Book review: "Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences"

"Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences: A Guide to Avoiding the Most Common Errors in Grammar and Punctuation" by Janis Bell, W.W. Norton & Co., $21.95 hard cover, 128 pages)

Janis Bell has written a useful book. She has been teaching writing and grammar for more than 30 years, and her book aims to teach writers how to avoid the common errors. The seven chapters in this slim book cover Case, Agreement, Verb Tense and Usage, Verb Mood, Modifiers, Connectives and Punctuation. I agree with her about the most common errors, although I add homonym misuse to the list. She assumes some knowledge on the part of the reader, but she also provides some helpful basics such as a introduction that lists and explains the parts of speech and the roles words play in sentences.

I am not a fan of grammar and usage books that try to be too cute. Seldom does the humor work. Her book is not dry or boring, but Bell doesn’t waste a reader’s time with her own cleverness. Her explanations are straightforward and practical. (She writes "clean, well-lighted sentences.") In the Case chapter, she lays out when to use "who" and "whom" in a way that will be clear to any English speaker. She also gives clear direction on how to use reflexive pronouns (myself, himself, themselves). If you know a "-self" abuser, you should give him or her this book.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.