Thursday, June 30, 2011

Serial Comma For the Win

I both love and despise grammar.  I love the orders and rules of grammar, which attempt to make sense of the fluid, abstract being that is oral language.  I also love playing with that grammar to add meaning to a text.  I despise when people use grammar for evil, getting their panties in a twist about grammar and using it to condescend to others.  There are some basic things that drive me crazy, sure, born mostly of a need for cogency (homophones come to mind).  But to get into a hissy-fit because someone uses the incorrect pronoun for the antecedent "somebody" -- come on now. I am happy to find I am not alone in this.

I try to be open-minded about grammar and its changes.  The serial comma is an exception to my I'm OK, You're OK grammar philosophy, and I feel a strange affinity for this blip of punctuation.  Apparently Oxford University Press has officially dropped the "Oxford comma," aka the serial comma from their PR department.   Their standard usage is now that in a series of items, a comma before the final item is unnecessary unless it is needed to avoid ambiguity (this book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God teehee).

I shouldn't care as much as I do.  I perceive this as one more of those exceptions to our language that makes things unnecessarily difficult.  Is it really so confusing or time-consuming to put in a final comma?  I know newspapers have long dropped the serial comma, but I'd still love to see the statistics from a newspaper on how much ink they saved by dropping serial commas. Oh wait, print newspapers would need subscribers for that, anyway!*

Anyone here pro-serial-killing?  I just haven't heard a compelling argument to drop it, or maybe I'm too fanatically loyal to be swayed; I think leaving it out tends to elicit more ambiguity or at least more frequent opportunities for ambiguity than eliminating it would.  I don't really accept the accusation of "clutter" as a valid one.  Political correctness and commercialism possess more fault for our inflated purple language than the unassuming comma.

Can we just agree that either is fine, just be consistent?  I usually talk to my students about the fluidity of grammar and point out rules such as this one which change or are stylistic choices.  I tell them that grammar changes over time (e.g., "ain't" used to be perfectly acceptable during the Elizabethan court).   In fact, I think it's only a matter of time before the plural, non-gender "they/their" is acceptable for indefinite pronouns ("Somebody left their comma here.").  They may have teachers who tell them different things or prefer different styles: that's life.  They're more on board - or I like to think they are -  if I'm honest that sometimes grammar just is what the bigwigs say it is, and we have to accept that. 

What's your take?  What does your state standard guide tell you to do with the serial comma?  And do you obey or practice civil disobedience?

*ok, that was mean.  I do love newspapers and love print newspapers (for nostalgia's sake).  I do wonder about the future and relevance of print newspapers in a digital age.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ruby Oliver, can we be friends?

Have you ever read a book where you told the fictional hero/heroine, YOU are my new best friend?

Lockhart's Ruby Oliver series is that for me.  I've often wished BFF status about a particular author, but this is one of the few fictional characters I wish I could actually befriend.  OK, who am I kidding -- I'd happily BFF Lockhart, too.  I just finished the fourth and final (I'm pretty sure) book of this series, and in my opinion it's a YA must-read series.  It doesn't necessarily have universal appeal, but if you enjoy endearing character-driven stories, it's definitely worth a look.  The books are often laugh-out-loud funny, insightful without being too syrupy, and honest without being too brutal.  I can relate to the self-deprecating, slightly cynical-yet-deep-down-romantic, sarcastic heroine.

#1 - The Boyfriend List
#2 -  The Boy Book
#3 - The Treasure Map of Boys
#4 - Real Live Boyfriends

I will say these are not books to audio.  Ruby likes to add amusing anecdotes or explanations via footnotes, which is just infinitely more fun to read than listen to.  Do yourself a favor and pick up something just plain fun for the summer!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer reading

Hopefully by now you are on summer vacation.  Unless you teach at a year-round school, in which case, I don't understand you at all.  Kidding.  But really, what is the usual schedule for year-round?

I think many of us like to use the summer to get caught up on reading (in between professional development workshops) and that has definitely been the case for me.  I have loved picking up books for fun and reading them at my own pace again.  I'm relishing it until the semester re-starts.

I have a constantly growing to-read list, so I plan to tackle a few items from that, starting with some tried-and-true favs:

  1. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  2. Ruby Oliver #3 & 4 by E. Lockhart
  3. Bubbles All the Way by Sarah Strohmeyer
  4. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

I've already finished Mockingjay , Ruby Oliver #3, and Vanishing of Katharina Linden.  And I'm ready to devour more.  The hard part is just deciding which ones!  What are you hoping to read this summer?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Thanks for the insight and sharing of my oh-so-desperate decisions.  I am strongly leaning towards HotB as of now.  The professor who teaches it has an interesting foot in both worlds: he specializes in middle ages literature and manuscripts, but he also teaches courses in digital media and book technology.  This is obviously a class he will know thoroughly and likely enjoy.  The Caribbean literature one, while interesting, I can explore on my own a bit, now that I have the list of readings.  Obviously this is not the same as studying it in class with discussions from others or a learned professor, but sadly these are the kinds of choices I have to make!

Though once a YA Lit class is offered, my choices will be so much easier.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scheduling, teil zwei

Good questions, all, thanks!

These are classes I have to choose between as an elective for my own studies next semester.   I am trying to keep in mind the fact that I am getting my master’s degree with the idea of expanding my teaching repertoire.  Caribbean Lit seems more likely something I might be able to incorporate into a world literature or AP class, so it feels like the class I should take.

History of the Book intrigues me simply because it’s so different from the typical lit classes.  I’m interested in the book-making process from the standpoint of a writer, as I don’t really know what the editor/publisher/seller process looks like.  I’m intrigued by the idea of manipulation and the propaganda involved in sales (have I mentioned I love dystopian YA Lit?), and I would really like to know what kind of technological options are out there for books and what that would mean for the classroom.  And I may have forgotten to mention there are field trips involved to publishing houses and special collections.  Yes, I am a graduate student excited about a field trip.

I promised myself that I would take classes I want to take and scheduling be darned.  But I have to admit that a three-hour (yes, it’s just once a week, but three hours *whine*) course is a bit of a turn-off for the Carib Lit.  But one girl I met and got along with is taking it, so perhaps we could make it bearable.  However, HotB’s scheduling gives me several hours to do homework on campus before my next class that afternoon and makes parking easier (i.e., free).  It’s hard to completely discount the pragmatic scheduling issues, but I’m trying.  So, I thought I'd throw it to the public, because I dearly care what other people think.

Monday, June 20, 2011


If you had to choose between Caribbean Literature and History of the Book, which would you choose?  Caribbean Literature would include authors such as Julia Alvarez, V.S.Naipaul, Junot Diaz -- authors I (er, you) have heard of but never read.  History of the Book will not only trace the invention of the book from early manuscripts through Google Book and other digital forms, but it will also discuss the many roles involved in book-making, from author to seller.

Let's completely discount scheduling issues.  Which would you choose?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Make your own Smartboard for $45

Here's a new project for you:  make your own smartboard for $45.

Have you heard/seen what Johnny Lee can do with a wii remote?  It's pretty awesome

His website does indeed explain how to set it up and provide the necessary software to make it work.  I did notice in his instructions that it requires a bluetooth, so I suppose that's an added cost if you don't have one.  But hey, you could get yourself a bluetooth device and use it as a tax write-off!

And if you think it's too complicated, there's a video out there showing a darling fourth grader who created this interactive whiteboard as his science project.  If Austin can do it, you can do it.

I don't currently have a whiteboard to set this up on.  Someone do this and tell me how it goes.  Do it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I would of flipped my lid

Do your kids have this problem: "would of" instead of "would have" or "would've"?  Or could/should/etc.

This slip-up had never ever occurred to me before, but then one year I started seeing it littering papers of a variety of students.  Have you seen this or is it simply localized in the South where words are cut short and allstrungtogether?