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I Am No Award!

(image via wikimedia)

My name is No Award, and I have come to claim my prizes! (image via wikimedia)

It’s a great time to be No Award.

Last weekend the Hugo’s gave out its honors  for the best in science fiction, and No Award dominated the night, taking home the trophy in five categories.  No Award obliterated the competition in Best Novella, Best Short Story, and Best Related Work.  No Award also demonstrated great skill as an editor by winning Best Editor, Short Form and Best Editor, Long Form.

I’ve never heard of anybody named No Award, and I’ve never read anything by No Award, but No Award must be awesome.

No Award won so many honors because Hugo voters are in a big argument over stuff that non-Hugo voters don’t care about.  Science fiction fans have always liked to argue about stuff that other people don’t care about.  Before I was born, it was Jules Verne vs. H.G. Wells or Flash Gordon vs. Buck Rogers.  When I was a kid, it was Star Wars vs. Star Trek or Marvel vs. DC.  Today, science fiction fans are divided between social justice warriors and sad puppies.

According to the sad puppies (I really don’t want to explain the concept, even though it’s kind of funny), No Award was just being manipulated by social justice warriors, but social justice warriors complain that sad puppies are a bunch of whiners (and bigots and racists and sexists).  I don’t know.  I’ve tried to read up on it, but there is no unbiased account of the controversy.  (The closest is probably this. ).

It’s too bad because it’s typical politics where both sides seem to have a point, but then everything gets personal.  I can barely keep up with politics when it’s about politics. As a reader who sometimes likes science fiction, I just want to yell out: “Captain Kirk would kick Picard’s ass!  Argue about that!!”

No Award might be controversial, but every award should have the possibility of No Award.  As a writer, I empathize with being nominated and then finding out that No Award won.  If I didn’t win an award, I’d be more upset if there was no winner at all than if somebody else had won.  Maybe others would take consolation in that nobody won at all, but I’d be ticked.

As a spectator, however, the drama of No Award is great.  What if No Award could win the Oscars?  I can hear the gasps in the audience, and can see the stunned expressions on the faces of outraged actors and actresses.  If there was a possibility of No Award, I might watch the Oscars again.  But only if they used it.  If the Oscars had a No Award choice and didn’t use it, that would take the fun out of it.

The Pulitzer Prize has the possibility of No Award, and Pulitzer isn’t afraid to use it.  A few years ago, No Award won the Pulitzer in the fiction category.  It’s always controversial when No Award wins a Pulitzer category, but it makes the Pulitzer’s more interesting, and maybe it makes all potential nominees work a little harder.  I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been nominated.

The whole thing makes me wish my name was No Award.  A few years ago, I chose Jimmy Norman as my pen name, but I wish I’d changed it to No Award.  In hindsight, No Award would have been much better.  I would have ruled the Hugo’s if I had changed my name to No Award.

Sometimes average people proclaim themselves to be their idols.  In the past, people have shouted: “I am Spartacus!”  Others have proclaimed: “I am Malcolm X!”  A couple years ago, Robert Galbraith declared: “I am J.K. Rowling!”  But I have finally discovered an idol that I can aspire to be.  From now on, I can shout: “I am No Award!”

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What do you think?  Are awards better off with the possibility of No Award?  What pen name do you wish you had chosen?  What other fun activities have been ruined by political bickering?

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!

It’s not science fiction.  It’s not political.  It’s just Nice Things.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Famous Writers Start Twitter Fight

This is what happens when a guy mocks feminism and Edith Wharton. (image via wikimedia)

This is what happens when a guy mocks feminism and Edith Wharton. (image via wikimedia)

First of all, nobody ever wins a Twitter fight.  There are only varying degrees of losing.  Most reasonable people understand this, but still, famous author Jennifer Weiner (The Next Best Thing) seems determined to get into a Twitter fight with award-winning author Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections).

Famous authors getting into arguments on Twitter are like professional athletes who get hurt playing pick-up games with amateurs.  It makes the rest of us scream: “What were you thinking!!”  A famous author has to think of his/her reputation before getting into a Twitter argument, even if the argument is with another author.

I usually stay out of arguments that don’t directly affect me, so if you want more details about the substance of the Twitter fight, you can read them here or here.  Basically, Johnathan Franzen started the whole thing (but he didn’t really “start” it) with an interview about his upcoming book Purity.   Of course, things got a bit sidetracked, and Franzen said a few things (about Edith Wharton and feminism) that outraged a bunch of people, including author Weiner, who took their disagreements to Twitter.  From Franzen’s point-of-view, that probably meant he had a good interview.

Jennifer Weiner looks like the clear loser in this Twitter feud, and it has nothing to do with the substance.  First, she numbered her tweets.  As soon as you have to number your tweets, you should know that you’ve lost a Twitter fight.  If you need to number your tweets, then you’re taking your argument too seriously for Twitter.  Twitter can make famous writers sound as silly and illogical as the rest of us, and numbering tweets doesn’t help.

Instead of writing a bunch of numbered tweets, Weiner should have just tweeted “Franzen, you suck.”  It would have saved time, and people like me could have followed her logic more easily.

Even though I think he won the Twitter fight by default (refusing to participate), I have mixed feelings about Jonathan Franzen.  I don’t care for his books, but I admire his ability to stir things up and walk away.  A decade ago, he pissed off Oprah Winfrey and then never went on her show, not even to fake an apology.  For his new book Purity, he said a bunch of stuff that has made people mad, but he hasn’t responded much to the criticism.  I admire an abrasive guy who doesn’t flip out when he’s criticized for what he says.

One of Franzen’s controversial statements was about adopting children.  The reasons he gave for adopting and then NOT adopting seem shallow, but once you decide not to adopt, every reason seems shallow.  I’m not judging him.  My wife and I decided not to adopt, and if anybody asked why, our reasons would seem shallow too.

When Franzen mentioned that he was thinking about adopting a kid from Iraq because he didn’t understand young people, Franzen’s editor suggested that he talk to some college students, and after Franzen did that, he no longer wanted to adopt a kid.  I feel a little bad for that kid who still lives in war-torn Iraq.  I hope he (or she) is having a good life even though he didn’t get adopted by Johnathan Franzen.  If I were one of those college students, I’d feel a little guilty, knowing that some kid was suffering in Iraq just because I’d talked to Jonathan Franzen.  I don’t know how I’d live with myself after that.

Unlike Jonathan Franzen, whenever I want to understand young people (I don’t mean that in a weird way), I read their blogs.  Young people can write pretty good blogs (again, I don’t mean that in a weird way).  Most of their tweets are lame, but most of my tweets are lame too.  But the next time I want to understand young people (I’m not sure when it will happen next), I won’t read a Jonathan Franzen book.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know much about young people.

Professional writers should know better than to get into Twitter fights.  Twitter fights are for people who don’t usually write (or fight either).  Writers should use blogs or magazines to feud with each other.  I would never get into a Twitter fight with another writer, but if I HAD to start a Twitter fight with another writer, I’d pick James Patterson.  James Patterson hasn’t taken enough criticism for the massive number of books he’s claimed to have written.  By my own rules, I’d automatically lose a Twitter fight with James Patterson because he would either ignore me or have one of his co-authors argue for him.  Even though I know I’d lose, I might still do it.

A Twitter fight is like the opposite of a real fight.  If you ignore all the Twitter comments against you without getting fired from your job, then you automatically win.  In a real fight, if you ignore the guy throwing punches, you’ll get knocked out and you automatically lose.  That’s why people who wouldn’t start real fights will sometimes engage in Twitter fights.

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What do you think?  Should famous writers get into Twitter fights?  What famous author would you like to get into a Twitter fight with?  Do you understand what Jennifer Weiner and other critics were arguing (with Franzen) about?  Should Franzen respond to Twitter criticism?

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!

Instead of getting involved in a Twitter fight, relax and read Nice Things.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

I Got Cussed At By A Library Book

From the cover, it looked like such a nice book.

From the cover, it looked like such a nice book.

A few weeks ago, I opened up a book I’d checked out from the library, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, and written on the blank sheet before the title page was a giant:

F#ck You, @##hole!

I’m used to finding tiny surprises in library books.  Old library books are like newly-discovered crime scenes; you never know what you’re going to find inside.  I’ve found dried blood, brown stains, and tiny sticky things lodged between pages.  I’ve read notes written between the lines, and I’ve even seen curse words on margins.   But I’d never seen profanity take up an entire page before.

I laughed when I saw the profanity.  After all, I was pretty sure it wasn’t directed at me.  If somebody screamed “F#ck you, @##hole!” in my face or wrote it in a book that I owned, I might get mad.  But it wasn’t in my own book, and it wasn’t aimed at me, so I laughed at it.  Profanity is funny when it isn’t directed at you.

As far as profanity goes, “F#ck you, @##hole!” is pretty standard.  It’s straightforward, and it’s very easy to think of.  It’s the perfect go-to insult when your mind is flustered and you can’t think of the perfect retort, and you don’t have time to string precise words together.  If you’re the type of person who thinks of a great zinger three-hours too late, “F#ck you, @##hole!” is a godsend.

But “F#ck you, @##hole!” shouldn’t be written in a library book.  Whoever wrote it had time to think it over.  If you’re going to write an insult, take the time to think of something original.  These library books can stay in circulation for decades.  If I were going to write profanity in a library book (and I’m not the kind of person to do that), I’d think about it until I came up with something original.  By the time I thought of something worthy, though, I probably would have lost all desire to write profanity in a library book.  Maybe that’s why it was written.  Maybe the author didn’t have time to find the inspiration to be original.

Still, the placement of “F#ck You @##hole!” right before the title page makes it look like it was the book’s title.  F#ck You, @##hole would be a great title.  I’m usually against profanity in book titles.  I think it should be used sparingly.  Sh#t My Dad Said could have been Stuff My Dad SaidGo the F#ck to Sleep could have been Get Yourself To SleepTough Sh#t by Kevin Smith could have just been Tough!  If your book is any good, you shouldn’t need profanity in the title.

Even though I don’t approve of profanity in book titles, I’d buy a book called F#ck You, @##hole.  I’d at least read the first couple pages.  I’d proudly tell others that I’d just read it.

“I’m reading a great book,” I could proclaim.

“What is it?” my friends/co-workers would ask.

F#ck You @##hole!” I would say, looking my friends/co-workers in the eye.

That would be a great way to maintain friendships and working relationships.

I’m not sure I’m going to like Gravity’s Rainbow.  After the “F#ck You @##hole!” graffiti,  it has nowhere to go but down.

*****

What do you think?  What’s the best/worst graffiti that you’ve ever seen?  What’s the worst thing you’ve ever found in a library book?  Should books have profanity in the titles?  Should I keep reading Gravity’s Rainbow?

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!

It’s more than just another love triangle.  And it’s not necessarily nice.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

The Back-to-School Special!!

To some, there's nothing special about going back to school, not even a back-to-school special (image via wikimedia)

To some, there’s nothing special about going back to school, not even a Back-to-School Special. (image via wikimedia)

Nobody likes going back to school.  Students don’t like it.  Teachers don’t like going back to school either, and teachers are the ones who are paid to be there.  Parents might be glad that school is starting up again, but they don’t have to go every day, so their opinions don’t count.

Even though school can be unpleasant, there are ways to make it easier for everybody involved.

For students, school is a great place to learn diplomacy.  A clever student quickly learns what to say and what NOT to say in certain situations with authority figures.

“Can I Use The Bathroom?” and Other Public School Memories

ADVISE TO STUDENTS: When you ask for permission to use the restroom, don't carry a book with you.

ADVICE TO STUDENTS: When you ask for permission to use the restroom, don’t carry a book with you.

My daughter told me this week that she asked her teacher, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

Her teacher said, “I don’t know.  Can you?”

Some things never change.  40 years ago, we asked the same question, and our teachers gave the same response.  I’m sure 40 years before that, students and teachers did the same thing.  I’m sure nothing will change 40 years from now.

One side of me knows that precision in language is important, but another part knows that a teacher has to be kind of a jerk to use the “I don’t know, can you?” response.  This isn’t being judgmental.  If anybody deserves to be a jerk without being judged, it’s a teacher.  I’m sure teachers at some point became tired of explaining the difference between “may” and “can” every time a kid asked to use the can, so this was a short, snide, and sweet way to do it.

Read more here!!!

Teachers can feel just as negative about school as students do.  If teachers feel down or depressed about their teaching experiences, they need to remember that their emotions aren’t abnormal.  Even famous author J.R.R. Tolkien got depressed when he was teaching.  Tolkien’s exhaustion and depression can be an inspiration to teachers everywhere!

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The Famous Author Who Said Teaching Was “Exhausting and Depressing”

If you're exhausted and depressed by teaching, write a famous book.

If you’re exhausted and depressed by teaching, write a famous book.

I don’t know much about the personal lives of authors whose books I’ve read. I think Stephen King was hit by a car once. I think Charles Bukowski drank a little bit. I believe James Patterson (whose books I don’t read) has a bunch of co-authors, so he might have a lot of spare time, but I don’t know what he does with it. The point is, I just read the books (and samples of the books). I don’t know anything about the authors.

Yesterday I found out the JRR Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) taught at several colleges while he wrote. I think I might have known that at some point in my life, but I found out again yesterday. An old colleague of his found an old letter that Tolkien had written to him, and in this letter Tolkien said that teaching was “exhausting and depressing.”

Read more here!!!

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If you’re a parent, you’re not safe from being stressed out by school either.  You never really know what’s going on with your children at school when you’re not there to watch over them.  They might lie about what’s going on or not say anything at all about what they’re going through. You know things are bad when they even lie about what their assignments are at school.

My Daughter Lied In Her Memoir

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

“I’m sorry for your loss,” my oldest daughter’s English teacher said to me after I introduced myself to her during Literacy Night at the local junior high.  The teacher seemed earnest, and her statement caught me off guard.

“Thank you,” I said hesitantly, out of politeness, as I thought: what loss?

I glanced at my daughter and noticed that her face was reddening, and she looked around the hallway at other parents and students wandering around the classroom.

I felt that asking about my loss would lead to an uncomfortable moment, and I do whatever is possible to avoid uncomfortable moments, so I moved on to another topic.  My daughter’s grades were good, the teacher said, she was a wonderful writer, and she talked a little too much in class.  That sounded about right, but I was curious about the loss I had suffered.

Read more here!!!

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One more piece of advice to students is to not make fun of your teachers, no matter how tempting it is.  Yeah, teachers might look funny, dress funny, or talk funny from your point of view, but so do you (from their point-of-view) and most teachers are just too polite to say anything about it.  And if your teacher has a funny name, don’t make any jokes about it, or something really bad can happen to you.

Long Story: Teachers with Funny Last Names

If you're going to make fun of the teacher's name, don't put it into writing. (image via wikimedia)

You might want to make fun of your teacher, but don’t say it, and DON’T put it into writing. (image via wikimedia)

When I was growing up, I had some teachers with unfortunate last names.  In junior high I had a math teacher named Mrs. Butte.  She insisted her name was pronounced “Bee-Yute” like the word “beauty,” but she wasn’t attractive at all.  If she had been a hot chick with cleavage, we might have pronounced her name correctly.  But she wasn’t, so we didn’t.

There was also a social studies teacher named Mr. Dick (and his name was pronounced exactly like it was spelled).  Nobody made fun of Mr. Dick.  You would think a guy named Mr. Dick would stay out of teaching because of his last name, but nobody ever made fun of him.

Mr. Dick was an old man who had cool tattoos on his arm (none of which were phallic in nature).  He had been teaching for decades, and everybody in town had grown up knowing Mr. Dick (or knowing about him), so nobody thought anything about his name anymore.  He was just an old man named Mr. Dick.

There’s no way to prove this, but my junior high school was probably the only one that had a Mrs. Butte and a Mr. Dick.

Read more here!!!

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Since nobody has yet figured out how to manipulate time, nothing can save students/teachers/parents from the upcoming school year.  Yes, we can use strategies to make it better, but it’s coming whether we’re ready or not.  It’s not all bad news, though.  If you’re truly dreading school, just remember: be patient and wait… because the school year will always come to an end.

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What do you think?  What are your favorite school memories?  What were your least favorite experiences in school?  What can you do to make this new school year special?

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!

It’s more than just another love triangle. But it’s not necessarily nice.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Pretentious or Presidential? President Obama’s Summer Reading List

Being president means critics over-analyze the books you read. (image via wikimedia)

Being president means critics over-analyze the books you read. (image via wikimedia)

Everybody needs a vacation, especially presidents.  Supporters of President Obama are glad he’s on vacation because he works hard and they want him energized for his final months in office.  Critics are glad he’s on vacation because that means he’s not signing executive orders or making speeches on television.

And when it comes to presidents, everything can be polarizing, even the books they read.  Just as President Obama’s vacation was starting, the White House released his vacation reading list, which included the following books:

All That Is  by James Salter

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

At first glance, this list is impressive.  Several award-winning books, some literary fiction, and nothing written by James Patterson.  Some critics have complained that it’s unlikely for President Obama to read that many time-consuming books during a brief vacation.  Maybe, but that’s not the point of a vacation reading list.  You choose six books, just in case five of them suck.

President Obama is the president, after all.  If he doesn’t want to read all six books, he doesn’t have to, just like President Bush 41 didn’t have to eat broccoli because he didn’t like broccoli and he was the President of the United States.

Even if President Obama claims later to have read all of the books, I might not believe him.  Politicians often claim to be experts on stuff they haven’t read, but that stuff is usually legislation, not books.  I don’t mean to pick on President Obama.  I’m also not convinced President Bush 43 really painted the pictures that he’s claimed he’s painted.  I simply don’t trust politicians, regardless of political party.

Maybe, just maybe, these books are on President Obama’s reading list because he’s expected to read literary stuff.  President Obama is an Ivy Leaguer, and Ivy Leaguers can’t be seen reading Stephen King or John Grisham.  Those novels don’t look presidential.  But if the White House has released a list of books that President Obama won’t really read, then it makes him look pretentious.    I expect any president to have flaws, but literary pretention seems to be an unnecessary one.

Here’s the problem.  Every March, the White House makes a big deal about President Obama’s NCAA March Madness brackets.  It’s kind of fun to compare the president’s results with the rest of the nation (even though a president should maybe have much more important things to do).  President Obama seems to know a lot about college basketball.

What does this have to do with his reading list?

I know hundreds of people who fill out NCAA March Madness brackets, and I know know a few people who read literary fiction regularly, even on vacation.  In my experience, however, there is no overlap.  People who are serious about their NCAA brackets are not interested in literary fiction or Pulitzer Prize-winning books.  They might be married to somebody who likes literature, but there is no direct overlap.  Therefore, President Obama is (probably) being pretentious with his reading list.

Maybe the First Lady is reading from this book list.  Maybe the Obama daughters are.  But it’s probably not the president.  He might glance at the books, maybe thumb through a few pages, but he’s not reading them.  Not if he’s serious about those NCAA brackets.  It’s a completely different mindset.

There is the possibility that President Obama doesn’t fill out his own NCAA brackets.  Maybe he devours literature on a regular basis but doesn’t let anybody know because it would cut into his cool persona.  Maybe his aides fill out his brackets for him while the president catches up on award-winning literary fiction.  Maybe, but I doubt it.

Therefore, until I hear from the White House that President Obama does NOT complete his own March Madness brackets, I’m afraid I have to conclude that our president is a literary pretender.  And that’s okay with me, as long as he’s not reading anything by James Patterson.

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What do you think?  Have you read any of the books on President Obama’s reading list?  What was on your own summer reading list?   Do you fill out NCAA basketball brackets every year?  Is it possible to seriously fill out NCAA March Madness brackets AND read lots of literary award-winning books?

*****

Nice Things didn’t make President Obama’s summer reading list, but there’s always next year!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

5 Reasons Why English Grammar Is So Difficult

Don't let them fool you. Even they struggle with grammar. (image via wikimedia)

Don’t let them fool you. They struggle with grammar just like the rest of us. (image via wikimedia)

English grammar can be tough.  Even people who enjoy reading and writing have a difficult time getting all the rules right.  When I was in college, I got careless with a composition and messed up a bunch of “its” and “it’s.”  My writing instructor admonished me, saying I couldn’t be successful in a writing profession by making basic mistakes.

At the time, I knew the rules, but I also knew I had a tendency to get careless, so I ended up going into a profession that has nothing to do with writing.  It’s my fault I didn’t choose a writing profession.  But almost everybody struggles with grammar, so if I blame grammar for my problems, almost everybody will agree with me.

Below are five perfectly good, rational reasons that explain why English grammar is difficult.  Any errors in grammar are unintentional and not meant to be ironic.

#1- The rules are nitpicky. 

English grammar has some really strict rules.  Don’t split infinitives.  Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.  Be careful to use “who” as a subject pronoun and “whom” as an object pronoun (I had to look that one up).  A bunch of words sound the same but are spelled differently, or a bunch of words are spelled the same but have different meanings, or a bunch of different words can have the similar meanings but different connotations.  And I haven’t even gotten to verb tenses yet.

Grammar might have been more productive in high school if the focus had been on the basics, like when to say “she and I” instead of “her and me.”  That’s important.  Split infinitives and prepositions at the end of sentences?  Maybe not as important.  But I’m not an expert.

#2-  People don’t like to get corrected. 

I don’t know if there is a good way to correct grammar, but there are a lot of annoying ways to do it.  I think teachers are taught to answer the question “Can I go to the bathroom?” with “I don’t know, can you?”

When I was a student, this led to many unnecessary classroom confrontations between kids who wanted to leave class and teachers who wanted their students to speak properly.  All a kid had to do was to rephrase the question (usually with an eye roll) as “May I please go to the bathroom?” The “please” was sometimes optional.

But some kids were too stubborn to do that and simply returned to their desks.  Those were the kids who just wanted to hang out in the hallway for a few minutes and didn’t really need to use the facilities.  To me, hanging out in the hallway was worth rephrasing the question, and I threw in the “please” without being prompted.

The good news is that I know the difference between “can” and “may.”  The bad news is that the teachers who did this were so annoying (from our point of view), we probably ignored everything else they tried to teach us for the rest of the class period, such as the difference between “its” and “it’s.”

#3- Most people don’t use correct grammar most of the time. 

A big problem with grammar is that most people don’t use it in their everyday conversations.  We say “ain’t” and “got” and a bunch of phrases that send English teachers to early retirements (but hopefully not early graves).  As a public school student years ago, I worked hard for 45 minutes a day on grammar that I wouldn’t use for the other 16 hours I was awake.

The cool people (or the people who I thought were cool at the time) didn’t speak properly, so there was little incentive to practice outside of school what I was learning in English class.  And that was (and is) a problem.  If people concentrated all the time on speaking correctly, then people would get better at speaking correctly.  But that would take effort, and most people don’t want to put that much effort into something that we think should be effortless.

#4- There are so many exceptions in spelling and pronunciation.

I like rules.  I’m a rule follower and a law abiding citizen.  As much as I like rules, however, I believe the rules should be consistent.  If rules aren’t consistent, then people won’t follow them.  That’s how it works with child-rearing; that’s also how it works with spelling.  The more inconsistencies there are with a rule in spelling/pronunciation, the less likely people are to get it right.

As a kid, I learned the “I before e except after c” rule from a Charlie Brown special on television, but even that rule is inconsistent.  That taught me not to trust any spelling rule, and now I have trust issues in all facets of my life.  Even spell-check is no guarantee that a writer has the correct word.  If a computer can’t figure out if a word in context is spelled correctly, then how can a mere human figure it out?

#5- “Grammar” is not spelled the way it sounds. 

People pronounce the word “grammar” as “gram-mer.”  It’s spelled as if it’s pronounced “gram-marrrrr (like a pirate).”  If grammar is going to have strict rules, it should at least follow basic spelling and pronunciation guidelines.  It’s almost like a politician who writes a law and then exempts politicians (or government officials) from their own rules.  The word “grammar” should not be exempt from its own rules.

And as long as “grammar” is spelled like it is, people will struggle with grammar.

*****

What do you think?  What makes English grammar so difficult?  What rules have you always struggled with.  If you don’t struggle with the rules of grammar, what is your secret?

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!!

You don’t have to be a grammar expert to enjoy Nice Things.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Books that Make Readers Angry

I keep telling myself, it's not Harper Lee's, it's not Harper Lee's fault! (image via wikimedia)

I keep telling myself, it’s not Harper Lee’s fault, it’s not Harper Lee’s fault! (image via wikimedia)

“That ending sucks!” my oldest daughter exclaimed, slamming the book shut.

She had just finished reading The Giver by Lois Lowry.  It’s required for her next year, and my daughter wanted to get a head start.  I told her it was okay to read ahead as long as she didn’t spoil anything for other students and she’d still read it again when it was time to do it at school.  But now she’s mad at the book.

According to my daughter, The Giver starts slowly, builds up tension, and then has an unclear ending.  Supposedly, the movie has a more defined ending (I cheated and looked it up), but the book was published 20 years ago, and the movie is new, so that means for two decades, students have probably been getting mad at the ending.  Readers were expecting some kind of resolution and instead got something unclear and maybe open-ended.  Unclear and open-ended is a bad combination.  My daughter is fairly calm.  If she got mad at the ending, she’s not the only one.

Even though I’m supposedly even-tempered, I can get angry at books too.  It doesn’t happen very often.  If I don’t enjoy a book, I’ll quit reading it before I get angry at it.  I only get mad on certain occasions.

Go Set A Watchman– by Harper Lee

When Go Set A Watchman was announced, I was pretty sure it was a scam.  The circumstances had scam written all over it.  I didn’t get mad until the book became a best seller before it was even released.  Philosophically, I’m opposed to books becoming best sellers before they’re released, but as long as pre-orders exist (and I’m not opposed to pre-orders), then there’s the possibility of unpublished books becoming best sellers.

Anyway, I believe that Go Set A Watchman was sold to the public as a sequel when it was really a rough draft that was never meant to be read by the public.  Six months ago, I thought that was the case, but I don’t like forming opinions right away.  Now that Go Set A Watchman has come out, enough people have read it for me to form an opinion.

It looks to me like Go Set A Watchman was a dishonest money grab, and even if disappointed readers return it and get their money back, not enough customers will do that to cut into the publisher’s profits.  I don’t like it when bad behavior gets rewarded, and a bunch of people in the publishing industry made a lot of money by misrepresenting what Go Set A Watchman was.

Go Set A Watchman has a cool cover, though.  I hope the artist got paid.  It’s not the artist’s fault that the book was a scam.

Streets of Laredo– by Larry McMurtry

I’m a Lonesome Dove fan.  True, I don’t like the western genre.  I’ve only read a couple Louis L’Amour books, and I’ve only seen a couple John Wayne movies.  Despite my bias, I think Lonesome Dove is great.  But the sequel Streets of Laredo almost ruins it.  Most of the time, I don’t let a great book’s sequel affect my opinion of the great book, but this MIGHT be the exception.

Even though lots of violent stuff happened in Lonesome Dove, there was a charm to the book.  Streets of Laredo was supposed to be the sequel, so I was expecting a novel similar in tone, but it felt to me like it was just characters with similar names in a completely different western universe, violent without the witty narrative.  Horrible things happened to characters I liked from Lonesome Dove, but it didn’t seem seem to have been written as carefully, so I felt like the author was being disrespectful.

If it had been a stand alone novel, I might not have gotten mad at it. I finished Streets of Laredo just to see what happened (I would have been better off not knowing), but I still got mad at it, and I haven’t read any more McMurtry books since.

Streets of Laredo isn’t a horrible book.  If I hadn’t read Lonesome Dove first, I might not have even gotten mad at it.

The Awakening– by Kate Chopin

When I read this (required in a literature course), I thought the ending (SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!) was a cop-out.  This was supposed to be an early feminist novel, and the protagonist drowns herself?  What kind of feminist does that?  When I expressed my thoughts in class, everybody thought I was joking and laughed, so I kept my mouth shut the rest of class, until I figured out why the rest of the class didn’t take me seriously.

Looking back, I made the right decision.  I should have been outraged at the repression of women in 19th century southern culture, and instead I was incensed that the author copped out by having the main character kill herself.  I guess my priorities were messed up.  But still, at the time, it made me mad.

Zoo- by James Patterson

Actually, it’s anything by James Patterson.  10 books a year?  13 books a year?  C’mon!  Patterson should just turn himself into a publishing company.  Nobody can write that many books, even with a bunch of co-authors.

Maybe James Patterson was cloned, and there are 10 James Pattersons, each writing one book a year.  That, I could deal with.  But anyway, I can’t read any James Patterson books because they make me mad (and I don’t like being mad over stuff like that)

*****

Getting angry at a book isn’t necessarily bad; it shows you care enough to get mad. My daughter was interested enough in The Giver to care about the ending.  I enjoyed Lonesome Dove so much that I cared that Streets of Laredo seemed to destroy everything it had built.  I care about honesty and integrity so much that I’m angry at the financial success of Go Set A Watchman.  And James Patterson?  I admit, I’m just jealous.

BOOKS THAT SHOULD MAKE ME MAD BUT DON’T

50 Shades of Grey–  A lot of people hate these books, but I’m ambivalent.  I like the idea of an obscure writer getting rich from publishing a sex book.

*****

A special thanks to blogger The Antipodean Reader for giving me the idea for “Books That Make Readers Angry” a few weeks ago!  Thank you!

*****

What do you think?  What books have made you angry?  Was Go Set A Watchman a scam or a sequel?  What books do you think should make you mad but don’t?

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!

Even if you get angry at books sometimes, nobody can get mad at Nice Things.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Nice Things cheap on Amazon!

It's inexpensive, not cheap.

It’s inexpensive, not cheap.

The problem with giving away stuff for free is that it can’t last forever.  At some point, you have to start charging for it.  So now is the time that you can get Nice Things cheap (instead of free) on Amazon.  Cheap isn’t as good as free, but cheap isn’t bad either.

Nice Things is now $2.99 instead of free.  Maybe $2.99 isn’t “cheap,” but Amazon suggested that I charge more.  I mean, nobody from Amazon called me and told me to charge more.  Amazon has an algorithm that suggests prices to authors to maximize profits.

The algorithm sounds impersonal, but the alternative would be for Amazon to hire a bunch of people to read all the e-books that get submitted and then tell the authors how much to charge.  That would be an inefficient way to suggest pricing to authors.  Amazon is probably better off with its algorithm.

I have no problem with the concept of maximizing profits, but since I’m not established at all as an author, I wanted to take the less expensive route.  I thought about charging even less than $2.99, but Nice Things has a sex scene in it.  I’ve written only one sex scene in my life, and this is it.  I might not ever write another one.

If Nice Things has the only adult scene I’ll ever write, then I should charge at least $2.99 for it.  Cheap sex is okay, but I don’t want it to be too cheap.  Stuff like that can ruin a writer’s reputation.

I had a lot of fun writing Nice Things, even the parts that weren’t the adult scene.  I know there are a lot of books out there to read, but if you like Dysfunctional Literacy, you’ll probably like Nice Things too.

So here it is!

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!

If you absolutely must do something morally wrong, just pretend that you’re doing Nice Things.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Stephen King Was Wrong

If you're going to criticize Stephen King, don't use any adverbs to do it. (image via Wikimedia)

If you’re going to criticize Stephen King, don’t use any adverbs to do it. (image via Wikimedia)

When it comes to writing, I expect Stephen King to know what he’s talking about.  He’s published more books than just about anyone (except maybe James Patterson), and almost everything he writes turns into a best-seller.  He could rewrite the phone book, and it would be a best-seller.  His collection of short stories Different Seasons is still one of my favorite books ever.

Stephen King has written a lot of advice about writing that I agree with.  He doesn’t like adverbs ( “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”), and I can understand why, though I think the adverb gets criticized too much.

He also says that writers need to read a lot (“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”), which makes a lot of sense.  But there’s one Stephen king statement about writing that is absolutely wrong.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

I don’t know.  I just finished writing something, and I was a lot more scared after I was finished with it than I was when I started.  Beginning a project is fun, with lots of optimism and initial excitement, but finishing a writing project is scary.

So many bad things from a writer’s point of view can happen after you finish something.  Your writing can be ignored.  Commenters can tell you that you suck.  The worst is when nobody reads your work, but commenters still tell you that you suck.

20 years ago when I was involved with several writers groups (this was before blogging was invented), the most nerve-wracking part of the week was when my writing was about to be critiqued.  Feedback can be brutal.  It’s scary.  To me, it’s the scariest part of the process.

When I say the “scariest” part, I don’t mean that I’m frightened.  I’m not “scared” when I publish something on Dysfunctional Literacy.  I don’t quiver with fear in the middle of the night.  I don’t scream at sudden noises.  I just mean that I’m tense about it.  I think that’s what Stephen King means about “scariest” too, and I don’t want to quibble with him about word choice, especially since he’s an accomplished writer.

Maybe Stephen King really does get scared just before he starts.  Maybe he doesn’t care about feedback or sales anymore.  After all, he’s accomplished more than any author could ever expect to.  He could stop right now, never write another word, and he still would be considered one of the most prolific U.S. authors ever.  Maybe that’s what Stephen King is scared of, that moment when he’s ready to start and then he can’t think of anything.  For a writer like Stephen King, not being able to think of anything would be the worst thing to happen.  That would be the scariest moment, the time when you’re not sure if you can think of anything to write.

But I don’t believe that applies to most writers.  I think the scariest moment is feedback.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I have no business telling Stephen King that he’s wrong about anything, especially writing.  Maybe I’m the only aspiring writer who thinks finishing is the scariest part.  Maybe I’m way off on this and am too narrow-minded to see it.

Or maybe I’m right, and Stephen King is wrong.  Stephen King writes about a lot of stuff.  He writes his opinion about movies, other books, and even political issues like gun control.  If Stephen King is wrong in his own field of expertise, what else is he wrong about?

When you’ve been proven wrong once, that’s it; you’re completely discredited in everything else for the rest of your life.

Just so you know, I was kidding in the previous sentence, but sometimes people can’t tell when I’m being sarcastic.  My monotone voice carries over into my writing sometimes.

*****

What do you think?  What is the scariest moment in the writing process?  Is it the moment just before you start?  Or is it when you finish/publish?  Or do you think another moment in writing is the scariest?  When a person has been proven wrong once, is that person’s opinions about everything else discredited forever?  Do other people sometimes think you’re being serious when you’re really being sarcastic?

*****

New from Dysfunctional Literacy!

It’s more than just another love triangle.  And it’s not necessarily nice.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Nice Things for free on Amazon!!

This kind of opportunity doesn't happen very often.

For free?   This kind of opportunity doesn’t happen very often.

Everybody likes nice things.  Nice things are better than mediocre things or bad things.  The problem with nice things, though, is that they usually cost a lot of money.  Sometimes you can get nice things on discount, but it’s not very often that you can get nice things for free.

Today is that day.

Right now Nice Things is free on Amazon.  I can give it away for free only for a couple days, so if you don’t want to pay for it, you might want to get it soon.

I’ve been working on Nice Things for a while but haven’t been talking about it much.  I thought that if I talked about it, that might keep me from working on it, so I figured it was better if I just wrote the darn thing and didn’t tell anybody until I actually clicked “publish.”

It has its flaws, and I’m aware of some of them.  I’m sure there are some typos and missing words and things that don’t make sense, but hopefully my fool for an editor corrected most of the mistakes.  If not, I’m going to feel kind of stupid.

I had a lot of fun writing Nice Things, but I’ve read it so many times I have no idea how good it is or how much it sucks.  I’m also a little nervous because some of what I wrote could be taken the wrong way.  That’s why it might be a good idea for you to get it free.  But if you miss this chance, don’t worry.  When it’s no longer free, you’ll still be able to get Nice Things for cheap on Amazon.

*****

What about you?  Have you ever spent so much time writing something that you no longer trusted your judgement?  What is the worst mistake you’ve left in your writing?

*****

It might be good.  It might suck.  Either way, for the next couple days, it’s free!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

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