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March 26, 2014

The Eternal Duel: A History of Commas

Commas are a touchy subject, having divided writers of the English language into two distinct camps for many years.

On one side of the battlefield are those in favor the Oxford or “serial” comma, which is endorsed by Oxford University Press and the Chicago Manual of Style. In the other corner of the ring are the Associated Press and New York Times, ever skeptical of any unnecessary punctuation.

NPR’s Linda Holmes has a succinct way of describing the root cause of the comma wars:

For those of you who enjoy the outdoors and would no more sort commas into classes than you would organize peanut butter jars in order of viscosity, the serial comma — or “Oxford comma” — is the final comma that comes in a sentence like this: ‘I met a realtor, a DJ, a surfer, and a pharmaceutical salesperson.’ (In this sentence, I am on The Bachelorette.)

Just to reiterate the obvious, some believe the final comma should be included, while others argue that it must be left out.

Incidentally, Holmes makes a decent point— when did anyone start taking commas so seriously? Although it sheds little light on the sheer amount of animosity tied up in this debate, here’s a brief timeline of the comma’s history so far:

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December 11, 2013

SA’s literary giants offer diverse views on Mandela

JM Coetzee

JM Coetzee

By Siyabonga Sithole

South African Nobel laureates Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee, as well as acclaimed author Zakes Mda, have all written high-profile reflections on Nelson Mandela this week.

The most talked about is The Contradictions of Mandela, an opinion piece by Mda in the New York Times.

Mda recalls Mandela as a fiery, disciplined young lawyer who would visit his family home.

“I remember Nelson Mandela. No, not the universally adored elder statesman who successfully resisted the megalomania that comes with deification and who died Thursday at age 95, but the young lawyer who used to sit in my parents’ living room until the early hours of the morning, debating African nationalism with my father, Ashby Peter Mda.”

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August 9, 2013

Born Again in a Second Language

0804STONE-blog427 By COSTICA BRADATAN
 
 
In her exploration of the Catholic religion, “Letter to a Priest,” written the year before her death in 1943, Simone Weil noticed at some point that “for any man a change of religion is as dangerous a thing as a change of language is for a writer. It may turn out a success, but it can also have disastrous consequences.” The Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, who was one such writer, talks of the change of language as a catastrophic event in any author’s biography. And rightly so.
 
When you become a writer, you don’t do so in abstract, but in relation to a certain language. To practice writing is to grow roots into that language; the better writer you become, the deeper the roots. Literary virtuosity almost always betrays a sense of deep, comfortable immersion into a familiar soil. As such, if for any reason the writer has to change languages, the experience is nothing short of life-threatening. Not only do you have to start everything again from scratch, but you also have to undo what you have been doing for almost as long as you have been around. Changing languages is not for the fainthearted, nor for the impatient.
 

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August 7, 2013

Be Kind: George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates Goes Viral

smile“To the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness,” the author said in his commencement address

By Melissa Locker

Be kind.

That’s the gist of George Saunders’ advice to the class of 2013, delivered in a convocation speech at Syracuse University. While the graduation address was given months ago, thanks to a recent feature in the New York Times, it’s become the speech that keeps on giving. In fact, the sage advice in Saunders’ address has gone viral, spreading across the Internet on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

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March 27, 2013

Debut Novels by Writers Over 40

Katherine-Anne-Porter-150x150By Randy Susan Meyers

I tried to resist writing this—especially after my plea against categorizing authors.  Plus, so many of us hide our age in this world of never-get-old, unearthing this information, even in our Googlized world, was difficult.

But, recently, along with the plethora of lists of writers under 40, I was faced with the declaration that, as headlined in a Guardian UK article about writers, ‘Let’s Face It, After 40 You’re Past It.”

Then I read Sam Tanenhaus opine in the New York Times that there was “an essential truth about fiction writers: They often compose their best and most lasting work when they are young. “There’s something very misleading about the literary culture that looks at writers in their 30s and calls them ‘budding’ or ‘promising,’ when in fact they’re peaking.”

Thus, in the interest not of division, but of keeping up the flagging spirits of those who don’t want to be pushed out on the ice floe until after publishing all those words jangling in their head, I present 40 0ver 40:

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December 13, 2012

At Random House, Employees Will Enjoy 5,000 Shades of Green

50By LESLIE KAUFMAN

Random House had its corporate Christmas party on Wednesday night in New York, and word is that Santa likes bondage. A lot.

Markus Dohle, the chief executive of Random House, promised employees — from top editors to warehouse workers — a $5,000 bonus to celebrate a profitable year. The cheering went on for minutes, according to people in attendance.

Call it 5,000 shades of green.

This year, Random House had the good fortune to publish E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” about an inexperienced college student who falls in love with an older man with a taste for trying her up and whipping her, among other delights. The book has topped the New York Times paperback best-seller list for 37 weeks and counting. The sequels “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” have been in the top five for a similar amount of time.

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November 17, 2012

Greenlight Bookstore Offers First Edition Club

Greenlight Bookstore is making it easier for bookworms to get the tomes the treasure.

By MATHILDE HAMEL

To celebrate its third year in Fort Greene, Greenlight Bookstore has launched a new program. It’s a one-of-a-kind First Editions Club that focuses on the importance of physical books and their value as collectibles.

“We are so astonished that nobody had done this in New York City,” said Emily Russo Murtagh, 32, Greenlight’s First Editions Club manager.

The unusual idea comes from Mrs. Russo Murtagh, who said she got it when she was working at the Odyssey Bookstore in South Hadley, MA.

“Independent bookstores are always struggling to find ways to keep up or rather compete against the big box stores like Amazon,” she said. “It is a way for them to showcase their expertise in selecting those new books that could be potentially valuable.”

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October 2, 2012

Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing

By Maria Popova

In the winter of 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing published in The New York Times nearly a decade earlier, The Guardian reached out to some of today’s most celebrated authors and asked them to each offer his or her commandments. After Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, here come 8 from the one and only Neil Gaiman:

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September 28, 2012

Putting Words in Halle Berry’s Mouth

Filed under: film adaptations — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:35 pm

Illustration by Holly Wales

By DAVID MITCHELL

“So how does it feel?” is the question you hear when your book completes the long ascent from production purgatory to movieplex. Well, first there’s a primal kick: actors speak dialogue you wrote years ago, and all those nonexistent people are now real. They find flashes of humor or menace you never spotted, and soon all memory of how you imagined the character before the actor muscled in is gone.

For a playwright or screenwriter, this is a normal day at the office, but the first read-through of the “Cloud Atlas” script will stay with me forever. With three or four actors unable to attend, the film’s directors — Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski, who also wrote the screenplay — divvied up the spare roles. It seemed rude not to volunteer. I hadn’t been in a group-reading situation since my high-school English class, but instead of my 17-year-old classmates slogging through “A Passage to India,” here were Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent delivering lines that sounded uncannily familiar. The whole experience felt rather like finding Gandhi playing Connect 4 with your plumber in the cupboard under the stairs — it wasn’t so much the individual elements of the scene that were surreal but their juxtaposition.

Yet it soon sinks in that you’ve morphed from being the Creator to the guy who happened to write the original novel. How this makes you feel depends, I guess, on how you feel about the adaptation itself. I’ve never experienced much anxiety in this quarter. I met the three directors in 2008, and their plan to foreground the novel’s “transmigrating souls” motif by having actors perform multiple roles (each role being a sort of way station on that soul’s karmic journey) struck me as ingenious.

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August 30, 2012

Can self-publishing buy respect?

(Credit: iStockphoto/stokato)

Authors can now buy themselves rave reviews. Now that’s lazy — and counter to the true indie spirit

By Erin Keane

There was much pearl clutching after the Internet aired abecedarian mystery novelist Sue (“A Is for Alibi”) Grafton’s thoughts on self-publishing. Short version: She thinks it’s for lazies. Who you calling lazy? The digital swarm opined and I agreed, to some extent, with the outraged chorus. Who wouldn’t want to be on the side of the self-publishers, those scrappy DIY-ers who, like their punk forefathers and -mothers, step outside of a system that can’t or won’t serve them? Get in the van!

Then the New York Times examined a now-shuttered book review-for-hire service aimed at self-publishers, run by an Oklahoma businessman who realized that a large pool of underemployed writers willing to work for peanuts plus an equally large pool of unknown authors desperate to stand out equals profit. If only he had figured out a way to exploit the hopes of the adjunct professoriate, he could have hit the cynicism trifecta. Authors who wanted to artificially inflate their book’s popularity could buy satisfied reader reviews, circumventing the tedious business of building relationships with readers, librarians and booksellers like those squares in traditional publishing insist you must.

The service itself isn’t all that shocking. It’s not like you can’t purchase reviews from legit outlets like ForeWord and Kirkus, although they do sell review services aimed at self-publishers. Their packages are a bit more expensive, but you get what you pay for. One decent, well-reasoned Kirkus review by an experienced book reviewer, even in its “Indie” ghetto, could be worth 20 breathless shills on Amazon, where product reviews have become a kind of meme-based performance art.

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