This book by Noah Lukeman I have found interesting and useful. Where Lynn Truss offers a grammarian’s approach to punctuation in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lukeman does not explain punctuation grammatically but rather considers effects. Not being the grammarian Truss is, Lukeman also seems to be lacking in her wit—there really must be a deep connection between grammar and wit. Lukeman is, however, mostly very sensible.
In my attempts to learn to write I have at least learned that style and punctuation are near allied. Once one understands the boundaries of punctuation, then one can then explore the limits and has entered the realm of style. Lukeman’s book would have been wasted on me a year or so ago. Now that I have had a year to get more comfortable with punctuation, if not altogether perfect—which I no longer hope for, it is time to understand it better. A Dash of Style helps.
I said he was mostly sensible. Consider this: “The dash is built to interrupt. It can strike with no warning, cut you off, stop conversations in its tracks, and redirect content any way it pleases. It is perhaps the most aggressive of all punctuation marks, and will grab the spotlight whether you like it or not.” There are times when I do not find such prose excessive, and I wonder if it is not due to some flaw in my character. But that is the extent to which Lukeman overindulges. He is well read, is able to pull out examples from a wide range of literature, makes his points clearly, and I am persuaded by him.
The best thing about Lukeman’s work is that he avoids opining almost entirely. In a work such as this, the temptation to opine must be strong indeed. But opinion would ruin the work. Lukeman explains what effects can be had and why and when they are to be desired, but seldom more. If he has a weakness in this regard, it lies in giving the reader too much negotiating power with the writer. The opinions prevailing with readers seem to be the opinions he believes ought to prevail. And there must be some room for negotiation, for the reader to demand of the writer since they are meeting each other. But Lukeman makes them equals and I do not think he should. It is as if writing were a convention established exclusively between reader and writer without regard for truth. It is as if writers were not the high priests of writing. It is as if taste were strictly a matter of convention. In this book Lukeman’s egalitarian views are not insurmountable; they merely make one pause and think.
The book comes with exercises. This is a marketing tool, for marketing is all about quantities and this adds to the quantity of selling points: it can be used as a textbook. Without reading more than two exercises in a very cursory fashion, I have dismissed all of them practically out of hand. I still think it would make a good textbook since it is so sensible. It has proved a textbook in my post-graduate home-school.