London, Dec. 1: A book about the serial abuse of apostrophes and commas, which readers of The Daily Telegraph helped to write, has become a surprise Christmas bestseller.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves (subtitled The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation) chronicles “the mind-bogglingly depressing misuse of the apostrophe”.
Last night, it was the number one bestseller on the chart of Amazon.co.uk — a position usually reserved for thrillers or books about boy wizards.
The author, Lynne Truss, said on Sunday she felt moved to describe the feeling of being “an isolated nerd” because the sight of a misplaced apostrophe or absent comma made her feel irritated, and occasionally violent.
After writing a feature in this newspaper in April about her hopes of setting up a militant wing of The Apostrophe Protection Society, Truss, who writes a weekly column in the Arts & Books section, discovered that she was not alone. The sight of posters for films such as Two Weeks Notice moved nearly 1,000 readers to write to Truss with their tales of woe. It was, she said, “like detonating a dam” when she had only been hoping to elicit “a few punctuation horror stories”.
Like Truss — whose lowest moment involved spotting a sign stating “Come inside for book’s” outside a petrol station — hundreds of readers were haunted by grammatical howlers. “It was in 1987, I’ll never forget, and it said ‘Cream Tea’s’,” wrote one reader who joined the queue of people expressing “the justifiable despair of the well-educated in a dismally illiterate world”.
The initial print run ordered by Profile Books, a small publishing house, was 15,000, but a second print run had to be ordered before the book even appeared on the bookshelves on November 1. To date, 140,000 copies of Eats, Shoots & Leaves have been printed, and it appears on the “Christmas Pick” list of many high street book chains. Truss has just signed a $120,000 advance for an American edition.
On Nielsen Bookscan, the definitive guide to book sales in this country, it has reached a higher place in the list of more than 150,000 titles than any other book published in the last few weeks.
Truss, a writer and broadcaster whose war against bad grammar began during her days as a sub-editor, said: “The main impetus was that I really did want to write about that feeling that the isolated nerd has.” She feels tortured on a regular basis by sightings of signs for Mens Toilets and Pupil’s Entrance, but is usually too frightened to say anything as reactions to correction are rarely appreciative.
Truss, who is astounded by the success of the book after writing several well-reviewed novels which only had print runs of 5,000, said: “Perhaps it is being bought by people who are well-educated, even with a degree in English literature, but they still don’t know where the apostrophe goes in ‘its’, but they are thinking ‘I would really like to get it right’.”
And that strange title' It derives from one of Truss’s favourite jokes. A panda goes into a bar, orders a sandwich, fires a gun and heads for the door. “What was all that about'” asks the shaken barman. “Look it up,” says the panda, throwing him a badly-punctuated wildlife manual.
The barman turns to the relevant page. “Panda: Bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”