Posts Tagged grammar

“I Couldn’t Put It Down”

Have you ever read a book you liked so much you said to yourself (or to someone else), “I just couldn’t put it down”?  You meant, of course, that you liked the book so much you kept reading even though you had other things to do, but couldn’t tear yourself away.  I’ve read a few books like that, though most books I’ve read were of the “I can put this book down and get on with my life any time” type.  Right now I’m reading a book that, at the very least, approaches that “couldn’t put it down” status, if it doesn’t stand squarely within it.  The book is Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  It was first published in 1986, but has gained some attention in the past few months because the repressive ultra-conservative society it portrays has struck some people as similar to the path our conservative government has begun to take us down.  Whether that’s true or not, I leave to history to decide.

This blog post is not intended to be a review of the book, but rather a brief examination of the factors that contribute to the “couldn’t put it down” concept.  What makes a book so good you enjoy reading it so much you’d rather read it than do something else?  Many books I’ve read—in fact most—I could put down at almost any time, but “The Handmaid’s Tale” is too exciting to do that.  The last book(s) that took my attention into the story to that degree were Connie Willis’s dual set about the Battle of Britain, “Blackout” and “All Clear,” even though I’ve read a number of other books in the meantime.  Why should this be?

I think several things have to come together to contribute to a book to that extent.  First, the writing.  The writing has to be above reproach; smooth and free of points that take you away from the story.  As you read, you’re immersed in the story, and nothing comes along that is unclear, unreadable, or varies from the author’s style.  The English grammar is fundamentally impeccable.  Actually, Ms. Atwood uses an inordinate number of commas, many in positions I wouldn’t, but that hasn’t seemed to bother me.  Very early on I began to overlook them and haven’t looked back.  The writing still flows in spite of them.

Second, the subject matter has to interest the reader, and more than to just a small degree.  As I mentioned, our political climate today has induced some people to make comparisons between the book and the present government.  I’m not sure I agree with them to the extreme extent they’re willing to go, but I can see their point.  As a result, the book has aroused my attention and I want to see what all the fuss is about.  I’m interested and want to know more.  That’s the same reason I liked Connie Willis’s books; I have a great interest in World War II, and I enjoyed reading her take on it.

Third, I believe there is the undefinable.  Everything “comes together” in these books.  The writing, the subject, the author’s style—they all meld together to produce a book that for a few people becomes fascinating to the point of delight or enchantment.  That’s good, but that’s not something that can be quantified or dissected.  That situation is precisely what a writer wants to achieve.  Really.  I just hope my books reach that point for a few people.

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All-Time Worst

This is an admittedly unscientific poll, but I’ve noticed over the years that the most common grammatical error across all types of writings seems to be the confusion of the word “you’re,” with the word “your.”  Most of the time it occurs as the use of “your” when the writer meant “you’re.”  But it pops up everywhere.  I’ve seen it in all sorts of writings, especially on Facebook posts and in other places where the writer was either in a hurry or didn’t stop to proofread his/her writing.  Even once on a Post-It Note.  Not long ago I saw it in a commercial on TV.  And that’s someplace where the error was shown nationwide.  All because the writer (and the marketing or advertising firm behind the commercial) either didn’t proofread or didn’t know one of the simplest of grammatical rules.

At the risk of boring those of you reading this with some information you already know, the word “you’re” is a contraction for “you are.”  As in, “You’re my sweetheart.”  (After all, today is Valentine’s Day.)  On the other hand, the word “your” indicates possession or ownership, such as,  “Here’s your valentine today.”  That shouldn’t be too difficult to remember.

I’m not so sure that many of the errors we see of this type are because writers don’t know the difference, and I suspect many do, but I wonder if the main reason is that sometimes people don’t think about what they’re writing.  (Don’t get me going on there-their-they’re.)  I wonder if the error comes as much from the tendency nowadays to scribble something down and not go back and re-read it.  Just zip through and get it down.  I suspect a lot of Facebook posts are like that.  Many Facebook posts contain errors of other types too, though the “your/you’re” boo-boo seems to be the most common.  I always proofread my Facebook posts, even if it’s only a few words in response to someone else’s post.  I’m sure some mistakes have gotten through over the years, but at least I try.

Is life in our society so hurried that people don’t have enough time to think about what they’re putting down on paper or on a com screen?  I guess it is.  But the person who can use the rules of grammar correctly has the edge in one of the most basic of societal needs: that of communication.  We are immersed in an absolute of glut of forms of communications nowadays, and knowing how to use them properly is almost mandatory.  Watch what you’re writing.  Proofread.  Everything.  You’ll be better off for it.  Surely you don’t want your grammatical errors shown on nationwide television.

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