It ain’t me, it’s you

The Bane of My Existence?

I despise grammar Nazis.  That’s not quite true, but, “I find people who are extreme sticklers for grammar annoying, however I sorta understand where they’re coming from…I think” lacks the same sort of oomph.

If you’ve guessed that this is my take on the previously skipped “A Virtue I Abhor” you’re right.  Have a piece of cake to reward yourself (‘cause you ain’t gettin’ anything from me).

Certainly there are some instances where attention to grammar is important.  I have no qualm with such situations, it’s when people insist on sillier distinctions that frustrates me.  One ‘rule’ which particularly annoys me is the quote/quotation division.  There is nothing lost by using ‘quote’ as a noun.  Using ‘quote’ as a noun doesn’t mar comprehension, doesn’t it sound any worse, and (as an added bonus!) has fewer syllables.

Language changes.  If it doesn’t, it’s dead.  It’s no longer functional.  Of course, this isn’t a new idea.  As culture and technology evolve, language must adapt to sufficiently address our changing needs.  Granted, the quote/quotation distinction isn’t really about serving our needs (unless you count less speaking effort a need) but it does exemplify the legalistic approach some people take to language.

Let’s take a commonly held grammar rule: Never, ever, end a sentence with a preposition.  In his book The Mother Tongue: English And How it Got That Way, Bill Bryson comments that the source of this ‘rule’ is one Robert Lowth, an 18th century clergyman and amateur grammarian.

Robert Lowth: Amateur Grammarian

He penned A Short Introduction to English Grammar which was rather popular for a very long time.  Lowth suggested that sentences ending in prepositions usually sounded less graceful while noting that a sentence that finishes with a preposition was common in speech and writing.  And this is the entire basis for such a firm rule?  Other rules, such as the split infinitive stem from a desire to make English more like Latin.  If you’ve studied Latin, you’ll know that its structure is very different from English.  For starters, Latin infinitives are one freakin’ word, not two as in English.  Sure, Latin is classy, but this is neither practical nor logical.

I consider the preposition ‘rule’ (like others) more of a ‘guideline’ than an actual rule.  Proper grammar is important in certain situations to avoid ambiguity, and if it can be done with elegance so much the better.  It is this last part that is tricky, because ‘proper’ grammar as it pertains to style is subjective and all too often these guidelines are enforced for the sake of the rule rather than the intent behind that rule (that being comprehensible and beautiful use of language).  I know this because I used to be such a person.  I wanted to be right and flaunt my superior knowledge.  I wore my ‘grammar Nazi’ status as a badge of honour.

So yes, I will continue to use quote as a noun.  The occasional sentence I write may end in a preposition.  I might even split my infinitives*.  Suck it up Buttercup.

*Careful readers may have noticed that I have done at least one of these in this essay.

A Witty and Creative Title

In theory, I would write a brilliant opening sentence. In practice, I can think of nothing. However, that’ll have to do since one cannot finish something without beginning it.

In grade 6, 7 and 8 I had a teacher who I adored. This was not a common opinion. She was strict, but fair and expected a lot from her students. Most importantly, she was excellent at teaching, as some of my classmates later discovered. She taught us how to do a math problem, but also why a certain method was best. She taught us the practice and the theory. Instead of giving us a fish, she showed us how to fish.

And that, most wonderful and learn-ed readers, is why theory is so important. It helps one understand the practice and thus adapt it to multiple situations. There are some people, however, who find theory to be pointless, and others for whom theory is really the most interesting (and thus most valuable at times) of the two.

Practice, is the mickey to theory’s minnie, the eeyore to its Winnie. Just as skeptics of evolution like to say: it’s just a theory (until proven by practice).

For example, theoretically tougher crime and gun laws quelled a growing crime wave in 1990s US. Some argue that this is not the case, that legalized abortion was the real cause. Which is it?

Or how about this: theoretically disseminating knowledge of the ill effects of smoking should prevent people from smoking. It doesn’t work. People are more swayed by peer pressure and the desire to look cool than the possibility (albeit a high one) of death by cancer*.

If those examples are too dry for you, think of the fifth Harry Potter book**. Umbridge, as part of the Ministry’s attempt to quell Dumbledore’s supposed army-creating operation, taught only the theory in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Our main characters (and several others) were quite unhappy, what use was theory when practice is what’s needed to perform a spell successfully?

Theory is not enough. Practice is not enough. Both are necessary and important parts of education, knowledge and understanding. Personally, I like theory, but I find it even more interesting when I learn how it can be useful in practice.

*Not actually based on fact. I’m just making a (logical) guess.

**If you’ve been reading all my blog posts, you’ll know I’ve used a lot of HP comparisons. I have my reasons though! Number one: its at the top of my mind since the final movie came out and I’m re-reading the fifth one right now. Also, its so ubiquitous that I know that people will likely understand the point I’m trying to make.

An Adult Kiss

The joys of kissing, from an anime called Kemonozume.

How ’bout that ending eh?

(found via onelargeprawn)

And another thing…

Hello my few and far between readers. Boatload of posts comin’ at ya tomorrow (at least 2, hopefully 4). Until then, enjoy the trailer for what looks to be a delightfully creepy movie.

Did you notice? DAN RADCLIFFE Y’ALL. Not only is he in a movie other than HP, it’s one I would want to see with or without him. Now my desire to see this movie is multiplied by infinity times infinity squared.

Some things I found.

What I find most intriguing about this is that some authors I like trace back to authors/thinkers I’m not so fond of.

Click the image to go the source

And this is fun because it’s Harry-freakin’-Potter! plus “The Son of Man.” Also, it may someday be a threadless shirt.

Click to go to the image source

(P.S. Go vote for the shirt!)

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Stop Reading Children’s Literature

You’d have to be living under a rock at the bottom of the ocean* to not have noticed the release of the final Harry Potter installment this past July. About a week prior to its release, I heard to a radio broadcast discussing (among other things) the books, specifically their impact on peoples’ lives both now and in the future. I found myself increasingly frustrated as the host kept asking callers if they were often asked ‘why they continued to read children’s books’, even being shocked at one point that one caller expected to re-read them well into their adulthood and oldster-hood.

I just don’t get how someone could ever be too old for good books. I understand it intellectually I suppose as they are, ostensibly, written for children and young adults), but this doesn’t preclude them from being quality reading. There are plenty of adults who read children’s/ya** books. I don’t believe it’s because these adults are ‘undemanding readers’ either. For instance, take The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.*

Note the Dragon on the cover. I have a personal bias for dragons, i.e., putting a dragon on the cover of a book is like writing my name all over it.

There are already many reviews of this book out there on the intarwebz, thus I will not describe the book in any great depth. Most of the reviews are positive, and with good reason: the book is well written, believable, has great characters and an excellent plot (with an unexpected end). Within the first four pages of this book I was sold by this description:

“All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why the can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grownup hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weight quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.)”

But what I was most awed by was the sheer creativity of this novel. There is, among other things, a wairwulf (a reverse-werewolf: wolf most of the time, and a man during the full moon), a wiverary (a dragon who thinks he is a library), and a herd of wild books. Cat Valente takes a fairly common plotline, the child whisked away to a magical land a la Chronicles of Narnia. and reinvents it to create an enchanting and Somewhat Heartbreaking tale.

What I’m getting at is this: just because a book is written for a younger (and therefore less experienced) audience, does not necessarily indicate a lack of good writing, of creativity, of excellent plot, of character depth, or of emotional resonance. And just because adults are supposedly more critical readers does not mean that adult fiction isn’t filled with its share of crap. Indeed, the unsettled nature of children and teen taste lends itself to greater creativity; genres for this age group are much more fluid, often defying specific labels.

On writing adult novels, Diana Wynne Jones (RIP) once wrote:

“I found myself thinking as I wrote, ‘These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.’ Now this is something I never have to think when I write for younger readers. Children are used to making an effort to understand. They are asked for this effort every hour of every school day and, though they may not make the effort willingly, they at least expect it…I can rely on this. I can make my plots for them as complex as I please, and yet I know I never have to explain them more than once (or twice at the very most). And here I was, writing for people of fifteen and over, assuming that the people who read, say, Fire and Hemlock last year have now given up using their brains.”

One of my favourite things about DWJ books is this lack of explanation; the exact mechanics of magic is almost never directly explained in her novels. You might think that this lack of explanation would be annoying. Au contraire, dear reader. It is, in fact, one of the best qualities of her books. Fire and Hemlock is an excellent read, but I still don’t understand the end. I know at least two other people who also haven’t figured out what happened. I’m pretty sure it was a happy ending…and that’s all I’m sure of. I’ve found this increases my desire and enjoyment in re-reading her books as I discover new things each time I read them. Your brain definitely cannot go on holiday reading her books.

But here’s my dirty secret: I used to be ashamed of my love of children’s novels, of the fact that something like 90% of the books I read are intended for a younger audience. Then I came to understand something: good books don’t have to be hard. Indeed, when the novel first debuted it was a low form of entertainment, nothing compared to the high art of poetry. In the linked article, Lev Grossman expresses the idea that good plot does not equal cheap thrill. He talks about the history of the novel, and how novels are a product of their time, and in this new time a different type of novel (which can still be just as sophisticated) is taking centre stage. Adults enjoy childrens’ novels because the very unpretentious nature of the intended audience allows plot to shine.

It comes down to this: I read books that interest me. Sometimes pure fluff grabs my attention, and at others Man Booker prize winners (Life of Pi I love you). The important thing is just to read, and not reading children’s books because one is ‘too old for them’ is just sad. Such a philosophy deprives one of a whole world of excellent reading, a world I hope never to leave.

*Or perhaps living in a third world country, poor and starving. They have more important things to worry about.
**For the ease of reading and especially of writing, I shall refer to this category as ‘children’s literature/books’ hereafter (mostly). I realize it isn’t strictly correct to lump them together, but they are more similar to each other than adult literature.
***How can you not pick up a book with this as the title?

To boldly go…

The Virtue/Vice essays are officially the essays that will not let themselves be writ.  So for now I shall leave them alone in the hopes that I’ll be struck with divine inspiration at some unexpected moment.  I shall keep you posted if/when this happens.*

I don’t tend to live life according to a specific phrase or motto, so I didn’t immediately know what I would write this essay about.  Luckily, google came to the rescue**, and I found this excellent quotation.

A lovely drawing of Sylvia Plath from Clare Owen Illustration (click on image to see more artwork from this artist)

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt” – Sylvia Plath

The essay-a-week challenge has been much more difficult than I anticipated.  Either I can’t think of a good topic, or what sounded unbelievably clever and hilarious in my head becomes extremely dull in translation from brain to paper.  Part of the issue is that the internet is so public and leaves one terribly open to criticism.  This fear is compounded by the fact that I am a frequent chat reader and some of the readers likely know exactly who I am.  My instinct is to guard myself from any and all criticisms.  A fairly impossible task on the internet, but I still feel compelled to try.

After re-writing the first few posts at least twice each (with completely different focusses) I had to tell myself to just stop! Choose a topic and go with it!  More importantly, I also began to leave things alone.  These things being bits of writing which I was unsure about; phrases that could be thought poorly written, or, horror of horrors, make me sound unintelligent and ridiculous.  I have to remind myself that the point of doing this challenge was never to impress people with my brilliance (questionable) or to cause others to weep with joy at the elegance of my writing (writing that is adequate at best, and stems more from extensive reading than any natural skill).  My goal for this essay challenge was to keep writing, keep practicing, and most importantly: improve.

It is easy to forget that goal.  I don’t want to post anything truly terrible, but nor is it necessary that I post something positively astounding.  Do I regret some of the things I left in?  Yes. Yes.  A thousand times yes.  I can think of at least two sentences off the top of my head which I really wish I hadn’t written.  But I have a rule.  After a post has been up 24 hours I am no longer allowed to change it, no matter what.  This is important for both my growth as a writer and for my ego.  (cue sarcasm font) Someday I plan on being an excellent writer, and it will be good for me to remember my humble origins (end sarcasm font).

But seriously, I am probably exaggerating my perceived faults in my mind.  Studies have shown*** that people – academics, specifically – are terrible at judging their own writing skill.  They often overestimate their ability in comparison to others, and I have to admit I have probably done this as well.  And really, what I think is terrible is probably not what you think is terrible.  What you think is terrible is likely something I believe is rather brilliant.

And that, dear readers, is why the editing process is so important.  This blog is a prime example as all my posts have been edited solely by yours truly.  This blog is raw, unadulterated, AH writing style.  But, I digress.  What I take from the quotation is that it is important that we create boldly so we may go where no man has gone before.  Definitely not a new revelation, but still important and most assuredly worth writing by.

*Most likely this will be a thing that happens.  All bets are off in the event that I die, am injured, or just plain forget.  Or perhaps you find my blog boring and no longer care whether I update or not.  To you I say…that’s fine, I cannot dictate your opinion.  I wish you a good day sir/madam.
**There was a duel.  Blood was shed.  People died.  It was very dramatic.
***Oh what a wonderful, useful, and quite often misleading phrase.  I truly did read/hear about these studies in/from a reliable source, I just can’t remember where. My google fu skills are not up to the task either, apparently