words

Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

02 July 2007

Editing, the Rant, a Question, and a Proposal

By working like a crazywoman and making myself unavailable to my bored daughter (Charlotte went off to a class on the Enlightenment at Duke and left Lulu alone and feckless) and a crank to my patient husband, I got the food memoir edited exactly on my deadline. When I sent it in, I immediately got back one of those automated email replies that my editor would be out of town until 9 July. I would have had, in other words, another week and a half, had I known.

I'm glad, though. It's done. I can—and need to—work on other things. And I like the work I did: Minus the 16,000 words I cut—and the resultant rearranging I had to do to cut so much—the book is a more successful narrative, as a whole, more integrally a book.

It seems to me that ought be a metaphor for something: that cutting about a tenth of the book's length improved it so much. Like cleaning house, I suppose. Or losing weight. Or weeding. All of which has been going on in my life of late. I haven't lost 10% of my weight yet, but I'm past halfway--thanks to my new habit of running (i.e. jogging) 3 miles every other day. And Kris has cleaned out the garage and the two studies. It is interesting to consider how invigorating loss can be.

In the editing process, I learned that I don't like diatribes and that I am given to them. It is something I can now be alert to, like clichés. It's funny to learn this now, so late in my teaching career. And also to learn it right after having read an interesting book—Lad Tobin's Reading Student Writing—in which the author recommends the "rant" as a legitimate form. I had been thinking I would assign a rant the next time I taught English 1. But then I read aloud a chapter from the food memoir to Lulu—she was sick, so she wanted me to read to her—and found myself getting bored not two paragraphs into it, even before Lulu said anything. Rants, I would argue, are never interesting. As essayist Rebecca Solnit writes in "Locked Horns," "Everyone's encountered bad divorces, noise-obsessed neighbors, monomaniacs who let a grievance take over their lives to the exclusion of everything else, a sort of psychological starvation." A rant is an indulgence in just this sort of monomania, resulting, I would argue, in not only psychological but intellectual starvation—i.e., boredom. One becomes, that is, a bore. And, now that I think of it, students of writing, if they have anything to say at all, don't have to be taught how to rant. Ranting comes naturally to the best of us. So I won't be teaching it.

Tobin's book is worth reading, though. It represents what he refers to as a hybrid of academic and personal writing on the subject of teaching writing—or, well, on one aspect of teaching writing: how to think about and value (but not evaluate, mind you) student writing. It's not a terrifically practical book on teaching writing. In fact, more than anthing else, it is a defense of the hybrid writing he practices. Such a defense is warranted in our field, perhaps, but he sounds defensive in making it, which is unfortunate. I've been getting away with a hybrid of academic writing and personal writing since I was an undergraduate and have been promoting it in the classroom for coming up on thirty years (shudder). I kind of wished, as I read, that he would just do it and get on with it, rather than expend so much effort and, well, ranting on how it's a worthwhile way of writing.

Anyway, currently in the garden: every sort of squash, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and unripe tomatoes. Now to think about Jesus's parables.

(This post feels more like a typical blog than usual, to me: formless, solipsistic, wandering. I don't think I like it. Verzeiht!)

Oh. One last thing. Two matters of usage interested me in revising my book: One is the question of whether or not to capitalize the first word of a complete sentence that follows a colon (as here), and the other is whether or not the pronounced s of a possessive following an s should be included, as in "Jesus's parables." Both usages—which I was taught and which I, on occasion, also mention in class—seem to be in flux, at the moment. What are your thoughts? Although both rules are still found in usage manuals, Kris, a stickler for correct usage, disputes and never even heard of the sentence capitalization following a colon rule, and every source I find on apostrophe usage, even those that promote the phonologically determined rule I was taught, seems to make an exception for Jesus's. It's all esoteric, as my publisher will have its own rules that will be the final word, but it interests me nonetheless.

One last last thing. I'm about to read another Anita Brookner novel, The Next Big Thing, as soon as I can get it through special order at Barnes & Noble or through interlibrary loan. I also have Marilyn Robinson's Gilead on my bedside table and want to reread Housekeeping—one of my favorite books ever—soon. Anyone want to join me by reading concurrently and exchanging thoughts?

8 comments:

Katy said...

Hi Mrs. Kirk,

Since you asked about my writing job, I work for a community newspaper in a suburb just north of Dallas. I write about city councils and kids who send care packages to troops and senior citizens who take self-defense classes, among other things. In a couple of weeks, I will get to write a story about all the kiddies and grown-ups alike who go to the Harry Potter parties on the night of the book's release, so I obviously cover quite a range of stuff.

Still hoping and praying for the dream job at a bigger newspaper one of these days, but I'm sure that will come in time. I also blog to keep me somewhat sane (some might say insane) and work part time at a restaurant since journalism is not at all lucrative. Bygones. At least I'm doing what I want to do.

I like the blog because it allows me to write about whatever I want. It's a relief on those days when I have to write police stories or cover stuff I'm not interested. I mostly write about silly things, but, admittedly, try to write about my faith sometimes. Mostly that consists of me going "huh?" in response to something I've encountered here in my evangelical Bible Belt bubble. =)

Congrats on meeting your deadline! It is such a good feeling, though I'm sure you will soon have another to look forward to.

Spring said...

I worked for an editing group the summer before my senior year of college, and there I learned that (I believe according to the Chicago Manual of Style) Jesus possessive never takes an extra "s." For whatever reason, that one "s" is all Jesus ever needs.

Good to see you blogging again. We missed you!

Spring said...

Dammit, clearly I didn't read your post very well before jumping in and commenting. I do that sometimes. I just get so excited about apostrophes!

I would love to read one of those books with you, by the way. It'll probably have to be whichever one you choose to do last. Regrettably, my life is caught up in Harry Potter for the next few weeks. I've got to re-read 5 and 6 and then I've got to tackle 7. I honestly don't think I'm ready for 7 yet, but I'll be damned if someone tells me what happens before I read it for myself. That happened to Chad with 6. The entire book was ruined for him with three little words.

I started re-reading 5 last night in the bathtub (Harry Potter books, by the way, make for terrible bathtub reads due to their size and weight.) It's funny; I'm coming off a stint of two back-to-back Pulitzer winners (and Gilead is one, too, isn't it?), Empire Falls and Middlesex, and a John Irving, The World According to Garp. When I began re-reading Harry Potter 5 last night, I was very aware for the first time while reading a HP book that they're written for children. All those questions Rowling asks were quite jarring. Though I'm quite sure no one's ever read Harry Potter for the literary value.

Let me know where you're at with your reading around the last week of July. That should be about when I'm ready to do some good ol' adult reading again.

Katy said...

I finally had time to look up the Associated Press style on this. Not that you particularly care about AP style (I actually don't know what style you prefer), but it's my favorite. Seems like every style book has a different rule.

For non-proper possessive nouns, you add only an apostrophe if the next word in the sentence begins with an 's.' As in the hostess' seat. If the next word doesn't begin with an 's,' add an apostrophe and another 's' at the end of the word, as in the church's need.

However, for proper nouns like Jesus or Achilles or Dickens, only add an apostrophe to form the possessive. I guess that's because AP style is so much about clarity and simplicity and less is more, so it maybe the reasoning is adding another 's' is a waste of space. I love AP style.

Patty Kirk said...

Thanks for the discussion of apostrophes. I guess there is no better reason to end Jesus s

Patty Kirk said...

Thanks for the apostrophe discussion. I guess there's no better reason to end the possessive of Jesus with no s beyond tradition. I hate that there're exceptions for certain words. I want a blanket rule that applies in all situations, like the phonetic rule that I was taught. The AP rule mirrors it, more or less, but translates the phonetic impulse into a special rule for when a word beginning with an s comes after. Maybe I should go with Dave Barry's apostrophe rule: You use them to alert the reader that an s is coming.

Neither of you weighed in on the capitalization following the colon rule (as in the Dave Barry sentence). What say?

Spring said...

I used to have strong opinions about capitalization, and now I don't know anything about anything.

I think I've capitalized the first letter of the word following a colon only once, and it felt pretty damn good that time. I capitalized it because it seemed as though it really was a new sentence, as is the case with your example sentence in your post. I suppose capitalization in this case could also be used to delineate a complex sentence.

johnshore said...

Hey,Patty. I'm glad to come across your blog! Greg Johnson is my agent, too--and I, too, keep a blog (at http://johnshore.wordpress.com/). I also co-authored a book about punctuation ("Comma Sense," the paperback of which I just got in today, actually), so figured I'd weigh in.

You put the apostrophe after a word that ends in "s" if, in SPEAKING that word, you would pronounce--or easily pronounce--that second "s." So "Jones's," but "Schniedeckes'." The thing about not putting an apostrophe after Jesus ("Jesus' teachings") is just standard/tradition/the way it's always been done.

You can either capitalize a full sentence after a colon, or not. There's no firm rule there; it's a "house" call. I do. Magazines usually/often do; newspapers almost never do.

And there's that ... bit. Anyway, good to visit your blog! I haven't read your book yet, but I was with Greg just a day or two after you guys met with the Nelson honchos about it, and he was very pleased with Nelson's feelings about it. So that was great! Hope your second book goes as well as your first seems to have done!