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Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

‘A panda walks into a café. 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.”

So, punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.

Now, we all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in e-mail, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.’

What I thought:

If you’ve been following my reviews for any length of time, you may have picked up on the fact I like my theory books funny by now. And this books was funny, friends. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a theory read this much, neither have I ever genuinely looked forward to coming back to one. This book got me. I think we connected.

Either this will ring bells for you, or it won’t. A printed banner has appeared on the concourse of a petrol station near to where I live. “Come inside,” it says, “for CD’s, VIDEO’S, DVD’s, and BOOK’s.”

If this satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes causes no little gasp of horror or quickening of the pulse, you should probably put down this book at once.

It’s hard to pick quotes to share with you because I want to show off all of it!

If you’re struggling with the difference between it’s and its, then this book is perfect for you. If you don’t see the problem with the CD’s and VIDEO’s above, you’ll either not get anything out of this or it’ll blow your mind – if you’re open to the idea of learning a bit of punctuation, that is. And you should be, because punctuation is part of language and we kind of need that.

There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.

Truss also delves into the history of punctuation, which was interesting. If that’s not your thing, don’t worry – humour abounds throughout 🙂

While I didn’t learn anything new (besides history facts) it made me laugh on every page, and what more can you want from a theory book? (besides being educational, obviously) This is perfect if you’re struggling with any aspect of punctuation, or even just if you need a laugh, badly, because this book will deliver both. I’ll leave you with another quote, because I can’t just not share this one:

Ever since it came along, grammarians have warned us to be wary of the exclamation mark, mainly because, even when we try to muffle it with brackets (!), it still shouts, flashes like neon, and jumps up and down. In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practices the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.


Have you read Eats, Shoots & Leaves? Get some cookies, drop me a comment and let’s get this book club going!

I don’t review books professionally. These reviews are mainly a small summary and my opinion on books I’ve loved, they are not intended to be anything more. All ‘reviews’ include a picture, title and name of author linking to the book’s Goodreads listing, the blurb from the back of the book and my non-professional verdict.

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