Buy the Little Book!

I see by the light of the computer monitor that William Strunk’s little book on writing, Elements of Style, is still with us, now in its fourth edition. It’s also available in a 50th anniversary edition and also in a 2010 version for those who want the latest in great advice on writing. I can’t vouch for the later editions because I used the first edition, which came out in 1959, although I didn’t get my copy until 1964 when I was a lad. Or actually a senior in high school. My copy of the book featured a foreword by one of the finest essayists in the universe, E.B. White (Besides writing great books ostensibly for children about spiders and mice, White was an incomparable writer of essays who worked at the New Yorker for years).

(From Wikipedia:) Not long after The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White would submit manuscripts to it. Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to magazine editor and founder Harold Ross that White be taken on as staff. However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office, and further weeks to convince him to agree to work on the premises. Eventually he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.

James Thurber described White as being a quiet man, disliking publicity, who during his time at The New Yorker would slip out of his office via the fire escape to a nearby branch of Schrafft’s to avoid visitors whom he didn’t know.

He published his first article in The New Yorker magazine in 1925, then joined the staff in 1927 and continued to contribute for around six decades.

In 1959, White edited and updated The Elements of Style. This handbook of grammatical and stylistic guidance for writers of American English had been written and published in 1918 by William Strunk, Jr., one of White’s professors at Cornell. White’s rework of the book was extremely well received, and further editions of the work followed in 1972, 1979, and 1999; an illustrated edition followed in 2005. The illustrator, Maira Kalman, is a contributor to The New Yorker. That same year, a New York composer named Nico Muhly premiered a short opera based on the book. The volume is a standard tool for students and writers and remains required reading in many composition classes. The complete history of The Elements of Style is detailed in Mark Garvey’s Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

I cannot find my copy of the Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (it’s here somewhere), but no matter. I have internalized its principles and rules over the years and have some of them by memory.

Principle 11: Use the active voice. (‘Nuff said. Just do it!)
Principle 13: Omit needless words. (This sentence is an absolute model of the principle.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences…

Any writer would be well advised to get this book, study it, and put its principles and rules into action. E.B.White quotes William Strunk telling his classes, “Buy the little book! Buy the little book! Buy the little book!” Good advice, that.

1 Comment

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One response to “Buy the Little Book!

  1. I can't find mine either but I'm thinking of loading it into my Nook!

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