March 2008 Archives

It Is a Puctuation Book, Not a Grammar Book

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"Eats, Shoots & Leaves is not a book about grammar.  I am not a grammarian.  To me a subordinate clause will for ever be (since I heard the actor Martin Jarvis describe it thus) one of Santa's little helpers.  A degree in English language is not a prerequisite for caring about where a bracket is preferred to a dash, or a comma needs to be replaced by a semicolon...So if this book doesn't instruct about punctuation, what does it do?  Well, you know those self-help books that five you permission to love yourself?  This one gives you permission to love punctuation."

-From pages 32-33 of Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Okay, so I jumped the gun about declaring this writer's idea.  I've learned the lesson: Finish the chapter before making a claim (see my other blog on Eats, Shoots & Leaves).  I'm actually very glad that Truss chose to reveal these sentiments so early in the book.  Truss' use of historical background about the punctuation that we use is also an interesting addition.  Instead of just presenting the rules as if they magically appeared out of thin air one day and were printed into the most boring book ever created, Truss provides the reader with a background as to how and why we have these rules today.  This perspective is really helping me to better understand some of the areas of punctuation that I did not understand before.  This historical background coupled with references to popular culture, really make the book unique.


(P.S. if you are like me and don't read the back of the book until you are finished with it, please read the back of this one because it is really funny)


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"I know precisely when my own ...stickler personality started to get the better of me.  In the autumn of 2002, I was making a series of programmes about punctuation for Radio 4 called Cutting a Dash." 

-From page 5 of Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss


When I read the above quote, I thought, "Why is this lady writing this book so passionately when she just became a true grammar stickler 6 years age?"  One of my very best friends has been obsessed with correct grammar for the same amount of time, yet she has never considered, nor plans on, creating a book about grammar, even though she is an English major.  It seems like she created the book for the same reason that Barbara Ehrenreich sees to have created her Nickel and Dimed--to make a great profit.  It really makes me rather sad that these books are giving off this vibe for me; however at least Truss seems to have had fun making her profitable novel. 

Despite this initial sentiment, I really have to say that I love the book.  I actually like learning about grammar.  Don't worry though--I don't diagram sentences for fun, but I am really enjoying the manner in which Truss presents grammar.  I can really identify with many of her comments on ungrammatical signs ( I even saw a horrible one today at a Japanese restaurant, but I can let them slide a little bit because they are not native English speakers and writers).  I even have some grammar pet peeves, such as when people write "alot" instead of "a lot."  I'm not saying that I am a grammar guru.  I'm sure there are some grammar mistakes in this blog entry; however some mistakes are just so obvious that they make me cringe.  I'm very glad that Truss created such an interesting grammar book so that we don't have to be bored out of our minds while trudging through the usual grammar books.

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Peacocks, Peacocks, and More Peacocks

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Flannery O'Connor's short story "The Displaced Person," she constantly refers to the peacocks that Mrs. McIntyre has at her house.  When I read this story, I thought, "Why all the references to peacocks and the colors of peacocks?"  These references are obvious even on a brief perusal of the text.  Here is just one example of the references to peacocks: "The peacock stopped just behind her, his tail--glittering green-gold and blue in the sunlight--lifted just enough so that it would not touch the ground" (O'Connor 196).  I tried to figure out what this symbol could mean, but I was having trouble, so I looked up the meaning of peacocks.  It turns out that peacocks actually have significance in the Christian orders.  The "eyes" on the peacock's tail can symbolize the all seeing eyes of God.  The peacock is also a symbol of immortality.  I found this information about peacocks at this site.  After reading this, I could see that perhaps O'Connor is using this symbol in this manner in the story.  The peacock's tail is often lifted at points where it would make sense that God would be watching the characters.  Also, the priest is very attracted to the peacock and often feeds and pets it.  Even the very last sentence in the story makes a reference to the peacock and how the priest would go there to feed the peacock and to discuss religion with Mrs. McIntyre, so this theme of immortality and the all seeing eye of God is a very important part of the story.

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Mrs. Havisham Isn't a Round Character?

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"A flat character, also called a two-dimensional character, is more a type than an individual, and stays essentially the same throughout the work...A round, or three-dimensional, character, in contrast, is multifaceted and subject to change and growth; he or she is also capable of inconsistencies, and in those ways similar to an actual human being,

        Some characters may surprise readers with their three-dimensionality as a work goes on."

-From Sharon Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms page 126


I have not really thought of flat and round characters in the past as falling in to these specific definitions.  For example, Hamilton  refers to Mrs. Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations as a flat character.  When I read this book, I did not see her as a minor character.  I was equally, if not more interested in her story than in Pip's.  She does appear, at least to me, to be more of a real human than the definition of a flat character allows, but Mrs. Havisham never does change her ways in the story.  The novel finishes with her as the same bitter old spinster.  Now, that I know the proper definitions of each type of character, and understand the differences, I'll be able to distinguish between the two in the future.   


Ambiguity in O'Connor

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"Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings.  Her forward expression was steady and driving like the advance of a heavy truck.  Her eyes never swerved to left or right but turned as the story turned as if they followed a yellow line down the center of it." p.167

"Mrs. Freeman's gaze drove forward and just touched him before he disappeared under the hill." p.195

-From Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People" in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories


O'Connor's characterization here is really creative.  The first description of Mrs. Freeman's expression also incorporated her personality of one who never considers options or opinions other than the one that is obvious to her.  She lets the obvious "drive" her through life without ever considering other ideas or possibilities.  At the end of the story, she does the same thing when she sees Manley Pointer leaving the woods where he has just stolen her daughter's false leg and left her stranded in the loft of a barn.  Mrs. Hopewell says, "Why, that looks like that nice dull young man that tried to sell me a Bible yesterday...He was so simple,...but I guess the world would be better off if we were all simple" (194).  Mrs. Hopewell believes that he is, as she says, "a nice young man" who is kind and would never do anything that was very wrong.  After this line, the second quote above is written.  Then Mrs. Freeman replies, "Some can't be that simple,...I know I never could" (195).  These segments are all so ambiguous that they can be interpreted in two different ways.  One way is that Mrs. Freeman is so oblivious to everything except herself that she cannot see that Pointer is a fake, and another is that she thinks he is a fake because she says she could never be as "simple" as him.  We never know if Mrs. Freeman respects him for his simple service to the Lord, or if she rejects him for a feigned simplicity, or if she suspects, or even knows, that he is more malicious than he appears.  O'Connor's ambiguity is one of my favorite aspects of her writing because it allows the reader to guess or imagine a variety of possibilities for each story.


I Finally Get Close Reading!

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Instead of reflecting on what John Desmond had to say in his "Flannery O'Connor's Misfit and the Mystery of Evil," I just wanted to mention that this assignment really helped me to better understand how to write a close reading paper (To see our assignment, click here).  By highlighting and underlining the claims and evidence, I was able to see how a published author properly integrates opinions, claims, and text into a close reading essay.  I really wish we could have done this prior to writing our close reading essays because I think I would have done much better on my first and second drafts; however I am still very glad that we were given this assignment.  I honestly got more out of this exercise than from the ideas presented by Desmond on O'Connor.

An Unconventional Birth of Ideas

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"She opened her eyes and gazed down into the dark hole, down to the very bottom where she had started up so long ago.  'Good Fortune,' she said in a hollow voice that echoed along all the levels of the cavern, 'Baby.'

      'Good Fortune, Baby,' the three echoes leered.

      Then she recognized the feeling again, a little roll.  It was as if it were not in her stomach.  It was as if it were out nowhere in nothing, out nowhere, resting and waiting, with plenty of time."

-From Flannery O'Connor's "A Stroke of Good Fortune," page 79


I don't know if I am looking at this from the wrong perspective because I don't normally think this way, but I believe that in this segment, O'Connor is trying to create the image of the womb in this scene that Ruby sees as she realizes that she is pregnant.  If this is true, it reminds me of Tiffany's notion that O'Connor has a unique ability to effectively relate seemingly opposing concepts, or even give a concept a meaning that opposes conventional thought. 

When Ruby looks into her past, going all the way back to her own time in the womb, it reminds me of when people say that when they have a near-death experience, they see their lives pass before their eyes.  Here, O'Connor writes the exact opposite.  Instead of moving toward a bright light, Ruby moves toward the darkness of the "cavern."  Instead of discussing death, O'Connor is discussing birth.  O'Connor completely switches the conventional belief of birth as a new beginning for Ruby and her child and instead portrays it as the start of her death.

Also, I think that "the three echoes" refers to Ruby's past, present, and future, all of which are "leering" at her in her time of distress.  She considers her mother, her family, her childhood, her present situation in life, and what the birth of a child will cause in the future.  She views all three of these time periods to be negative, so naturally they would be leering at her, but it is interesting to note that they are taunting her with the words, "Good fortune, Baby."  Are they saying this because it is ironic that the one thing that she had been avoiding is now going to become a part of her life?  Although I think I understand what O'Connor was trying to convey in the first two segments of this quote, I don't really understand the part about the baby being "out nowhere."  And is "it" really the baby, or is "it" something else?  Does anyone have an idea about what her meaning could be in the final paragraph of the story?   


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Be Your Own Tour Guide

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"Instead of persuading undergraduate English majors to buy into the fallacy that a checklist approach to English literature adds up to an education, let's borrow a page from the travel agency and organize our courses into package tours: organized, structured, carefully chosen, and thematic routes through otherwise difficult-to-navigate territory."

-From Tim Lemire's I'm an English Major---Now What?  chapter 10 "Avoiding a Major Mistake," page 217


I really liked this comment from Lemire.  When I first chose English Literature as my major, I looked at the list of required courses and thought "This is not going to help me with my goal of being an elementary teacher!  This not even a very practical major unless you want to be a college professor or a high school teacher."  However, then I noticed the section in the course catalogue that says "choose nine credits from courses numbered EL250 or above."  There are so many options in this area that I can take courses such as Linguistics and others that will actually help me as a future teacher.  Also, there are many special topics classes for me to choose from each semester that pertain to subjects in which I am interested.  I can even take courses that are tailored more towards the Journalism or Creative Writing majors in order to gain experience in these fields.  I certainly hope that all English majors realize that they are able to tailor their major to their interests and future goals and not take only the courses that are listed in the course catalogue under English Literature, New Media Journalism, or Creative Writing.

"You may be saying to yourself, I Couldn't work in the [banking, insurance, pharmaceutical, investment industry] because I don't know the first thing about that industry.  I was an English major!

         Ignorance of a particular industry does not preclude your getting a communications-related job in that industry.  For one thing, companies are in the business of training their people.  They can train you, too, either in a formal educational setting or via a mentoring relationship.  Moreover, depending on who you're communicating with, ignorance may actually be a boon."

-From Tim Lemire's I'm an English Major---Now What?, chapter 8 "Going Corporate" page 161


I have to agree with many of the ideas that Lemire brings up in this chapter on and English major working in the business world.  First of all, I absolutely abhor business, which is unfortunate in this business-oriented society.  Most people want to make money, want to get everything they want, want to get to the top and be above everyone else.  I am perfectly happy with what I have right now.  This is of course why I want to be a teacher: yes, they don't make a lot of money, but I will enjoy my job immensely while still making enough money to get the things I need and want.  This is the biggest problem for me to get over about business: I am an intrinsically motivated person.  The most satisfying jobs for me are the volunteer ones, not the ones where I make tons of money for little work.  Unfortunately, businesses are extrinsically motivating: they give pay raises, benefits, and higher positions, which of course aren't bad, but I'm just not the kind of person who likes to work to get things in return.  I want to be paid for my career, but with teaching, I will be have more intrinsic rewards in seeing my students excel than extrinsic rewards in pay.

Anyway, back to Lemire.  For me, he is kind of saying that just because I chose to major in English, it doesn't mean I will never have to have a job, or never be able to get a job, in the corporate world.  I do want to be a teacher, but I also plan to someday use my degree in English Literature for that particular field.  Would I love to work in the corporate world as a writer or communicator?  I'm not sure.  The only business-related jobs I have held were as a clerk in a video store and in a flower shop.  I didn't mind the work that I had to do, I minded the structure and rules of the business, the constant reminders of commissions, and the mandated devotion to the company.  However, if I took a job as a writer and communications personnel, I may have a different take on working for a business.  Obviously, I would have to like what the business was doing in order to write promotional material, but if I could find this type of a business, I think that I could make it in the corporate world.  Thanks to Lemire for making me think about an option that I had completely ruled out before reading this chapter.


Good Story and Academic Literary Devices? Of Course!

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"The selection and the order of the details in a literary work are crucial to its meaning and TONE.  Because the form of a POEM, a PLAY, or a work of FICTION may look so inevitable and move so smoothly on the page, it is easy to forget that the work is the product of a series of deliberate choices that he author makes in the course of drafting and revising it."

-From Sharon Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms


I completely agree with Hamilton's comment in the above quote.  The great authors that we read in our Literature courses frequently had many drafts of their works and put much time and energy into creating their pieces.   I chose this quote in response to Ally's comments that you can view here.  To paraphrase her comments, she said that perhaps authors sometimes create books "chock full of symbolism" so that people can "dissect" the works, but she "really doubt[s] it."  In the past, I would have agreed with Ally; however I have learned to that instead of creating their works to be "dissected," authors do this to create works that are on more scholarly levels.  Yeah, it is sometimes wonderful to read a story purely for enjoyment of the tale, but I would someday like to write at a scholarly level that would have my work recognized for its great story and for its academic use of literary devices. 

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She Really Just Wanted to Sell the Book

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"The first thing I discovered is that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly "unskilled."

-From Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed


I really wanted to choose a quote from Ehrenreich's "Evaluation" chapter because I feel she pulled a lot of her most important ideas into this chapter.  I ended up choosing the above quote because it reflects Ehrenreich's new view of the working class.  At the beginning of her experiment, she had a somewhat biased and superior attitude towards the working class.  However, because she was able to  practically become a member of the working class, she was able to appreciate their jobs and their ways of life. 

Many of my peers were horrified by Ehrenreich's language and actions even after they read that she was positively affected by her experiences (you can see their opinions here); however I feel that Ehrenreich is just being candid.  I believe that Ehrenreich wanted to create controversy, wanted to emotionally affect her audience, and wanted to dramatize all aspects of her experiences because she wanted to sell the book.  Would Seton Hill have chosen this book as an introductory text for freshmen if it had been a book that went under the radar?  I don't think so.  Would it have gotten onto the New York Times bestseller list if people had not been angered enough to talk about it?  Of course not.  I'm not saying that Ehrenreich should have flaunted her supposed superiority as she did in some of her experiences; doing this is, in my opinion, not being superior.  I am not sticking up for some of her thoughts and actions, but I am saying that she met her goal of getting all of my classmates to express emotion concerning the book, and maybe even sold more copies because of the publication of their emotions on their blogs and to their friends and families.


Sir Michael Sims

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"Back in the Middle Ages, free lances were mercenaries not employed by or allegiant to any one individual--knights or soldiers who were free with their lance, so to speak.  Joust because they were professional killers, though, didn't mean they always made a killing.

     The same is true today."

-From Tim Lemire's I'm an English Major---Now What? Chapter 7 "Freelancing for a Living," page 138


I chose this comment partially because it shows the wit that Lemire uses to make this book a pleasant read, but mainly because it relates directly to the speaker we had in class.   Michael Sims, a knight (okay, he is a freelance writer, but I like Lemire's concept here) and author of books including Apollo's Fire and Adam's Naval, spoke about the importance of entrepreneurship to our Intro. to Literary Study class.  I really enjoyed all he had to say about his own experiences in freelance writing, as well as all of the advice he gave to us.  I really loved how he talked about the publishing process, agents, etc. I knew absolutely nothing about how to go about finding an agent, sending a manuscript and proposal to an editor, or really freelance writing in general.  Like most English majors, I do have hopes to one day publish a book; however my main goal right now is to become a teacher.  The more I learn about publishing a work though, the more I enjoy the idea of actually pursuing this as my profession.  Sims gave us great advice about pursuing our dreams.  He said, "A year from now, life will be considerably different."  I think this statement is great.  Our lives are going to change no matter if we pick up the keys ourselves or if we sit in the back seat and let fate drive us.  Like Sims, I would like to be the one driving (or steering my noble steed).  His knowledge of and experience in the literary world really helped me to redefine my career goals, as does reading other works that explain all that English has to offer, such as the Lemire book.   


"Knowledge of a subject--even expertise in a subject--does not, alone, qualify you to be a teacher: excellent, good, or mediocre.  And just because you enjoy reading and writing does not mean you're going to enjoy teaching it or be any good at teaching it."

-From Tim Lemire's I'm an English Major---Now What?  Chapter 2 "Perchance to Teach," page 12


I'm so glad that Lemire included this statement, and others, about teaching.  It is so true that just because you are interested in something or because you are good at it doesn't mean you have the skills necessary to teach.  You could be the best at science and graduate with top grades in the class, but you might not have the patience, organization, and attitude that is required to be a teacher.  I have had quite a few teachers who have obviously only become teachers because they thought it would be easy and because they could get summers off.  Some of them have even liked the subjects, but it you got to have it all if you want to be considered a good teacher.  I also liked when Lemire wrote, "You should not enter the teaching profession by default or with a sense of resignation.  Doing so will make you a lousy teacher, and lousy teachers produce worse students..." (13). A person who is a good teacher should want to be there more for the students than for themselves.  Besides, look at how versatile the English Major is.  We have had other readings concerning its versatility, and it seems as though the students in class who have chosen English as their majors chose it because it is so versatile.  Lemire brings up a ton of great points in this and other chapters that we should all take to heart.


Could You Live on Only $281 Per Month?

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"The Bureau of Labor Statistics found full-time 'private household workers and servants' earning a median income of $223 a week in 1998, which is $23 a week below the poverty level for a family of three.  For a forty-hour week, our pay at The Maids would amount to $266, or $43 above the poverty level."

-From Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, chapter 2, page 61


This particular quote exemplifies what I believe to be Ehrenreich's goal in writing this book based on her experiences: She wishes to astonish the majority of Americans who do not belong to the class of people below the poverty level.  I think that anyone reading this would be astonished.  This is the amount, if not less than the amount, that high school and college students work their jobs for, and usually they are not supporting themselves, and are rarely supporting a family.  After I thought of this, I immediately thought of single parents who have to support children on this pay.  Just out of curiosity, I looked up the expense of sending one child to daycare for the 9-5 workday (8-6 to allow time for driving).  I actually found that, according to at, "Assuming full-time day care for a 2 year old child on weekdays, according to Runzheimer International, the U.S. national average cost for full-time day care is $611 a month."  So, for a single working mother who is making $223 a week ($892 per month) this is the average price that even they must pay.  I know you can do the math, but here it is: that leaves $281 per month to pay for housing, food, utilities, and any other expenses, such as diapers and other baby products.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  At one point in Nickel and Dimed Ehrenreich says, "But I am realizing that, just as in Key West, one job will never be enough" (60).  One job was not enough for her, and she did not have to support a family.  Thank goodness for programs such as Head Start in Westmoreland County that can provide aid to people in these types of situations.  Ehrenreich may have a somewhat boring style of writing, but the facts say enough to make up for it: we are one of the greatest countries in the world, which is changing by the way, and yet people live in squalor and will continue to live this way unless we act.  I would rather be surprised by a statistic that says less than 5% of Americans are below the poverty line than be astounded by the quote above.  Oh, and by the way, according to a Press Release by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2006, 12.9% of Americans were below the poverty level, and I'm sure it has not changed much since then.