Friday, February 27, 2009

Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary wrote: "Children should learn that reading is pleasure, not just something that teachers make you do in school."

So how does that happen? Cleary wrote: "My mother would read aloud to my father and me in the evening. She read mainly travel books."

It didn't have to be travel books. The main thing is that she did it.

I am convinced that the single most effective strategy for molding high achieving kids is to read to them, starting when they are very young, even still in diapers and not yet talking. If a child sits in his mother's lap as she reads to him, and he is allowed to touch the pictures and talk about what he sees and hears, he will develop a love for books at an early age. That will serve him well throughout his life. Reading is, of course, the foundation for all learning, so kids who read well are more likely to achieve in other subjects as well.

Children will continue to read on their own all through school if they see their parents reading. And when everyone in the family reads the same books, it leads to lively discussions. I can't keep up with the reading of my wife and children, now mostly grown, and I feel left out when they are discussing a book I haven't read.

When kids say "I hate to read," what they really mean is they hate reading as a class in school. Leave it to schools to take what is naturally a pleasure and so dissect it that it becomes drudgery.

Cleary, one of the most successful children's authors, described how she approaches a story: "I don't necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start witht he part of the story that's most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there."

Asked what year her books take place, she answers, "In childhood." Great books are timeless. That's why hers are still so popular, even those written a half century ago.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review review

A book reviewer writes:
"A mother's blood guilt runs the heart of this powerful novel. When it is at last resolved, a pale flower of happiness blooms, the best any of us can expect late in a rich, complicated life."

I can't figure out the subject-verb-object relationship: "guilt runs the heart." Does the reviewer mean "guilt runs through the heart ..."? That would make sense. Or "blood guilt controls the mother's heart in this novel." The sentence attempts to use the literary device of personification by referring to the "heart" of the novel. But it doesn't quite work because the subject is a fictional character's emotional motivation, or "heart," leaving the reader confused about whom the heart belongs to — the character or the novel.

The reviewer continues by saying "it is at last resolved." The antecedent of "it" is found in the previous sentence, "mother's blood guilt." Guilt might be cured or forgiven or eased or erased, but it cannot be resolved. Conflicts are resolved.

Finally, is "a pale flower of happiness" really "the best any of us can expect late in a rich, complicated life"? What a cynical view. If life is indeed rich, do we not have a reasonable chance at more than a faded version of happiness, however complicated our past?

Monday, February 23, 2009


A recent article in the Sun used the term "all toll." Another, more recent, article used the term "all told."

Which is correct?

"All told," of course. But "all toll" and "all tolled," which often appear in print, seem to make sense.

"All tolled" is an example of an "eggcorn," which is, according to The Word Detective, the substitution of a word of words that sound similar to correct words and make sense, sort of. The term "eggcorn" was coined by linguist Geoffrey Pullum after seeing someone write the word "eggcorn" for "acorn." An acorn is an egg-shaped seed, so the error is not illogical.

"Tolled" can mean "added up" or "charged," so "all tolled" makes sense, since the idiom "all told" is used to mean "the total" or "the sum of relevant facts" or "the end result."

The Word Detective gives another example: "for all intensive purposes" instead of the correct "for all intents and purposes." I guess that means an eggcorn can also be a mondegreen (see Jan. 9).

I have written before about the use of "kindly" for "kind of." Instead of "Kind of keep that information under your hat," the speaker says "Kindly keep that information under your hat." It makes perfect sense, but the speaker, at least in rural Arkansas, is not referring to kindness at all. It makes less sense when he says "I'm kindly getting a cold." As opposed to what, crankily getting a cold?

I heard "kindly" used for "kind of" here in Kentucky over the weekend and realized it wasn't a uniquely Arkie eggcorn.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sturm and Drang

Sorry I've been delinquent with the blog for the past two weeks. If you live in western Kentucky, western Tennessee or north Arkansas, you understand. But any readers from elsewhere might not be aware of the huge ice storm that hit Jan. 26 and 27 and shut down the region. In Kentucky, 700,000 people were without electricity. Now, ten days later, we are among those still without electricity.

Most folks are using generators while they wait for the power to be restored. Because we live in an apartment, that is not an option. So we are just toughing it out. The temperature has remained below freezing for most of the time since the storm hit, and it got down to 13 degrees two days ago. But today it's is a sunny 58. That brings some measure of relief.

I told my son in Iraq that it looked like a war zone here. He replied, "Oh, you mean trash everywhere, little kids running up to beg and lazy Iraqis sitting around waiting for a handout?" After 15 months in Iraq, he's grown a bit cynical.

Our house in Arkansas, 200 miles southwest of here, was also without power, and many of the beautiful trees surrounding the house were damaged, but the house itself was untouched. Praise be.

A reader e-mailed:

"I've been missing your column. Been somewhat out of touch due to the Sturm und Drang of the ice storm, had to retreat to our son's home ...
Just checked your blog. My wife and I were at that book sale also, but I missed that book (dang).
The amusing epitaphs reminded me of an old epitaph I memorized long ago, about an Irish fellow killed in an automobile accident. It goes;
"This is the Grave of Mike O'Day
Who died maintaining his right of way
His right was clear, his will was strong
But he's just as Dead as if he'd been wrong.

"Oh yes, one more, which you have probably already heard or read:
"Here lies Les Moore
Died of two shots from a forty four
No less no more."

I appreciated the e-mail but was, I'm afraid, unfamiliar with the term "Sturm and Drang."

The term identifies a literary movement of late 18th century Germany connected to the Enlightenment and emphasizing subjectivity and emotional extremes. It is translated to the familiar "storm and stress," (which my German mother-in-law applied to my wife as a child), but it could also be translated "passion and energy" or "rebellion." "Sturm" could also be translated "urge," "longing," "drive" or "impulse."

Wouldn't you like to live your life so that "Sturm and Drang" could be your epitaph?

(Feb. 13 update: Power was restored to our apartment last Saturday, Feb. 7. But at least 8,000 in far western Kentucky are still waiting for power, 17 days after the storm.)