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.


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?


Reach for the top?

You grow while you sleep.

This saying actually has some truth to it.  So no, it’s not the idea I used to believe.  What I did believe was that I would one day grow taller than my mother.

My brother is taller than my father.  My sister is taller than my mother.  As the youngest, I naturally concluded that I too would eventually be taller than my mother*.  Suffice it to say I was mistaken.

I have always been rather short.  My proudest accomplishment at six was being the second shortest kid in my class, rather than the shortest kid.  In short, I never expected to be tall and I never felt short-changed because of my height.  Punning aside, there are quite a few advantages to it.  I can fit into small spaces.  I never bump my head on things, and when I fall it hurts less on account of the smaller distance.  It is extremely unlikely that I’ll ever date someone shorter than me, or even someone shorter than me while I’m wearing heels.

This cat is reaching for the sky.

I wasn’t reaching for the sky, just the tree next to me.  All I wanted was to be taller than my mother.  I didn’t have far to go; my mother is only 5’3’’.

Alas, I was destined to stop at 5’2.5’’.  I was, and am, the shortest in my family.  I can’t remember any sort of personal crisis arising from this experience, only a vague sense of disappointment.  It’s not like I made an extra effort to grow by drinking milk or whatever other methods the kids use these days.   I just…thought it was the natural order of things.  And it turned out it wasn’t.  As they say, that was that.  I’m not tall, and at this point I never will be.  And there ain’t nothin’ I can do ‘bout it.

*This belief brought up the slight dilemma that if people were continually growing taller than their parents, how has the human race not reached gargantuan heights yet?  I tended to brush this off as something I would, someday, understand.


Indecision never tasted so good

I am way behind on these essays.  That was probably already apparent to you.  I have been held up not by an unwillingness to write, but rather an unwillingness to edit.  But now things have gone too far.  I have five essays (if you include tomorrow’s) to post.  I promise to post one essay a day until I’m caught up.  I am making a commitment here people, a commitment.  It may not be pretty, but it WILL be done.

My gut reaction to this question is Cake.  As I began thinking about this essay, I realized that the best argument I could create was on the pie side of the issue.  Still, my gut would not be denied.  To resolve this most serious of problems I settled on the most logical of options: to hold a Cake vs. Pie taste test.  I baked my favourite cake, and my favourite pie, and pitted them against each other in a no holds barred food tasting contest.  I’d like to thank my two impartial judges* for assisting me in this endeavour.

*aka, my mother and father

The Competitors:

From the Pie category: Banoffee Pie

This competitor boasts a smooth toffee filling encased by a graham cracker crust.  This dreamboat is topped with banana slices and fluffy piles of whipped cream with just a hint of espresso.  Decadent to the last, this pie sports a rustic charm and perfectly proportioned components.

From the Cake category: Chocolate Peanut-butter Triple (double) layer Cake

Sinfully Delicious pretty much describes this competitor.  A rich, moist, sour-cream chocolate cake provides the base for the creamy pb-cream cheese frosting.  It ups the ante by adding a chocolate-pb ganache as the final touch to an already ridiculously rich dessert.

The Results:

Appearance:

Unanimous votes on this one.  I mean really, look at that oozing chocolate.  The pie may have some rustic charm, but it can’t compete with the cool demeanor of the Cake.

Texture:

Contrast is the key to textural delight.  The Pie, with its crunchy crust, smooth caramel, fluffy whipped cream and mooshy** bananas was the clear winner here.  The Cake, so far, isn’t as beautiful on the inside as the out.

**Mooshy is a technical taste-testing term.

Taste:
This last category is the only one on which the judges disagreed.  The majority** agreed that the peanut-butter-chocolatey goodness of cake was a 10 000 on the taste scale.  Pie was the runner-up at 9 985.   I mean really, how can you compete with chocolate?

***A majority consisting of one person whose vote counted for 5 people.

If you’re mathematically inclined*** you may have realized that Cake is our winner here.  The point could be made that I had a confirmation bias going into this test.  You say confirmation bias, I say loyalty.  There’s nothing wrong with loyalty, after all, it’s Ron Weasley’s most touted character trait.  (I guess that makes Pie Malfoy?  Not Voldemort, Lord Voldy is 100% Grade A evil.  Pie, while not as great as cake, still has some redeeming qualities.  You know what, I’m going to go with Justin Flinch-Fletchey here.  Kind of a jerk/pompous at times, yet still a good character at heart.)

Extended Harry Potter metaphors aside, I like most cakes and a fewer percentage of all pies out there.  And in the end, that is the deciding point of this issue for me: I’d rather eat a cake than a pie.

****The requirements of which being the ability to count to three and understand that 2 is greater than 1.


Two Things

Thing #1:

I’m way behind on this essay-a-week thing.  I promise to be all caught up by Monday at midnight (according to the central time zone, ’cause that’s the one I live in).  Maybe no one else cares that I’m late, but I do.  By posting this, I’ll feel more obligated to actually post essays 3 and 4.  That’s the theory anyway.

Thing #2:

Found this on the interwebs today, loved it, wanted to share it.

“Great final papers are born of adrenaline and stink of desperation. Great final papers are the things you create because you don’t have quite enough time to fake your own death.”

Found via tumblr, originally from Maureen Johnson’s blog (a YA author whose books I have not read, but have heard of).


Excuses, excuses

I was going to write and post the third essay today, but then I bought this.

Needless to say, I will not be writing an essay today.

(All rhyming in this post was unintentional)