Friday, August 28, 2009

The Golden Book on Writing by David Lambuth

I recently found The Golden Book on Writing  in my father-in-law's book case and wondered how it would measure up to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Both books were authored by college professors as guide books for their students. Elements was published by William Strunk in 1919 at Cornell while Golden Book was published in 1923 at Dartmouth. The booklets (neither is more than 80 pages long) were intended for use within their respective college campuses. What sets them apart is that E.B. White revised Elements for the general public in 1959. And he did it with such precision and wit that it quickly came to be considered an essential guide to good writing.

Frankly, I expected Golden Book to be inferior, but it really can't be compared to Elements. Although both books emphasize economy of language - i.e., the removal of all unnecessary words, Lambuth's main point is to use common sense when writing, even when it occasionally breaks the rules.

Here are some gems from the book:

Good writing - as I have remarked - comes only from clear thinking, set down in simple and natural speech, and afterwards revised in accordance with good usage... After all, good writing is like good social skills. It is learned by constant association with those who practice it, and it must be instinctive and un-selfconscious before it is of the slightest value. That is why you can learn how to write only be reading well. The man who writes with one eye on the textbook of rhetoric, or one half of his brain trying to remember the rules, is like the man who can't tell whether to take off his hat or to use his fork or his spoon until he has remembered what was said on page 74 or 135 of some so-called "Book of Etiquette." Gentleman do not act by rules nor learn how to conduct themselves out of textbooks. Neither do good writers. Therefore: still read. (p. 4)

Ill-chosen words, words that are vague or misleading, give away the fact that you have been too lazy to think clearly what you are trying to say or else that you don't know what words mean. The only satisfactory way to enlarge a poverty-stricken vocabulary is to read widely. (p. 27)


Page Turner said...

I'm a big fan of the Elements of Style, but I love the quotes you selected. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one to add to my collection.

Amy said...

Just the advice I give students when I teach composition: read, read, and read some more!

Island Dispatch said...

I've read both The Golden Book On Writing and Elements of Style and prefer Lambuth to Strunk and White. I think they're very different.

Phil Bauer said...

This little book is the only one you need to learn to write well. There are so few copies of this book around. If I could find a case full, I would buy it to hand out copies to my grandchildren, who are not even of reading age, and other young people I know.