Reading as a different person

Rereading the same book produces new insights because the reader is a different person. Indeed, a good book is much like a mirror: the glass is the same year after year, but the reflection in it changes over time. (Christopher B. Nelson)


I am not a grammar goddess

I am not a grammar goddess.

Mistakes in syntax and spelling do not magically jump off the page and dance before my eyes when I read. I do not diagram sentences in my sleep. I can never remember the difference between “that” and “which” and I am unable to use the word “whom” with any amount of confidence.

Perhaps that’s just as well. To quote one of my college professors, “If you use the word ‘whom’ in everyday conversation, you’ll have no friends.” She was kidding, of course. But the truth is, if you’re one of those people who is overly pedantic about grammar, it will start to wear on your friends.

That’s not to say that I don’t care about grammar. I do. I notice when people say “I could care less” instead of “I couldn’t care less” and when people spell the possessive form of “its” with an apostrophe.I have passionate opinions about the Oxford comma (use it, please, use it).

(Quick tip regarding “its” versus “it’s”: the apostrophe means that a letter has been left out, in this case the “i” in “is.” When you use the word “it’s,” the sentence should still make sense if you replace it with the words “it is.” You’re welcome.)

There are two reasons to care about proper grammar: using it helps people to understand you and gives you credibility. When you’re writing a paper, creating a resume or polishing a business proposal, you want people the take you seriously and not be distracted by errors you’ve made.

If I had used “your” instead of “you’re” in the previous sentence, some of you might not have noticed, but I guarantee at least one person would have been seriously bothered by the mistake. I don’t get a lot of “grammar Nazi” comments on my blog posts (thanks guys!), but you only have to scan the comments on a YouTube video or a news article to see the denizens of the Internet correcting other people’s grammar (and usually ignoring everything else they have to say).

Using correct grammar helps you create the best possible impression, but sometimes, especially in a low-stakes context like the Internet, we’re going to type faster than we think. We’re going to post comments without rereading them. We’re not going to have perfect grammar. And that’s okay.

My philosophy has always been that if you can understand someone (that is, if their writing is legible to you) and you aren’t in a position where grammar feedback is requested, why do you care? No one appointed me the grammar police of the Internet (or of offline life either, for that matter).

I am not a grammar goddess. However, if you do want to improve your grammar, my advice is READ. Knowing how to diagram a sentence or name the parts of speech is good, but it may not be as helpful to you in the long run as the ability to read a sentence and hear whether it “sounds right.”

Read people who craft their sentences with technical accuracy, and mimic them. Don’t be afraid to look up the answers when you have questions about usage. There are good reference books and lots of online resources as well. (You may be surprised at the number of people who have googled “there vs their” or “well being vs well-being”). Then write, and put your best self on the page. That’s all you can ever hope to do.



My Favorite Words

My favorite word is insipid:

not interesting or exciting : dull or boring

lacking strong flavor  (Merriam Webster)

Or perhaps my favorite word is serendipity:

luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for (Merriam Webster)

Almost everyone has words they are particularly fond of, without know quite why. Words that catch in our brains and bump gently around inside, surfacing at random times. Words that we love for their mellifluous feel in our mouths and their seductive tickling in our ears.

Mellifluous, by the way, is ranked among people’s top ten favorite words, along with serendipity, defenestration, kerfuffle, discombobulated, and persnickety. (Check out the full article here if you’re curious about the other words and their ranks in the top ten).

What’s your favorite word (or words)? Let me know!

Library Magic

Today I walked to the library and got my first library card. My first library card as an adult, that is. I’ve had a library card for the library in my home town since I was old enough to write my own name, but this is the first time I’ve walked into a library by myself and filled out the paperwork required for a card.

I’d almost forgotten how magical a library is, and how addictive. As soon as I walked in the door, I saw DVDs for several movies I wanted to see this summer, but hadn’t gotten around to while they were still in theaters. I saw a new Agatha Cristie story I’d never read. I saw an acclaimed biography of Lucrezia Borgia. And I knew then that if I didn’t get my library card and check them out immediately, I would find more to read than I had time for.

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When I was a kid, my mother took us to the library regularly during the summer. (We didn’t go as often during the school year, because she claimed we’d never get our school work done if we had an entire library of books to distract us. She may have been right.) We checked out stacks and stacks of books and read them voraciously.

I loved the library, even though it wasn’t in the greatest part of town and didn’t have the budget for shelves of new books. I read old science fiction and all of the little-known sequels to “The Wizard of Oz” that I could get my hands on (there’s 20+ of them, if you can believe it). There were some books that I must have checked out four or five times when all was said and done. I’ve always been fond of re-reading.

Since I’m no longer a kid with a seemingly endless summer vacation, I exhibited remarkable self control today and only left with three items. I was tempted to call one of my friends and gush about my new library card and the books I’d found (I know, I’m such a nerd) but I restrained myself. I’m writing a blog post instead 😛

Seven signs of a book lover

1) When you go on a trip, you spend more time planning what books to bring than you do planning what clothes to pack.

2) When you go to people’s houses for the first time, you surreptitiously check out their bookcases as soon as possible to see what kinds of books they read.

rows of books

The books on the shelf can tell you a lot about a person


3) Every time you go to a bookstore, you leave with at least one book.

4) You have a Goodreads account and/or a list of books you desperately want to read.

5) The public librarians know your name and your reading habits.

6) You collect editions of classic books rather than stamps or insects or things like that.

7) Your family and friends know that the one gift that will make you truly happy is a good book.