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Style Archive



June 2013



Elements of Style

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elements of style

That’s right. For my 26th book (halfway there!) I decided to finally read through this classic guide to writing. The copy I picked up is a special illustrated edition, which made me feel as though I were reading something  more elaborate than small grammar and style textbook.

This book has been around for years, with multiple versions and editions dating back to the 1920s. It is a slim book containing six chapters that have been finely edited to provide the reader with just enough guidance to improve his or her writing without weighing him or her down with hundreds of individual rules.  It covers grammar, composition, form, expressions, style rules and spelling.

You may be asking yourself why someone might choose to read this book cover to cover, as opposed to perhaps purchasing it to keep as a reference. I will certainly keep it as a reference, but I found that by reading through it I received a much-needed refresher on grammar rules (although Mr. Strunk and I disagree on what is commonly known as the ‘Oxford Comma’ – he uses it and I don’t). I also appreciated the composition and style suggestions. As I have been writing more this year – both for the Cannonball Read and for my own blog – I appreciate suggestions to help improve my writing. Mr. Strunk and Mr. White appreciate brevity and the willingness to take a stance on a topic when writing and I can benefit from incorporating both suggestions more often.

The most relevant lesson for me was woven throughout the book and mentioned in different areas: the lesson of clarity. Why try to sound fancy when fewer words would be clearer to the reader? Keeping both by message and the reader in mind should help me to improve my writing over time.

I recommend that you purchase a copy to use if you write often as well as if you write rarely; in both instances it is likely that you could benefit from style refresher.



June 2013



Madame Chic

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madame chic

I really enjoy fancy etiquette and style books. Whenever I go to Anthropologie, I end up with a book instead of clothing. I like the feel of the glossy thick stock, the look of the cute pen illustrations, and the idea that perhaps at some point I’ll be able to embrace some of the suggestions in these books. Unfortunately, my most recent read in this genre, picked up at the aforementioned store, was disappointing/

I have read enough of this genre to recognize that is challenging to come up with new ways to discuss French living and how to incorporate French culture into life in the US. Still I was expecting something a little more. Yes, it is a style book, but I was hoping for more substance.

The book (based Ms. Scott’s blog) includes twenty chapters, each focused on a lesson she learned from her host family when she spent a year in Paris about a decade ago. I know. A year does not make her an expert. However, as someone who also lived abroad for a year, I do recognize that the culture shock can leave a big impression, and what is out of the norm for a short period of time can stick with one long after that time has passed. So I’m not willing to write her off based on that.

There really isn’t anything new here, but there were good reminders. The concept of the ten item wardrobe is one that I’ve seen repeatedly and am actively working towards. (Note: those ten items do not include things like underwear or outerwear, so it isn’t that big of a deal). Ms. Scott also discussed the tidbits made famous by “French Women Don’t Get Fat” (yes, I’ve read that too), like not snacking and instead of working out, incorporating more exercise into daily life. Again, not horrible advice – unless you love the gym, which she acknowledges – but not earth-shattering. Imagine similar chapters about enjoying life, seeing the arts, etc.

It’s all fine, but it’s also all through the lens of someone who was not working and who had access to apparently unlimited funds. Because the author learned these ‘lessons’ while a student, she has nothing to say about work culture. It’s great that she doesn’t decide to simply make something up, but there is something lacking for those of us who spend a very large chunk of our time at work. By not mentioning the realities of outside work when discussing the importance of making a four-course dinner for the family every night, the author chooses to ignore the challenges of managing a home in which two adults work.

This brings me to gender roles. Much of the book’s content seems to lean heavily on certain ideas of what women are like and what women do. There are some basic attempts at seeming progressive, but overall this book suggests that style is for the woman who works at MOST part time, and that women have certain duties to their family that apparently don’t apply to men. Or to the men she encountered in France, at least. It would have been nice to see that addressed. She also spends time on her version of femininity, even expressing approval of street harassment. Not exactly a feminist position.

And then there is the author’s slight attempt at addressing economic disparity. Look, clearly I don’t pick up a book like this and expect that the author is going to focus exclusively on living the good life while working two jobs for minimum wage (although I would totally read that book). But. The ‘lessons’ the author learned were clearly from people with a TON of money, and that seems to color all of her observations. Additionally, she wrote one paragraph that discussed sustainability (sort of – she mentioned organic and local foods). In all of her talk of quality goods and clothing, she didn’t mention that one should consider things like the treatment of labor or the impact of certain fabrics on the environment. Would that have put a damper on the book? No, not if done well.

If you are interested in learning about life in Paris, I recommend finding another book – Bringing up Bebe was quite enjoyable for me (and I’m not having children). If you are interested in improving your style and quality of life, I also recommend finding another book. You can find better.