March 31, 2018

Books for Speakers: Woe Is I

Public Speaking Books , Speaker's Bookshelf , Instruction , Presentation Tips , Resources

A favorite question in every class we lead is this: What public speaking books do you suggest we read? Our shelves are loaded with choices. Every month we'll be featuring a pick from new books we've come across and old favorites we go back to again and again.


"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."

– Patricia T. O'Conner in the preface to "Woe Is I"

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English

By Patricia T. O'Conner

If you feel your grip on grammar is a little weak, this book is a fun way to get a handle on the skills you wish you'd mastered in middle school.

Even the grammar savvy may find they learn a thing or two.

There's so much we like about this book:

1. Lessons are presented with a sense of humor.

2. Examples, also amusing, make the rules clear. And also make it clear that sometimes the rules are a little murky. Then O'Conner gives you ideas for what you can do about that.

3. O'Conner, a former editor at The New York Times Book Review, takes a commonsense approach to applying the rules. (She doesn't think you have to write yourself into a pretzel to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition, for example.)

4. You can open the book to any page, read a little, and learn something. Or you can look up exactly what you need.

5. Chapter 10. It's full of sound advice for making your speeches easier to follow and your writing more interesting to read.

While we've had our copies for a while, here's the cover of the most recent edition.

As our faculty member Jenny Maxwell often reminds Buckley writing students, no one ever recommends a novel for its excellent grammar and punctuation.

But, she also points out-- there are fundamental things you need to master if you want to sound reasonably educated. Woe is I is a great book to help with that.

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