A Book Review: Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves

When I bought the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, all I knew about it was that it was about grammar (via punctuation) and that I find the joke of the title hilarious.

Of course, the cover just makes the joke better.

Of course, the cover just makes the joke better.

As the back says, “A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.” This hubbub occurs because of a misplaced comma in a wildlife manual: “Eats, shoots and leaves.” That little comma changes the intended meaning (the panda likes to eat shoots and leaves, AKA, tasty plants) to a much more bizarre meaning (the panda eats, shoots at something, and then exits).

Being a literal-minded person who appreciates a good pun and witty punctuation, I was intrigued enough by this joke to buy the book, and as luck would have it, it turns out that this story is also an excellent summary for the rest of the book. Lynne Truss showcases a wonderfully educated sense of humor framed by punctuation anecdotes, history, and a multitude of allusions (to everything from the classical literature to movies to candy). If that sort of humor appeals to you, and you have a strong understanding of punctuation rules, this is an excellent book to pass the time and have a good laugh.

I also like that it explains the differences between the punctuation rules of the U.S. and the U.K. (it makes me feel so educated). Add accounts of authors’ arguments with editors about whether punctuation should be added or removed, and I’d definitely recommend it as an entertaining read for all English-minded people.

That said, I would not recommend it for anyone trying to learn the rules of punctuation.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves overflows with inside jokes about meaning and the nuances created from the apostrophe, comma, semicolon, and so-on. If you do not know the punctuation rules already, those jokes and anecdotes will make no sense to you (they may actually confuse you more). If you have a more straightforward punctuation book, on the other hand, you could use this book as a supplement to make the subject more interesting – in other words, learn the rule from the other book and then open this one for a good laugh.

Everyone should learn to punctuate sentences correctly. Anyone who likes puns, punctuation, and general wit should consider reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves for a little light-hearted humor.

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