A World of Speculation

I haven’t read the best-selling grammar-advocacy book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, not for any reason of taste or principle, but just because it hasn’t risen to the top of my stack (it’s a tall stack). Now Louis Menand in his New Yorker review of the book says I haven’t missed much. I’ve got some disagreements with his grammatical issues, but they’re not worth blogging about.

The second half of his article talks about “voice” in writing, and it’s well worth reading. He begins:

One of the most mysterious of writing’s immaterial properties is what people call “voice.” Editors sometimes refer to it, in a phrase that underscores the paradox at the heart of the idea, as “the voice on the page.” Prose can show many virtues, including originality, without having a voice. It may avoid cliché, radiate conviction, be grammatically so clean that your grandmother could eat off it. But none of this has anything to do with this elusive entity the “voice.”

As you can see, he defines “voice” not as the essential something, the DNA, about anyone’s writing, but more as an engaging manner of writing that hooks the reader by its style of conversation. I hold with the first definition, but all the same, he makes some pertinent observations about that second definition of “voice” (whatever might be a better term for it).