Monday, February 26, 2007

Books about grammar, etc.

Ben Yagoda just published a book, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It a new conscript in the swelling ranks of books about grammar. I learned about the book from an episode of Fresh Air, a show broadcast on National Public Radio. (I've attached a link to the segment on the book. Unfortunately, you will have to listen, there isn't a transcript available. Its all here.) In addition to praising the book and its author, the episode advanced a thesis on the cause of the grammar book fad. The reviewer claimed that grammar books let us imagine that real order exists. We can bring sense to a chaotic world just by using commas properly. But do you think that's why people are buying grammar books? What about the sense of superiority that comes with being right? Or the thrill of trivia?

Following from that, what are the base pleasures of copy editing? And for Frank, what are the lower pleasures in your job? To help clarify, let me give an example. I used to write press releases for my high school. When I wrote I would sometimes sit and giggle giddily for long stretches as I marveled at my own cleverness. I certainly felt the "higher" aesthetic pleasures of writing, but there were aspect that I enjoyed simply as fun. Everyone who writes writes, in some way, for glory, or at least thats what I read somewhere. What about the people who support writers? What about anybody? I certainly enjoy the copy editing I've done in part because it makes me feel clever. I'll see if that persists after the test.


LilyLuvsU said...

I read a really entertaining book on grammar, which I highly recommend. It is Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande. She has a great sense of humor and explains the topics and rules of grammar with momerable stories. The best thing is that she was a high school drop out! There ends the public versus private school debate.

Pat said...

The exhilaration we sometimes feel when we copyedit is, I think, the pleasure that comes with problem solving (see Megan's post of a couple weeks ago). For example, if we can help an author state his or her theorem more logically, more interestingly, more concisely, we feel triumphant. It is as if we have helped push someone over the finish line, and we exult in the achievement.

If you join an office and become a member of a publishing team, you'll see that cleverness and other such traits can be made to serve large goals. The worthiness of these goals will, if you're lucky, help you mature as a thinker and craftsman.

Pat said...

It was John Gardner who said that writers write to earn the good opinion of good people. Those of you who don't know Gardner might want to read his book On Moral Fiction—well worth reading by writers and others who care about literature.

dkacz said...

It seems I have may misrepresented the "writing for glory" quotaton. After reflection I discovered the quotation came from no other than John Gardner and his book The Art of Fiction. Its copied below:

"Every true apprentice writer has, however he may try to keep it sercret even from himself, only one major goal: glory. The shoddy writer wants only publication."

I think it can be filled under, "advice about admitting to yourself your motivations so you can actually get down to work and achieve your goal." A species of advice I've always liked.

Pat said...

David, I prefer this passage from Gardner's On Moral Fiction, I'm afraid:

We study people carefully for two main reasons: in order to understand them and fully experience our exchange with them, or in order to feel ourselves superior. The first purpose can contribute to art and is natural to art, since the soul of art is celebration and discovery through imitation. The second, perhaps more common purpose, is a mark of petty-mindedness, insecurity or vice and is the foundation of art that has no value. Both artistic acts, the real and the fraudulent, are obviously egoistic: the true artist is after "glory," as Faulker said—that is, the pleasure of noble achievement and good people's praise. The false artist is after power and the yawping flattery of his carnivore pack.

I would say this is true of copyediting too. It's a kind of idealistic service that one can't engage in if one is looking for flattery and immediate gains.