Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features discussions on education, learning and teaching, and language with particular focus on English. The primary subjects to be taken up here are notable advocacies and contrary viewpoints in these disciplines and their allied fields. Our primary aim is to clarify matters and issues of importance to language and learning, provide intelligent and useful instruction, promote rational and critical thinking, and enhance the individual’s overall capacity for discernment.

When adulation turns into obsession, expect puffiness

It has its devout adherents and virulent detractors, but one fact is indisputable: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one the most successful English-usage books of all time, selling 200,000 copies in its first year and chalking up sales of over 10 million more over the past 50 years. This is definitely no small feat for a book that’s only a little over a hundred pages, and the wonder of it all is that its original core content—Cornell University professor William Strunk Jr.’s little booklet about basic English grammar—had lain largely unheralded for 38 years until Strunk’s former student, E.B. White, wrote a loving essay about it in The New Yorker in 1957. That essay charmed an editor of Macmillan Publishing into commissioning White to add a chapter on style to the grammar booklet so it could be made into a book, expecting it to catch fire in an age when English instructors had gone “whoring after strange gods.” It did.

Elements of StyleStylized

Now, in a book self-consciously titled Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style, writer and editor Mike Garvey has come up with a 200-page book recounting the entire history of the now fabled little tome. From a review of Garvey’s book by Jennifer Balderama, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, we learn—among other minutiae about the little book—that E. B. White had actually once written that he hated the guts of English grammar but was later to remark that he admired “Elements” for the “audacity” of its author and for its “clear, brief, bold” advice leavened by “Strunkian humor.” As to Garvey’s work itself, though, Balderama says that for a book extolling brevity, “Stylized” is baggy in parts and dwells on so many extended personal meditations that “disrupt the flow and leave one pining to return to Strunk and White.”

Read Jennifer Balderama’s review of Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History… now!

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