3 books every business owner should read

Raise your hand if you think I’m going to talk about books on leadership? On innovation? On marketing?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

The three books I’m going to recommend that every business owner–actually, every business person–should read are books about grammar. That’s right, grammar.

Now, hear me out before you run screaming from the room at the notion of reading a book on grammar. (And never fear, the books I’m recommending are a far cry from the jargon-filled textbooks you had in high school; all three are actually quite amusing to read. Who knew grammar could be fun?)

Being able to write well is still a very necessary business skill, even in the era of microblogging and texting. This is especially true for people who are running small businesses that don’t include a communications/PR staff whose job is to make the boss look good in writing.

Sure, you can hire a ghostwriter like me for key projects such as your Web site, but it’s unlikely you can afford to farm out all your writing. So you’re probably going to be on your own most of the time when it comes to writing proposals, reports, memos, and other important materials.

No matter how much of an expert you are in your field, a proposal with grammatical errors will make it hard for a prospective new client to take you seriously. And the spell check and grammar check in your software are only going to get you so far. It’s much better to master the difference between its and it’s than it is to place your business success in the hands of the techies at Microsoft.

So here are three books that I promise will not only enlighten you about grammar but will amuse you, too.

•  Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. This book was actually on the bestseller list! How many books about punctuation can say that! The story behind the name of the book is great and typical of the humor found throughout the book. Here it is from the back of the book jacket:

“A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. ‘Why?’ ask the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. ‘I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.” The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation: Panda: Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

So, as the author, a British writer and journalist, puts it: “Grammar really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.”

Even if you don’t master the apostrophe by reading this book, I can promise you’ll laugh a lot at the true-life examples of truly atrocious punctuation Truss cites through her book.

• Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor. This is another bestseller that makes learning grammar far more enjoyable than it was in junior high. (With apologies, of course, to my dear late Mother, a high school English teacher…and a darn good one!) In her introduction, the author calls the book “a survival guide for intelligent people who probably never have diagrammed a sentence and never will. Most of us don’t know a gerund from a gerbil and don’t care, but we’d like to speak and write as though we did.” Free of the grammar jargon that causes brain freeze, this book is bound to help you eliminate grammar faux pas from your writing and speaking. (Another O’Connor book that I’d recommend is Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing.)

•  Lapsing into a Comma: a Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print–and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh, copy desk chief of the Business Desk at the Washington Post. Part style guide and part amusing commentary, this book should be on everyone’s reference shelf. Walsh specifically addresses grammar and spelling issues that have arisen during the Internet age. For example, is online or on-line correct? Buy his book and find out! I keep this book beside my New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and between the two of them I can usually find an answer to any style conundrum.

Do you have any favorite grammar books? Let me know!

3 comments

  1. Jeanne Yocum says:

    You should definitely read it! It's very funny! As is "Shoots, Eats & Leaves." You won't believe some of the real life examples the author has come across of ridiculous punctuation in store signs, etc.

  2. Jeanne,
    I actually own Woe Is I. This post may prompt me to read it!

    Susan

  3. Hi Jeanne,

    Thank you very much! I found your post and the recommended items very useful. I dont own any of these but will probably scoop them up at the library.

    Janelle

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