Monday, November 21, 2005

Eats, Shoots, and writes another book

It's been on my reading list for quite a while, but I haven't yet taken a peek at Lynn Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a book on punctuation that sounds like a fun way to kill a couple of hours. That's why this article in yesterday's New York Times snagged my attention:

Two years ago, Truss was vaulted into unexpected celebrity when, after a long and quiet career as a novelist and critic, she published a short, witty book on punctuation. Initially brought out in London with a hopeful first printing of 15,000 books, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" went on to sell some three million copies in hardcover.
Yeah, I know. I'm going to be the very last kid on my block to get a copy. It's just that I've been busy for the past two years, okay?

The Times article is long but well worth a read because it's full of stuff like this:

Asked if he had any insight into the book's popularity, Andrew Franklin, whose tiny company, Profile Books, published it in Britain, appeared to give the question extended thought. "I have a theory," he finally said. "It's very sophisticated. My theory is that it sold well because lots of people bought it."

Ah. Wouldn't you just love to sell a book to that perspicacious gentleman ?

Speaking of books, Ms. Truss has a new one out:

The title offers its own mini-sermon: "Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door." The book's basic contention is that people in public places no longer bother to treat one another with even a semblance of Old World courtesy or respect. Writing in a tone of comic hyperbole, Truss claims that the "politeness words" - her term for "please," "thank you" and "excuse me" - have dwindled to the point of near extinction.
First she complained about punctuation, and now it's manners. Ms. Truss sounds awfully cranky. And isn't "Ms. Truss" is a delicious Dickensian sort of name? I'd love to have her over for tea.

To write a book on manners is to risk presenting yourself as an unattractive person, a sourpuss, a spirit-crusher, a crank at odds with the contemporary world. Truss is aware of this; she knows that her new book is not likely to endear her to a generation of adolescents who consider it the height of fashion to allow their underwear to peek out above the low-slung waistlines of their jeans. "It does, however, have to be admitted that the outrage reflex ('Oh, that's so RUDE!') presents itself in most people at just about the same time as their elbow skin starts to give out," Truss writes with typical informality. "Check your own elbow skin. If it snaps back into position after bending, you probably should not be reading this book."

Okay, I just checked, and this book is definitely going on my reading list. Anyone else?


pacatrue said...

I have no idea if the lack of manners is a change or not from the past, as everyone thinks the generation behind them is terribly rude and unthoughtful. However, I was amused by the use of low-rider jeans as an expression of the rudeness of the young. I don't consider that much of an expression of manners at all. It's just fashion and is as rude as the latest hemline. It's different than items like thanking people, looking at them, not disturbing them in public (loud music, loud motorbike (yes I consider people, usually older than me, who rev their Harleys at 2:00 AM rude)), not talking on the cell phone next to you at the restaurant,. etc. That's always the the problem with discussions of manners. What's a true sign of respect for others that everyone should follow, and what's just a bit of fashion that comes and goes?

Brenda Coulter said...

I was amused by the use of low-rider jeans as an expression of the rudeness of the young.

Me, too. You can probably imagine how I smiled at that line about the underwear peeking out of the "trousers."

Not that I'm going to allow myself to get sucked into another underwear discussion.

Dr. Lisa said...

I hope you really enjoy Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. I did. Truss has such a distinctly funny voice that she really is grumpy good fun. I also identify very much with the concept of a grammar/punctuation "Stickler"--we pettifoggers who go around correcting signs for bad spelling or improper punctuation. My Dean once caught me changing printed-out signs in our building for an upcoming talk. The title on the sign read "Why you don't wear your Birkenstock's when talking to ranchers." Other than the basic icky-ness of the title...that apostrophe is wrong, and I work at a university, for heaven's sakes, where we are always on the students to write properly. So I took out my Sharpie and deleted the offending mark on the sign. As I said, I got caught, mid-delete. But he simply found it amusing.

On the rudeness thing: I was just sitting at LAX (Los Angeles airport) where there was a woman in the waiting area, surrounded by at least 80 people, who was testing out various ringtones for her phone. After the 180th, one older British gentlemen spoke up and said, "You know, we can all hear that." She looked mortified. Go figure!!

Many thanks for explaining blogger's crush.

pacatrue said...

I'm a part time editor for a journal, and I was copy editing an article today. There was a phrase: "felt, heard and encouraged." Hm. What the heck do they mean? They felt something, heard something, and encouraged.... That doesn't make any sense. Tick tock. Tick tock. What were they going for? These are professors and I can't figure out what they were trying to say... Ohhh!!! It's the comma. They "felt heard" as in felt listened to. Ahhh. I immediately thought of Eats shoots and leaves.

Neal said...

Both of these books are on my reading list. I suspect that they are very "British" books -- certainly the whole thing about the underwear poking out from the jeans sounds very British. (Do they do that in the States?)

I particularly like the test on your elbow skin. Just a minute, let me take a look. Yup, I'm old enough.

Brenda Coulter said...

Hey, I'm all for British humor. Wodehouse is still one of my favorite authors, and Lynn Truss made my To Be Read list precisely because some have compared her brand of humor to Wodehouse's.

And I'm sorry to report that we on this side of the pond have been unwilling witnesses to the exposed-underwear trend for several years now.