Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she's only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist's biggest allies.
So blogging’s taken a back seat since I “fell” pregnant (a delightfully quaint phrase). My apologies. But I return to the keyboard this week to discuss pedantry.
I’m sure you’ve seen the fuss this week over Waterstone’s and their decision to remove the apostrophe from their name – for reasons of digital literacy or some such nonsense. Defenders of this policy have pointed out that, as Tim Waterstone no longer owns the shop, then the possessive use of the apostrophe is irrelevant. Sounds reasonable, yes? Well, no. If this was the case then you’d get rid of the ‘s’ as well. James Daunt knows this, as his chain of bookshops is called Daunt books rather than Daunt’s books or Daunts books.
On losing this argument, the ‘Waterstones’ defenders have reverted to criticising my pedantry.
One of them, a current Waterstone’s employee, has sent me a blog post by Stephen Fry on the subject. Among a lot of unedited waffle and digressions (I say this with the greatest respect for the man who I find very funny and usually erudite), Fry’s main point is that pedantry is the last resort of joyless haters of language (I’m paraphrasing somewhat but you get the point). He points out that surely we should all just revel in language and its quirks.
But I disagree. My pedantry isn’t because I dislike language but precisely the opposite. My first thought, on reading this, was to refer to Derek K. Miller, a writer who died last year and posted a series of heartbreaking blogs before his death, who said:
“Written language might be our greatest achievement. Without it we would have no Shakespeare, of course, but also no Great Wall of China, no theory of natural selection, no quantum mechanics, no constitutional democracy, no television, no antibiotics and no footprints on the moon. No internet either. I think a tool that powerful should be used properly.”
I doubt Miller would have appreciated being called a joyless hater of language either.
What I’m actually saying is that of course language has to evolve and change, and that we should glory in that – to the point where it stops making sense. I’m the first person to revel in a word just because of the way it sounds. I love quirks in words, finding out their roots and meanings and I value their proper use. It’s the people who I encounter (everyday at work and elsewhere) who don’t understand my pedantry, who don’t see the problem with writing “banana’s” or “your” when they mean “you’re” that dislike language. They’ve never been shown or taught the value in it, the beauty of it, the power of it. I cannot imagine they’ve ever, as I have, had to put down a book because they’ve got tears in their eyes at the phrasing in it – for the beauty of it, or for the way a phrase sounds in your mouth. They’re the haters of language, the ones who won’t defend it, not me.
That’s not to say that all pedants feel like this – I’m aware that in defending pedantry I set myself up with a bunch of Telegraph letter writers who actively fight change in all things. I guess they are the ones that Fry is really talking about and they are a dried up bunch of joyless souls, hoarding tungsten lightbulbs and tutting at split infinitives. But that’s not me.
Nevertheless, I stand with them on apostrophe defence – it isn’t actually that difficult to use. I’m not walking into an argument about failing standards in schools but really – it ISN’T that difficult to use. It does, however, change the meaning of words, which is, of course, why it’s still in use. And it should be celebrated, alongside everything that makes the English language glorious – the OED, Scrabble, the word ‘haberdashery’, the King James Bible and many other things, a list that once included Waterstone’s booksellers but of course, cannot any more.
One of my favourite bits of the Guardian’s website is Rick Gekowski’s books blog. Often funny, always thoughtful, he’s usually a good read and clearly loves his subject. This week’s contribution is no exception.
Now I’m no stranger to a strong opinion and no stranger to a bull headed, firmly entrenched opinion either. (I get that in before you do…) And it just so happens that I’m currently involved in a book prize judging competition – the Guardian First Book Award 2011. It’s a small role, admittedly, I’m in a small group of people who must help to whittle the longlist of ten books down to a shortlist of 5. I’ve done it in previous years and am proud to say that we’ve always managed to correctly predict the winner.
But this year’s group met for the first time on Monday and asked the question we always ask: how do we judge these?
The GFBA is a little different to other awards – it pits books of different genres against each other. The main stipulation is, as you might expect from the name, that the book is a debut. But when faced with poetry, history, social studies and several novels it can be difficult to decide which is better.
Gekowksi here argues for that old fashioned value – tolerance for other people’s opinions and some evidence for your views. Not unreasonable and I’ve never sat in a reading group where anyone has been that unreasonable. But when examining a diverse range of genres, I think that opinion may count for more than in single genre prizes. It’s one thing to be encouraged to read novels you might not have picked yourself but to read a genre you wouldn’t normally read and to judge it as being good or bad can be difficult. Ultimately how do we decide if what we’re talking is sense?
I’m not complaining – I like the challenge, though I will admit I’m struggling with one of the titles already… (We’re not allowed to break embargo so I can’t discuss the list till next week.)
So the challenge to me will be not to hurl the book across the room and scowl at it and then judge it negatively because it’s not something I like. I have to find other reasons to dislike it. Or actually try and find something positive about it.
We’ll see. But I’m open to discussing this further…?
I tried this a few months ago and my laptop died after 2 days so it didn’t really work. But I’m curious to see how much mileage I can get out of one week so I shall attempt to put something up from my day. If I fail it may be that I’m just not cut out to blog every day or it may be that my days are terribly dull. Time will tell.
As I type, Moroccan spiced vegetables are simmering on the stove and I am trying to clear up after a weekend’s making a couple of journals to keep story ideas in. As much as I love buying stationery, the pristine white pages scare me so I like to make my own scribbling books for ideas. There is now paper and glue all over the spare room.
Today being a Bank Holiday I actually had a day off with my husband, which makes a nice change. It’s been rare, the last year, for us to spend more than a few hours in the evening together. We packed up a flask and went for a walk through Ticknall and Calke Abbey. Walking up the driveway to Calke Abbey, (it’s a lovely lime-tree lined avenue) we were passed by a man and his wife both riding bicycles. The man’s bike drew a trailer behind it and in the trailersat a small white dog. It was wearing goggles.
Why anyone would do this, I don’t know. The dog wore a patient “I’m just humouring them” kind of expression.
I got the giggles. I wanted to take a picture but thought I might offend them by spluttering.
We had a mini picnic by the banks of ‘Betty’s Pond’ and were joined by a single goose (I nicknamed him Roddy) who swam beneath our feet, did a little shimmy and waggled his tail feathers at us. For this display we fed him pastry crumbs.
This afternoon I finished reading the first title from the Guardian First Book Award longlist as I’m in one of the reading groups at Waterstone’s who whittle the longlist down from 10 to a shortlist of 5. (I’m not allowed to say which book it was (longlist is embargoed till 2nd September) but in short, it was ok on the surface but when you started thinking about it you realised it didn’t hold up. Luckily most of us thought this – the first group was this evening.
Other achievements today:
- finding an alternative venue for my writing group now The Walk is refurbishing
- stewing 2 bags of plums we brought home from Ticknall
- various admin stuff for Creative Nottingham
That’s it! Now to knit. Till tomorrow…
Doesn’t quite have the ring of The Time Traveller’s Wife does it? Still, I thought I would share with you my few thoughts on this subject. In a country suddenly gone mad, the simple and civilised joys of birding appeal more than ever.
I am, as you may have gathered, a birder’s wife. Let’s take a moment to establish what this means. He is not a twitcher. Twitchers are the obsessives. Birders are the quiet informed regulars. The conservationists. The contributors to surveys, ringing and sightings. OK?
Sometimes I accompany him. Luckily he isn’t keen on spending hours in a hide. Although I suppose I could sit next to him and knit. He likes to wander, stopping to look through his binoculars once in a while, and then carry on his way. It’s the ambling gait of a man at one with his surroundings. And while he’s looking, he likes to share his knowledge.
I’ll be honest here – I’m a rubbish birder. My mother finds this distressing: she likes to tell people that she brought me up to know birds and nature. And she did. I’ve just forgotten most of it. So in a way it’s nice to have him tell me things about birds. Even if I was able to ID them there’s a good chance I wouldn’t know about their habits and mannerisms.
I am quite a good birder’s wife though. I can pack him up with food and waterproofs. I don’t mind that he’s gone to see his feathered friends, I don’t feel hard done by or abandoned. The only time I feel a little out of place is when I do accompany him into a hide where other birders are sitting. This is, in fact, the inspiration for this post – we were out at Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on Sunday and entered a hide. One lady birder stopped peering through her binoculars and glared at me because I was sitting back, legs crossed and sunglasses on, quite obviously NOT birding. Sorry love, I’m accompanying my husband. I’m not creating a disturbance.
There is a cliquey-ness to birding, you can sometimes see them surreptiously checking out each others binoculars or telescopes. But more often there’s a quiet sense of cameraderie. Anyone watching a row of birders patiently waiting for just one sighting of the rare creature that’s appeared in their patch can’t help but feel a warm and, may I say motherly, affection towards them.
If you appen to be around Attenbrough Nature Reserve in Nottingham and you spot a row of birders waiting, a palpable sense of anticipation running through their group, stop awhile and say hello. One of them might be my husband.