My Mentors: Jesus and Marx

A helpful clarification.

Those who know me even a little know that I enjoy reading books and that virtually anywhere I go—especially if I anticipate having to hang out in a waiting area (appropriately masked and socially distanced, of course![1])—I will have a book with me. An actual book, mind you, not a digital version.[2] I generally prefer nonfiction to fiction, although, in checking my book-reading log (yes, I actually keep one—call me weird), I see that I’ve read five fiction titles so far in 2020.

Not infrequently, someone will notice my public book-reading–which apparently is as peculiar as  public nose-picking–and make a friendly comment. “I see you have a book there. What are you reading?”

Typically, I’ll do a quick show-and-tell. One time, a young medical assistant’s comment was, “Oh, what a pretty book. The cover’s almost entirely white.” It was Rand Paul’s The Case Against Socialism. I was about to give her a 20-second summary of its contents, but at the last second I thought better of it and instead replied, “Oh, yes! I only read pretty books.”

One “pretty book” I’m reading now is The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx. It was a birthday gift from my son, who shares my peculiar sense of humor (sorry, son) and my appreciation of Marx Brothers movies, which I have enjoyed since high school.[3]

I’ve often said through the years, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that my lifelong mentors are Jesus and Marx. That piques the curiosity of some people. Many younger folks, however, respond with a blank stare or a polite chuckle, so I’ll go on to clarify: “That’s Groucho Marx, the one with the big black mustache and eyebrows, the glasses, and the cigar—not Karl, the one with the big bushy hair and beard, who you’ve been taught about in school.” For those who are still confused, I offer this helpful distinction: “In the twentieth century, Groucho Marx was directly responsible for 100 million laughs; Karl Marx was indirectly responsible for 100 million deaths.” That’s it in a nutshell.

Now, about who Jesus is—often equally as unknown as Groucho—well, that’s another story for another post.


[1] Some of my friends seem to care about that sort of thing more than almost anything else, so please be reassured.

[2] I have nothing against digital versions—I’ve read several on my Kindle—they’re just not my cup of reading tea.

[3] I attended high school in the 1970s, when Marx Brothers movies, made between and 1929 and 1949, were enjoying a brief revival. Just clarifying in case you thought I was 98 years old. Close but no cigar.

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch–A Short Book Review

Vex, Hex coverConstance Hale provides one of the most thorough treatments of verbs I’ve read.* The book is aimed at writers, both novice and experienced, and unless you hold a PhD in English composition, you will learn something useful to make your writing better. Do you know all about verb tense, mood, and voice? How well do you understand participles, gerunds, irregular verbs, and phrasal verbs? Do you know why these things matter—and they do matter—and how mastering them will help your writing shine brighter? Hale’s book provides the answers.

The title is a bit awkward (try saying it three times fast!)—I think “Let Verbs Power Your Writing” by itself would have been just fine—but “vex,” “hex,” “smash,” and “smooch” provide the framework around which Hale organizes each chapter, and the scheme works pretty well. At times she ventures into murky waters where even she may be out of her depth. For example, I’m still scratching my head at how “tight-fisted” is a past participle (instead of an adjective), as she asserts on page 224. But for the most part, she’s spot on. She includes many examples from real life and literature to illuminate the concepts, along with plenty of endnotes and an extensive bibliography to warm the hearts of readers who care to dig deeper.

I highly recommend this book to writers, wannabe writers, copyeditors, and students (high school and college), and I know that I’ll regularly pull it off my bookshelf to consult for my own writing.  Δ

*Constance Hale, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012).

© 2018 by Dean Christensen (The Dean’s English)

Ten Christmas-Themed Books and Stories to Enjoy

Is your favorite on this list?

Christmas BooksDespite the crazy commercialism and frenetic busyness of the yuletide season, Christmas remains my favorite holiday. Throw into the mix a love of reading and it’s inevitable that I would eventually acquire a list of favorite Christmas-themed books and stories. Some are great stories to read with your family, others are more historical and scholarly. Here are my top 10. If you have a favorite or two on this list—or not on this list—I want to hear it. Please do share.

10. The Christmas Box, by Richard Paul Evans (Fiction, 1993)

A man and his wife and young daughter move into a Victorian mansion with an elderly lady named Mary. With the help of an angel who comes to him at night, the man discovers a mysterious box containing old letters written to a young girl who had died many years before. Through them he discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

book-cover-how-the-grinch-stole-christmas9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Suess (Fiction, 1957)

At Christmas the Whos in Whoville would “SING, SING, SING.” The unhappy Grinch decided he must “stop this whole thing” by stealing all the presents while the village slept. How could Christmas be Christmas without any presents? The Grinch finds out, and his small heart grows three sizes. Continue reading “Ten Christmas-Themed Books and Stories to Enjoy”

Good Books by an Outstanding Author & Leader

Recommended for church leaders and interested believers.

I’m grateful for the opportunity the past few years to copyedit several books authored by Dr. John L. Amstutz, missionary, professor, leadership trainer, pastor, and long-time denominational leader in the Foursquare Church. Beyond that, he is a genuine Christian and a godly man. A few days ago I completed a fourth manuscript for Dr. Amstutz: Great Commission Church Movements: Learning from the Early Church, God’s Missionary People, to be published early next year.

Pictured here are two earlier titles I had the privilege of copyediting. Dr. Amstutz is making a positive difference in the world and I’m thankful to help in a small way.

All are published by Editorial RENUEVO (www.EditorialRenuevo.com).