When it comes to children and young people reading, should parents/teachers/grandparents say, “I don’t really care what they read, as long as they’re reading”? I’ve heard folks say that many times through the years and never thought much of it. I tended to agree that kids’ reading something is better than reading nothing. And especially in this day of ubiquitous video games and various forms of electronic preoccupation, isn’t it better for a kid to turn off the brain-numbing gadgets occasionally and exercise other intrapersonal proficiencies? And the same applies to adults: isn’t it better to read something than nothing at all? With so many reading options available, from comic books to romance novels, to unlimited online content, what’s the big deal? Just read something! Because reading, no matter what it is, is good for you.
But an article I read recently caused me to stop and reconsider that assertion. The author challenged the reading-something-is-better-than-reading-nothing thesis with the analogous, “I don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re eating.” Read that clause again: “I don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re eating.” He is implying, of course, that not all reading choices have equal value for enriching our lives and making us healthier, better people.
A pair of disclaimers are in order. First, I’m not talking about very young children who are just learning to read, where the innate, God-given drive to learn and master one’s world one step at a time brings the child (and his parents) a sense of accomplishment and joy. I do believe that any and every type of reading material that interests little tykes needs to be encouraged. I’m referring to older kids (and, yes, adults) who have gained some mastery of reading fundamentals, yet who, for whatever reason, don’t read much.
Second, I’m excluding online content, including news, weather, sports, articles on various topics, and blogs—including this one. For the most part, that sort of reading is ephemeral, meaning it’s here today and gone tomorrow (or ten minutes from now). And so, while that is technically reading, it isn’t the type of reading I’m talking about. I admit that, as much as I like to read in general, a significant chunk of my reading these days consists of ephemera. And I worry that ephemera is producing an insidious shallowness in me. Reading twenty or thirty snippets of online content in one sitting on a regular basis may fool me into thinking I’m a well-informed person, but it may in fact be turning me into a Mississippi River kind of person: you know, someone who’s a mile wide but an inch deep. That troubles me.
Now, I could go on here, arguing for the reading of books—good, substantial, depth-producing books that take a concerted effort to consume and digest—but I’ll reserve that argument for a subsequent article. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you—from parents, grandparents, teachers, and other adults. Let me ask, what do you thinkof the statement, “I’d rather that people read something instead of nothing”? Do you agree? If so let me know why. If not, why not?
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!)—I will have a book with me. An actual book, mind you, not a digital version. 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.
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.
 Some of my friends seem to care about that sort of thing more than almost anything else, so please be reassured.
 I have nothing against digital versions—I’ve read several on my Kindle—they’re just not my cup of reading tea.
 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.
Constance 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).
Despite 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.
9. 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”
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).
Often humorous, always educational, this website promotes standard written and spoken American English.
Thanks for stopping by my website! My overarching goal is to celebrate and affirm standard written and spoken English and consequently promote clearer, more effective interpersonal communication. To that end, I’ve written blog posts and included other resources related to writing, language, grammar, words, usage, punctuation, and even pronunciation. For a few chuckles, check out the “Grammar Funnies” tab.
Why do I write this blog and manage this site? I’m an educator by nature and nurture and a lover of the English language. I get energized by reading English-usage manuals and studying the why-fors and what-have-yous of grammar and punctuation. To use old colloquial expressions, I really dig this stuff. It floats my boat.
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