Elements of Stylin’

The Little Red BookThis past year was an odd one for Christmas presents. Not that I measure my years by that standard, but some years are remarkable, some not. And I’m very, very grateful to have received three cocktail shakers. One was so small, I thought it was one you kept by the bedside for a morning eye-opener. Read into that what you will.

Another very welcome present was Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, illustrated by Maira Kalman, famed New Yorker illustrator and the author of, among other gems, Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman. This was just the coolest. It just exuded cool. (That’s the only verb that works with “cool”, right? Ooze, radiate, disperse, fling? Nah, true cool is only exuded.)

Everyone who looked at it just wanted to hold it, weigh it, be with it, love it and be loved by it. It was the right size, the paper was sumptuous, the layout crisp, and Kalman’s paintings understated and strange. While I live to be surrounded by books, I don’t turn it into a tactile fetish like some people. But this book might seduce anyone.

A perfect little book to help writers write perfect little books? That’s not meta. That’s just betta.

Of course, every writer should have some copy of Strunk & White on his or her shelf and refer to it as often as necessary, say, every few weeks or so. Of particular importance is Chapter V, which is a general discussion of style. One sentence in the Introduction touched my heart:

This chapter is addressed particularly to those who feel that English prose composition is not only a necessary skill but a sensible pursuit as well—a way to spend one’s days.

On days when my writing is sluggish and formerly fertile ideas begin to beg for a sheet and a toe tag, this sentence gives me comfort. More comfort, even, than three cocktail shakers.

(Sorry for the size of the pic. Over the holiday break, I’ve somehow forgotten my quick and easy way of shrinking jpegs down to sleek blog size. At least now you know what to look for: A red book with “The Elements of Style” printed on the cover.)