Object of Affection: "The Elements of Style"

If real style is self-expression than every stylish woman should own a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Although it has absolutely nothing to do with the clothes you wear….

The book’s a slim volume that is, at its core, a guide to writing. Many would argue it’s THE guide to writing. In a series of clear and concise rules, it lays out the basic principles of English usage. And in my book, a woman of style and substance knows this stuff — whether she’s writing an email, a letter, a Facebook post, or a blog entry. The difference between “its” and “it’s,” the use of exclamations, hyphens and commas, subject and verb agreement, and timeless advice like “omit needless words” — just a few of the invaluable lessons The Elements of Style conveys.

In 2005, The Elements of Style got a makeover. For many decades, it was a dreary-looking paperback you encountered in high school or bought for Composition 101 in college. In 2005, the classic first published in 1959 got its own style transformation when the magnificent artist/illustrator, Maira Kalman, stumbled on a copy at a yard sale.

As she recalled in the New York Times, "Each sentence was so full of incredible visual reference. I said to myself, how could anyone not have illustrated this before?" And for those who know Kalman’s work — like her neighbor Isaac Mizrahi — she’s a style icon herself. “Whether it's about a sketch or a color, she's like a touchstone for me,” he told W Magazine. “She has this incredible ability to tell you if something is good or bad. I don't make a move without her.”

Maira Kalman

Kalman’s illustrations make this great book even better. And they help emphasize that the rules of writing aren’t far removed from the best rules of fashion: omit what’s needless; avoid the pretentious and coy; don’t overwrite (or overdress); and (my favorite) don’t explain too much.



This is the best style guide you’ll ever own — or give. I’ve gifted at least a dozen copies as of this writing. Please buy it locally at Parnassus Books. They’ve got copies in stock.

p.s. There’s so much more to love about Maira Kalman’s work. Check out her website to see the full array of what she’s done — including a short film based on The Elements of Style.


About Cindy Wall

Cindy’s a communications and marketing pro, a writer, a grammar snob, and a rapacious reader. In her own words, she knows “a little about a lot” — i.e., 19th century literature, Karl Lagerfeld’s latest adventures, professional bike racing, and when to use the Oxford comma. She’s a fan of indie film and music — and bullish on local eating and shopping.