Combating the comma splice

October 9, 2013 | 25 Comments

Right now in the semester, I’m buried in student essays. Hour after hour goes into grading—sometimes over six hours at a stretch, and then there’s reading and class prep. And then more essays, a constant backlog, from busy young writers and revisers. I give them work, and it boomerangs right back. Yet if I suck after sympathy I recall an academic acquaintance’s rejoinder: “That’s a self-inflicted wound.”

Sure. But it’s my job. And as a fellow teacher once remarked, “Reading some of them is like getting hit in the forehead with a hammer with each sentence.” Yes, and again, that’s what we’re paid for. And I get to sit on my couch and listen to the Beatles while I grade.

I remember so vividly my own dawning awareness of original sin, as an undergraduate, when a professor circled my comma splice. In my memory it’s actually in a blue book—though why even an English professor would bother to correct a comma splice in a handwritten exam flummoxes me. “Don’t use comma splices,” he wrote. I marched right up and asked him what that meant. He explained that a comma wasn’t sufficient to join two independent clauses.

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Lindbergh, 1927

Ray Bradbury: “Style is truth”

August 3, 2013 | 6 Comments

I’m on the road as I post this, headed for Berkeley, California, where our son is entering graduate school; one of my sisters just moved across the way, to San Francisco. My wife and I are driving cross country from Ohio. An adventure! We’ve stopped for the night in Miami, Oklahoma, which is hot and crowded with casinos. I feel at home, though, because the folks are friendly and because my Mom was from Oklahoma. This afternoon in central Missouri I knew we were getting into the West because when we stopped in the backwater of Buffalo for a soda, I noticed in the McDonald’s a row of stools had real leather kids’ saddles for seats.

We reserved a modest vehicle for this trip, but the guy at the rental company said we’d probably be uncomfortable crossing the desert and might have difficulty getting over the mountains. In fact, he implied, we might die. So we rented, for only $20 more a day, a huge (to us) Lincoln Navigator. It is black, and terrifying. We feel like real Americans at last. But will we be safe in San Francisco ensconced in such an SUV? We look like Secret Service, or drug dealers. Or both.

I’m working on a book review on the road, and meantime here is a summer roundup of stuff I’ve found interesting.

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Swamped by ‘Infinite Jest’

January 11, 2013 | 13 Comments

On failing to finish David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece novel.   Carry nothing even remotely vegetabalish if in the path of a feral herd. —Infinite Jest To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, “It’s a terrible thing to quit a book. To take from it less than it has to give.” I don’t believe that about books—we should quit any one that’s not working for us and start another—but David Foster Wallace’s 1,079-page novel Infinite Jest is a special case. And I’ve …

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Richard Ford’s ‘Canada’

September 14, 2012 | 12 Comments

A retrospective narrator gives a masterful novel the feel of memoir. Canada by Richard Ford. HarperCollins, 420 pp. . . . “Canada” is blessed with two essential strengths in equal measure — a mesmerizing story driven by authentic and fully realized characters, and a prose style so accomplished it is tempting to read each sentence two or three times before being pulled to the next.—Andre Dubus III in his Times review I’m reading two memoirs now, one an immersion and the other …

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Anthony Lane on the latest Spider-film

July 10, 2012 | 7 Comments

This is the first paragraph of Anthony Lane’s review in this week’s New Yorker: When someone reboots a film franchise, as the makers of “The Amazing Spider-Man” have done, what are we meant to think of the original boot? The first “Spider-Man” came out in 2002, followed by its obligatory sequels in 2004 and 2007. If you are a twenty-year-old male of unvarnished social aptitude, those movies will seem like much-loved classics that have eaten up half your lifetime. They …

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We like the Oxford comma II

June 22, 2012 | 3 Comments

Thanks to Leslie Miller, friend and fellow blogger, who corrected some wit’s work and sent it to me. Quick as you please. She moved the series into proper order, per the drawing, and capitalized proper nouns. Hope the (surely visual) artist who did this doesn’t get mad. But then, s/he probably stole the idea from a book, maybe from Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Here’s one I use in class to try to show the importance of commas, which most undergraduates …

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