Saturday, November 30, 2013

What I’m reading #105

This, just because I like the idea of an Albert Camus book club, and also it’s an excuse to show that photo of the great man dancing. There is a story in, from memory, Olivier Todd’s biography, of Camus being in a heated argument with Sartre one evening in occupied Paris when a beautiful woman walked past the café. He stopped mid-sentence, leaped to his feet and ran after her. Scored, too.

Oz foodie Prick with a Fork is very sound on pasta – you and I know not to over-sauce but apparently Australians don’t – and delivers Sophia Loren on a plate.  

Paul Litterick on architecture for girls.

Polish writer Jacek Dehnel gives a jaundiced author’s-eye view of the kind of person who attends literary events. Quote unquote:
The negative obsessive has come because he has a passion, and there’s something he hates. Here’s one I encountered in Warsaw, for example: “What do you think of Tuwim’s poetry?” So I replied that I read it and think highly of it; then I said why and even embellished my answer with an anecdote about reading Tuwim. “But do you know that Tuwim was a Jew?” the obsessive digs deeper. I say that I do, and that so were lots of Polish poets, and so on. Finally he puts his cards on the table: “Don’t you think there are too many Jews in Polish literature?” I say no, I don’t, and explain that I myself was once included in an online “List of Anti-Polish Jews” (for translating Mandelstam), by which token I meet the worst expectations of the questioner, who demonstratively leaves. Of course, negative obsessives are not limited to the so-called Jewish Question; sometimes they merely have a bone to pick with the Municipal Parks Service which has ordered the felling of a poplar “which has stood here for thirty years, sir, and never hurt a soul – on the contrary, it has adorned our city!”
Jonathon Owen at Arrant Pedantry lists “12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Who Writes About Grammar Mistakes Makes”, a response to the very silly “Grammar Police:  Twelve Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes”. He is sound on the foolishness of so-called rules, and gives good links. Quote unquote:
5. Turning proposals into ironclad laws. This one happens more often than you think. A great many rules of grammar and usage started life as proposals that became codified as inviolable laws over the years. The popular that/which rule, which I’ve discussed at length before, began as a proposal—not “everyone gets this wrong” but “wouldn’t it be nice if we made a distinction here?” But nowadays people have forgotten that a century or so ago, this rule simply didn’t exist, and they say things like “This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so.” (Actually, no, you don’t understand why everyone gets this “wrong”, because you don’t realize that this rule is a relatively recent invention by usage commentators that some copy editors and others have decided to enforce.) It’s easy to criticize people for not following rules that you’ve made up.
And also:
I may prefer serial commas, but I’m not going to insist that everyone who doesn’t use them is making a mistake. It’s simply a matter of style, and style varies from one publisher to the next.
As anyone who has worked for more than one magazine or publisher knows.

Continuing the grammar theme, David Thompson reports on a crushing injustice on a US campus in Don’t Oppress Me  With Your Commas.  Quote unquote:
by highlighting spelling and punctuation errors, the professor is contributing to an “unsafe climate for students of colour.” Reminding students of the basic rules of English apparently helps to create “a hostile and toxic environment” in Professor Rust’s classroom. Such are the mental and emotional traumas of the modern grad school intellectual. These, remember, are people studying for master’s degrees and doctorates. 
Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out and is on the cover of the current Listener because inside is a interview/profile (not online yet) which takes him pretty much at his own very high valuation. Personally, I think he makes Alain de Botton look deep. For an alternative view, here is John Gray in the New Republic. Quote unquote:
Pretending to present daringly counterintuitive views to his readers, he actually strengthens the hold on them of a view of things that they have long taken for granted. This is, perhaps, the essence of the genre that Gladwell has pioneered: while reinforcing beliefs that everyone avows, he evokes in the reader a satisfying sensation of intellectual non-conformity. […] Speaking to a time that prides itself on optimism and secretly suspects that nothing works, his books are analgesics for those who seek temporary relief from abiding anxiety. There is more of reality and wisdom in a Chinese fortune cookie than can be found anywhere in Gladwell’s pages. But then, it is not reality or wisdom that his readers are looking for.
Tim Newman on that Latvian supermarket disaster and what the government’s reponse tells us. Quote unquote:
Russians often like to disparage the Baltic states as being insignificant entities with no oil and minuscule economies.  That may be so, but in this last week Latvia has demonstrated more signs of a functioning, modern society and government than Russia has in a long time.
Mick Hartley on UK universities’ guidelines on gender segregation – yes, seriously, this is happening. It is not driven by Anglicans. Quote unquote:
But why should everyone's views be accommodated? Should a Nazi speaker's demands to have Jews separated out (but of course not at the back, now that would be discriminatory) be accommodated? For too many people in higher education the demands of Islamists just cannot be challenged, because they're......well, because they're religious "deeply held" demands?...because they're people from a minority culture and to deny them would be racist - or at least would allow the racist card to be played?...because they're not going to change so we have to? Or because they're not afraid to resort to intimidation? Whatever the reason, the rot seems to be spreading.
It can’t happen here. Who could imagine? So here are Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in 1966: 


Paul said...

The Oxford comma is an instrument of upper middle class English oppression.

Stephen Stratford said...

Which makes it all the odder that Americans are so keen on it.

helenalex said...

Remember when the Listener used to do proper current affairs articles all the time, instead of running cover stories on house prices and uncritical promotion for some random book?

I have this incredibly dorky fantasy in which I win first division Lotto, buy the Listener, sack the editor, and turn it back into a real source of investigative journalism, supported by a non profit trust like the one which owns the Guardian. This would be more likely to come to fruition if I actually bought Lotto tickets.

Kate said...

Two spaces after a full stop? Or one?

Stephen Stratford said...

@helenalex, yes I do. I worked there for seven years and after a break did another two years. As a reader, I think it's much better than it was under previous editors - more centrist, if that's an allowable word. But agree that the housing stuff is uninteresting, at least for me. Actually most of the features and all the lifestyle stuff is uninteresting for me. But the columnists are fine - Clifton, Ralston, Jacobs, Wichtel - so if one feature article a week is of interest that's enough for me.

Good luck with the Lotto tickets.

Stephen Stratford said...

@Katherine one. Two was taught to typists before word-processing and made sense then but today it's one space. First thing I do when editing a manuscript is delete all the double spaces.