Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: Things That Make Us [sic] by Martha Brockenbrough, 2008

“People who buy grammar books usually don’t need them, except to slam down upon the heads of others…”

After ReadWriteWeb’s article on “Errors By Bloggers Kill Credibility & Traffic, Study Finds,” it was most fortunate for me that I had a copy of Martha Brockenbrough’s Things That Make Us [sic] in my reading stack. Brockenbrough is the founder of The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG), which is known for sending out letters to correct everyone from politicians to hockey teams on their grammatical slips.

Embracing pop culture examples, Brockenbrough reviews the traditional language mishaps as well as expanding on some neglected and interesting bits: a list of commonly misspelled words (did you know spelling is linked to genetics?), a section on losing sentence weight like “began/started” and “could/would,” and a nice list of Latin words and usage (including two I regularly mix-up: e.g. and i.e.). Likewise, the book is full of interesting language nuances such as the Chicago Tribune’s attempt at spelling simplification, Jane Austen and JALATIN, and punctuation marks for irony from typographers.

Things That Make Us [sic] is mostly a guide for intermediate language users who already have some grasp on usage. Brockenbrough’s book is a review of grammar and also interspersed with some thoughtful commentary, such as the author’s thoughts on punctuation: “…we first used it to tell people when to breathe as they read out loud, later using it to help silent readers understand syntax. Punctuation isn’t meant to make the author’s state of mind clear. Well-chosen words do that, and the day serious writers turn to punctuation to communicate their ideas be be a :-( day, indeed.”

I confess that Brockenbrough’s book is not the grammar book for me and this has more to do with tone than content. I think language is a many splendored thing, but I believe that few individuals are actually experts and that the vast majority of people live (or struggle) somewhere within the vast spectrum of interlanguage. (Something I’m sure the author would concur with.) Brockenbrough’s tone goes a little too far towards picking on people than sympathizing and being helpful. In her chapter on malapropisms, Brockenbrough says “Mirth does not occur when a grown-up […] reaches into his box of words and pulls out the wrong one,” and though the author does not explicity say she supports this attitude she doesn’t disagree. I think if we embraced our embarassment a little more mirthfully, we might be more open to learning a little bit more.

Conclusion: Tosser.

(Donated to the Writing Center.)

Revisted Reviews: Female Chauvinist Pigs by Andrea Levy

Female Chauvinistic Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture: Perhaps the biggest let down for me of 2007? First I would like to come right out and say it: just because you write as a journalist, even if you’re a good journalist, does not necessarily mean that you can write a book. Now that this is said, within newer feminist texts the authors more often than not wrote magazine articles and their books read as a series of magazine articles with the hope of some sentences or paragraphs to connect ideas. My suggestion for this new group of “authors”: just give us the damn articles with an intro and conclusion to wind it together because you’re attempt at a book is disappointing.

Each chapter leads the reader on a rather exciting journey until you reach the top of the metaphorical hill and realize there’s no other side, there’s no conclusion, there’s only paste and plaster. When reading the book I loosely gained the idea that Levy was discussing the idea of women representing a false front – whether it’s to claim “I’m a man,” “I dislike girly girls,” faking orgasms and posing, etc – and that this idea has beccme highly symbolic in the U.S. as culturally we worship porn stars and strippers – people who “fake” their sexuality (okay, perhaps not all of them) and are performing sex rather than enjoying real sex.

However, in her conclusion Levy says the book is about “what the sex industry means” (199) and she completely lost me there. As an introductory reader to feminism the book is interesting: she puts a new spin on some old ideas, introduces some marvelous case examples and language, and massive kudos to you for remembering your feminist foremothers and giving them their due. As a serious feminist text that contributes to the body of feminist literature it was a bit of a let down. As a loosely, knitted veil of ideas I wonder if this is all “my” generation has to contribute?

Something I have discovered during my years of feminism is that it is mighty difficult to waltz into your local bookstore and pick up the latest book of feminist criticism. (Unless we’re talking about the Half Priced Bookstore next to the Ohio State University.) More often than not, the books that do show up are a little feminist-lite and are okay intro guides. When I finally had arrived at Female Chauvinistic Pigs I was reading about it everywhere and Levy had even been on the Daily Show.

But as I read the book I realized it was very much another journalist/blogger turned nonfiction author. And I wonder how really earnest and passionate researchers and nonfiction writers feel about this sometimes. These books fill a certain niche and provide a certain perspective, but for lack of a better expression I have a difficult time taking these books quite as seriously. They read very much as blogs in that they’re snappy and witty but once they become books I keep wondering where the hell all of the footnotes are.

Perhaps I should just blame academics.

Some information on Levy from Bookninja and some thoughts from Book Addiction.

Bookworms’ Chronicle: 11th Edition

The 11th Edition of Bookworms’ Carnival is up and ready at Scooter Chronicles. This current edition of the carnival focuses on urban and contemporary fantasy a genre I sadly lacked much experience in until read Jeff Noon’s Vurt, but now my interest has been peaked in many of the other review titles listed. Please make sure to check it out.

If you are not familiar with the Bookworms’ Carnival, it receives a lot of momentum from Dewey. The next round will be hosted by Nymeth and will focus on fairy tales. It’s a lot of fun, please do participate, and this round I even won a free book of my choice!

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