LOVING WORDS AND KNOWING HOW TO USE THEM – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #51


If people find typos or grammatical, punctuation, spelling, or usage errors in your posts, do you welcome having them pointed out to you, or do you resent it.

As a blogger do you let people know about such mistakes or do you just let them go?


There was a time when I was the aggravated editor at large. However, in recent months, my typo count has risen so high that there are often more typos, missed words, wrong parts of sentences which belong elsewhere, I do not feel I have any authority to speak on the subject.

I was never a good proofreader, even when I was much younger, but now it’s wildly out of control. If I change keyboards? I go from bad to “What IS that word?” I make typos so bad the spellchecker doesn’t recognize the word at all.

I admit that I go and change really badly typoed words in comments because WordPress doesn’t even give us 10 seconds to go back and change it. I read through typos. Of course, I do. I am the typo queen.

I do NOT have the same attitude towards poor grammar, though. The inability of even adults to recognize the difference between shorthand for Facebook or whatever they are using these days and language. Or, for that matter, the difference between an adjective and an adverb because they don’t know the difference between a verb and a noun. If you listen to sportscasters, you’ll know why. They don’t use adverbs. Ever. It isn’t stylistic. It’s pure ignorance.

It isn’t necessarily their fault. Our educational system is sorely lacking. They don’t teach grammar in public schools. If you don’t pick it up by reading book, how COULD you learn it?

And oh lord, PUNCTUATION. I swear everyone makes it up as they go along. My personal favorite is the    ,,,.    between what might be clauses, but isn’t a clause the guy who drops down the chimney with toys? No? 

People our age often leave out the subject of the sentence because we forgot to type it. But the younger ones? What’s their excuse? A good friend is (actually, now WAS) a college English professor. Every once in awhile, he’d show us what students turn in as essays. They truly do not know the difference between LOLWFOMA, TY, BRB, and what we used to call English. I don’t think we are setting a good example, either.

The other thing is that many young people have never read a book. Personally, I listen to audiobooks rather than reading, but I did read thousands of books before I moved to audio. So if my eyes are tired, they earned it.

One busy wall

Neither parents nor teachers forced them to read. Anyway, what with owning every electronic device ever made, what motivation do they have to read? You have to get them reading when they are young before they get hooked in electronics.

We spend millions on electronic devices that are outdated in six months — and don’t put any effort into convincing kids to read. Owen’s deal (from ME) when he was young was before he got an allowance or his bicycle, he had to turn in a book report — to me — every week. I didn’t care what he read, whether it was easy or difficult, but it had to be a BOOK.

Vineyard art – the second painting is the one from the book I gave to Owen.

Thus he fell in love with Stephen King, a love that still lingers, TinTin, Hardy Boys, and all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventures. He also loved anything with great illustrations and can take very excellent pictures when he remembers to have a camera — which is rare and rather frustrating. He has talent, but he works 50 hours a week or more, so I suppose that’s a bit limiting.

“How to Live With a Conniving Cat” was a favorite. When we summered on the Vineyard, we bought one of the original paintings done for that book. It was a piece of luck because the painter died while the exhibit was up. His family came and took all his paintings home. They refused to sell any of them. We have the only one that isn’t family-owned.

That was back “in the day” when we went to galleries and bought stuff! You know. Two salaries? Those WERE the days.

I gave the painting to Owen for his birthday. He really, really wanted it. Turns out, he also likes art. Kids like what they learn to like. If you don’t teach them, they don’t get it. Schools are only a piece of education. The rest comes from their home environment.

And yes, there still ARE libraries and they are still FREE. What’s more, there are art galleries in all kinds of places. You don’t have to buy things to go and look. And, oh yes. Museums!


P.S. I don’t have a problem with typos being pointed out, or for that matter, entirely missing words or pieces of paragraphs, or duplicated words. I have always worked best with an editor! I’d correct them myself if I noticed them.

HAPPY 187TH BIRTHDAY LOUISA MAY ALCOTT – Marilyn Armstrong

women's suffrage-2In an alternate universe, Louisa May Alcott would be 187 today. In my alternate universe, we all live — as a matter of course — to at least 200. And because of our extended life span, we are better custodians of our earth recognizing that we will have to live in the mess we make of tomorrow when we despoil our world today.

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist and poet, best known as the author of the novel Little Women (1868) and its sequels Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

Raised by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott in New England, she also grew up among many of the well-known intellectuals of the day such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.

Bronson Alcott was a dreamer, not an earner. The result was that her family went through extended periods of dire poverty and Louisa was required to work to help support the family from very early on.

louisa_may_alcott_5c_1940_stampPublished in 1868, Little Women is set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, later renamed Hillside, then the Wayside, in Concord, Massachusetts and is loosely based on an idealized portrait of Alcott’s childhood experiences growing up with her three sisters. Real life was much harder than the life she lived in “Little Women.”

“Little Women” was high successful almost immediately.

As Joan Goodwin explains, “from this point on Louisa May Alcott was a victim of her own success. Though she yearned to do more serious fiction, children’s books flowed from her pen for the rest of her life because their sales supported her family. Louisa herself wrote, “Twenty years ago, I resolved to make the family independent if I could. At forty that is done. Debts all paid, even the outlawed ones, and we have enough to be comfortable. It has cost me my health, perhaps; but as I still live, there is more for me to do, I suppose.”

Following in her mother’s path, Alcott pursued women’s rights with fervor, enlisting the aid of famous colleagues such as Thoreau and Hawthorne to her cause.

Goodwin goes on to write that now “Alcott gave her energy to practical reforms, women’s rights, and temperance. She attended the Women’s Congress of 1875 in Syracuse, New York, where she was introduced by Mary Livermore. She contributed to Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal while organizing Concord women to vote in the school election. ‘

“I was the first woman to register my name as a voter,’ she wrote. “Drove about and drummed up women to my suffrage meeting. So hard to move people out of the old ruts.” And again, “Helped start a temperance society much-needed in Concord]. I was the secretary, and wrote records, letters, and sent pledges, etc.”

orchard-house-contemporary

Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts

Louisa continued to publish children’s books, and in 1880, after her sister, May, died after childbirth, she adopted May’s baby who was named for Louisa, but called “Lulu.” In 1882, after her father suffered a stroke, Louisa settled the remaining members of her family at 10 Louisburg Square. Her own health was failing. It is generally believed from her pictures and other descriptions that she suffered from Lupus. There was little knowledge of Lupus at that time. No cure or medicine to lessen its impact. Louisa moved “from place to place in search of health and peace to write, settling at last in a Roxbury nursing home,” according to Joan Goodwin.

Jo March - By Madame Alexander

Jo March – By Madame Alexander

Her father, Bronson Alcott, who she faithfully tended even as her own health declined, died on March 4, 1888. Louisa outlived him by only two days. She passed away at age fifty-six.

She had known her death was near, despite her relative youth. She had adopted her widowed sister Anna’s son John Pratt to whom she willed her copyrights. Through him, all income from her books would be shared amongst her nieces and nephews — Anna, Lulu, John, and Anna’s other son Fred.

Louisa May Alcott never married, in part because the right person eluded her — but ultimately because she was unwilling to give up her freedom and personal power to a husband.

Louisa May Alcott was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord on “Author’s Ridge” near Thoreau and Emerson. A Civil War veteran’s marker graces her gravestone. During her lifetime, she produced nearly three hundred books, but the one almost everyone remembers is “Little Women.”

SEVEN GOOD READS – Rich Paschall

Books I Remember, by Rich Paschall

Recently a friend posted this to my facebook feed:

I have accepted the challenge from (a friend) to post the cover of 7 books I love. The challenge is one cover a day for 7 days. No explanations, no reviews, just the cover. Let’s promote literacy! Each day I will ask one friend to take up the challenge. Today on day 7 I nominate Rich Paschall.

My first reaction was to take a pass. I was thinking that I did not have the time for it. After looking over my friend’s choices for the week, however, I decided to give it a go. After all, I did not have to read anything new. I just needed to copy the text above, post the cover of a book and move on. I resisted all temptation at any explanation or responses to comments.

My plan was to list books that were memorable to me. The first that popped into my head would do. There was to be no drawing up lists and then picking favorites. I just posted them as they came to me. This was a little harder as I got to the end, but not for reasons you might expect.

Of all the books you have read in a lifetime that you thought were memorable, which would you pick? Which ones do you love, really love? I will give you the choices I posted on facebook, but with a few lines on each. If you have not read them, you might want to give them a chance. You don’t have to buy any. If you can not find them for free online, there are those old buildings known as libraries. Ours even has digital versions of books you can “check out” online.

Day 1.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I likely read this as a teenager, or perhaps early twenties. It was popular for high school and college classes at one time. At its core, it is a coming of age story. It shows the conflict between two close friends who have very different personalities. Their differences would naturally lend to disputes, as one drags the other along on his adventures. There was a fine movie version in 1972 for which Knowles worked on the screenplay.

Day 2.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. You may be familiar with the excellent movie starring Gregory Peck. The American Film Institute ranks it as one of the best films ever made. Peck won the Oscar. Even though it is a faithful adaptation, the book will offer you even more. It is a fascinating read dealing with complex and socially charged issues. You likely will not be able to put it down, even if you know where the story is headed.

Day 3.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. If you know anything about Hemingway’s life, you know you can find a bit of him in all his stories. That he would know and understand the toils of the old fisherman should be a given. The Pulitzer Prize-winning short novel will take you out to sea for the struggle. Like many great works of literature this also has a movie treatment.  Spencer Tracy gives a powerful performance as the aging fisherman.

Day 4.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The novel is long (760 pages) and rather complex. The political and social issues it tends to explore are likely best understood in light of his several earlier works. I had, in fact, read all of Pynchon’s work up to this point before venturing into the satiric novel regarding history and science.

Harry Potter library books

Day 5.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. You have to admit, it is the book that started the world reading books on paper again. If you are one of the few who skipped this fandom, I urge you to read it. The works are not just for young people, but for all who love fantasy and adventure. This is the first of 7 novels.

Here it got a little tricky. With only two left to post I started thinking of many possibilities. I wanted to go with “A Clockwork Orange” next. I found it a fascinating read in an uncomfortable sort of way. There was also “In The Flesh.” It’s the sensational Hollywood autobiography of poet Gavin Dillard that was also a bit uncomfortable. It named, or tried to avoid naming, some well-known celebrities on the seedy side of a sometimes seedy entertainment business. There were also a number of well-known classics to consider…but I digress. And that is oddly the point of the next choice.

Day 6.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. The amusing novel is told through a series of digressions and diversions. The reader must pay close attention in order to know exactly where he is at in the story. In the process, you learn little about Tristram as he goes off on tangents about family, friends, and others. The structure of the lengthy work may be due in part to being published in 9 volumes over an 8 year period.

Day 7.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The title refers to “the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns …” The novel deals with the issues of censorship and book burning and is set at some point in the future. In this story, the “fireman’s” job is to burn any books that are found. It is an effort to keep people from knowledge.

While some of these have excellent movie adaptations, no film treatment can match the magic of the books themselves.

See also: How Harry Potter Changed The World.”

 

RANDOM, SON OF OBERON AND PRINCE OF AMBER – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Random

It’s a beautiful day outside today. The temperature is down and so is the humidity. The sun is shining and I want to go take some pictures. I could sit here and think of something random to say about something or other. I have nothing on my mind in particular. I’m just grateful that the heat has broken for a couple of days.

The heat will be back by Monday, so I feel obliged to enjoy this one day. The world will have to manage without me. I’ve been stuck inside trying to avoid the heat and humidity. Now, I want to go out. Before it’s too hot, too rainy, too busy, too something or other.

Random was, by the way, my second favorite character in Zelazny’s “Amber Chronicle” series. If you’ve never read them, they are great. Every time I ride an escalator, I try to magic the world and shift closer to Amber. It was that kind of book.

My your life draw ever closer to Amber — the truest of all realities.

TASTE AND FREEDOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I have personal taste that tends toward humor and wit and some things that I find funny aren’t really funny, but I find them hilarious. I tend to overvalue wit and cleverness and at least a hint of humor.

I like what I like and often write about movies and books I enjoy. I love it when I help someone discover books or a movie they might like.

I also don’t mind if you don’t like what I like.

The last Session

Some people talk about how they believe everyone is entitled to believe what they want … but I actually mean it. There are things — news and political things — that I feel are completely wrong and while I would never force you or try to force you to believe as I do, I reserve the right to not talk to you about beliefs I feel are wrong … or evil.

I do believe in right and wrong. I don’t believe in a particular God or gods, but I think the devil is lurking behind every closed door. In fact, I think his hoofprints are all over this world and a lot of people have sold their souls to him. I think most of our senators and certainly our so-called president have sold their souls to him. It’s the only way I can explain their behavior.

But as for taste? If you read serious books you couldn’t pay me to open, that’s okay. Just don’t try to force me to read it. If I like bizarre British science fiction and it goes right over your head? That’s okay. You aren’t required to love it just because I do. You don’t need to like the same television shows, movies, books, or poetry.

I don’t care if you are a Republican as long as you innoculate your children and don’t try to convert me.

The elephant in the room

Okay, that’s not true. I have trouble coping with anyone who thinks caging children is okay because they have brown skins and don’t speak English. My heart bleeds for those people and there is no way I can reconcile myself to people who don’t care and feel the value of everything can be reckoned using dollar signs.

I guess that’s where I draw the line — my line between good and evil.

THE DEATH KNELL OF GREAT AMERICAN LITERATURE – Marilyn Armstrong

Many (maybe most) manuscripts are never are “trendy” or popular enough for today’s publishers. As far as publishers go, no matter how well-written or interesting the plot or characters are if it isn’t a genre they sell, it doesn’t exist.

A Kindle and a speaker for listening to audiobooks

Many genres do not fit in any publisher’s predetermined categories. This is not only true for beginners to the field but is equally true for those who have published — successfully published — eight or nine books, including more than one bestseller. Publishers want their authors to keep writing what they wrote before and not veer from it. They also don’t want to pay real money. Or provide publicity, advertisements, or even a professional proofreader.

I’m not making this up.

I know several well-published popular authors who fell out of favor because they wanted to try something different. They weren’t less good at writing, but publishers want books by an author to be the same as the previous one. The one that sold well. If this is something new, then they do not want it.

They also don’t like first manuscripts from mature people because they want nice young authors who will be able to churn out books for a long time and not be stopped by getting old. I also know a number of these authors, too.

I worked in publishing back when all the books being published weren’t “niche” books. When a relatively rough manuscript could get someone’s attention (back when people read manuscripts, not software), and it was the job of editors to help fix manuscripts and turn something rough into a gem. Long before “Kindle” and free publication, they had already thinned the ranks of editors to nearly nothing — and decided the author should do the work the publisher used to do.

In part, this accounts for the many atrocious books they actually DO publish and the good books they ignore. It isn’t only the author’s failure to recognize what the publisher wants. It’s that publishers no longer want to help authors get published.

What was art is now “just business.”

Does anyone think Hemingway, Faulkner, or Thomas Wolfe would have gotten published without their editor’s help? Maxwell Perkins — ever heard of him? Because he was “the man.” Without him, half of America’s great literature wouldn’t exist. Were they less brilliant because they weren’t good editors — or didn’t have the financial means to hire a quality editor? Nope. They were what they were but the industry is entirely different.

Publishers refuse to admit it is really a business issue. It’s not art. It’s business, politics, and aiming books at what they perceive are their target audiences, ignoring all other potential audiences. It was not always like this and I was working in the business when it was not like this.

Everyone is very busy blaming someone else for the state of the business. It’s the Internet, or Amazon or “nobody reads books anymore.” None of them ever looks in a mirror and says “Maybe our failure to help authors work out problems with their manuscripts, give them some decent publicity and help them make some real money is at least in part OUR responsibility too?” It’s true that fewer people seem to read now than did when I was growing up, yet most people do read at least sometimes.

The publishing world is undergoing a huge transformation and we are in the middle of it. How it will end? I don’t know. But just because publishers say what they say, you don’t need to believe every corporate word they utter.

You can write the most glorious, delicious book ever written for whatever genre for which you write and no publishing house will so much as read it, much less publish it. Why? Because it doesn’t fit into their (usually) very short list of “the types of books we publish.” That, to me, is the death knell for great American literature. It leaves no room for the unique or unusual.

This may not be true in other countries. I don’t know. I do know this market.

If only the “tried and true” can get published, the unique and possibly brilliant will never have a chance.

EDUCATION AND HOMEWORK – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Homework

This is a little rant about schools, educational funding, underpaid, exhausted teachers, outdated textbooks, and overpriced colleges lacking state and federal backing.

In the years since I graduated from college in 1967, I’ve been watching what was a mediocre school system get much worse. I see legally required fancy buildings which offer little real education. Each year, it gets worse. Do we care about education or is it just something we like to to talk about? Do we want our kids to be able to compete in the world?


I pretty much never did my homework. To be fair, back in those golden olden days, teachers didn’t check to see if you did it either. You might get tested on it at some point later in the term, but if the information was covered in class, I’d remember it. Back then, I had a great memory. I prided myself on not having to write down phone numbers. I could remember all of them.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Now, no matter how often I use a phone number, other than my own and my son’s, I have to look it up. I may not remember it long enough to not have to look it up a few times while trying to make the call. Time. It does its thing. I have maybe 15 seconds between getting information and it disappearing like the breeze in the trees.

I swear kids these days get homework intended to make up for not getting taught anything in school. Apparently, they are supposed to learn on their own what their teachers are too tired, bored, or incapable of teaching.

Leslie commented the other day that there are some great movies that could be used in the classroom. There are, absolutely. Inherit The Wind. On The Waterfront. The Lion In Winter. A wide variety of well-done historical documentaries and movies. But they aren’t used.

Harvard – Photo: B. Kraft

What they are getting is dry, dull textbooks, many of which were out of date when they were written fifty years ago. I never cracked a textbook. I just read on my own and I had a mother who loaded me down with books and a library that was a mere mile away. I remember toting home the maximum limit of books they’d let you borrow in a week. Ten books. They were heavy books, but I was young.

High School, really

For a country that supposedly values education, this country has a  strange way of showing it. Every year, when we begin to run out of budgeted money, states and the feds cut school budgets.

You can’t make a great country from a nation of ignoramuses. Yes, if your parents have the money, they might be able to send you to a superior school and if the child is smart enough, he or she might really benefit from a better education. But there are also a lot of private schools that are essentially “pay tuition for good grades.” Send your kids there. Pay the fabulous tuition and they’ll get grades which should get them into college.

Hofstra in 2014

Colleges have gotten smarter, though. They test incoming kids to make sure they can read and understand what they’ve read. They make sure they have basic maths skills. They check science education. This isn’t to make sure they are brilliant, but to make sure have a basic grasp of English. To see if they can understand the concepts of what they’ve read because — as an English professor I know has pointed out, many kids not only don’t read but can’t.

They don’t know grammar because it isn’t taught in public schools and hasn’t been since before I started school in 1951. They don’t know the parts of speech, have no concept of punctuation, and can’t do anything resembling research because when all of the preceding is true, how can you research anything? If you don’t understand what you’ve read, you can’t move forward.

Let me state for the record this is not the fault of the kids. It’s OUR fault for allowing education to become so bad in so many places and so expensive everywhere else. Only the brightest and most individually motivated youngsters manage to rise above the system.

I know not every child from every family is going to be a scholar, but shouldn’t every child have that opportunity? If they have the smarts and the interest, shouldn’t it be possible?

P.S. 35, Queens

Loading them up with eight hours of homework while loading them down with 50-pounds of boring, timeworn textbooks is a total educational cop-out. The schools I went to weren’t fabulous, but the teachers knew something. They encouraged us. If we showed promise, there was always a teacher who’d give us a nudge, suggest we try a little harder and get better.

These days? Working (briefly) as a substitute I was appalled at how listless and bored the students were. They were thrilled to have someone in the classroom that could talk to them about anything. I was told that usually, all they did was read the textbooks until the bell rang. I’d have collapsed from boredom.

We wonder why they spend so much time on the phone or iPad or computer? That’s how they learn. But what are they learning?