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Showing posts from January, 2013

Candide, by Voltaire (1694-1778), translated by John Butt (1947)

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All you need to know to appreciate this delicious one hundred and forty page satirical novella is that during Voltaire’s lifetime, the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz, known as the last ‘universal genius’ (instrumental in the invention of the calculator, by the way) wrote that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’. While Leibniz wasn’t thinking in terms of gradations of quality, such as good, better, and best (since he knew of no alternate universes with which to compare and contrast this one), this philosophy, certainly in its summarized form, struck many as a dismissive and flippant excuse for evil, a callous refutation of worldly sorrows and wickedness. In fairness, Leibniz based his claim on the notion that, given what he called the ‘sufficient reason’ or the belief that nothing happens without a reason, God, being omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn’t allow evil to exist if He didn’t see some need for it. Still, small comfort to those in pain.

Voltaire had dealt wi…

More Rick Riordan

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Southtown by Rick Riordan
As anyone who reads my blog knows, my requisite for reading anything is the writing quality. This trumps plot or genre. Which is why my favorite dead author is Nabokov, despite many of his novels being either perverse or plot free. Same reason I love Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, P.G. Wodehouse, everything by J.D. Salinger, Brad Whittington, and the handful of novels I’ve read (so far) by Robertson Davies.

This is why I’m a big Rick Riordan fan. Even though crime fiction isn’t my favorite genre, I can’t keep away from his Tres Navarre crime fiction series. Riordan’s lean prose and well-planted similes are irresistible. That the pace breaks the sound barrier and makes your heart out pound the timpani section of the most vigorous percussion orchestra is, as they say, an added bonus. ‘They’ being the voices in my head. Riordan blends humor and tension so well you’ll find yourself biting your nails on one page and snorting coffee out your nostrils on the next…

Woe is I, The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Conner (1996)

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If you’re like me and love the English language, particularly the written word and its impact and power to persuade and beguile and move the reader, then you might enjoy certain facets of this book. I can’t find much to recommend it, though. The chapter titles – Plurals Before Swine, Comma Sutra, and Death Sentence – are better than the chapters themselves, which are too cursory for my tastes. But if you’re intimidated by the rules of sentence structure, if you associate English professors with the grammar Gestapo or ruler-wielding nuns eager to rap your knuckles when your tenses are wrong or your noun and verb don’t agree, the subtitle says it all: this book is for those frightened by word rules. O’Conner offers a Grammar Guidelines for Dummies kind of approach with mild humor and friendly advice and none of the intimidating jargon normally associated with the subject.
If, however, you’re a grammarphile – if you like to play name-that-gerund at parties, can conjugate verbs in your sle…