Posts Tagged ‘literature’

The Kids are Listening

January 27, 2014
 I am certainly no expert when it comes to English grammar, but thanks to teachers like Mrs. Green at Jordan Vocational High School, I do remember the rules enough not to be egregiously ungrammatical. Mrs. Green was considered by a lot of kids to be pretty tough, even mean. As I look back on her methods, I realize that she wasn’t being mean. She just wouldn’t put up with students who didn’t make the effort to meet her expectations.  In other words, she cared.  The end result was that she was probably one of the most effective teachers in the school.

When I hear some members of the Muscogee County School District Board of Education murdering the language, I get a little upset. Why are we electing people to the school board who have a tough time making subjects agree with verbs? It makes me wonder about the wisdom of having an elected school board. I don’t remember this happening back when the Grand Jury selected members of the board.

What’s even worse – since board members don’t teach classes and not many students hear their atrocious grammar – is when I hear teachers who don’t understand things like possessive pronouns. I saw in the Ledger-Enquirer where a teacher said, “You can’t negate you becoming a doctor.” Bam! It jumped right out at me that she should have said, “You can’t negate your becoming a doctor.”

Since I really couldn’t remember why that would  be correct, I wanted to  make sure I was right, so I asked Connie Ussery, a friend of mine who is a retired high school English teacher, about it.  This is what she said:

“I love questions like this.  ‘Becoming a doctor’ is a gerund phrase and you are absolutely right in that the possessive pronoun is used to ‘own’ the action in this case.  Since the verb ‘can negate’ is transitive, the example in your email would indicate ‘You can not negate you….’ and ‘becoming a doctor’ makes no sense as a participial phrase describing ‘you’ because it simply isn’t one.  The speaker could have said, ‘You can’t negate becoming a doctor,’ but that would have made the phrase apply to anyone who is a doctor.  ‘You can’t negate your becoming a doctor’ is grammatical.

Thanks for the brain exercise.”

Thanks, Connie.  Now  I  know why I was right.  Also, I think it’s too bad you retired. They need you.

Finally, “Reading” “Huckleberry Finn”

October 1, 2012

After reading that writers like Ernest Hemingway lavished praise on Mark Twain for writing  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” I decided that I needed to read the book all the way through.  

 Hemingway wrote in 1934: “The good writers are Henry James, Stephen Crane, and Mark Twain. That’s not the order they’re good in. There is no order for good writers…. All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”  

H.L. Mencken wrote in 1913, “I believe that ‘Huckleberry Finn’ is one of the great masterpieces of the world, that it is the full equal of ‘Don Quixote‘ and ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ that it is vastly better than Gil Blas, ‘Tristram Shandy,’ ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ or ‘Tom Jones.’ “

If those two great American writers had such nice hings to say about “Huckleberry Finn.” I figure I need to read it, and I have found the best way for me to do it. I am listening to the audiobook version as I walk two miles every day.  Patrick Fraley does a brilliant job of reading it, using many different voices to portray the characters. I’m beginning to see why some people consider it the “Great American Novel.”  As you probably know, it has been banned a number of times over the years.  The first time that happened Twain was pleased, saying the banning would sell an additional 25,000 copies.  No doubt subsequent bannings have also sold a lot of copies. 



Join Me at the Library

April 18, 2011

It’s Monday so that means I need to come up with something to post because I’ve promised to try to have a new post on Monday – well, Sunday night sometimes.  I have a few things in my blog oven, but the only one ready to serve is an invitation for you to come to the Friends Book Store at the Columbus Public Library.  I work in the store every Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m., and the time passes quicker when I stay busy ringing up sales so I thought maybe you might like to come by and buy a book.

 I hope to be there this Thursday, but I have to be honest with you. I fell again.  Two weeks ago I fell and hit my head on a sidewalk, but that didn’t interfere with my Thursday volunteer job. However, this time I stumbled on a step in the Bill Heard Theater,fell forward, and rolled on my side when I hit the carpeted floor, causing me to land on my left leg. I don’t think I broke anything, but there is pain so I’ll have to wait to see what the doctor says after the x-rays.

  If I am there Thursday, I will bring an interesting novel I just finished called American Rust by Phillip Meyer. It’s a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year. I paid about $15 for it at Barnes and Nobel. It’ll go for $4 at the book store.  First come, first serve.  Do I recommend it? I do, but I have to warn you that it’s not all sweetness and light.  The goings on in an economically devastated Pennsylvania steel town can get rough. 

  I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you,  but people who work in the bookstore are among its best customers.  I just bought David Baldacci’s The Collectors.  I am a Baldacci fan.  It’s not Hemingway or Steinbeck, but a good action packed and mysterious ride. This one, a hardback,  sold for $26.99 new. I picked it up for $3.

Maybe I’ll see you Thursday, if my injuries allow it, and if you come. If I’m not there, they’ll sell you a book, anyway.  I hope I will be there. I enjoy meeting the interesting folks that come in to buy books, and I like the idea of helping raise money for the library. I think public libraries are extremely important in a democratic republic. It’s a lot harder to fool people who do a lot of reading and fooling people is what a lot of politicians really care about. Unfortunately, they often succeed.  But, an informed public makes it harder to do.   

Keeping my Monday Promise

December 20, 2010

I promised that I would always try to have a new post at least every Monday, but with Christmas shopping and a special Christmas card I am planning for you, my plate is full, as it were. (Ever wonder what the heck “as it were” means?) But, full plate or not, a promise is a promise. 

Then again, maybe Mark Twain had the right idea. Here’s what he says about promises in The Innocents Abroad, which I am just getting around to reading.


Mark Twain, as photographed by Mathew Brady

  “I never could keep a promise. I do not blame myself for this weakness, because the fault must lie in my physical organization. It is likely that such a very liberal amount of space was given to the organ which enables me to make promises that the organ which should enable me to keep them was crowded out. But I grieve not. I like no half-way things. I had rather have one faculty nobly developed than two faculties of mere ordinary capacity.”

As I said, I am just getting around to reading it, and at the same time sampling the Autobiography of Mark Twain, the new autobiography that contains a lot of material just released, because he stipulated it not be released until 100 years after his death.  Sampling seems appropriate to this highly publicised book because it is pretty much a stream of consciousness affair.

On top of all of that reading, I am really engrossed in Ken Follett’s new epic, Fall of Giants, the first volume of his 20th Century trilogyAfter reading Pillars of the Earth, I decided that I would immediately read anything  he writes.  He has to be one of the world’s greatest writers. His style is contemporary, which makes it easy to read because he makes no attempt to impress us with long, convoluted sentences, but he does throw in a word we have to look up occasionally, which I like, because I like learning the meanings of new words, as long as there are not so many as to drastically slow down reading.

Before I started reading Fall of Giants, I read John Franzen’s highly touted Freedom. Critics who proclaimed its greatness say it reflects the current society. I agree, but I really don’t think his writing is as engrossing as Follett’s.  He really gets into long, convoluted sentences and weighs us down with tedious detail.  That is, of course, just my opinion, but it’s the one I value the most when it comes to books, movies, music, plays, and art. Let’s face it, reviewing is a subjective endeavour.

Passionate Blogging

December 4, 2008

  Maybe I’ve been doing this blogging thing the wrong way. Instead of trying to post a well-written think piece, I should simply give vent to my passions and not worry about details like literary excellence. That’s what I took from Arianna Huffington when she was interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. She was on the show to plug her book on how to blog. It’s titled The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging.

  She said the key to successful blogging is to write about your passions, and to not worry about a blog post being a finished product.  In other words, don’t spend a lot of time trying polish your posts.

  I don’t spend a lot of time doing that, but I do try to make the post readable and get the grammar as correct as possible. I take a few liberties and sometimes use sentence fragments because that’s the way I speak and just about everyone else speaks. I remember one of my English Literature professors saying that before you can get away with breaking the rules, you have know them. She said, “When you are writing for me, you have to convince me that you know the rules. Don’t break them.” I don’t claim to know the rules flawlessly, but I’m not being graded by her any more so I’ll break the ones I do know when I feel like it.

 Arianna said that when you blog you should write about your passions. Once I figure what they are now, maybe I’ll concentrate on them. They have changed over time. Once I was very passionate about being an actor.  I acted in a few plays for Theater Atlanta when I was working at WSB Radio, and I appeared in a number of Columbus Little Theater productions before CLT morphed into the Springer Opera House, and then a few more productions there. I decided that the pay for all that work wasn’t adequate.  All the local actors did it for “the love of it,” but the Springer started bringing in outsiders who did it for the money. Once a dollar value was put on playing a lead in a play, I decided, no pay, no play.

I definately had a passion for being a radio announcer, which I satisfied by doing it, and when television came to Georgia, I decided I had a passion for that and did it for more than forty years. I got paid for that so I knew I was valuable. But, that passion has been satisfied and I don’t have it any more. I could still do it because…well, I know how.  If I came up with a specific topic I wanted to do a documentary on, I could become passionate about it.

I am passionate about my family, my children and grandchildren, and I have occasionally written about them, but I don’t want to invade their privacy so I keep that to a minimum.

I still love music, good theater, music, literature, art, and my interest in football has been rekindled. I am enjoying the Falcons this year. Maybe it’s because they are winning a few games. Also, I have been watching Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Auburn games.  Alabama is awesome. “Awesome” is a much over-used word, but, in this case, it really is an accurate adjective. I was glad they beat Auburn because losing six in a row in that classic rivalry made me feel sorry for them. The same with Georgia Tech and Georgia. Tech had lost seven in a row. That’s too much so I was glad they pulled off that three-point win.   

And, yes, I am passionate about politics, and I do occasionally write about that.

Maybe I’ll make Arianna happy and buy her book, or maybe I’ll check it out at the library and save the money, or maybe I’ll ignore it. It will just depend on my passion about it.