A recent article in the Globe and Mail offered instructions in how to “bluff” your way through book club.
Now, there’s a recipe for modern living. Sign up for something you’re not really interested in doing, like reading and discussing what you’ve read with others, then shrug off both the original task and the responsibility associated with it.
I don’t get it. If book clubbers are really just getting together for camaraderie and Costco snacks, why not scrub the literary pretext? If they aren’t inclined to devour the book list, they should switch the topic to kids or cats, and get home in time for Mob Wives.
I certainly know how they feel, though. English was the one class I was actually good at in high school, but still, I didn’t always read the books. The Sound and the Fury, for example, held no allure. It didn’t help that we were forewarned that much of it was told from the point of view of a character many hay-bales short of a stook. I, for one, skimmed the Coles Notes for William Faulkner’s alleged masterpiece and faked my way through the test. My teacher, an astute fellow, handed me back my exam and noted that I’d passed, adding “Not bad. Just think what you could have done if you’d actually read the book.”
That’s the trouble -- the minute I’m told to do something, especially if it’s something vaguely improving, it becomes an obligation, and therefore distasteful. Recognizing this character flaw, I’ve never joined a book club. The democratic process of book selection is also off-putting. I know what I like, and I seek out the books that appeal to me. This is my leisure time, and I’m in charge of it. Case closed.
While the trend toward book clubs would seem to suggest that people are reading more than ever, it sounds to me as though reading is something many pretend they’ve done, just for the brownie points. What they do instead in their spare time (tweet each other, perchance?) is none of my concern, but widespread ignorance about how to use the English language is a genuine worry for anybody who appreciates it. I see that as a direct result of people not reading.
Both the editor and the bookworm in me bridle watching broad usage distort meaning. Lately copywriters, for example, routinely turn “every day,” which means every single day of the week, into “everyday,” which means ordinary, pedestrian.
I’m baffled by writers’ and editors’ inability to tell the difference between a comma, which delineates clauses within a sentence, and a period, which ends a sentence that, ideally, contains a complete thought.
I wince at “sentences” that feature no verbs, like this one – “Though, not in the traditional sense in Alberta.” That comes from an article I edited by somebody claiming to be a professional writer/editor -- in Alberta.
Surely I’m not alone in noticing when a CBC radio reporter says that somebody was “taken back” by something, when what she means is “taken aback.” Am I the only one who cringes when affable Vancouver-raised filmmaker Seth Rogen, being interviewed about the movie 50/50, says “me and Will” did this and “me and Will” did that? This rube-ish construction is now so widespread, among young people in particular, that soon it will officially be deemed correct. In the future 3-D film The King’s Speech II, we can expect that King William’s most celebrated oration will begin “Me and Kate want to tell the Commonwealth that it’s all good.”
Why are so many people now perplexed by how to use prepositions? I remember finding it odd five years ago to hear teenagers say, “I’m excited for the dance” instead of “about” the dance. “Excited for” is now the norm.
As a copy editor, I find that it’s usually young people who write things like “so-and-so has trained many baristas about coffee” (you don’t train somebody “about” something, you train somebody “in” something). In the same article, written by the aforementioned professional writer/editor, I read, “It comes down to understanding the role art plays into it.” You play a role “in” something, not “into” something. What gives?
You don’t have to be a grammar whiz to know these things. I can barely tell you the difference between a gerund and Gerard Butler, but I read, and because I generally read stuff by people who care about language, for me, bad grammar stands out like a fresh welt.
It’s especially disturbing when those who don’t read get jobs as writers and editors. They pass on their errors to the unfortunates skimming their work. Sadly, a growing number of them can’t tell the difference between what’s correct and what isn’t.
The rest of us can, though, and we do like to think we count for something.