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Apr. 2nd, 2005

Okay, I think I've discovered the finest contemporary crying-in-your-beer country music band. A band called Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys (appropriate name). I heard a little of their latest on the NPR station here in C-U. I haven't gotten that one yet, but I picked up one of theirs from a few years' back ('99) entitled "Forever Never Ends." All you need to do is hear some of the song titles to get the idea: "Happy Birthday, Broken Heart"; "Between a Rock and a Heartache"; and "Make Me Hate You Before I Go." So I'm in a good mood, listening to depressing music. I'm wacky like that.

It's gorgeous today. The forecast actually called for "abundant sunshine," and, so far at least, appears on track. I woke up this morning (after sleeping in a bit, aaaah!), made some breakfast and started in on the unpacking. At this point, a lot of it involves getting the frigging boxes out of here and some simple organizing. It's slowly getting there. The next step, I think, is massive amounts of laundry.

Last night, I did not do any unpacking. All week, for some reason, I have just wanted to lock myself in and read. I have a huge stack of books on and near my nightstand, so last night I did just that. I sat down with the two books I picked up at the Urbana Free Library. I read the entirety of Joe R. Lansdale's The Nightrunners last night. It's early stuff of his, a bit predictable at times, but it has Lansdale's gift for words and some genuinely creepy stuff (this one falls under horror, although the library and the publisher labeled it mystery). This edition includes a wonderful introduction by Dean Koontz as well, praising Lansdale as both a person and a writer. I liked a lot of what Koontz had to say. In particular, I liked this (forgive the long quote):

"Joe's one of those rare fellows who understands in his bones that selling a short story to Twilight Zone is not the equivalent to the work done by leading cancer researchers and that selling a novel to Bantam, while desirable and exciting, ranks more than a notch or two below the achievements of Mother Teresa. You might be surprised, dear readers, to discover how many writers lack a reasonable perspective on their careers; they labor under the serious misapprehension that they are more important to the future of the world than all the rest of humankind combined. Joe is proud of his writing - and rightfully so, it's good - but he is incapable of forgetting that publication credits will never be as important as being a good husband, a good father, a good friend, and a good neighbor."

I couldn't have said it better, and probably wouldn't have tried to.

So, as I said, I finished The Nightrunners. Then I started in on Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. It's a tremendously fun book. I'm a snob and a writer and I'm frustrated by the fact that simple English grammar and punctuation elude the masses. I was horrified when I taught the first-year legal writing course at U of L and found that many of these students, students who did well in high school and college, are fond of sentence fragments, run-ons, and lack of appropriate punctuation. I don't think I'm quite as much of a stickler as Truss, but her snide remarks amuse me.

I say this knowing full well I'm a snob. A literate snob. I was an undergraduate English major; I hold two master's degrees and a J.D. And the sad part is I taught my grammar and punctuation. I wanted to write, to communicate more effectively with the written word, and I sat down with a basic grammar book at a young age and taught myself. My English teachers in high school were impressed that not only did I know what a semicolon was, but that I knew how to use it.

And things have only gotten worse because of the Internet. I don't mind the shorthand and abbreviations commonly used on the Internet; they are just handy shorthand, and the Internet culture knows what you're talking about. However, when I read someone's long, rambling email or message board post that is without punctuation or clear sentence structure, I just can't be bothered, even if they are writing the instructions for world peace and the cure for cancer. [There is no particular individual I have in mind here. My friends list is, I am very thankful, full of people who can compose clear, concise, easy-to-understand sentences.]

So I'm thoroughly enjoying this "zero tolerance approach to punctuation." It ties much to the thoughts of the other non-fiction books I'm reading, Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. That book picks up where Marshall ("the medium is the message") McLuhan left off, arguing that television and other mass media have not only changed the way we get our news, but has changed our fundamental thinking. It's a strong argument about epistomology (a word I don't get to use very often). Television can only serve to entertain, and the structure even of its most serious programming reflects that.

One of the most riveting premises of the book for me is that, due to mass communication, we are inundated with information that we have been trained to believe is important. Prior to the advent of the telegraph, individual communities had very little need for information beyond the community. The telegraph seemed to impart information that was important from far away, even if it really had no impact on anyone in the local community's life. I can't help but think that's even more true now. Terri Schiavo, Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, even the Pope in a lot of ways - these stories may be fascinating but they have no impact on my day-to-day life. Some may condemn me for saying so, but even 9/11, unless you or a family member were immediately touched by it, doesn't really affect you much (George Bush's subsequent reaction may). I'm not condoning isolationism, at all, but often many international stories don't impact me, either. As the world gets more connected and interconnected, we need to be aware of the global impact of the actions of ourselves and others. Perhaps this argument stretches then into the area of Chomsky, and I'm not going to tackle his arguments right now.

I've rambled enough. I hope this entry didn't bore everyone. You can tell it's Saturday afternoon and I don't feel like doing much. Oh, well.

Quote of the day: "Pain comes like the weather, but joy is a choice." - Rodney Crowell

Books read 2005: 18 (For those concerned that it's been awhile, please note that I have several things I've been picking & putting down. This number is likely to jump quite a bit in the next month between wrapping up the four books I have been reading - one audio, one fiction and two non - plus a selection of graphic novels. This is not a contest, but I will be sprinting very soon anyway, nonetheless.)


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 3rd, 2005 11:34 pm (UTC)
I've been wanting to read Truss' book for a long time, now. It's on my lengthy summer reading list. BBTW, you might recommend the following to future students: Fowler's Modern English Usage. It's a great resource!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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