"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style," Laurie E. Rozakis

Pros: Sense of humor; aimed at “normal people”; in-depth grammar information
Cons: Sense of humor; audience troubles; incredibly annoying; moves too fast in places
Rating: 2 out of 5

First published 12/27/2002

It’s tough to see who this book is aimed at. It starts off with the very basics (what’s a noun?), so it seems to be aimed at people who really don’t know the first thing about grammar–but it moves quickly after that. For instance, Rozakis often tosses around big words that she briefly introduced in earlier chapters without any reminder of what they mean. While Rozakis’ words indicate that she’s aiming the book at grammarphobic people (people who are terrified of grammar), the fact that she moves so fast (as well as a few other things I’ll mention shortly) should scare off exactly those people.

Perhaps the book is aimed at people who need to brush up on details, or clear up confusions, and Rozakis just felt it necessary to explain the basics first. At any rate, either you’ll find the first part of the book interminably boring, or you’ll find the rest of it confusing. Given later chapters, it seems that Rozakis is trying to appeal to business people; she phrases many of the “why you should know your grammar” arguments in terms of getting promotions and jobs. Later chapters have whole sections on how to write resumes, cover letters, and internal memos.

Sense of Humor

At first I liked the sense of humor with which this book was written. I thought it was a good way to make boring grammar more interesting. Many of the example sentences are jokes, and the author sprinkles irony and sarcasm liberally throughout. So why, you may ask, did I list “sense of humor” as a con?

  • I’m not remarkably familiar with jokes, but even I have heard many of these jokes before. Very few jokes survive retelling.
  • There’s little change in the tone or type of humor throughout. After a while it feels forced and unrelenting, not to mention annoying.
  • The humor gets in the way of the information. I can deal with the idea that different people enjoy different types of humor, and that #1 and #2 are very subjective things. But this third point is unforgivable. There are times when the author says various things because they’re funny, and because of that amusing phrasing she confuses the reader on one grammar point or another.

Typos

There aren’t many typos in this book, and in any other book I’d have no reason at all to complain. However, it is the unfortunate truth that in a book about grammar, a single mistake can leave someone confused on a grammar issue. There are several places where Rozakis says contradictory things, and it seems clear that this is the result of a slip of the fingers. But because no one caught these bits, the material presented is unclear.

Speed of Presentation

Sometimes Rozakis just plain moves too fast; she’ll briefly explain something and then move on when she hasn’t yet given enough of an explanation for me to really know what she’s talking about. There are some topics she dealt with that I still don’t understand. When she brings up big words from previous chapters, she doesn’t stop to remind us of what they mean–she just charges onward. This leaves the reader stranded, flipping back and forth to figure out what’s going on.

“You Could Look It Up”: Like most “Complete Idiot’s Guide” books, this one has little sidebars with additional information. One is called “you could look it up,” and presents a definition of a word or phrase. In most cases this sidebar simply repeats the exact same definition that’s printed in the paragraph next to it. First, what’s the point of this? It’s a waste of space and time. Second, this actually causes a real problem. Either you end up ignoring these sidebars entirely (which means you miss those few that aren’t duplicates of material from the text), or you wade through every last one of them and become completely frustrated by the end of the book. (Guess which one I did. Grrrr.) Now, if Rozakis had used these sidebars to remind the reader of the definitions of words from previous chapters, she could have solved two problems at once!

The Good Stuff

By this time it probably sounds like I hate this book, and you wouldn’t be far from the mark in assuming that. I read it from cover to cover and found it tiresome, frustrating, and downright annoying. However, this book does contain a great deal of in-depth grammar information. Most sections include enough examples to teach you what you need to know. Taken in small doses the humor can be fun (in particular, the humor makes the examples of bad writing less headache-inducing). The index is very handy, and there are some good and unusual sections in here on things like non-sexist language, writing “bad news” letters, and putting together an effective resume.

I think this book would probably make a much better reference book than text book. Or perhaps it would work as a text book if you read a chapter now and then, rather than reading it straight through. If you aren’t sure whether this is the right book for you, then check it out at the library or thumb through it at the book store.

While I admit that there are probably good uses for this book, I just can’t recommend it as an instructional book right now–I disliked the experience of reading it that much. If I hadn’t been planning on reviewing the book I would have put it down halfway through and never picked it up again. So for goodness’ sake, don’t read “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style” from cover to cover like I did. Not if you value your sanity.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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