Summer Books for the Alone Ranger

By Rob Kyff

May 27, 2020 3 min read

Whether you're self-isolating at a cove, cabin or campsite this summer, or just stuck at home like the rest of us, you can still savor one of these new books about words and language.

Pronouns, those humble, innocuous stand-ins for nouns, have suddenly become flash points in our current battles over gender equality and fluidity. Many people are now using the singular, gender-neutral "they" and listing their preferred pronouns (he/she/they) on business cards and emails. Dennis Baron's authoritative "What's Your Pronoun: Beyond He and She" provides both historical perspective and future predictions. He notes that Shakespeare used the singular "they" and that gender-neutral pronouns, such as "thon," "hir" and "zie," flourished centuries ago. Barron believes the singular "they" will inevitably prevail, despite the objections of sticklers.

Speaking of sticklers, Lucy Crips' lively and informative "Actually, the Comma Goes Here — A Practical Guide to Punctuation" provides precise answers to all of your punctuation questions. Should you capitalize the word following a colon? (Only if it begins a complete sentence.) Does the sentence, "I'd like to thank my parents, my boss and God" need a comma after "boss"? (Yes — unless you mean that your mom is your boss and your dad is God.) Was I correct to place the question mark AFTER the quotation mark in the previous sentence? (Yes, because it applies to the entire sentence.)

No one focuses on the entire sentence more intently than Lydia Davis. Renowned for her wry short stories and deft translations, she sharpens the pencil of the writing craft in "Essays One." This collection of agile essays recounts her exhilaration at first reading writers such as Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka and Isaac Babel, and offers crisp recommendations for good writing habits: observe and take notes on everything; read constantly; revise continually; study the origins of the words you're using; after a session of writing, leave a few moments of clear time to write down any lingering thoughts before joining your friends for drinks.

Speaking of drinks, pick up the delightful "Tequila Mockingbird" by Tim Federle. It features original recipes for more than 60 zesty cocktails with clever literary names such as "Huckleberry Sin," "A Midsummer Night's Beam," "Gin Eyre," "The Old Man and the Seagrams" and "Silas Marnier."


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: LubosHouska at Pixabay

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