Before anyone was Eating, Shooting, or Leaving, a series of lesser-known books were already making grammar fun and accessible.
The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed is for punctuation as The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed is for sentence structure. Both books, by Karen Gordon, are fanciful romps that bring dull textbook lessons to life with a macabre, risqué flavor. If Edward Gorey and Bram Stoker had taught a college English course on writing bodice rippers, these books would have been their teaching aids.
The writing is evocative, the example sentences strange and whimsical enough to catch the eye and make the lessons memorable. From the introduction of “Well-Tempered Sentence”:
In writing, punctuation fills in for the clues we receive face to face. The rakish slash cries, “Give me ambiguity or give me death!” The promiscuous hyphen is game for liaisons with anyone. A period can pirouette and still make its point. An exclamation mark leaps onto the page in the place of flaming eyes, thumping fist, a defiant thrust of chin.
And her examples do just that!
“The baby vampire hurled his bottle at his nanny and screamed for type O instead,” illustrates a compound verb. For the simple, and ominous, subject: “It landed in the fountain after dark.”
Gorey-esque drawings of gargoyles and creatures are peppered through “Transitive Vampire”, while nearly-nudes of similar style and quirk peek from the pages of “Well-Tempered Sentence”. Though there is a Victorian flavor to the text, it presents correct and modern American English grammar and style rules. They are not presented with the precision and indexing of, say, Chicago Manual of Style, but they’re not meant to be. You’ll grin, giggle, perhaps, and possibly even retain some of those hard-to-recall rules of style. It’s uncommon to find instructional books that keep you turning the pages to see what examples will be presented next.
The series may not be for children or the faint of heart, but it is great fun for the rest of us. While not a must-have resource for every writer or editor’s bookshelf, the books are a delightful novelty for those of us who love words and their applications. A great conversation piece to share with your fellow wordcrafters, they will charm you, intrigue you, and perhaps even instruct you a bit, too. And they are reasonably priced, so you can indulge and sink your fangs into the entire series’ creamy pages.