Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June Reading

Normally, I wait until the end of the month to recap what I have been reading, but June is different, as this is the month I am beginning my summer reading list.  In order to make way for Infinite Jest, the first book on that list, I have to get my house in order.  So here's what I read during the first half of this (very busy) month.  

1. In the Best Interests of Baseball by Andrew Zimbalist

Before I begin writing, I must note that my family and I are moving in one week, and I have already packed up ninety percent of my books.  Therefore, I don't have these books in front of me to quote or cite or even refresh my memory.  So this is going to be a great post!

Here's what  I learned/didn't learn from this book:
  • Kenesaw Mountian Landis was a mean bastard.
  • If you think that the only game-fixing of the early 20th century took place during the 1919 World Series and was properly punished, you're a fool.
  • A. Bartlett Giamatti seemed to be a sincerely good person who accepted a job no one wanted, did it with as much grace and dignity as he could, and then died.
  • I still don't understand the reserve clause.
  • If you live in Milwaukee or follow the Brewers, you have a very good reason to despise Bud Selig.
  • Is there any excuse for the Pittsburgh Pirates to be as terrible as they have been for the last 19 years?  No.

2. Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting it Right, by Bill Bryson

I taught middle school grammar for six years, and my favorite part of the grammar book (didn't you have a favorite part of the middle school grammar book?) was always the glossary of usage.  I saved that part of the curriculum for the end of the year, like a desert that you look forward to throughout a long meal.  

"Class, do you know when to use 'fewer' instead of 'less'?  No?  Oh, goodie."

After the joyful experience I had reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, I wanted to check out more Bryson, and when I saw this title, I knew I was going for it.  This book is just what it says it is, a dictionary, and it is arranged as such.  So I started with the "a/an" entry and went along all the way through"z" and onto the appendix.  

It would take a pedant to write such a book, and Bryson does not disappoint.  Some people might find his points to be esoteric and his tone to be that of a humorless martinet.  I sure did, and I loved just about every minute of it.  Here's what I learned.

  • I make many, many mistakes in my writing.  Bryson could look at the four short paragraphs above and find multiple errors in usage.  Look!  I misspelled "dessert!"  The comma after "title" in the third paragraph is suspect.  I could have used hyphens to introduce the non-essential phrase ("a dictionary") instead of commas.  Bryson's disapproving voice reverberates in my mind every time I write a sentence.
  • It's okay to end your sentence with a preposition.  If you are the kind of person who will break his back to avoid ending your sentence with one of these offenders (or, like me, even ending with a prepositional phrase), you need to get over yourself.  There's nothing wrong with it, and the rule you are following has been deemed unnecessary for over a hundred years.
  • You should read his rule on when to use "shall" versus "will."  Thankfully, another blogger has put it online, so I can quote it without my copy of the book:
    • Authorities have been trying to pin down the vagaries and nuances of "shall" and "will" since the seventeenth century... The gist of what they have to say is that either you understand the distinctions instinctively or you do not; that if you don't, you probably never will; and that if you do, you don't need to be told anyway.
  • The show Good Morning America should be called Good Morning, America.  Of course it should.
Coming up next is Infinite Jest, which I have already started (for the second time) and will be blogging about as much as real life will allow.  

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