Wednesday 16 December 2009

Pedantic Presents

I thought, as Christmas is coming and a pandemic of obesity sweeps the goose population, Inky Fool could offer a little choice of pedantic books as stocking fillers, complete with sample passages demonstrating their linguistic rectitude and links to Amazon.

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark is about a group of young ladies in London at the end of the Second World War. They are all slightly in love with a poor poet and an expensive dress. The reason for recommendation is this passage where a man called Rudi is reading out a political tract:

   There is a kind of truth in the popular idea of an anarchist as a wild man with a home-made bomb in his pocket. In modern times this bomb, fabricated in the back workshops of the imagination, can only take one effective form: Ridicule.

   Jane said, '"Only take" isn't grammatical, it should be "take only". I'll have to change that, Rudi.

The Tetherballs of Bougainville by Mark Leyner is a simple story about a young man who, when his father's execution in a New Jersey penitentiary fails, runs off to Bougainville with a mysterious talking orang-utan and writes propaganda for the breakaway de facto government. The reason for recommendation is this passage wherein our hero remembers how his father used to help him with homework:

   All of a sudeen Dad grabbed the mouse and highlighted a line on the computer screen, and he said, "That's a non-restrictive modifier. It needs to be set off by a commas."
   I probably said something to the effect of, "It's not a big deal, Dad, let's just leave it out."
   At which point he went completely beserk. "It's a non-restrictive adjectival phrase. It's not essential to the meaning of the sentence's main clause. It should be set off by commas. It is a big deal!"
   And he grabbed a souvenir scrimshaw engraving tool, which I'd gotten at the New Bedford Whaling Museum gift shop several summers ago, and he plunged it into his left thigh, I'd say at least two to three inches deep.
   "All right, I'll put the commas in," I said.

The Rachel Papers was Martin Amis' first novel and was about a young man running around London in the seventies trying to get laid (mainly by a girl called Rachel) and cram for the Oxford Entrance Exam. I've always had a soft spot for it as I read it back when I was (chastely) cramming for the Oxford Entrance Exam. The reason for recommendation is, inter almost all alia, this passage:

   The Practical Criticism Paper. I explicated a Donne sonnet and paid uncomprehending lip-service to a beefy dirge by someone called John Skelton. there was a D. H. Lawrence essay on how passionate and truthful D. H. Lawrence was: a characteristic piece of small-cocked doggerel  which I treated with characteristic knowingness. Finally, I belaboured one of Gerard Manley Hopkins's sleazier lyrics, implying (a last-minute reread made clear) that it was a high time we burned all extant editions of the little fag's poetry; emendations took the form of replacing some of the 'ands' with 'buts', and of changing the odd 'moreover' to 'however'.

The last recommendation is Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood which is (besides being the basis for the film/musical Cabaret) a careful depiction of Berlin in the 1930s. The reason for recommendation is, obscurely, this exchange:

   'And tell me, please, do you find German girls different than English girls?'
   I blushed. 'Do you find German girls . . .' I began to correct her and stopped, realizing just in time that I wasn't absolutely sure whether one says different from or different to.

Now I'm off to buy socks for my family.

Oh, you shouldn't have.

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