Tag Archives: language

March reading

March was kind of meh for reading in the early part of the month.

As mentioned, I was less than impressed by the portion of the Captive Prince trilogy that I read.

Patricia Briggs’ Fire Touched came out early in the month as well.  I’ve given up on her Omega books set in the same world; as I mentioned when I read the last book, Anna’s dismissal of Charles’ desire to not have children Seriously Pissed Me Off and struck me as profoundly offensive in a way that would’ve had readers up in arms if their positions had been swapped.  Mercy…eh, I have mentioned before that her acquisition of a new power  or tool of power or conveniently powered/talented friend whenever one is needed seems lazy.  And it happens again here. Plus, Mercy’s internal monologing in which she knows better than Adam about how he feels about god/religion strikes me as profoundly patronizing in much the same way Anna “knowing best” about whether Charles should want to have kids did.    Yeah, stick a fork in me, I’m done.

I’m almost finished Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies (non-fiction), which I’m really enjoying.

And I’ve got the first installment of Ms. Marvel to read next.  And the web comic Check Please.

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Random:  I was reading an NPR piece on “Boston Chinese” food and ran across one of my language pet peeves, the use of cache for cachet.  They are spelled differently; pronounced differently; and have completely different meanings.  How freaking difficult is it to use the right word.  Boston Chinese does not have “a certain cache”; it has a certain cachet.  FFS.

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The continuing book purge and other things

Well, my reading has continued to be Not Good lately.

Apparently I auto-wishlisted Josh Lanyon’s The Hell You Say at paperbackswap.com back when I still used the site regularly, so a copy arrived in my mailbox last week.  It was okay?  I mean, I read the ebook years ago when I was glomming Lanyon’s work.  My perspective has shifted a little bit and I’m not sure why exactly.  But my patience with Adrien as narrator has thinned, both in terms of Adrien as amateur sleuth and also with what I perceive as his passive approach to the people in his life (no, I’m not talking about Jake specifically but how he interacts with everyone).  Eh.  I’m kind of curious to see what would happen if I went back and re-read the entire series but I’m a little afraid of spoiling a series that I have recall with fondness in general.

In an effort to kill the slump, I’m extending The Great Book Purge of 2013 into 2014.  Sooner or later one of the books I skim for the keep-or-discard test will grab me.  Or that’s my hope/theory.

So I’ve pulled these books from the shelves:

  • The Courageous Heart by Jane Marnay — a Harlequin Romance from 1957
  • The Twilight of Imperial Russia by Richard Charques — from 1958, dated but of interest in light of a lot of things going on in what some people might consider the new imperial Russia
  • Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz
  • Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Dana Stabenow’s A Grave Denied

Books already put on the discard pile are NR’s Whiskey Beach, The Wife of Martin Guerre, and Queen of Shadows by Edith Felber.  I thinned my collection of the backlists of Susan Napier and Robyn Donald’s Harlequin Presents before moving but may circle back.

I’m also reading the oh-so-fascinating (not really) The Law of Financial Institutions for a night class.  The lecture is pretty good, if kind of bouncing around at this point.

Cara Black’s Murder in Montmartre has been put on my nightstand, to keep Scahill’s Dirty Wars company (some day I’ll be finished with it, dammit, but I’m reading about 20 pages/week right now so it’ll be awhile).  I liked an earlier installment in Black’s mystery series set in Paris in the 1990s. 

Unrelated:  does anyone have recommendations for language acquisition software?  I would like to learn enough French to be able to understand airport/train/metro announcements, and to be able to ask people for directions to the closest metro/cab stand/bar/etc or for the check or to be able to order simple things at a restaurant or bar. 

 

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SBD: word selection

I think I’m turning into one of those crotchety older people who let little things get under their skin. I can’t remember being so easily put off by cover blurbs and word selection in the past. Or maybe I was but let the memory blur?

After running errands an doing chores today, I went to B&N with a 20% off coupon in hand. Ended up buying an urban fantasy novel after discarding a dozen possibles in genre romance proper. Why did I discard them? They used words or cliches I hate.

Spitfire. Feisty. Both are used to excuse TSTL heroines. The heroes were strong, silent, rugged, blah blah blah. Back on the shelf immediately.

Then there was the “heavy dram”. *sigh* A dram measures volume, not weight, and the mismatch was jarring and awkward.

Also, before an author starts to write dialogue in dialect, they should probably listen to an actual person speak in that dialect before scattering the generic “ye” through conversations.

ETA:  And the tag line “what to read after Fifty Shades” is an absolute guarantee that I won’t be buying or reading a book.  If I wanted to read fan fiction, I can find better stuff online that ripoffs of bad teen fiction with worse-written BDSM.

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A disjointed ramble about professionalism

What makes a professional?

In the sports world, an amateur is an athlete who does not get paid for his or her efforts.  Turning pro and getting paid forecloses certain other competitions for that athlete.  For example, Mallory Burdette, a tennis player at Stanford, made it to the third round of the US Open this year, but in order to retain her amateur status and the ability to return to school and play on her college team, she gave up the $65,000 check she would otherwise have earned.

In many areas, what makes a profession is strictly defined and policed by a governing body.  Lawyers don’t just decide one day that they’ll hang out a shingle; state bar associations (or other bodies – the name varies) determine who may practice law within their jurisdiction, what their minimum qualifications must be and what type of continuing professional development is required to maintain status and proclaim oneself a licensed lawyer.

The AMA and state medical boards do the same thing, more or less, for doctors and physicians generally and for those who declare themselves specialists.  Many other careers include similar licensure and professional development standards:  accountants, social workers, nurses, architects, etc.  In academia, the publish or perish atmosphere combined with tenure track competition gives impetus to continued professional development.

What makes a writer or author a professional?  There’s no apparent governing body for those desiring to make their livings selling fiction or writing the next Great American Novel.   No one to measure professional development or create a benchmark by which want-to-be authors may measure their progress.  Well, there’s the Authors’ Guild, but I’m not sure exactly what it does.  The ABA is interested in selling books, not the people who write them.  Same for publishers.  RWA is a niche organization that makes little distinction between published and unpublished writers, and is entirely voluntary.

An understanding of grammar, the mechanics of language, the proper use of punctuation and correct spelling – these are basic building blocks of a writer’s craft.  Yes, any and all of them may be discarded, but only by masters of the craft.  It doesn’t seem as if any of the writers’ organizations or other professional associations related to publishing pay significant attention to the foundation of the craft (the industry?).  Instead they are much more focused on the other end of the publishing process – the place where money is exchanged.  On one hand, that’s understandable:  money is where the squabbles arise, and there’s never enough of it to suit anyone.  On the other hand, the foundation or source of the money (work that readers are willing to pay for) is being ignored.

Does the mere fact of being paid for a book make an author a professional?  Can a writer who has not sold, either to a traditional publisher or via self-publishing still be considered a professional?

As a reader and in the absence of any single organized governing body that manages the “profession”, I fall back on money as being the line dividing amateurs and professionals when it comes to writing.  If an author is asking me to pay for his or her writing, the subtext of that contract of sale is that the work has been professionally produced.  It strikes me as being deceptive for a publisher (self or traditional) to fail to include one of the standard steps of creating a polished product, editing, because it is too hard or too expensive or takes too much time.

Let me back up.  Long ago and far away, I sold words.  By that I mean that I wrote various documents for clients.  And before I sent drafts of those documents out, I let them sit overnight whenever possible and then read them with fresh eyes.  And then two other people in my office read them.  And then the documents were sent to the client.  The client didn’t pay per word or per page and my work seldom ended up any sort of book or binder, but the clients were paying for me to be accurate and to communicate clearly.  Failure to do so could have significant consequences for the client, or it could be embarrassing and irritating for me, damaging the client relationship.  Either way, in exchange for the agreed upon fee, the client expected that the documents I drafted for him/her would be 1) correct and 2) my best efforts and 3) appropriate for the situation.  Not sloppy or without craft and care.

When a writer publishes a book, whether it is through a NY publisher or through Amazon’s self-publishing unit, the publication, letting that book loose on the public, sends a message that this book is complete in and of itself.  It is the best product the publisher could provide.  It is the final version, polished to the author’s best efforts, and is worth the money being paid by the reader.  (Final isn’t necessarily perfect, but it’s not a first draft either.)

I understand the pressure on writers of popular fiction is immense – write more, write faster, have a web presence, do your own marketing, on and on and on.

At the same time, readers have ever more choices for entertainment.  Ultimately, reading fiction is entertainment.  And if the books readers buy don’t live up to their standards, they’ll eventually stop buying those books, and instead spend their entertainment budget on other things:  music, movies, games, what have you.

I’ve lost the plot here:  I’m not sure where I’m going with this, other than to say I don’t understand why authors & publishers think fiction should be exempt from readers’ expectations of professional quality work in exchange for their money.

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Subject vs. object pronouns

Okay, look, the proper usage of “Name and I” versus “me and Name” or “myself and Name” is not that difficult.  Every time I see an author, aspiring, self-published, or otherwise published, use “Name and I” inappropriately, I cross that writer off my list of potential authors-to-try.  Because if they can’t figure that out, what other grammar butchery will I encounter in their writing?

Yes, it sounds more formal and “correct” than “me and Name” but that’s not the point and sounding correct isn’t the same as being the correct usage.  That’s called hyper-correction, I believe.  They are different parts of speech, and the usage is not a function of being or sounding more formal.

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My name is Inigo Montoya

My name is Inigo Montoya…

Oh, wait, wrong quote.  Instead:  I do not think that word means what you think it means.

I ran across this in a review in The Stranger, the Seattle weekly:  [Y]ou walk down a long corridor before countenancing the 1300 square foot main dance floor…

???  I don’t understand what this sentence means.  Countenance a dance floor?  The transitive verb means to extend tolerance or approval to; one definition of the noun is face or visage.  But the definitions of the parts of speech are not interchangeable.  It’s disappointing but not hugely surprising to see sloppy word usage like that from a legitimate news weekly.  (I assume legitimacy since the paper won a Pulitzer this year.)

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Word selection

Reading random selections and samples from my Kindle this evening, trying to settle on something new to read, I had a random thought:  there are some words that have a disproportionate impact on me as a reader.  It’s utterly irrational.

  • Vital — Nora Roberts especially likes to use “vital” as an adjective to describe goals, objects, ideas that are extremely important to her characters.  There’s nothing wrong or inappropriate about the usage, but she’s used it enough that I notice the usage.  It’s a Thing that I associate with her now.
  • Lavish — Many, many authors like this word, especially during love scenes, when attention is lavished on one body part or another.  Usually  a body part that is not a particular erogenous zone for me, so I roll my eyes and move on.
  • Lave — Again with the laving during love scenes.  Or the “lathing”, which seems to be a common substitution…probably by people who have never used a lathe?
  • Moist — This is not used by any particular author or in a specific context, it’s just a word whose sound and mouth-feel during pronunciation bothers me; I get a visceral image of spittle, damp, and mold, which is not always the intended image.

Like I said:  utterly irrational reader association and reaction to perfectly innocent words.  Well, except for that lathe, which can do a lot of damage to tender body parts if used in lieu of laving.

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