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Author Topic: Style as pleasurable mastery rather than minefield of grievous errors  (Read 1021 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: August 30, 2014, 04:59:37 PM »

He has achieved renown as an experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist, writing book after book on words, the workings of the mind, and language acquisition that not only won critical acclaim but also became popular bestsellers, but award-winning Canadian psycholinguist Steven Pinker didn’t stop there. He has now come up with an English style guide that aims to replace “with reason and evidence” what he calls the recycled dogma of previous style guides.

The book, due for release in the UK and US this September, is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Allen Lane, 368 pages). Pinker draws on the latest research in linguistics and cognitive science to come up with a style guide that he argues can help people write better by making them look at style as a form of pleasurable mastery rather than as a minefield of grievous errors—which, of course, is the essentially opposite approach pursued by such enduring style guides as Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

Here’s a snippet from Pinker’s guide on how to write:

“When you write you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that’s interesting, that you are directing the attention of your reader to that thing in the world, and that you are doing so by means of conversation.

“That may sound obvious. But it’s amazing how many of the bad habits of academese and legalese and so on come from flouting that model. Bad writers don’t point to something in the world but are self-conscious about not seeming naïve about the pitfalls of their own enterprise. Their goal is not to show something to the reader but to prove that they are not a bad lawyer or a bad scientist or a bad academic… as opposed to concentrating on something in the world that the writer is trying to get someone else to see with their own eyes.”

That, if for nothing else, is indeed a refreshing new way to look at style and the writing craft.

Read Steven Pinker’s “10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes),” a companion essay to The Sense of Style, in The Guardian UK now!

Steven Pinker, an award-winning cognitive scientist and public intellectual, is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary and acclaimed author of such bestsellers as The Language Instinct, Words and Rules, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.


Outline of large aspiration. In “The Pleasure of Reading to Impress Yourself,” an article that came out in the August 13, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Rebecca Mead talks about her small blue ledger in which, for a period of about years, she had recorded the title of each book right after she had finished reading it. “We should not underestimate the very real pleasure of being pleased with oneself,” she says. “What my notebook offers me is a portrait of the reader as a young woman, or at the very least, a sketch. I wanted to read well, but I also wanted to become well read. The notebook is a small record of accomplishment, but it’s also an outline of large aspiration. There’s pleasure in ambition, too.”

Read Rebecca Mead’s “The Pleasure of Reading to Impress Yourself” in The New Yorker now!

Tough job. In “Should we judge a book by its author?”, an article that came out in the August 21, 2014 issue of The Independent UK, the paper’s literary editor Arifa Akbar says that it’s hard to judge a book without regard to who has written it. “The issue of whether one can or should judge a book ‘blind’ is not just relevant to reviewers but to readers of the books pages,” she says. “Most of us know that we must beware the novelist reviewing another novelist in order to perform or return a favour. We must also beware the reviewer writing about the book by an author he or she is sitting next to on a panel at the next literary festival. And we are to be wary of the critic who knows/likes an author, and just doesn’t have the stomach to be ruthless in their write-up of their latest ‘fearful tosh.’”

Read Arifa Akbar’s “Should we judge a book by its author?” in The Independent UK now!
« Last Edit: August 31, 2014, 02:55:27 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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