If I didn’t already love Patton Oswalt, I’d love him for loving Strunk and White.
If you could require every American to read one book, what would it be?
“The Elements of Style.” Ugh, the typos I see, everywhere. The clunky syntax from supposedly smart people. Make my headaches go away, Strunk and White!
My students this spring are required to own The Elements of Style. They will be required to refer to it regularly. They will be required to make corrections and revisions based on Strunk and White’s precepts and prescriptions. They will have to sit still and smile and nod as I repeat over and over again: “Make the paragraph your unit of composition.” “Keep related words together.” “Omit needless words.”
I know there are plenty of people with a brief against Strunk and White. They have their points, most of which seem to me to boil down to “Who’s E.B.White to tell me how to write?” I try to be kind and understanding with such people and not say things like, “Talk to me when you’ve written your Charlotte’s Web or ‘Death of a Pig.’”
I’m tactful that way.
The fact is, when I set out to be a writer I didn’t set out to write prose. I planned to write plays and movies. The idea that I would ever have to write an expository sentence longer than “He reaches for her gun” struck me as so unlikely and unnecessary that I actually got into an argument with my comp professor in college who suggested that I had a talent for it and could be an even better prose writer if I tried a little harder.
Then a major metropolitan newspaper paid me a hundred and fifty bucks for some prose I wrote for her class and I got to thinking the prof might be onto something.
I took her advice and set to work trying harder by memorizing The Elements of Style and Essays of E.B. White.
Take that for what it’s worth.
The main thing here is that the quote above is from a Q and A Oswalt did for the New York Times Book Review’s By the Book column and you should read the whole column.
Oswalt is also a fan of The Great Brain series of books by John D. Fitzgerald, another reason to love him.
And he’s an author in his own right. He has a new book out: Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film.
By the way, I haven’t watched this season: have the writers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. figured out the show needs a lot less Skye and much more Agent Koenig?