Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Missing the Point

Reads, Chortles, & Smirks - Why nobody's learning anything from Lynne Truss

I agree with most of what Timothy Noah has to say today about Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It's true that I learned a bit of publishing history from the book, but very little that I didn't already know about the rules of punctuation and grammar. And it's true, probably, that the most compelling reason to read the book is that it makes the punctuation-savvy reader feel good about him- or herself. If the simple rules being extolled in the book are news to you, you probably won't enjoy being insulted for your abuses of the English language, right?

But Noah goes on to suggest that readers would be better off picking up a different book, about something they know nothing about. I have to ask: Aren't the people reading Lynne Truss also the folks most likely to be reading any book? Don't you think they--we--read plenty of books about subjects we know little or nothing about? I'd like to think the reading list on the sidebar shows me to be a reader willing to learn more about a variety of topics, from sociology to autism to the history of science to media criticism to more sociology--not to mention all the new avenues of learning fiction brings into my life.

I don't think this pattern is atypical for people like me, the sort of people who are reading Truss and laughing. The book was a two-day indulgence amid a sea of learning about new topics, and Noah should acknowledge that it's a harmless and quick read for the people he's hoping will direct their reading toward topics in which they have less expertise. A 204-page book that reads as breezily as a magazine article--Noah uses the book's short stature against it--is hardly going to block me from other pursuits. Is it so terrible to, once in a great while, read something that makes me feel good about the fact that I know a lot about something?

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