The readers who devoted a part of their younger years to Strunk & White will recognize in Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History Of Strunk & White’s The Elements Of Style that Mark Garvey could have shortened his title by two words. Even so it was fun to read and remember.
I began graduate study in Rhetoric And Public Address at Indiana University in 1959, so long ago that the study has a new name Rhetoric And Public Culture. Perhaps it was sagacious of my university to tell me it was time to retire. Back in 1959, Robert G. Gunderson, the professor I most wanted to impress, came bounding in to class waving this little book which he declared would “save your ass again and again.” Whether I was green, dumb, awed, or all three, I thought the book was his special discovery. I bought it and in my mind and conversation it was “Gunderson’s book.”
Degrees and career and the little book have come and gone. The degrees are framed. The career is a monthly retirement check. The little book is lost. Maybe I loaned it to someone. Maybe I packed it in a box of books that were never unpacked. At this moment I wish I had the little book in hand.
If you are part of a morning coffee group then you are repeating your stories far too often for others’ comfort. Read Garvey’s story of Strunk & White’s friends and foes then and now, and you will have something new to talk about to your friends’ delight. If you have biological heirs in academic training, give each a copy of William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements Of Style, Fourth Edition, forward by Roger Angell. It comes in plain paperback as befitting a student and a fancy version. Your heirs will eventually see you as wise. If not, they are probably a lost cause. Charles Marlin