Eats, Shoots & Leaves
by Lynne Truss
Gotham Books, 240 pp, $17.50
reviewed by Toby Merrill
The premise of the title of Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a joke about a panda bear: after having a meal at a café, the panda fires a gun on his way out. His explanation for his actions comes from “a badly punctuated wildlife manual,” that reads, “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” If this joke has you rolling on the floor, this book is written for people like you. Truss prefers to call such people sticklers (as opposed to pedants) and includes herself in this category. My high school English teacher called us grammanimals. Truss describes us, unappealingly, as “unattractive know-all obsessives who get things out of proportion and are in continual peril of being disowned by our exasperated families.” This neat little book serves as much as a practical guide to punctuating as an affirmation to grammanimals everywhere that we are not alone.
A runaway success in the U.K. and highly anticipated in the United States, Eats, Shoots & Leaves takes on the “signs of ignorance and indifference” illustrated in lax punctuation everywhere from grocers’ signs to movie names. Truss spends a good amount of time amusing readers with horrific examples, like “Two Weeks Notice” or the newspaper headline, “DEAD SONS PHOTO MAY BE RELEASED.” Luckily, this is not merely a volume of egregious punctuation errors for the amusement of the picky and the snobby. Truss uses these examples to explain basic (and not-so-basic) rules of punctuation with the hope that the humor of the misuses will make the grammar lessons more palatable. Judging from her UK sales, she has succeeded.
Even the non-neurotic among us can enjoy this manual, and gain from it. Truss’s mission is essential because when people stop using punctuation, “language comes apart, obviously, and all the buttons fall off.” And where would our sentences be without their buttons? Most likely, naked and stammering.