I adore grammar books as much as the next hack journalist, but when I read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves, something about the book didn’t sit well with me. There were parts I loved, for sure. Like the author’s passionate, and strangely righteous, denunciation of the movie title “Two Weeks Notice” (specifically, the lack of the possessive apostrophe after “Weeks”). And her tone was great, too, as I imagine a mildly sedated David Sedaris might be. But still, like a marble in my Broca’s area, the book’s advice wouldn’t stop rattling around my syntactical subconscious. As much as I tried ignore the warning signs, one thought persisted: This book is full of grammar mistakes!

You know you’ve got a problem when even Ione of the most piss-poor copyeditors in the history of the Philadelphia City Papercan notice a missing comma in the dedication. Frank McCourt’s preface, I noticed, is chock full of misplaced, superfluous, and absent punctuation. The author, Truss, often uses the refrain, “Sticklers unite!” And yet, despite her rallying cry, I didn’t have the stamina to actually red line the book. Given that it shot to #1 on the bestseller lists in the UK and the US, I concluded that my mind was playing tricks on me, that I was just having an acid flashback to one of those hyper-hyphenated City Paper music reviews. Surely, no self respecting publisher would put out a would-be Strunk & White full of grammar mistakes?

Well, turns out they did. In this week’s New Yorker, Louis Menand pinpoints the book’s faulty grammar, error for error, with painfully explicit sixth-grade English lessons. It’s not as cruel a review as the recent NY Times assessment of Clinton’s autobiography, but in the way Menand undermines Truss’s whole argument, the piece is an unmitigated diss.

However, the article does go beyond the typical book review; it delves into the mysterious, tortuous process of how writers get their words down on paper. It was this section that really resonated for me. As a copyeditor, I can recall having nightmares about colons, em-dashes, and ellipses (Is it period, space, ellipsesor just plain ellipses?). The six-month job was a crash course in punctuation and AP style, for which I’m grateful–yet there’s no doubt that the obsessive attention to detail scarred me as a writer for years to come.

It’s taken me a while to remember that good writing is fueled by a knowing, even lyrical, voicenot rigid grammar rules, like those espoused by Truss, which often overload the brain with muse-choking static. As Menand says at the end of his article, the act of writing should be “less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music.”

So, can you hear that G-major in the background, dear reader? Listen closely. Trust me, it’s there.

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