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Mark Garvey

Review from Publishers Weekly web-exclusive book reviews, 10/26/09. Available here.

A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Mark Garvey. Touchstone, $22.99 (240p) ISBN 9781416590927
A fan's meticulously researched, big-hearted tribute to a sturdy, perennial writing guide, this history of Elements of Style is complete and unreservedly affectionate. Assembled by William Strunk Jr. in the early 20th century for his college writing courses, Elements of Style's ascent began when a young E.B. White (then Elwyn White) enrolled in Strunk's course in 1919. Though it made no apparent impression on White at the time, he rediscovered it many years later as a staffer at The New Yorker; his 1957 New Yorker essay celebrating its "squeaky voice from the past" and emphasis on fundamentals caught the eye of MacMillian textbook editor, Jack Case. Soon, the two were working on Elements' rerelease. Before and after its publication, White polished and defended his professor's stern notional aphorisms ("Omit needless words") while refashioning broader themes to suit the times. Publishing vet Garvey provides considerable context, detailing both Strunk and White's careers, and positing them as "master boat builder" and "pilot," respectively, of a vessel that would for decades navigate readers toward clear, expository writing. Spiking his homage with thoughts from contemporary writers (Nicholson Baker loves that Elements represents "an act of affection toward a former professor"), Garvey crafts an ebullient but (suitably) efficient tribute to a much loved writing guide. (Oct.)

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