This category of books would be dead without the internet

Bryan Garner usage books modern englishDaniel McMahonAlive and well: The internet saved language-usage books.

Whenever I pop into my local Barnes & Noble or New York City’s renowned Strand bookstore, I go to the section that has all the books on the English language, usage, and related subjects. It’s a nerdtastic hobby.

While there’s never anyone in this section but me — shocker, I know — I’m just glad it still exists, because as I learned recently, it almost went extinct.

Bryan A. Garner, a lexicographer and authority on English, said in a recent interview with Business Insider that bookstores once declared usage books “a dead category” and wouldn’t even stock them.

Garner said:

Thank goodness for online booksellers because it used to be that a book author was dependent on a few book buyers’ decisions, the bricks-and-mortar stores. If they didn’t carry your book, then it simply had no opportunity to sell. Now the internet has opened up the marketplace and leveled the playing field so that anyone who writes a good, solid, useful book has a shot at selling it.

There was a time when the first edition of ‘Modern American Usage’ came out, some of the bricks-and-mortar stores were declaring usage books to be a dead category, and they refused to buy any at all. That was very frustrating. But the internet has proved that judgment to be wrong.

He added that he’s been very happy with the sales of his books, and that has made the 57-year-old Texan a big fan of the internet.

In addition to his new book, “Garner’s Modern English Usage,” below are some other popular titles in the category. There are lots of good ones; these are just a few of our favourites.

The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White is a classic of the genre:


Yes, I Could Care Less” by Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh is a terrific read and reference:


Woe Is I” by Patricia T. O’Conner, a former editor at The New York Times Book Review, is funny and easy to understand:


You can read the full interview with Garner here.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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