Tag Archives: books

Grammar Nerd turns Grammar Scold . . . sorry, not sorry

The purpose of today’s post is to blow the whistle on all the self-professed Grammar Nerds who persist in publishing their work without the benefit of a good proofreader.

You know who you are. And if you don’t, consider taking my advice, anyway. Think of it as an insurance policy you might buy before enrolling in an underwater first aid class in shark-infested waters.

Apostrophe book

Punctuation can be amusing. Thank you, Sue Brooks, for this fun and helpful book.

I recently sent a Facebook message to a friend (who probably unfriended me minutes later) who I met at an Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop a couple of years ago. I was laughing out loud and thoroughly enjoying her book . . . but trying to ignore a puzzling tendency to place apostrophes and commas where they weren’t needed.

Then, in an essay talking about this very subject, there was a homophone in the very first paragraph. I won’t even use the actual words, but it would be as apparent to you (and to the writer) if someone were to use the word “died” instead of “dyed.” Yeah. It was glaringly obvious.

How did this intelligent, witty, excellent writer miss such a mistake? She likely overlooked it because she was excited about getting her story down, tapping away on the keyboard maniacally. That’s often a sign that we’re doing some of our best writing, right? She missed it because even when she went back to proof her story, her mind was focused on the tale itself. She was evaluating the content, not the WORDS. She missed it because it is damn near impossible to proofread your own work. That takes fresh eyes determined to focus on the words and structure – not the content.

Years ago I was an assistant, then associate editor on a trade magazine called “Beverage Industry.” Oh. My. Goodness. Best job ever! I worked with three incredibly talented guys and we laughed as hard as we worked. If the pay hadn’t been peanuts, I never would have moved on to the next phase of my life. Man. Do you sometimes wonder what might have happened if you’d zigged instead of zagged?

Anyhoo, so the guys I worked with taught me so much and were far better journalists than I. But . . . they sucked at proofreading. These were the days before spell check (which gives writers a false sense of security – do NOT rely on spell check) and every article we wrote for the monthly magazine had to be proofread by two other people before it could be submitted to print.


Tolstoy chess

Tolstoy didn’t need to proofread his work. He had publishing houses and typesetters doing that. He could sit around in the yard and play chess with his kids instead.

We all discovered that I had a talent for catching errors (more about that in a second). I’d proof my little heart out and the guys’ copy would be as clean as the proverbial whistle. But guess whose work tended to have mistakes? Yeah. Mine. For two reasons:  as mentioned, it’s very, very hard to see your own mistakes. And second, the guys got used to me finding our bloopers, stopped trying quite so hard, and my own stories suffered from the lack of careful attention. I scolded them. They got better. Life was good.

This sounds like I’m bragging about my proofreading prowess, right? Well, here’s the funny thing. My paternal grandmother was a proofreader! Marie only had a high school education, but the nuns thought she was smart and recommended her for a secretarial program (we’re talking about 1915, folks).  Eventually her proofreading abilities came to light and before she retired, she had been employed for some years by a publishing firm in that position. This has led me to believe (and the past tense of lead is led – always – otherwise you’re talking about the filling in a pencil) that being able to proofread is possibly some sort of genetic gift.

Grammar Nazi from Imgflip

What do you think? I mean, it seems like we all know someone intelligent who can’t spell worth a damn, right? There you go. You can be a great writer but a lousy proofreader, or vice versa.

So, what I’d like to say to everyone who is thinking about self-publishing a book, or submitting an article to a publication, or in any way putting their precious writing out there for others to see, for God’s sake, pay or barter for a proofreader to review your work before you go to print.

You are not immune to the problem. Neither am I. I have a book idea and I promise you here and now, I will not send it out to anyone before I’ve paid someone to proof my work. That’s not the same as an editor, by the way. That’s another ball of wax, right?

And here’s what I’m offering to anyone who took the time to read this far. If you’re writing something small-ish and want someone to proofread (not edit) it, I’ll do it at no charge if all the stars align and our timing syncs. I’m not offering to proof an entire book. You need to pay a professional for that. But I’ll be glad to read your short story or magazine article. I’m not a pro, but I’m pretty passionate about clean copy.

Stephen King guitar

Stephen King doesn’t have to proofread, either. Maybe if we get rich and famous we can play in a band instead of doing the grunt work, too.

So there you go. There are people who will say that the message is all that matters. I’ve heard of English teachers telling students that, for crying out loud!

I say bullshit.

If you’re going to write your heart out, don’t let yourself down with little errors that you’d easily catch if you were reading someone else’s work.

Believe you’re worth it. I do.

Paper or plastic?

As a writer and lover of books, I’m so conflicted about technology and how we read books now. When I first got an e-reader, the Canadian Kobo brand, I vowed I’d only use it to read books when I travel. As a compulsive reader, when I knew I’d be spending many hours in planes and airports, I would pack three or four books to see me through a ten-day trip. That’s a lot of extra weight in your luggage!

My Kindle

My Kindle

My son Chris actually forgot the Kobo in the seatback pocket on a flight from Paris to Rome (wow – how fancy pants does THAT sound?! If only we were truly the jetsetters that kind of comment might imply.). So for Christmas that year I treated myself to a Kindle Fire. And now, dear readers, I’m hooked.

I still go to the wonderful Madison Public Library pretty regularly, but honestly? I’m afraid my days of buying actual hardcover or paperback books are over, at least when it comes to novels, memoirs, etc. – books you’re likely to read once, and that’s it. Now, a how-to book of any kind where you might want to flip back and forth and re-read sections, refer to directions, and so on, still works best in paper, at least for me. If I actually were to read the directions on my Kindle to learn how the bookmarks work, I might change my mind. However, at present, if I want to go back to search for anything on my Kindle I’m pretty much SOL.

The exception to that rule, for me, is the cookbook. I am by no means a great, or even good, cook. I’m not especially inventive and I don’t find passing time in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes to be particularly entertaining. I’d usually rather read a book by Michael Ruhlman or Anthony Bourdain ,or perhaps watch a DVR’d’ episode of“Top Chef,” than puzzle out a recipe that, in my hands, may turn out to be inedible, anyway.

Having said that, you won’t be surprised to learn that I haven’t cracked open a cook bookscookbook in ages.  But . . . I am probably cooking more new foods than I ever have before due to television and the internet! The last time I bought a cookbook, I’m not sure the Food Network even existed. I definitely wasn’t on Facebook or Pinterest. Nowadays, if I try a new recipe, it’s because I saw something that looked amazing on TV (and then searched for directions online), or someone posted a recipe with a mouth-watering photo on Facebook or Pinterest (I am SO trying those Snickerdoodle muffins – thanks, Cindy W.!). And if I want to find out how to make something, I generally Google it and just choose whichever recipe looks good and appears to be within the feeble grasp of my limited culinary expertise.

So are we fast approaching the point where actual, physical books will become extinct? While I sincerely hope that’s not the case, here I am with my Kindle. Here I am with a device that not only contains as many books as I probably have on the shelves in my living room, but that also  allows me to hop onto the internet to refer back to projects and directions I’ve posted to Pinterest, or maybe even to search for a demonstration on how to make a decent pie crust on YouTube.

But wait. There’s more. Here I am, writing to my heart’s content in a public forum. I have no idea how many (read: few) people read this, but regardless – it’s my creative outlet and I love doing it. I could be chit-chatting to myself in a journal that no one would read and no editor would ever publish, but instead, I can share this with you at no cost or risk to myself or a publishing house. I have to tell you, I’m really grateful for that. Thank you, WordPress! Thank you, anyone who is reading!

It used to be that if you called yourself a writer but had nothing published, well . . . really? Sure, buddy. The internet allows a host of talented writers (and plenty of not-so-talented writers, but if you love to write – so what?) the opportunity to put their words out there, whether they ever make a dime for their efforts or not. Going public takes some courage. And at the same time, it is so amazingly rewarding to hear just from one person now and then who says, “nice job!”

But back to paper vs. screen, I’m still conflicted. As much as I love the physicality of books, I suppose that what matters is the essence of the material, the writing itself. I love interesting information, whether it’s the story of a young man’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador (I’m reading that now: The Gringo by J. Grigsby Crawford) or how to train my dogs to sit and STAY (an ongoing process that requires much patience on my part). I am in awe of brilliant fiction. Here are just two novels I’ve recently read and loved:  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and The Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (both purchased for  my Kindle library, BTW).

Does it matter if we read these things on paper or on a screen? Or is the important part simply the act of reading and loving the written word?

What do you think?

I’m the nerdy girl with her nose in a book

I don’t really understand why people take the time to search for stock photos and sayings to post on Facebook. The pictures may be cute or funny or majestic or whatever. And yes, the sayings are certainly clever or moving or funny or entertaining. I’m not saying they aren’t good in and of themselves. But I don’t understand why people go looking for all this stuff they didn’t write or photograph to post under their names.

I’d rather know how your tomatoes are doing this season or that your cat just coughed up a hairball on your pillow and, eeuw. You know? Tell me something real, even if it’s mundane.

But then my friend Sarah posted this one, and it struck a nerve:

A Facebook post I could relate to

That is so ME. It is so me, I posted it again, despite the fact that I claim NOT to be in favor of posting other people’s jokes or words of wisdom. I promise not to make this a new habit, but I had to not only post this, but also even BLOG about it. You know I had to be impressed.

Anyway, I’m not actually planning to sit outside to read today, but if I were inclined to spend some time outdoors, reading would be my preferred activity. Reading is my preferred activity indoors when it’s snowing or raining. It is my preferred activity on a plane. It is my preferred activity in bed before I go to sleep. When I am traveling for business, I can’t wait to get back to my hotel room at the end of the day, put on my jammies, and read.

As I write this, I think of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” I would read books in a car. I would read books at a bar. I would read in my blue chair. I would read most anywhere.

When I was a little girl, some of the best days at school were when the teachers handed out small catalogs just filled with books we could order – for our very OWN! I would agonize over the lists and descriptions of books. How many would my mom let me order? How on earth could I narrow it down to the limit imposed by her? And when the books arrived weeks later . . . euphoria! Do you remember those catalogs? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

I loved libraries so much, I can close my eyes and clearly see the children’s section in the old downtown Geneva Library where I spent countless hours as a kid. These homes for books are precious, and I visit the wonderful Madison Library regularly to load up on reading material. I love the smell of books. I love the shelves jammed with fat books and skinny books, their spines in every color of the rainbow and each title more intriguing than the next. I love looking at the shelves with the newest books. What gem might I find there? Will I be lucky enough to run across a novel that just got a great review in the Sunday paper? (If not, I’ll go online and order the ones I’m dying to read through ClevNet and wait for the electronic message telling me a copy is waiting for me at my library).

If being a reader is being a nerdy girl, then I am SO that nerdy girl! There was a time in junior, then senior high school when I tried to fit in and be part of what I thought was the “cool” crowd. I certainly didn’t admit to reading anything just for the pleasure of reading. At the time, induction into National Honor Society was conducted at a surprise assembly in front of the whole school. I remember thinking my cover was blown when my name was called during that assembly junior year. Crap. My inner nerd was on display for all to see as I stumbled up to accept the pin or certificate or whatever they gave us, my parents smiling in the audience. I kind of felt like a phony in either camp, to tell the truth.

Anyhoo. It’s too damned hot to sit outside and read. This summer has been brutal! But here’s what I’m reading at the moment:  “My Korean Deli” by Ben Ryder Howe. Very funny, so far. Last night I read a little book about dachshunds and chunks of the book by Cesar whoever, the Dog Whisperer (no information helpful with Mick and his random pooping, I might add).

If you love to read, too, why don’t you join me on www.goodreads.com? For book fanatics like me, it’s kind of fun to try to keep a list of what you’ve read, keep another list of books you keep meaning to read (I finally remembered to bring it to the library with me yesterday and picked up “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” to read next), and to see what other people are reading and recommending.

And if you have any great suggestions, post them right here in the comments! Nerdy girls (and guys) rock, don’t you think?