The New Well-Tempered Sentence

by Karen Elizabeth Gordon

The New Well-Tempered Sentence by Karen Elizabeth Gordon

When I was in grade school, we had this small (but disturbingly thick) hardcover grammar book. It was a horrible mustard yellow hue. Even to this day, I still picture this book when I think about grammar. I didn’t like it then and, to be honest, I don’t like it now. But I can recognize that despite my primary method of communication being through visuals, I need to be able to express myself clearly with words as well. I’m attempting to take a cue from the illustrious Cat and do more work on my writing. As a first step, I finally pulled The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed off of my bookshelf. It’s been there for a while, but I’ve cruelly ignored it until now.

Karen Elizabeth Gordon does an excellent job of laying out the basics of punctuation in this thin, but highly informative book. Starting with the exclamation point and working her way through semicolons, hyphens, italics, and ellipses, the book balances writing rules with bizarrely entertaining examples. (While discussing independent clauses linked by commas, she throws out sentences like “The suspect removed his grimy white gloves, but another pair lurked beneath.” To illustrate a subject having two actions attributed to it, she uses this example: “She always carries bandages with her, but will give them only to bleeding people to whom she has been formally introduced.”)

I doubt that even my most hardcore grammar geek friends have ever laughed out loud while reading about writing properly. (I did while reading this one, and I got some strange looks from people in my vicinity.) It’s a bit difficult to review a book that is both short and full of writing rules, but if you’re looking to brush up on your punctuation and actually enjoy doing it, definitely pick up a copy of The New Well-Tempered Sentence.

This review was originally written for BoDo: Business of Design Online.
Reprinting allowed with permission of author.