A Grammar Book with Personality and Pizzazz

Reviewed by Jay Revelle
It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences, by June Casagrande. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2010. 207 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58008-740-7.


“Great writing isn’t born, it’s built—sentence by sentence.” Thus begins grammar maven June Casagrande’s wonderfully witty and practical writer’s guide to the good writing of that most basic structural element: the sentence. After this rousing start and a bit of background, we embark on a rollercoaster ride of simple and practical tips for improvement as a writer.

Citing bad examples and analyzing sentences like a scientist, Casagrande’s prescriptions come in accessible style, and the information settles in quickly. It is both practical and easy to digest. Her humor and characteristic flair gives potency to what would be cut-and-dry information.

“We all know bad writing,” she says. “Yet, recognizing it and understanding it are two different things,” pointing out that the sentence is the “writer’s greatest tool.”

With Casagrande as our guide, we plunge into grammar, relevance, conjunctions, phrases, clauses, length, and word choice, and delve into details on adverbs, prepositional phrases, participles, passives, and conjugations, plus many other elements, such as articles, punctuation, and idea streamlining.

Translators will find the advice here stimulating as they endeavor to improve the syntax and sense of the English sentences they craft. If awkward sentences in English are often the result of inattention to grammar on the part of the writer, that means that paying attention to the points Casagrande raises could make it possible to avoid awkward sentences in translation. Lots of awareness-raising ideas here—tips for avoiding “translation drag” can be found in every chapter.

Thus, technical without being difficult, this guide is informative but not overbearing. Casagrande provides many helpful tips and tricks for escape from common dilemmas, and the length is appropriate. The book is by no means an encyclopedic guide, but makes up for what might be considered lack of detail in personality and pizzazz.

In short, if you want to improve your writing using a guide that’s fun to read, extremely informative, and primed to result in instant and continuous improvements to your literary prowess, this is the book for you. It felt as if my writing improved even while I was reading it, sitting in my favorite chair. Just imagine having it on your shelf, beside the Chicago Manual of Style and your favorite dictionary.


For a review of another Casagrande book, please see here.