Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the month “October, 2022”

Review: The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories, by P.G. Wodehouse

The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories is, apparently, the prequel to the body of Jeeves’ stories Wodehouse wrote. While some stories in it are not about Jeeves, it is an excellent introduction to the style of writing Wodehouse employs.

The stories are witty, and some of the characters have the kinds of personalities that would have them shunned even in a loose crowd like science fiction fandom.

Still, this was an enjoyable (if too short) read, and I recommend it to anyone who could use a break from heavier reading, or who has had a stressful day.

Review: Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion, by K. Tempest Bradford

Before I get into this, I want to acknowledge that I personally know Tempest since her college days at NYU. That said, Tempest is one of the most incredible women I know working in the SF field today. A huge proponent of all kinds of equality, she is the woman behind the I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year challenge. She is also one of the people behind the Writing the Other workshops. I have never had a conversation with her where I did not come away with a fresh perspective.

She has now written her first middle-grade book, Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion. It’s a delightful book. Ruby is an extremely bright eleven-year-old, with an over-arching interest in bugs of any kind. She finds a bug that nobody she knows has ever seen before, and posts about it to the science group on Twitter that she has created against her parents’ wishes. As often happens in books like this, chaos ensues. Government agents appear, the online posts her family and friends make start disappearing, and her science teacher tries intimidation to get Ruby to abandon her chosen science project in favor of one the teacher thinks is appropriate for an eleven-year-old girl.

During the chaos, Ruby discovers a neighbor in distress and she and her friends get the local civic council to make a wellness call, which saves the woman’s life. Further, Ruby does a lot of evaluating f her assumptions. I won’t tell more than this, since that would ruin the book for you, but it is well worth the time to read. Delightfully, I found it in one of the libraries I have access to in both e-book and e-audiobook forms.

If you have a kid who reads at the appropriate level, or if middle-grade books are your thing (and I know there are lots of adults for whom this is true), you will enjoy this book. And, maybe, Tempest will make you think, which is always fun.

Reading Habits…

Like many of my bookish friends, I rarely read only one book at a time. Right now, for example, I am reading a collection of short works by P. G. Wodehouse (The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories), a novel by Iraj Pezeshkzad (My Uncle Napoleon), a book about libraries by Matthew Battles (Library: An Unquiet History) a book about the making of “Imagine” by John and Yoko Ono Lennon (Imagine: John Yoko), and a book of essays about food mostly by Mark Kurlansky (Choice Cuts). I am also listening to an audio version of Homer’s Iliad.

I’ve read this way for as long as I can remember. There are so many things I’m interested in, and so many times a book that is fine on one day is not something that suits my mood the following day. It may be a weird way of approaching books, but it has always worked for me.

Another bookish habit — one that was schooled out of me early on — is not marking up books as a rule. There are one or two books that I have marked up over the years (always feeling guilty about doing so), but those books I have always bought an extra copy of — just for the purpose. I’ve been thinking about this lately because Benjamin McEvoy notes in his YouTube lectures about reading notes that marking up a book with comments, indices, and other marginalia is one of the best ways to make a book “yours” and to tie your thoughts about the book to other books you’ve read, ideas you’ve had, and how the book relates to your world views and general values and beliefs. I have to admit that the idea is scary — and when I discussed it with one of my most well-read friends last night, he noted that he had also been taught that marking up books was a sin. (His parents were both educators; my mom was a bookkeeper and my dad was a construction worker.)

A bookish friend of mine, the late Velma Bowen, had a system for marking up books, and I did use it once or twice to note ideas in books on journal-keeping (I was teaching online courses in journal-keeping at the time, so being able to find the info was useful. I also developed a system for noting things in my own journals (which I still use when I journal by hand). I number the notebook’s pages and then I create a Table of Contents (ToC) going from back to front in the last three pages of the journal. Working from back to front with the ToC means that if I need more pages, it’s easy enough to do, I just rule off a page or two more. I have three columns in my ToC: the date of the entry, the page number(s), and a column for a brief description of the information I’m noting. I’ve used this system since 1979 or so (way. before Ryder Carroll and Bullet Journalling became A THING, and it has never failed me yet.

Another bookish habit I developed early on is maxing out my library cards. These days, that’s easier than ever, what with e-readers; apps like Glose, Audible, and Libby (my current favorite); inter-library loans; Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and — of course — the good, old neighborhood library. (We won’t mention that I have maxed out my Kindle at least three times, and I am currently at maximum borrowing and holds at two of the three libraries I have access to through Libby.) Yes, I do love “real” books (now often referred to as “dead-tree editions”, but I can carry thousands of books an an electronic device (as opposed to maybe three physical books), which has become more important as my health has declined over the years

The other bookish habit I have, and I suspect that it is the most important one of the lot, is that I read every day. I found out long ago that if I do not do that, the ability atrophies, just like what happens when you don’t use any other muscle, talent, or ability. What I do not do is set up a formal schedule for reading — life throws too many curve balls at adults to be able to say I will read for “x” amount of time every day. Some days, I will barely get half a short story read; other days, I will finish one or two novels. The point is not that I turn reading into a job that must be done; I keep it a pleasure that I can fit into whatever time my day allows.

So, above are peeks at some of the habits (good and bad) that I have acquired around reading over the years. I’d love to hear what yours are, so please feel free to tell me what works (or doesn’t) for you.

Review: The Iliad, by Homer: A New Translation by Caroline Alexander

When I was in fifth grade, my mom was on the school’s Book Fair (remember them?) committee. Knowing I loved Greek myths when a prose copy of The Iliad came in, she grabbed it for me. I won’t say it blew me away, but I wanted to be either Athena or Atalanta when I grew up. In fact, I was Atalanta for Senior Day in high school, but that’s another story altogether (Senior Day in my high school fell on May 8th, 1970, the day of the Kent State massacre, so I spent a large part of that day at school sitting in a stairwell, crying because one of the four students killed had been someone I knew through the anti-war movement.)

I fell in love with The Iliad right then, though, and meant to read it as poetry when I grew up. I even made a few abortive attempts at teaching myself Greek over the years (I have better luck singing than learning languages, sadly). Still, I somehow missed reading it as poetry, and I do feel the lack. Ms. Alexander’s translation is lovely but does not feel like poetry to me, and I suspect that the next time I read this I will definitely seek out a version in verse.

That said, I still love the story, and this version contains much more information-wise than the version that was obviously abridged to be appropriate for an 11-year-old girl in 1963. For example, it actually (in the introduction) explains why Achilles has had it with Agamemnon and the war in general.

Still, this is a credible, if somewhat pedestrian, version, and I will be listening to the whole thing. After all, I expect that I will listen to many different editions of this (and of The Odyssey when I get to it).

Reading List and Notes: Benjamin McEvoy’s Hardcore University “Get an Oxford-Level Reading Education”

First off, this will be a fairly long post, so feel free to either skim, read, or ignore it.

Second, I have made a few modifications to the list, such as the three books he recommends reading before diving in, and markings to show what books I have read on my own (pitifully few of his recommendations) and what books I will first be reading as part of the course.

Should I have notes on a book or article that I want to include, I will try to remember to put them in a different color, so they will not get confused with anything Mr. McEvoy says.

So, without further ado, here goes the biggest reading challenge I have ever undertaken.

Benjamin McEvoy’s Reading List for Hardcore University

Advice before you embark on your journey:

  • Seek difficulty.
  • Try to read books that are over your head.
  • Connect what you read to everything else you’ve read and the conversations you have in day-to-day life.
  • Treat these works like a mirror held up to your self and to nature.


  • Strikethrough indicates read for this course
  • ✓ indicates I read this on my own outside the course and will probably be reading it again.


  • Bloom, Harold:
    • How to Read and Why  (Note: On page 196-97, Bloom advocates not reading certain novels for plot, then goes and says you should read them for “the progressive development of the characters and for the gradual unfolding, indeed the revelation, of the author’s vision”; in other words..the plot!) 
  • Adler, Mortimer J. and Van Doren, Charles:
    • How to Read a Book
  • Pound, Ezra:
    • ABC of Reading

First Year Reading List:

  • Homer:
    • ✓The Iliad 
    • ✓The Odyssey
  • Aeschylus:
    • Prometheus Bound
    • Agamemnon 
    • The Eumenides 
    • The Libation Bearers
  • Euripides:
    • Hippolytus
    • Bacchae 
  • Sophocles:
    • Oedipus the King
    • The Theban Plays
    • Antigone 
  • Aristophanes:
    • Clouds
    • Frogs
    • Lysistrata 
    • The Assemblywomen
  • Plato:
    • The Republic
    • The Symposium
    • Meno
    • The Apology
  • Herodotus:
    • The History
  • Thucydides:
    • The History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Aristotle:
    • Politics
    • Ethics
    • Metaphysics
    • On the Soul
    • Rhetoric
    • Poetics
  • Plutarch:
    • The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans
  • Epictetus:
    • Discourses 
  • ✓The Old Testament

Second Year Reading List:

  • Marcus Aurelius:
    • Meditations
  • Cicero:
    • The Laws
    • The Republic
  • Virgil:
    • Aeneid
  • Horace:
    • Odes
    • Poetics
    • Satires
  • Ovid:
    • Metamorphoses 
  • Saint Augustine:
    • Confessions
    • City of God
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas:
    • Treatises 
  • Dante:
    • The Divine Comedy
  • Chaucer:
    • Canterbury Tales
    • Troilus and Criseyde 
  • Machiavelli:
    • The Prince
  • Descartes:
    • Discourse
  • ✓The New Testament

Third Year Reading List:

  • Shakespeare:
    • Everything
  • Cervantes:
    • Don Quixote 
  • Montaigne:
    • Essays
  • Thomas Hobbe:
    • Leviathan
  • Erasmus:
    • Praise of Folly
  • Milton:
    • Paradise Lost
    • Areopagitica 
  • Moliere:
    • The Misanthrope
    • The School for Wives
    • Tartuff 
  • Newton:
    • Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
  • John Locke:
    • Essays
  • David Hume:
    • Enquiry 
  • Voltaire:
    • ✓Candide
  • Samuel Richardson:
    • Clarissa 
  • Daniel Defoe:
    • Robinson Crusoe

Fourth Year Reading List:

  • Rousseau:
    • The Social Contract
  • Adam Smith:
    • Wealth of Nations
  • Edward Gibbon:
    • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Kant:
    • Critiques 
  • Mill:
    • On Liberty
    • Utilitarianism 
  • Kierkegaard:
    • Fear and Trembling
  • Nietzsche:
    • Beyond Good and Evil
    • Thus Spoke Zarathustra
    • The Birth of Tragedy
  • Goethe:
    • Faust
  • Balzac:
    • ✓Cousin Bette
  • Jane Austen:
    • Pride and Prejudice
  • George Eliot:
    • Middlemarch
  • Charles Dickens:
    • ✓Great Expectations
    • Bleak House
  • Herman Melville:
    • Moby Dick
  • Charles Darwin:
    • Origin of Species
  • Karl Marx:
    • Das Kapital
    • Manifesto (with Engels)

Fifth Year Reading List:

  • Tolstoy:
    • ✓Anna Karenina
    • War and Peace
  • Dostoyevsky:
    • Crime and Punishment
    • ✓The Brothers Karamazov
  • Ibsen:
    • ✓A Doll’s House
    • Hedda Gabler 
  • William James:
    • The Principles of Psychology
  • Freud:
    • Selected Works
  • John Dewey:
    • Experience and Education
  • Einstein:
    • Relativity
  • Sir George Frazer:
    • The Golden Bough
  • Joseph Conrad:
    • Heart of Darkness
  • Anton Chekhov
    • Selected Short Stories
    • ✓Uncle Vanya
  • Proust:
    • In Remembrance of Things Past
  • T.S. Eliot
    • The Waste Land
  • Hemingway:
    • The Old Man and the Sea
  • Faulkner:
    • As I Lay Dying

Review: How to Read and Why, by Harold Bloom, and Heads’ Up: How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren 

A valiant attempt to discuss reading critically, by an expert in the field. However, without a whole shelf of the books Bloom discusses at hand for references, I found it a bit rough to keep up with.

I read this as part of the Hardcore University program by Benjamin McEvoy, which is designed to give you an Oxford-level knowledge of the classics (yes, mostly dead white males) without you having to, you know, actually attend Oxford. The course sounded challenging, and with much of my health gone, I have lots of time to read, so I figured I’d give it a try. McEvoy suggested this and Mortimer J. Adler & Charles van Doren’s How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading before tackling the first part of the Hardcore University program. Frankly, I hope it’s better than the Bloom.

Review: How to Use the Power of the Printed Word, ed. by Billings S. Fuess, Jr.

How to Use the Power of the Printed Word Ed. by Billings S. Fuess, Jr., contains my absolute favorite article: the late Steve Allen’s “How to Enjoy the Classics.” Witty, with wonderful illustrations, I first encountered the article in Psychology Today back in the early 70s, as part of a series of articles called “The Power of the Printed Word,” sponsored by International Paper. In 1980, the articles were collected and published as this anthology.

While all the articles are worth reading, Steve Allen’s article had an immediate effect on me — I headed to the college library and took out the books Mr. Allen mentioned. While I cannot say I finished them all (some I was just too young to tackle or appreciate), reading as many of the classics as I could became a major part of my reading regimen.

It still is. There are many worthy guides to such reading available. Further, sites like Goodreads are more than happy to furnish such lists, as are various libraries and educational organizations. The Brooklyn Public Library even has a service called Brooklyn Book Match, where you can fill out a form on almost any topic, and a librarian will curate a list of five books to help you start a deep dive into your chosen topic.

Okay, this review has gone a bit far afield, but it is a topic dear to my heart, and I hope you search out How to Use the Power of the Printed Word and enjoy it as much as I did.

Review: A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, by Suze Rotolo

Reading Suze Rotolo’s A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties was definitely a trip down memory lane for me. While a lot of the book covers stuff that happened in the Village before I was hanging out there (I started hanging out there on my 18th birthday in 1972), I recognize (and have met) many of the artists, writers, and other denizens of Greenwich Village during the time Ms. Rotolo speaks of. Almost every sentence brings back some memory of a time that formed me and the values I live by to this day.

It’s possible, of course, that these memories color my opinion of the book. I make no bones about that. Still, it was a wonderful ride – and Ms. Rotolo gives enough actual information about places that I can follow the history of some of my favorite clubs and hangouts (not to mention where some of my favorite performers lived) that the maps in my head of the Village at that time have become much more detailed. She also looks at how she, Dylan, and others interacted, removing some of the “stars” from my eyes, but helping me create more complete mental pictures of folks who either influenced me or actually helped me grow into the person I am.

In addition to being very enlightening and entertaining, this is an incredibly thoughtful book, in which Ms. Rotolo draws together many threads to create a unified whole. She looks at the influences both she and Dylan shared, and how they fit into their lives and world views. She discusses how they shared influences from their pasts and how — when combined with Dylan’s commitment to exploring and experimenting — those influences helped Dylan develop his unique style.

If you lived in the Village during the 1960s or 1970s, or even just visited it or hung out there, I think you will find this an important book. I think it will also be of interest to those readers who are fond of NYC history, the history of folk music in NYC, and the way neighborhoods evolve. 

Review: The Reading List, by Sara Nisha Adams

Holy crap, Batman! What a gut punch of an ending! I went through almost a whole box of tissues listening to it.

I don’t want to give spoilers here, since I know several folks have Sara Nisha Adams’ The Reading List on their TBRs.

I will note that the first review that came up was from one of my favorite “cozy” authors, Ellery Adams. I disagree with her about the ending, but it was wonderful to see that she thought enough of the book to make her opinions public.

I will note that the protagonist turns out not to be who you are led to believe it is, but is really my favorite character. Both real and faux protagonists do sustain major growth over the course of the book, so that is doubly rewarding.

As a library lover, the book is also a treat, because there is a plot thread about turning libraries into full-service community centers in the good way, rather than closing them. It is also a paean to librarians, those wonderful folks who will help shape your reading if you only give them a chance and a few clues.

All in all, this is definitely a book for book lovers and for those who would like to become book lovers but aren’t sure how to take those first few steps. 

Film Review: My Dinner with Andre

I was listening to an old interview with Cary Elwes this morning, and he mentioned that actor Wallace Shawn is a Fulbright scholar. He also noted that Shawn co-wrote <i>My Dinner with Andre</i>, which was released in 1981. The critics loved the film, and at one point almost every art theater was showing it.

After reading of Shawn’s involvement with the film, I decided to look it up and watch it. I found it on YouTube as a $2.99 rental, so I grabbed it. I am very glad I did not pay full price to see it in the cinema.

Set in a room designed to look like NYC’s Cafe des Artistes, it features Shawn and Andre Gregory playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Sadly, the decor is not the problem; the dinner conversation is. It is incredibly self-indulgent, which fits in with the personalities on display. Now I like a good, intellectual conversation, with both parties exploring ideas as much as anyone This conversation was not that. It was mostly Gregory oversharing about the various workshops and spiritual quests he’d been o for the last few years.

All I can really say about this film is that unless you enjoy two males indulging in what might rightfully be called massive over-sharing, you’d do better to ignore <i>My Dinner with Andre</i> entirely and spend your time and money more wisely.

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