Saving Us From Grammarians: Roy Peter Clark’s The Glamour of Grammar @ NYT

I dislike the prescriptive grammarians who, for a writer, stifle creativity with misplaced criticisms. Yes, good writing has rules, but worrying about prepositions at the end of sentences is tiring. I for one can not get enough of these kinds of books.

Via the NY Times

Most striking is that unlike many traditional grammar books, Clark’s reserves its scolding not for students of writing, but for teachers who harbor unduly restrictive views — “members of the crotchety crowd” who “tend to turn their own preferences about grammar and language into useless and unenforceable rules.” Linguistic insecurities and peeves, once they take hold, are exasperatingly difficult to shake. Even though the first edition of Fowler’s book, released way back in 1926, unequivocally states that the proscriptions against ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives are absurd, we’re still arguing about them today, in 2010.

Clark wholeheartedly endorses breaking the commandments that make no sense, as long as in the breaking, the writing still holds up. “Prescriptive critics may condemn my recommendation that writers politely ignore the ‘crotchets’ of purists who insist on . . . rules that have little influence on the making of meaning,” he writes; those “who profess that these are violations must face the counterevidence produced in the classic works of some of our most distinguished writers.”

Although this statement is true, if you were to point out that even Shakespeare was known to split his infinitives (“Thy pity may deserve to pitied be”), end his sentences in prepositions (“I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at”) and even on occasion begin them with “but” or “and” (“But love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit”), you’d be more likely to annoy the prescriptivists than you would be to convert them.

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Where’s The Magic, Isabel? Reviewing Allende’s Recent Reviews

I haven’t read an Isabel Allende book in ages, but I noticed she had a new one coming out and as one of the most famous Latin American authors in the States, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the reviews. For old time sakes, at least. What is obvious is that if you live by magical realism, you die by it. Every reviewer I came across was asking for some of the good stuff, that old magic that made House of Spirits famous. It is a little lazy to demand a writer keep writing in the same style. Again books from Latin American authors must fit some sort of mold and here it must be the exotic locals, war and love. At least the Times review mentioned Alejo Carpentier.

I wasn’t much impressed by the reviews. From the NY Times:

The resulting canvas contains no less than the revolutionary history of the world’s first black republic as Allende portrays the island’s various factions: republicans versus monarchists, blacks versus mulattoes, abolitionists versus planters, slaves versus masters. She revels in period detail: ostrich-feathered hats, high-waisted gowns, meals featuring suckling pigs with cherries. Her cast is equally vibrant: a quadroon courtesan and the French officer who marries her; Valmorain’s second wife, a controlling Louisiana Creole; Zarité’s rebel lover, who joins Toussaint L’Ouverture in the hills. But for all its entertaining sweep, the story lacks complex characterization and originality. And its style is traditional. Where, you wonder, are the headless men — or, in ­Allende’s case, headless women? Where is the magical realism?

[…]

Ultimately, however, Allende has traded innovative language and technique for a fundamentally straight­forward historical pageant. There is plenty of melodrama and coincidence in “Island Beneath the Sea,” but not much magic.

The review from the LA Times was a plot summary. At least you will know what happens in the book.

With this admirable novel, Allende cements her reputation as a writer of wide scope and amazing talent. Although very traditional in its unfolding — readers enamored by her use of magical realism will find little in this narrative — this historical novel does what one hopes a book of its ilk will do: transport readers to a new world, open up history and make it come alive, and cause readers to forget time passing in the world the author has so carefully and lovingly built.

Tomás Eloy Martínez – RIP

Tomás Eloy Martínez the author of Santa Evita and the Novel of Peron has died. The New York Times has an obituary. I’ve been meaning to read the Novel of Peron one day, since I own it.

Interweaving factual reporting and magic realism with meditations on myth, history and the quicksilver nature of truth, Mr. Martínez’s two most famous novels explore the lives of Argentina’s two best-known and most enigmatic figures. The first, “The Perón Novel” (Pantheon, 1988; translated by Asa Zatz), originally appeared in Argentina in 1985 as “La Novela de Perón.” It centers on Gen. Juan Domingo Perón, the Argentine dictator who held the presidency from 1946 until he was deposed in 1955, and again from 1973 until his death in 1974.

The second, “Santa Evita” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996; translated by Helen Lane), was published in Argentina in 1995. It explores the life — or, more accurately, the afterlife — of Perón’s second wife, Eva. Both were best sellers in Argentina and have been translated into dozens of languages.