Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

There are many ways to write, but to communicate clearly requires consistency in style. Lucky for readers of Dreyer's English, Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House, has something more: panache. This is no stuffy grammarian's treatise on language and usage. Although unabashedly opinionated, Dreyer never claims to have all the answers. In fact, he openly discusses instances in which he has come to recognize his own errors over time (like the spelling of Danielle Steel's name). Maintaining that tone, he guides readers through the issues he frequently addresses, while conceding much else to higher powers like Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style.

This framework leaves plenty of room for fun. And, yes, as unlikely as it may sound, the mechanics of writing are consistently fun with Dreyer at the helm. Whether addressing punctuation, spelling, cliché or any number of pitfalls a writer or editor may encounter, he is ready with a sharp, memorable example. Explaining which clauses need to be set off with commas, he suggests Liz and her spouses as the best illustration: "Elizabeth Taylor's second marriage, to Michael Wilding [vs.] Elizabeth Taylor's second marriage to Richard Burton." One little comma can tell an entirely different story.

While it's a copy editor's job to be a stickler, Dreyer also makes clear that one can carry peeves and peccadilloes right off a cliff if one isn't careful. In a footnote, he questions a certain magazine's feverish use of diaereses and hyphens: "If you're going to have a house style, try not to have a house style visible from space."

Even as language continues to evolve, let's hope Dreyer's English never goes out of style. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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