An Introduction to Fiction by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia

An Introduction to Fiction reminded me why I felt put off by a lot of the literature I studied in high school English classes: modern literary criticism is oppressive in its political correctness, and the stories themselves are almost uniformly depressing.

On page 274 of this textbook, Ursula K. Le Guin, in her story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, provides a possible explanation for literary gloom: “[W]e have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting.”

Tolstoy is one of those sophisticates. You will surely recall this famous line (from Anna Karenina): “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

We believe this, do we not? Genre fiction stories in which the characters catch the killer, go on adventures and return triumphant, defeat cosmic evil with the help of magic swords and stalwart companions, and/or fall in reciprocated love with their true soul mates are derided as shallow and commercial, no matter how inventive, entertaining, or uplifting we find them. We are apparently supposed to prefer deep explorations of the multitudes of ways people’s lives can and do go wrong. Blech.

In short, the textbook was mostly a downer. Nevertheless, some of the analysis of the components of fiction was interesting, and I did like a few of the stories. See below for more on what I liked and what I learned, as well as when and why I read the book.

Continue reading An Introduction to Fiction by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia

What You Need to Know about British and American English by George Davidson

I’ve come a long way since the days when I consistently spelled the word ‘British’ with two t’s, which is phonetically intuitive but correct nowhere on the planet. Nevertheless, there were still some new factoids in What You Need to Know about British and American English.

When and Why I Read It

I write English lessons for students in Singapore; it’s important to know the British English standard here.

Genre: nonfiction (language / English)
Date started / date finished:  07-Nov-16 to XX-Nov-16
Length: 216 pages
ISBN: 9814107832 (paperback)
Originally published in: ????
Amazon link: ???

The book was published by some Singapore company called Learners Publishing, which was apparently acquired by Scholastic.

Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndham

Although writing is a timeless sort of endeavor, the technology we use for writing and research has changed a lot in recent decades, so much of the discussion of process in this book is laughably out of date. On the other hand, there’s some good information here about the internal mechanics of story.

When and Why I Read It

Bought it cheap in Colorado because I write for kids.

Genre: Non-fiction (writing)
Date started / date finished:  7-Jul-16 to 13-Jul-16
Length: 258 pages
ISBN: 0898793475 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1968/1989
Amazon link: Writing for Children and Teenagers (only available used)

How to punctuate dialog

Good writing is self-effacing.

Personally, when I’m critiquing fiction, I find it very, very difficult to evaluate things like character, plot, and pacing if there are a lot of distracting technical errors.

One easily fixable error I often see is this one.

how-to-punctuate-dialog

Whenever I see this mistake, I feel as if I have been stabbed in the eye.

Don’t all write ‘alright’, all right?

I must have been told early and often that ‘all right’ must be written as two words because it just absolutely baffles me that anyone would want to write it any other way.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong. Why don’t we get some other opinions on this?

Below are the first ten Google hits for “all right vs alright”.

  1. Grammar Girl says historically ‘alright’ was always wrong, but that it might somehow be gaining limited acceptability.
  2. Dictionary.com says ‘alright’ is acceptable in written dialog and informal writing only.
  3. Oxford Dictionaries says despite the existence of ‘altogether’ and ‘already’ in standard English, it is still inadvisable to use ‘alright’ because it is widely regarded as incorrect.
  4. Writer’s Digest says ‘alright’ technically isn’t a word. Its status could change but hasn’t yet.
  5. Grammarist says that because ‘alright’ has never been accepted by dictionaries or usage authorities, for now you should play it safe and avoid it, unless you’re feeling particularly bold.
  6. Writing Explained says young writers may not even be aware that there’s a debate over ‘alright’ and ‘all right’, and then beats readers over the head with the mnemonic “It’s not all right to use alright.”
  7. Merriam-Webster says you can use ‘alright’ if you don’t care that it’s not the favored form, but points out that ‘all right’ is exactly equivalent, and furthermore keeps you from looking like you don’t know what you’re doing.
  8. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary entry for ‘alright’ says ‘alright’ is common in dialog and informal writing. (Incidentally, beware of insisting that something “is a word” just because “it’s in the dictionary”.)
  9. Grammar Monster says ‘alright’ is a nonstandard variant of ‘all right’ and is best avoided in formal writing.
  10. Cambridge Dictionaries Online says that ‘all right’ may be written as one word but that it’s less common to do so.

I think there’s overwhelming evidence in favor of avoiding ‘alright’. Unless you’re militantly anti-conservative, linguistically speaking.

In which case, what’s next? A big push for spelling ‘a lot’ as one word?

So, upshot: I may be fighting a losing battle, but according to the authorities, it isn’t lost yet. And I’m not fighting alone, even if it for sure feels that way sometimes. Fight with me! If you’ve read this far, you can no longer claim that you just didn’t know better.

Q: What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?
A: I don’t know and I don’t care.