The Millions

The Importance of Giving a Shit: On ‘Dreyer’s English’

As this review goes to press, Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, sits at #1 on Amazon’s Best Sellers list (Words, Language, & Grammar Reference). Shortly after the book’s release, he tweeted its march up the overall sales ranks, as it broke the top hundred, the top ten, and made it all the way to number two. Already in its fourth pressing, it is also currently at number two on this week’s New York Times Best Sellers list (Advice, How-to, and Miscellaneous). Think about that: a book by a copyeditor about the niceties of style elbowing up to the table with the likes of Marie Kondo and Michelle Obama. As Dreyer himself said in another endearingly flabbergasted tweet, “It’s a freakin’ style guide, for Pete’s sake.”

In one sense, I share his amazement. It would be difficult to think of a current subject that feels, superficially, less likely to top a list of best sellers (or best-sellers or bestsellers—Dreyer devotes an interesting page to the accelerated life-cycle and evolution of open, hyphenate, and closed words). We live, after all, in a paradoxically hyper-literate yet hyper-illiterate age—never before in human history have more people written more, and never before has less care gone into the production’s famous apology: “I only made this letter longer because I had not the leisure to make it shorter.”

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