But Can I Start a Sentence with “But”? Advice from the Chicago Style Q&A

University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff (University of Chicago Press, 2016), 112pp, £10.50 (hbk)
ISBN 978 0 226 37064 4

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The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, how to negotiate good relationships with your writers, your colleagues, and yourself)

C Fisher Saller (2nd edn, University of Chicago Press, 2016), 206pp, £10.50 (pbk)
ISBN 978 0 226 24007 7

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Reviewed by Christina Thomas

As the title of the first book suggests, But Can I Start a Sentence with “But”? is more of a fun-to-dip-into book than a serious reference work. In essence it is a collection of Q&As from the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), and the arrangement is loosely based on the categories of the website.

Chapter titles such as ‘“President of the Mess Hall” is going to look pretty silly’ give little clue as to what they might contain, though the subsections are clear enough. Those of the Mess Hall chapter, for example, are ‘Proper nouns’ and ‘Titles of works’. Some of the advice is sound common sense, while some is more quirky. One enquirer agonises over the capitalisation of ‘German shepherd’ (‘putative geographical origin of the dog’ versus non-literal evocation irrespective of the actual place of origin). After a brief explanation of the CMOS approach, the answer ends, sensibly, with ‘Make your choices with a view to minimizing inconsistencies, and record them in your style sheet.’

Chicago has also produced a second edition of The Subversive Copy Editor, written by the CMOS editor, guru and blogger Carol Fisher Saller. New chapters deal with the dangers of allegiance to outdated grammar and style, how to stay current, and also on formatting of manuscripts. The real strength of the book is in the human aspects of editing: being flexible, sympathetic and tactful, and recognising where ‘good enough’ ends and obsession begins.

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