Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Reader Over Your Shoulder A Handbook For Writers of English Prose-- Robert Graves And Alan Hodges

I finished reading, The Reader Over Your Shoulder, A Handbook for Writers of Enlgish Prose by Robert Graves and Alan Hodges. Robert Graves is the author of I, Claudius and The White Goddess. The writing in this book is quite high caliber.

The first section is a set of rules on how to write. It describes how to clarify the basics so you know to answer what was in grammar school called, the five w's who, what, where, when, and how. It also teaches you how to write without ambiguity, eliminate logical weaknesses, and create understandable prose.

In addition the use of metaphor, style, and elegance in writing is covered. Examples of bad writing are given and corrected. Also bureaucratese, jargon, and professional language is addressed. It talks about how to translate complex thoughts into clear language.

The second part is where I got overwhelmed. This section analyzes rhetoric and logic in writing. It takes apart paragraphs written by many famous people and rewrites them so they are more logical and clear. For example, sections of Why Freedom Matters by Norman Angell, Bishop Chichester; A paragraph from Christianity and World Order and many other famous writings are analyzed. They are not just analyzed. Each sentence in a paragraph is dissected for consistency, logic, grammar, and style.

This would be fairly advanced rhetorical teaching for people who already had an excellent grasp of the english language. At points it was a bit overwhelming in the information being provided. There are examples of logical weakness, mispunctuation, appropriate sequence of ideas, mismatching metaphor, self-evident statement, false contrast, circumlocution, and other fairly detailed criticisms of language use. On Pp. 177-180 they give 41 rules for appropriate use of language.

If you are interested in reading a complex book on advanced written rhetoric; this book is for you. It is at points quite hard to follow. I did enjoy reading the first part immensely. However, I was a bit overwhelmed with the second half of the book. The book is slow going with lots of information in each page. It is not the kind of book you can read in one sitting. The language is also very proper, clear, old fashioned, and very British. The edition I read is the second edition,
c 1979.

I made a rather interesting faux pas. This book is no longer in print. It was suggested by one of my blog readers. It is available in a combined edition as The Long Weekend And The Reader Over Your Shoulder. There are used copies of this. I think this is the kind of book which you should be able to find easily in your public library; most likely as an interlibrary loan, but not in a bookstore.

I remember reading the Golden Ass of Apuleius and The Twelve Caesars translated by Robert Graves when I was younger. He truly is a distinguished writer.

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