Friday, August 14, 2009

An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love by Richard and Kristine Carlson

An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love: The True Story of the Best Gift Ever Given by Richard Carlson and Kristine Carlson is one of those schmaltzy sentimental slender books meant to inspire and leave the reader feeling deeply touched. If you liked Tuesdays With Morrie or just like the genre of tomes designed to tap into the heartstrings, then this book will probably touch you in some way. Early in the book, Richard Carlson, more famous for his Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series than he will be for this book, mentions Stephen Levine. What Carlson goes on to write is a very personal letter to his wife, the sort of letter that I am sure touched her and their daughters very close to their hearts but I felt uncomfortable reading something he intended as a gift to his wife. What’s more, the most relevant piece of the text was exactly that one small section taken directly from the more profound teachings of Stephen Levine. The three questions asked in the letter are handled on such a personal level which is why the way they are handled is hardly profound. If you want profundity, read Levine or write your own truths. This book, while lovely, is more for die hard fans of Carlson’s works but I wish his wife had kept this personal letter between the two of them. If she feels a need to share her own life, her own truths, she seems to have the ability to write well enough, as evidenced by the second part of the book, to do so. And if this is meant to be a text that shares how one woman copes with her grief and loss, I recommend the reader turn to Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking which is a more brutally honest exploration of grief than this pretty little book attempts to be. There is an audience for this type of book, obviously. I am not it, even more obviously.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

There, Their, They’re by Annette Lyon

The first and foremost question one should ask is, “Do we need another grammar resource book?” It’s hard to say. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is still the go-to text most often recommended. It is slender, offering few examples by way of explanation, but it is thorough. There are more contemporary resources, including the recent Eats, Shoots, and Leaves and The Transitive Vampire, for those who like their examples to be a bit quirky. And, of course, there are the Idiot’s and Dummies guides. So really, do we need another grammar resource book? In the case of Annette Lyon’s There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd the answer is a qualified no. First, the book is self-published, with all the worst that this implies. The layout is clumsy, including a misspelling here and something that actually needed to be covered over with white-out there. It is hard to trust a Word Nerd who can’t get her own manuscript polished to perfection. Second, there are times when her examples are fun but then there are times when they are dull, an inconsistency which is inexcusable. I think if Lyon had trusted her own voice and allowed herself to be more humorous in all of her examples, this might have been a fun book to read. As it is, there are times when she shines but, mostly this is all just a rehash of what’s been said and shared before. (Seriously. Read on to know just how far that last phrase goes.) Third, she doesn’t use the correct terminology, which might have given this thin volume some more weight. Nominal, adverbials, adjectivals are all discussed although none are labeled as such. If the intention of this book is to bring something new to the layman’s understanding of grammar and how writing works then bring it; don’t waste the reader’s time with more of the same. (Again, the implication of that last part is yet to come. Read on!) In the end it all reads like what’s been said and read before. (No kidding.) Except . . . Where this book finally earns some (any) merit is in the final chapter where Lyon addresses the heinous mistakes one finds all over the internet. The first time I saw wahla used in place of voila I was understandably horrified. I then saw it again and again, usually not far removed from such other errors as “intensive purposes” and “should of.” Is there a need for someone to clarify these things? Yes! Can Lyon write a whole book citing only these things? I’d like to think not but there’s an awful lot of internet out there I haven’t read. I would suggest Lyon have more faith in her ability to publish her next book, something she threatens . . . erm, I mean promises . . . to do in the introduction to this book. If she has content that is new and/or relevant, a publisher will want to publish it and she won’t have to use self-publishing as a means to an end. If she insists on self-publishing again, I hope she will find a friend or someone who can proof-read her text so that she doesn’t call Macy’s "Macey’s" and doesn’t have to buy a case of corrective tape or liquid to hide a typo.

Edit: I received a comment from Amanda D explaining that there is a store called "Macey's" out in Utah. Who know? Obviously, not I! When I googled the name, I only received a suggestion that I had meant to type Macy's which is why I assumed the author had done the same. So thank you, Amanda D, for pointing this out to me. I appreciate it.

And now I must say one more thing about the book, something I had hoped not to have to say in this review. Lyon shares how she came to write the book in the introduction, saying that, in her blog she shares weekly grammar guidelines with her readers. I assumed that she would not draw word-for-word on these blog posts for the content of her book. After all, how much imagination can it take to come up with new examples? I went to her blog expecting to find her Word Nerd posts there but certainly assumed I would not find the content of the book word-for-word present and accounted for. In that assumption I was mistaken. I found more than one example from the book that is available, for free, in her blog. And while I can understand that the grammar rules themselves are not flexible enough to be re-worded, Lyon practically insults her reader by not even making an effort to create new examples. Which I guess leads me to another question: Should a person buy a resource when they can get the same content for free? I think it depends. I prefer books myself but I like them to be well-written, edited properly, and worth my financial investment. As it is, there are so many superior resources available that I cannot recommend this one to anyone. (For the record, I recommend The Transitive Vampire because I think the examples are weird and funny in an Edward Gorey kind of way.) PS: Yes, I am fully aware of my grammatical abuses throughout this post. I offer no apologies. I wrote this to be informal and casual.