Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Spectator No. 573 (Wednesday, 28 July 1714)

"The Truth of the Story is, my new Husband gave me Reason to repent I had not staid for him [Mr. Waitfort]; he had married me for my Money, and I soon found he loved Money to Distraction; there was nothing he would not do to get it, nothing he would not suffer to preserve it; the smallest Expence keep him awake whole Nights, and when he paid a Bill, 'twas with as many Sighs, and after as many Delays, as a Man that endures the Loss of a Limb."

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu writing anonymously as Mrs. President of the Club of Widows. The full text is available at Project Gutenberg. She is writing in response to Joseph Addison's earlier article lampooning a fictional Club of Widows who drive men into early graves by exhausting them, both financially and sexually. Her rebuttal is satire with plenty of laughs as well as real teeth.

Thanks to a free online course Literature of the English Country House presented by the University of Sheffield on FutureLearn, I'm discovering a treasure chest of future reads.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ross Poldark

Ross Poldark (Poldark, #1)Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Ross Poldark. My review is part of the Ross Poldark Blog Tour. Leave a comment at Austenprose for a chance to win a Poldark-themed prize package!

A few of my favorite quotes:

He felt he would like one more look at the sea, which even now was licking at the rocks behind the house. He had no sentimental notions about the sea; he had no regard for its dangers or its beauties; to him it was a close acquaintance whose every virtue and failing, every smile and tantrum he had come to understand. (p. 10)

It was the mine around which the varying fortunes of the main Poldark family centered. On its vagaries depended not merely the prosperity of Charles Poldark and his family but the subsistence level of some three hundred miners and their families scattered in huts and cottages about the parish. To them the mine was a benevolent Moloch to whom they fed their children at an early age and from whom they took their daily bread. (p. 32)

Instead this room which had seen her grow to maturity would see her dry up and fade. The gilt mirror in the corner would bear its dispassionate testimony (p. 165)

In two years Ross had seen little of his own family and class. What he had overheard in the library on the day of Geoffrey Charles’ christening had filled him with contempt for them… He was not as concerned as they about the return of Maria Fitzherbert from the Continent or the scandal of the queen of France’s necklace. There were families in the district without enough bread and potatoes to keep them alive, and he wanted the families to be given gifts in kind, so that the epidemics of December and January should not have such easy prey. (p. 221)

Yes, it was a "beautiful" sermon, tugging the emotions and conjuring up pictures of greatness and peace. But were they talking about the decent peppery ordinary old man he knew, or had the subject strayed to the story of some saint of the past? Or were there perhaps two men being buried under the same name? (p. 277)

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Friday, July 3, 2015

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st CenturyThe Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book provides reference material as well as conceptual information about writing and word usage. The author's message to purists is "Language is always changing, get used to it." Language has been going to hell for a very long time: “According to the English scholar Richard Lloyd-Jones, some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.”

Pinker provides plenty of details about the nuts and bolts of sentence structure and larger "arcs of coherence" that help readers decode the meaning an author intends.

My favorite concept from this book is the "zombie noun" a nickname coined by Helen Sword for an unnecessary nominalization that hides the agent of action. "The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction." That translates in plain English to "Writers who overload their sentences with nouns derived from verbs and adjectives tend to sound pompous and abstract."

Since he is exposed to a great deal of academic writing, he explores how knowing a great deal about a subject can make an author the worst possible person to write about it. “The better you know something, the less you remember about how hard it was to learn. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.”

I also enjoyed his ironic sense of humor. “Unfortunately for cosmic justice, many gifted writers are scoundrels, and many inept ones are the salt of the earth.”

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