It took me all of one evening to read Quack This Way from cover to cover. I had to stop myself from diving back in for a second round right away, so I could digest the ideas a bit first. It was a tough internal struggle.
If you haven’t heard of this book yet, it’s because it was only recently published. Bryan A. Garner, the legal writing guru, waited 5 years after the death of his friend David Foster Wallace to publish the transcript of their last meeting, intended for use in a webinar. The two men took over an hour to discuss language, usage, and writing in depth. For a legal translator, this book is gold.
Wallace argues that, no matter who you are writing for, no matter what their skill in writing, no matter the profession, you can bet that if you write well, your ideas will be taken seriously:
The average person you’re writing for is an acute, sensitive, attentive, sophisticated reader who will appreciate adroitness, precision, economy, and clarity (45).
Profession-specific usage books can help you dress up your writing so it blends in better, but paying attention to the meat—logical argumentation, reasonable word choice, and succinctness—matters more.
Throughout the interview, Garner and Wallace also touch on psycholinguistics (why certain professions write a certain way), officialese, and the phenomenon that was George W. Bush as orator. There’s something for everyone, in a very accessible format.
If you’re looking for a quick but informative read on the art of writing, buy a copy of Quack This Way. You won’t regret it. (I’m also going to raffle off a copy next week, because that’s how much I think you should have it. Come back then to enter the giveaway.)
Have you read this book yet? What did you think? What other books on writing can you recommend?