Apostrophes lost, books banned, fiction rules

Some book- and writing-related stories for the weekend:

“Waterstone’s are now Waterstones. They’ve decided to drop the apostrophe.”

My position is that the apostrophe is on the way out. It’s an inconsistent item anyway; it was invented by printers – not grammarians or linguists – and like a lot of other ‘rules’ of punctuation is modified by use. No bad thing.

Read the rest: The Politics (and lies) of the Apostrophe.

My opinion: I suspect he’s right — the apostrophe is doomed. And you know what? Things will be all right.

Shakespeare banned in Tucson.

As part of the state-mandated termination of its ethnic studies  program, the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books to be banned from its schools today.  According to district spokeperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.”

“[A] notable text removed from Tucson’s classrooms is Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest.’ In a meeting this week, administrators informed Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any units where ‘race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes,’ including the teaching of Shakespeare’s classic in Mexican-American literature courses.”

I presume that all chapters mentioning the Civil War will now be torn out of history textbooks as well.

“In a school district founded by a Mexican-American in which more than 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds, the administration also removed every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history.”

Because nothing promotes literacy and good citizenship like government-enforced ignorance.

The Business Case for Reading Novels.

I’ve been a devoted, even fanatical reader of fiction my whole life, but sometimes I feel like I’m wasting time if I spend an evening immersed in Lee Child’s newest thriller, or re-readingThe Great Gatsby. Shouldn’t I be plowing through my in-box? Or getting the hang of some new productivity app? Or catching up on my back issues of The Economist?

“Wasting time” reading The Great Gatsby? You poor, depraved, emotionally stunted woman.

That slight feeling of self-indulgence that haunts me when I’m reading fake stories about fake people is —

And that’s where I nearly stopped reading. I would have skipped the rest of the article, from the Harvard Business Review, if not for its title. Back to it:

That slight feeling of self-indulgence that haunts me when I’m reading fake stories about fake people is what made me so grateful to stumble on a piece in Scientific American Mind by cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley extolling the practical benefits to be derived particularly from consuming fiction.

Apparently, “fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness.”

Shorter version: Reading fiction improves the reader’s empathy. It makes us better human beings.

But don’t worry, Harvard Business School grads — the author of the article assures us that reading great novels “has an effect on the bottom line.” That’s the real reason she thinks it’s semi-permissible.

Me, I think I might spend the rest of the weekend with Jack Reacher. And I will love it.

3 responses to “Apostrophes lost, books banned, fiction rules

  1. Are we sure that we want those Harvard Business School grads running around with empathy? Empathy is not known for improving the bottom line, and might even convince some of them that corporations are NOT people. I don’t know, it’s a slippery slope…

  2. I think it is sort of dumb to ban books in school. Kids are going to see things 10 times worse on tv than they will in Shakespeare’s plays.

  3. Apostrophes: Can we live without apostrophes? Sure. Were they just an unnecessary invention? No, they help to make reading more fluid. (My first thought when I see Waterstones is that I’m looking at a plural.) Is it just because they’re difficult? Is it difficult to hit that extra key on the computer? I don’t get it. And I’ve never cared for the argument that because this is the way something seems to be headed, we might as well all stop fighting now.

    Deleting history: Double plus ungood. (We could all just get along if we had no idea how we got here, right?)

    Looking for practical “benefits” in reading: So, once again, the hard-headed, always in search of the practical, must turn to an empirical study to tell them they shouldn’t be so hard-headed (but for an ulterior hard-headed reason – keeping those neuronal pathways open so you know how best to manipulate people). But the hard-headed are right to be fearful: Some of those books might tempt them into thinking that there’s more to life than exploiting their friends and neighbors.

    People: Grrrr! Arrrrgh! (Sorry for the lengthy rant this induced.)

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