Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Elements of Style Illustrated
by Strunk and White, illustrated by Maira Kalman

Penguin Books US$15
Wandering around in the Conran store ("Under" the 59th Street bridge) on Saturday I found in their book section, (mainly non-fiction- gardening, architecture, cookery, design etc), an illustrated edition of this famous and much-loved classic which most English language writers have on their desk.

I have a copy at home published in the 60's but what appeals to me about this copy are the delightfully whimsical paintings with sentences from the text serving as their captions.
If you do not know this book a review from follows.

In 1919, an anonymous Cornell University English Professor unknowingly wrote what would become one of the definitive rules book for English language usage. When he penned The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. had no idea that his small instructional volume of incisive lessons, ie: Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas, would infiltrate the desks, back pockets, and backpacks of generations of students to come. E.B. White, then a student in Professor Strunk's English 8 class, recalled the slim primer as Strunk's "attempt to cut the vast triangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin."40 years later in 1959 (Do not spell out dates or other serial numbers. Write them in figures or in Roman notation, as appropriate), White, who had in the interim published short stories , poetry, and children's books, was asked by MacMillan Publishing to revise William Strunk's "little book." The book remained essentially unchanged, but for the addition of "An Approach to Style," a chapter in which White added stylistic recommendations to Strunk's more concrete usage instruction.

Illustration right - People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Two editions since 1959 have added fresh examples and a few extra usage rules, but the one thing about The Elements of Style that has remained constant is its ubiquitous application by students of English around the globe. And while it has never flagged in its popularity (this insured by legions of rule-happy English teachers), The Elements of Style has always suffered from a certain colorlessness endemic to rulebooks. Well, suffer no more little book! (The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations or commands) The Elements of Style this week gets a facelift courtesy of illustrator Maira Kalman and The Penguin Press. If there was ever an artist who could infuse invigorating color into this little book of rules, it is Maira Kalman. Like E.B. White, Kalman has authored numerous children's books, and her imagery often appears inside and on the cover of The New Yorker magazine, for which White wrote from 1929 until the end of his career.

In The Elements of Style Illustrated, Kalman has mined subtle humor for her imaginative paintings from the textual examples of Strunk and White's rules. The resulting images appear every three or four pages throughout the book and draw the browsing reader's attention to the rules themselves. Wonderfully vivid and playful, these pictures add another dimension to the rule book, so that instruction upon the correct usage of "comprise" results in the fanciful illustration that you see here.

Left -But animals do not comprise (“embrace”) a zoo – they constitute a zoo.

In E.B. White's introduction to the book's third edition, he remarks that it "is encouraging to see how perfectly a book, even a dusty rule book, perpetuates and extends the spirit of a man. Will Strunk loved the clear, the brief, the bold, and his book is clear, brief, bold." Maira Kalman's paintings are the very essence of boldness, and their inclusion in these pages does a great deal to enliven the rules of language beside them. A new generation of English students will soon walk the hallowed halls of education, quite oblivious to their good fortune in having The Elements of Style Illustrated, in all its synergistic glory, bouncing around in their backpacks.

1 comment:

riku said...

Thanks, Bookman.I hope UBS Canterbury can supply this tomorrow. It will be the fourth copy of this taonga I have.