Although some may lament the decline of handwritten letters, many people are writing more than ever, whether it is e-mail, reports, newsletters, memoirs, or family histories. Writing programs continue to cite increases in enrollment. Patricia O'Conner, former editor at the New York Times Book Review and author of the successful writing book Woe is I, offers readers a new guide to writing entitled Words Fail Me. Designed to ensure that our words do justice to our ideas, O'Conner's book provides practical advice on how to improve our everyday writing. Words Fail Me is divided into short chapters that offer witty and detailed solutions to a range of issues such as verbs that zing and the Ôit' parade. O'Conner also tackles issues writing professors repeat every semester to their students: know your subject, know your audience, and know your position. No one, O'Conner reminds us, can avoid having to organize one's writing. She also discusses the difficult subject of jargon, words that many feel they have to use in their company's memo. (The comic strip Dilbert masters these.) She warns that jargon is often too complicated and sounds contrived. While the majority of the book focuses on writing style, O'Conner also confronts the one issue many fear: grammar. She explains grammar rules in a short, concise manner with humorous anecdotes, making even passages on prepositions enjoyable. And if readers should forget all of her advice, she provides a check list at the end of the book.
Charlotte Pence is an English professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.