Pros: A bare-bones, up-to-date, highly useful reference tool for grammar and style issues
Rating: 5 out of 5
Special note: This is a review of an ARC (advance reading copy), which is an uncorrected proof. This reviewer therefore cannot judge how typo-free the final published copy will be.
Alpha Books, home of the “Complete Idiot’s Guide” series, has come out with a new offering: the “At Your Fingertips” series of reference books. Where the CIG books introduce the reader to a new subject, the AYF books are meant as quick-reference resources for those who need to clarify or brush up on a detail now and then. Rather than the kind of academic-style reference books I’m familiar with from college, however, these are definitely aimed at providing information useful within a context. Which is to say, Lara M Robbins’s Grammar & Style at Your Fingertips isn’t just about grammar—it’s about grammar and style within the context of your day-to-day work.
Grammar & Style is organized very carefully. It clearly is not meant to be read textbook-style, but rather used as a quick-reference book when you need to look something up. The table of contents guides you page-by-page to each major topic and all of its sub-topics. If you need to look up rules of capitalization, you simply look at the listing for chapter eight (an entire chapter on capitalization!) and decide which sub-topic applies: personal names, personal titles, kinship names, academic titles—you’ll even find sections with tables detailing royal, military and religious titles, not to mention holidays, time zones, political agencies, medical terms, and more.
The book strikes a surprising balance between detailing absolutely everything it can and keeping things as succinct as possible. Ms. Robbins uses tables and examples wherever possible to make things easy to look up and understand. One of my oft-repeated mistakes is the improper use of apostrophes in possessives, and it took me all of about ten seconds to look up what I needed to know in this book when writing this review.
One of the only CIG books I didn’t like was the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar & Style, because the author tried so hard to work humor into everything that it ended up interfering with the usefulness of the book. Thankfully that doesn’t happen here. Ms. Robbins uses small amounts of subtle humor to keep things from getting too boring, but she also seems to realize that, as this is purely a reference book, this book’s readers shouldn’t be reading whole chapters at a time. Therefore it doesn’t matter if the basic reading is dry—clarity and ease of use are more important. This was absolutely the right choice to make.
Context and Extras
Ms. Robbins is a senior managing editor at The Berkley Publishing Group, and she understands that most of the folks who might pick up a book like this will be using it to help them with some sort of extended writing. Therefore, she includes information beyond the plain old traditional rules.
When there are multiple correct ways to do a thing, she points out which one publishers tend to prefer. When new ways of doing a thing have emerged in recent years, she explains which she or other publishers tend to prefer and why. She includes information that deals with emerging media—for example, the section on correctly citing a reference includes information on citing online sources. She also explores additional topics such as copyright, trademarks, standard copyediting and proofreading marks, use of footnotes and endnotes, and the use of special type (italics, bold, underline, serif types vs. sans serif, and so on). Each of these things is presented in the same easy-to-reference format as the basic grammar rules.
This is an invaluable asset to any working writer in particular, but also to anyone who wishes their writing to appear polished and professional. Whether you write fiction, academic treatises, business papers, or web articles, this is an incredibly helpful book to keep on your shelf.