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Book Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves; The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

Book Review:

  • Title: Eats, Shoots & Leaves; The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
  • Author: Lynne Truss
  • Publisher: Profile Books
  • Date: 2003
  • ISBN: 1-86197-612-7

Book of the Year 2004

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a book about punctuation. Before you stop reading, this is not like the grammer text books you were forced to read at school; or more likely, as the book suggests, like a grammer textbook that most of us have never seen anyway.

The first giveaway is that I bought the book from Asda, on the shelf alongside the best selling novels and latest biographies. That’s not the sort of place you expect to find a textbook. Although I don’t think they sell it anymore, as supermarkets tend to sell books for a short period before replacing it with another.
The second indication is that the book was awarded Book of the Year 2004.
Thirdly it just doesn’t look like a textbook, this is clearly a book that you should enjoy reading.

That’s enough description of what the book isn’t, so what is it then?

It’s a book on punctuation that you can pick up and read as you would a novel. It actually makes it sound interesting!

Lynne Truss, the author, describes herself as a stickler. She gets passionately upset whenever she sees a word incorrectly punctuated, and rants on about a greengrocer that writes “potatoe’s” and a shop selling “book’s”.
For most people this doesn’t really get our blood boiling in the same was as it does for Truss, but perhaps it should. After reading the book I certainly feel a lot of sympathy with the author and relate it to my hatred of seeing a coventry phone number displayed as 02476 123456.
The code for Coventry is really 024, if you tried to phone a 6 digit number from Coventry it doesn’t work. The number should be displayed as 024 7612 3456. Here I am digressing …

There are some examples of good and bad usage. A good example of who incorrect punctuation can change the meaning is given on the back cover. The story that gives the book its title.

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 manual 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.”

My punctuation has improved, although I still have a long way to go. The one thing that lets it down is that it’s hard to look back and see the rules of punctuation. They are included in the rest of the text, and make it unsuitable for referring back to just see the punctuation rules.

All in all this is a very good book, and it gets a message across, but although far more enjoyable this is not a replacement for a textbook. If it encourages people to actively think about their punctuation then it has to be a good thing.