage of the pandemic/post-election/post-insurrection surreality where you’re ready to dive deep into the abyss-like psychology of the United States but don’t want to get the bends, then the oxymoronic ‘Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope’ by Mark Manson, is just what this uncertified bibliotherapist ordered.

While not required, consider reading ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ or Mark Manson’s blog first, if only to orient yourself to his particular brand of ‘self-help.’ If that brings up feelings of TL:DR, this description from his website should give you a pretty good idea of what he’s about:

I write life advice that is science-based, pragmatic, and non-bullshitty – a.k.a., life advice that doesn’t suck

With that out of the way, this book will both overwhelm and make you feel like you’re getting the CliffsNotes. You may want to seek out some of the primary texts mentioned in the book, like Victor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ or the works of Friedrich Nietzsche.

The tone of Manson’s writing is a bit like a burnt marshmallow. You’ll have a mouth full of ash but then you’ll find a sweet, gooey center. Manson’s rhetoric is both sarcastic and contemplative, apathetic and industrious. He respects the thinkers who have come before him and endeavors to take thought to its next logical conclusion. SPOILER ALERT: it’s robots.

Since he advertises his brand of self-help as being science-based it’s no surprise that the book eventually veers toward the singularity. Yet with it’s breaks for subtle humor and overall Gen Xer attitude, there’s nothing that will get you more in the mood for this book than this work of musical genius:

(you were warned, this video is also NSFW)

So, how does this book help with the quagmire of feelings we’re still sorting through from 2020? Well, it’s tough love. Simple as that. It’s a friend who’ll tell you there’s vomit on your shoe and helps carry you to the Uber in the same breath.

This Book Might Be Your Next Read:

  • If you have a penchant for parodies
  • If you don’t have time to study philosophy, or the interest, but you like making thoughtful conversation at parties
  • If you think you might be interested in philosophy but you don’t know where to start
  • If you like gray areas

photo credit: HarperCollins (purchase the book here)