For my birthday in May, David gave me a copy of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, a massive volume edited by linguists Rodney D. Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum. Geoff Pullum is my linguistics hero - he's exuberant, tart, and totally addictive - and even in this technical magnum opus his voice comes through loud and clear. The introduction includes some strong words against prescriptivism, and distinguishing the grammar from a style guide - two of Pullum's favorite betes noirs.
I like the organization of the book. This is not your sixth-grade teacher's grammar book; it exposes the imprecisions in the version of English grammar we are taught in grade school and offers enough generalized terminology to help develop a foundation for understanding comparative grammar. It is not really intended to be read end to end - it's more than 1800 pages long - but its sequence is logical and attempts to introduce technical grammatical concepts no the non-grammarian. It even isolates in sidebars discussions that may be too technical for non-linguist readers, keeping the book accessible both for academics and for linguistics dilettantes like myself.
If I were a linguist - and who knows, I may yet be, as I have not decided what my next career will be - I think I would be a grammarian, because as fascinating as historical linguistics is to me, I don't have the head for the history and anthropology portions of it. Grammar, on the other hand, has fascinated me longer than I had realized. In college I took courses on formal semantics (with this guy) and learned how complicated a proposition it is to try and reduce natural language to an abstract set of rules. Those studies gave me the foundation to understand why it took Profs. Pullum and Huddleston 1800 pages to set forth the grammar of English - and they don't even reach some specialized grammars, such as the peculiarities of newspaper headlines.
Since then, as my grammar-wallah posts demonstrate, I am delighted by consideration of the diverse structures employed to express similar ideas across different languages - subtle shades of verb meaning, relationships between semantic elements, interrogatives, and more. The distinctions and relations between the grammatic structures of human languages is endlessly engaging. That's why I'm going to try to read the Cambridge Grammar cover-to-cover, even though it may take years.