September 10, 2007


John Shannon

I had a speed reading class in 1960. I hated every minute of it. The rationale always was that certain writings (newspapers, e.g.) could be surfed over, and parts even zapped. Save your real reading time for worthy prose. But that's nonsense. Something is either worth reading or not. I love words.


mark -- love the site, and all the resources. my buddy in denver did me a big favor turning me on to it. but two small quibbles: please stop promoting bloomsbury books, and running links to your own articles. the first just looks bad, even if your intentions are clear, and the second puts you in camp with a lot of amateurs. you're better than that dude.


Rodney, dude, thanks for the kind words and constructive criticism. My own stance on your points, however, is (1) I have no intention of ignoring an entire house of books simply because they've published one of mine and (2) most of my readers do, in fact, like to know where my byline is appearing. Anyway, as for this link, I imagine the interest in the contrast is pretty clear, and scarcely represents Bloomsbury logrolling, especially since both books are presented without comment. But - am genuinely glad you love the site, even with its minor defects.

Ann Wendland

Surf and Zap?! Perhaps for certain writers who nestle rewards in yards of effluvium and puffery, or whom you couldn't care less about but need to stay current with--boring, important guests at a cocktail party where there are also beloved, funny guests you can see out of the corners of your eyes--but with many books, it's just when they seem most mundane that they get the most exciting. Maybe I'm indulgent and like my suspension in someone else's mind too much to be trusted.

Steven Augustine

Re: "speed reading": I tend to think that's where the "blogger" (or gifted online amateur) can easily best the print professional, if the Art really matters, especially when it comes to reviewing heftier books: *in not having to resort to this awful practise*.

There's no way a professional "print" reviewer, up against a deadline and juggling several assignments in order to pay the bills...can soak up/in an important book in a day or two and deliver a critique evincing a layered understanding of the material.

I've read quite a few well-written and extremely entertaining critiques of certain "big" books that, nevertheless, made it obvious that the reviewer hadn't mastered the text before pronouncing on it.

I haven't read "Against the Day" yet (I'm saving it for that long dark Berlin winter), but I skimmed the reviews of it when they first came out because they *had* to be the results of skimming and bluffing.

I'll be ready to read an adequate examination of that book *next year*, perhaps...but the most valuable critiques will no doubt come even later, and I doubt they'll pop up anywhere other than online by then.

Jack Pendarvis

I don't understand Rodney's objection. Isn't a blog a series of articles written by you? So what's wrong with linking to other articles written by you? How are you "better than that"? He makes it sound as if you're shoplifting chapstick, not writing reviews for the New York Times. I am also curious about these "amateurs" who apparently write for magazines and newspapers. What's that other word for them? Oh yes, professionals. What I'm saying is, you are on the high end of what a blog can be! I believe Rodney is trying to get your goat.

Steven Augustine

What's so bad about shoplifting chapstick?

Jack Pendarvis


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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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