Monday, June 04, 2007

Book Reviews and Political Orientation

Husband here. I apologize for the delay in posting anything over the past couple of weeks. The sad part is that I really do have a lot to say. I have to complete my series on sucking up to in-laws, I have a request from one of our regular readers to give my assessment of the current field of American presidential candidates, I have a report to make on our latest vacation, and much, much more. With all that to write I'm so overwhelmed that I feel I'll forget the proper usage of commas, but as I never really knew how to use them I suppose you wouldn't even notice.

Which reminds me of a minor complaint I have with the teaching of English in the American education system. While I greatly enjoyed the teaching of literature in all its manifestation, I don't think enough time was spent teaching me proper mechanics. To this day I have no idea what a gerund is, or when to use a semicolon* versus a colon. In the end, I learned more of English syntax and grammar by learning French than I ever did with my English teachers in school.

That said let's get on to the book review. I've been power reading over the past few weeks and have finished three novels in under a month. Now I use the term "novel" very losely. One of Wife's co-workers, with whom I have a nerdy affinity, loaned me a five book sci-fi series, by Troy Denning. Concurrently my father-in-law loaned me Matthew Pearl's historical fiction novel, The Dante Club.

Now obviously comparing sci-fi and historical fiction is like comparing hot red chilies and flan. From a reading perspective it's almost jarring to read the two genres in such a short period. The sci-fi series (known as the Prism Pentad if you want to rediscover your inner nerd), was a poorly written series designed mostly to create a new fantasy world concept for TSR's Dungeon and Dragons game series. As a result it did little except create new monsters/races for play. The best that can be said for it is that while the writing was substandard the world environment was relatively unique in concept. Also it was one of the least derivative series I've read in that genre. Still I wouldn't recommend it unless you're feeling really nerdy.

As to the Dante Club, I have very mixed feelings. First and foremost I have to say I dislike the whole idea of historical fiction. Yes I know it's not very post-modern of me, but the idea of taking historical figures outside of their documented experience to a fictional setting really discomforts me.

In the novel Pearl has the great poets of 19th century New England move around post-bellum America to solve a series of murders taken right out of the punishments from Dante's Inferno. If the authorities in the novel figure out that the murderer is copying the heretofore untranslated Inferno, they will realize that the poets working on this translation should be investigated immediately. To forestall this the poets undertake an investigation to preserve their good names. Ultimately the interest of the protagonists is driven not by any desire to do good, but a cynical desire for self preservation. Now I know that this is probably fairly realistic of human nature, but the implications still bother me. More troubling still is the fact that the author does an excellent job making the antagonist a sympathetic character. Indeed given the current struggles of US veterans coming home from war, the antagonist becomes the most sympathetic character in the piece.

I guess for most people that type of equation actually makes for a compelling story. Still I'm too much of a romantic to have fully appreciated the nuances of the characters. Oh and I must mention that the first two hundred pages or so are jarringly non-linear. At times I thought the author was just trying to be too clever for his own good.

Now for our special feature:

The latest political quiz/test as posted by our friend Cameron. My results are shown at the bottom. I suppose you're all surprised I didn't test as far left as most of you thought. On the other hand some of you would be surprised that Wife tested much, much, much more liberal than I. Have fun.

Your Political Profile:

Overall: 35% Conservative, 65% Liberal

Social Issues: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

Personal Responsibility: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal

Fiscal Issues: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

Ethics: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Defense and Crime: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

*Now I ask you who's right of these quotes?

Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.
(Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A country)

I have always had a great affection for the semicolon; it has a certain discreet charm. On the other hand, there is just one word to describe the colon: bossy. A colon says: “Pay attention, this next bit is really important.” If the colon is a fanfare, the semicolon is more like a polite cough.
(Oliver Pritchette in his review of Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss)


GK said...

I'm 30% Con / 70% Liberal.
How that translates to English politics I don't know, all I do know is the day I meet an honest politician is the day the world ends.

Books I would recommend: The Riddle Master Trilogy by Patricia McKillip, a fantasy by an American Author, engaging but not heavy reading.

Whats a colon?

Encore, Encore!

Mr Jo Bloggity said...

So much to comment on.

1. Grammar is fascinating.

2. Sci-fi is a genre that, unfortunately, lends itself to either poor writing or derivative work (and usually both).

3. You, need, to, learn, how, to, use, commas; they, can, be, sprinkled, like: basil!

4. Historical fiction often lends itself to authors who think they are clever. I mean, the entire premise for writing historical fiction is that the author is clever enough to use a historical figure at all. I'll bet the writer was sipping wine and nibbling cheese as his friends patted him on the back for his clever prose.

5. Does 100% Liberal in the Personal Responsibility category answer why you refuse to be accountable for anything :p

6. Vonnegut FTW!

Alissa said...

pritchett is right. the colon is totally bossy! i never use semicolons... i imagine that's because I am bossy.

off to take your quiz. pretty sure i know who i'm voting for tho.

Alissa said...

nevermind. i guess i'm just too middle of the road... my answers couldn't be found. i'm so wishy washy...

Panini said...

Now you've made me fascinated about the Dante Club. And you're so right on about the teaching of English grammar!!!! -which was so frustrating.
And I'm excited to take your test. :)
p.s. Margaret Atwood does amazing things with the colon.

Roy @ CNM said...

First, for a neat podcast I heard today on commas (particularly with however, but there's something to extrapolate here), visit the Grammar Girl podcast (the site can be found off of It's a few episodes back, but very well-done.

Second, the quiz is a bit trite, but interesting reuslts:
Your Political Profile:
Overall: 30% Conservative, 70% Liberal
Social Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Ethics: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Nothing horribly surprising.

dastew said...

A podcast about commas?? Seriously Dave? Well I have to say that I'm not too surprised about GK's percents, nor that lissa's middle of the road (though I thought you'd be a bit more conservative), but Dave I thought you'd be a lot more liberal.

Well this quiz was a bit trite I liked the fact that it forced you to make a choice and didn't give you the out of saying "no opinion" or "none of the above". I think our truest beliefs come out in such black and white choices. That's all my moralizing for today.

La Yen said...

The quiz had spelling mistakes. So I am discounting it completely. (But I was 50-50 the whole way through)

I read Dante Club a while ago--I don't remember anything about it, which tells me it is a good airplane book.

And you know how I feel about Science Fiction.

And I love the semi-colon.