cover image Rebel with a Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian

Rebel with a Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian

Ellen Jovin. Mariner, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-358-27815-3

Jovin (English at Work), cofounder of a communication training firm, documents in this zippy account her trip across America with a pop-up grammar advice table. In 2018, she set up shop in Manhattan’s Verdi Square answering “grammar questions from passersby.” Her endeavor was a success, and soon she took the show on the road across 47 states. Whether she’s discussing Oxford commas (“a national obsession, but... surely not a global one”) or contractions (evading them can sound robotic), Jovin uses a combination of intuition and established guidelines to demonstrate that there’s almost always more than one correct answer to questions of communication. Along the way, she shares funny anecdotes about the interactions at her booth and how it functioned as an outlet for individuals to passionately express their points of view: “The semicolon inspires an array of emotional and intellectual responses: curiosity, anxiety, indifference, affection, and disdain,” for example. Jovin’s emphasis is always on fun—chapters have silly titles (“Semicolonphobia!” and “Whom Ya Gonna Call?”), and stick-figure drawings illustrate the concepts. The result reads less like a how-to guide and more like a usage-centered memoir. Fellow language lovers will enjoy the ride. Agent: Victoria Skurnick, Levine Greenberg Rostan. (July)