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Book review: The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker

By Ana Trask

If you want a comprehensive, in-depth guide that answers questions aboutSenseOfStyle grammar, usage, and style, turn to Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, which was just released in September (2014).

There are different types of styles—plain, practical, classical, and postmodern—and they can overlap. Pinker is a proponent of classic prose, which steers clear of abstractions in favour of concrete examples. Why is this method so effective? Because, as Pinker explains, readers’ comprehension levels skyrocket when their sensory cortices are stimulated. “Fresh wording and concrete images force us to keep updating the virtual reality display in our minds.” That’s why writers should be cinematographers, using as many tools as needed to draw lucid and coherent—not to mention beautiful—pictures for their audience. Among these tools are metaphors, parallel syntax, phonesthetics (“the feeling of sound”), and zeugma (“the intentional juxtaposition of different senses of a word”).

If you are using classical style, you are engaging readers in a conversation, not attempting to impress them with your authority on a subject. “Classic writing, with its assumption of equality between writer and reader, makes the reader feel like a genius.” (more…)