Monday, November 17, 2008

I lapsed into a comma.

Title: Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Author: Lynne Truss
Bookmark: an actual bookmark

There was a time when I was just a pup and getting a handle on the written word when I put commas between every word in a sentence. Some would say that it was because I didn't yet know how to properly use them, but the truth of the matter is that I hadn't yet mastered the difference between letter-spaces and word-spaces, and without some sort of mark denoting the break between words, my writing was a nearly unintelligible block of solid text with occasional periods or question marks.

Then Mom started drilling me with rules like which which, there, and whose was which, how to spell "friends" and "believe", and her personal favorite, "Ain't is NOT a word."

Thus began my descent into grammatical madness. I had to stop reading our local paper because the amount of errors was distracting. I didn't even have to read the page; a glance would immediately detect four punctuation errors, six misspellings, and an unfinished sentence before I saw any actual words. The pattern-recognition part of my brain was so highly tuned to sentence structure that I saw breaks in the pattern before the pattern itself. After reading one of my recent posts about frustration with mankind's general rampant illiteracy, Kate recommended this book and sent me a link to an "unrelated" blog. The author of the book is a proudly fierce stickler for punctuation, and jokingly (I hope) advocates an end to apostrophe abuse:

Here are the weapons required in the apostrophe war (stop when you feel uncomfortable):

  • correction fluid
  • big pens
  • stickers in a variety of sizes, both plain (for sticking over unwanted apostrophes) and coloured (for inserting where apostrophes are needed)
  • tin of paint with big brush
  • guerrilla-style clothing
  • strong medication for personality disorder
  • loudhailer
  • gun
I'll grant Truss this much: the lady has done some serious research, and peppers the book with surprisingly interesting historical tidbits about the origin and past use of various punctuation marks, and employs vast, verdant expanses of examples to illustrate her points. The self-referential nature and sly humor behind most of these examples makes a book on rabid, fervent love of punctuation surprisingly readable... for a book on rabid, fervent love of punctuation.

I got through the first half to two-thirds of the book pretty easily, then I had a visitor for a few days, then some great weekend weather, then I got an email from the library kindly reminding me that they'd like their book back, and I had to force my way through the rest of the book. It helped to read that portion first thing in the morning, before I started work, rather than at night, when paragraphs extolling the virtues of the semicolon laid me out on the couch and left me for dead.

It's entertaining if you have no trouble reading slightly dry material about the marks throughout our sentences, but it is also mercifully short. As much as I agree with her on most points, Truss takes a few too many pot shots at American and Internet usage for my liking. This is not to say that I don't agree with her on the Internet side, but many of her criticisms of American punctuation use were contrary to the rules I learned in school so many years ago. Sorry, Ms. Truss, but contrary to what you have heard, the opening of a letter is most often followed with a comma; the colon is reserved for business letters.

I think the real problem with the book is that the people who really need to read it--those blundering oafs who use a comma when they want an apostrophe, a space when they need a hyphen, "whose" when they need "who's", and an apostrophe when they want nothing at all--won't ever go near it. The people who will read it are the ones who already know most or all of the rules in the book, and will gain only some humorous lines about her desire to bear the children of the inventor of the apostrophe and italics, and some interesting parenthetical history (literally). Making this required reading in schools would be a nice touch, but by the time students reach this reading level, it may be too late for them. Perhaps the answer is to make it required reading for the teachers.

Speaking of teachers, here's another related article I found recently.

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posted by reyn at 1:26 PM


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Crazies, all of them

Sizzle and Burn
by Jayne Ann Krentz

Raine has blamed the Arcane Society for her father's death for years. She also hears voices and uses them to solve murders. Her crazy aunt dies and she finds a prisoner in the basement of her house (she'd been in an asylum, so it wasn't crazy aunt's doing).

At the same time someone tries to kill her AND the Arcane Society has interest in her father's research, so Zack's sent out to get the info and protect her. They end up in a rather epic battle with members of the rival psychic group who are using some formula to amp up their powers, though the formula makes them insane and then they kill themselves. Apparently Raine's father was aware of an early version of this formula and had been working on an antidote? Whole thing was very weird.

And then we learn that Zach was fooled by one of the bad people and almost married her, so now he doesn't trust his judgement and even though he's a direct descendant in the line that's always head of the good-psychic council he wants to avoid everything. Until Raine teaches him to trust himself and they bring down the bad guys and then he takes charge and all is good with the world until the next book, because one of the baddies faked her death so we'll totally see her again...

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posted by ket at 12:41 PM


where did blue smoke come from?

Blue Smoke and Murder
by Elizabeth Lowell

Raft guide Jill saves the son of one of the execs at St. Kilda Consulting, who also employed the heroes in a few other books I've read, so he says if she ever needs anything...

Fast forward a bit and Jill's reclusive grandmother is killed on her secluded ranch, she receives threats when she tries to sell some family heirloom paintings, so she calls the dude and he sends Zach to help her.

There's all sorts of stuff involving male chauvinism, discrediting a famous Western artist, and restoring Jill's family's good name, with a showdown in a desert between Zach and one of the bad guys. And then they live happily ever after.

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posted by ket at 12:34 PM


Still Awesome.

Secret Asset
by Stella Rimington

Sequel to At Risk. Liz is on the trail of a mole in MI-6 this time. Plenty of betrayal, plus a valid (and semi-related) terrorist threat, and despite some false starts she figures out who's behind the whole thing. Really, I'd rather say less about the book and just get you all to read it.

Also, are we starting to sense a theme in the books I'm really enjoying these days? And yet I saw Quantum of Solace last night and was rather disappointed. Maybe they need a girl-power version...

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posted by ket at 12:28 PM


What. The. Eff.

Mounting Desire
by Nina Killham

This was awful. Male romance novel writer gives up sex searching for romance; his frigid sister has a nympho friend looking for a place to live so she has her move in. Tension ensues. She f*cks anything male that comes within 3 feet except the newly celibate writer. He falls for a control freak virgin who delineates zones on her body where he may or may not touch. Mom's kicked out of her assisted living place for trying to sleep with a former ambassador. Also the constant descriptions of the nympho as being so voluptuous and curvy and having freaking muffin-top and that's supposed to be sexy, but really only reassures the depressed obese women reading this looking for affirmation. Can't believe I actually read the whole thing.


posted by ket at 12:23 PM


If this exists, my children are so going there

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy
by Ally Carter

We rejoin Cammie and the rest of the Gallagher girls during her sophomore year of high school at the Gallagher Academy, a super-secret private school that teaches the students how to be spies (to the point where there's a designated language/dialect for each meal, and they're regularly kidnapped by teachers for class exercises).

Cammie's still recovering from her freshman year, where she had a forbidden relationship with a boy in town (just hand-holding and a kiss, you perverts) - the locals just think it's a snooty girls school, and for security reasons they prefer to keep things that way, so no outside relationships.

Following an exercise where the girls have to shake a tail and meet at a rendezvous point, they receive news that BOYS are COMING TO GALLAGHER. This is blasphemy. There are some male teachers, but it's been girls-only since its founding 100+ years ago. Plus Cammie's still trying to figure out what really happened when her father was killed during a mission several years ago; her mom, who also happens to be headmaster, and one of her teachers, know more than they're letting on.

So Cammie and her 3 friends (the nerd, the bombshell, and the rebel, of course) set out to find out what the boys are really doing at their school. As you may expect, this involves planting bugs and tracking devices in the boys' dormitory. Come on, they're spies, after all. And during all this the cutest of the boys has definitely taken an interest in Cammie, which she finds suspicious because her greatest talent is being essentially invisible (great for a spy, not so great for finding a boyfriend).

By the end of the book, very few of Cammie's questions have been answered, except that the boys are NOT up to no good. The powers-that-be decided that the girls should learn how to interact with boys/men before they're thrown out into the real spying world, so they imported some from the semi-rival equivalent boys' spy school. But to get to this point, there was another awesome kidnapping and chase sequence where the girls had to trust the boys and accept their help in order to recover potentially sensitive information revealing the names of all former students (aka a list of current spies).

Apparently the first book has been optioned for a movie by Disney. If they screw this up, heads will roll, even if I don't have the training to accomplish that.


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posted by ket at 12:10 PM