Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey

In its heyday, sentence diagramming was wildly popular in grammar schools across the country. Kitty Burns Florey learned the method in sixth grade from Sister Bernadette: "It was a bit like art, a bit like mathematics. It was a picture of language. I was hooked." 
Now, in this offbeat history, Florey explores the sentence-diagramming phenomenon, including its humble roots at the Brooklyn Polytechnic, its "balloon diagram" predecessor, and what diagrams of famous writers' sentences reveal about them. Along the way Florey offers up her own commonsense approach to learning and using good grammar. Charming, fun, and instructive, Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog will be treasured by all kinds of readers, from grumpy grammarians and crossword-puzzle aficionados to students of literature and lovers of language.

Very well done.  Florey manages to combine just the right amount of wit and humor into a potentially dry subject.  I get that not everyone is as fascinated with sentence diagrams as I am, but they hold a special place in my heart because they are both logical and fun to figure out and also because of Dr. Susan Wink's Advanced Grammar class in college.  Florey does the subject justice, and her writing style is a pleasure to read.

Entertainment Value
Here's where you might get lost.  I was absolutely in love with every word of this book - but I love diagramming sentences.  I've had this book on my TBR forever and I'm so glad I finally picked it up over spring break (yes, that's how far behind I am on reviews).  That said, I think there's a limited appeal when you're dealing with non-fiction about grammar.  I, for one, devoured it, but I think those who aren't as excited about grammar as I am may have more issues with the entertainment value.

It's a must read for grammar fans and word nerds.  Those who are fans of language, linguistics, and grammar must give it a try.   But if you're not a huge fan of the technical aspects of language or writing, it may not be an ideal read as it delves into the more detailed aspects of grammar and usage.

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