icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

One Writer's Ravings:
A Logophile's Blog
for Language Lovers

My "Filthy" Book TEST OF TIME

In the internet age, writers face many challenges. One of the worst is online reviews, especially on Amazon. In the old days, your book would be reviewed by presumably professional writers with plenty of reading under their belts. Then it would run in an ephemeral print publication and that would be it. The sting of an unfavorable review would mostly disappear with the next day's news. But in the era of the cloud, nothing disappears. Every ill-considered, semiliterate opinion is up there in perpetuity.


"Be kind and considerate with your criticism," wrote the great literary critic Malcolm Cowley. "It's just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good one." Unfortunately this advice is lost on the hordes of soi-disant critics who get a frisson from posting their bile and basking in its longevity online.


One such bit of eternal bile came my way back in 2015, when a "reviewer" named Shelly Sears posted her opinion of my book Test of Time, my second vocabulary-building novel for high school students and a time-travel comedy-adventure featuring Mark Twain transported (via the internet!) to our times. Normally I ignore foolish comments about my work, and I rarely post comments about anything, including ridiculous reviews on Amazon about my books. But in this case (perhaps inspired by the spirit of the irreverent Twain) I had to respond to Ms. Sears. If her words were going to last longer than the epitaph on a tombstone, I wanted my riposte to last right alongside.


Here's what she wrote: 


Re: TEST OF TIME by Shelly Sears
1.0 out of 5 stars Filthy, stick to the classics! Not for my kid!
Reviewed in the United States on April 23, 2015

Great idea, but not worth the filth. In the name of learning vocabulary, this book is full of curse words and sexual content like petting. Anyone could write a garbage story with a lot of SAT vocabulary words. This author was at least smart enough to figure out that scam. Stick to the classics!
4 people found this helpful

My response:

I'd love to engage you in a conversation about what constitutes "filth" in my book. Have you ever actually read Mark Twain's work? His books are also full of the kinds of things you object to, and they were written in the 19th century. And if "curse words" and "garbage" and "sexual content" are what you are trying to protect your child from, there is little in the English-language tradition that you can have him or her safely read. Please, steer clear of Chaucer, choose a Bowdlerized edition of Shakespeare, and good luck protecting your kid from all the reputable writers of classics after that who used words like "bastard," "hell," and "damn." Your "filth," I dare say, is, and always has been, the rest of the intelligent world's literature.


For more on this general topic, see this article from the Los Angeles Times on a famous 1968 Supreme Court obscenity case: https://enewspaper.latimes.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=a9faa998-76e9-4263-a1d3-becc1716fbe6.



Post a comment

Should We Capitalize "Black" and "White"?

The Associated Press and many newspapers have recently decided to capitalize "Black" because of all the protests and the increased attention to Black Lives Matter, but there is still no accord on what to do with "white." The AP recommends capitalizing both words, but in The New York Times and other publications I have seen uppercase "Black" paired with lowercase "white." My local paper, The San Diego Union-Tribune, is capitalizing both, which makes best sense to me because I like consistency in style.


I have to confess, though, that the whole thing seems like an after-the-fact, white-guilt stylistic handout, a self-conscious and, as my kids would say, "privileged" way of conferring some sort of status and dignity with the stroke of a pen. "Whoops — sorry we haven't been nice enough to you in the past, so now we're going to give you a big 'B,' which should make you feel better." And as far as I can tell, there wasn't any pressure from black people to do this; it was a "White" ruling-class editorial decision. What I can't figure out yet is, what's the point? Is it supposed to confer dignity or assuage white guilt?


Consider the now-ancient ambivalence over "Negro/negro" and "Colored/colored," not to mention "Afro-American" and "African-American," and you have to ask, Is this just another typographical gesture engineered by progressives to exonerate themselves? Styling it "Black" and "white" is clearly stupid because it says we're faking or forcing an obsequious nod to those we've always forced to be obsequious, while "Black" and "White," though less noxious, show only that, as Trump once disgustingly put it, "There are very fine people on both sides." So my vote is for continuing to style them both lowercase and getting on with the "good trouble, necessary trouble" that the late, great, fearless John Lewis advocated.

Be the first to comment

How Do You Feel? Good or Well?

A person identifying herself as "Nerdy Superfan Excited to Ask You Something the First Time," who listens to me on the Mandy Connell Show on KOA Denver (see the Events page for dates and times), wrote me recently with a complaint about how people use the word good.

"It drives me nuts when I ask someone 'How are you?' and they say good," she said. "The correct answer is well: 'You’re doing well! Superman does good!' One person I mentioned this to responded, 'I think if you ask "How are you?" then good can be acceptable, but if you ask "How are you DOING?" then it must be well.' I would love your thoughts." This was my response: Read More 

Post a comment

A Pronouncement on the Pronunciation of "Pro Tempore"

Yesterday, California State Senator Toni Atkins was the first woman and the first gay person to be sworn in as president pro tempore of the state senate. It was a thrilling moment in California history, but it was marred somewhat by the continual mispronunciation, by various speakers on the floor, of the honorific "pro tempore." Perhaps misremembering their high school Latin, or simply fudging it, they said proh-tem-POR-ee or proh-tem-POR-ay. Both those variants are egregiously wrong.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

These Ones or Those Ones?

People like to come up with grammar stuff to complain about, and I have certainly been among those complainers. But sometimes the complaint is sensible and sometimes it's just groundless complaining. On the Mandy Connell Show on KOA Denver today, I fielded a complaint about using "ones" with the plural pronouns "these" and "those."  Read More 
Be the first to comment

What Kind of Internet Reviewer Are You?

Today I tweeted this message:

"Friends: Please think before you vomit a review on Yelp, Amazon, or whatever. Remember that the people you are talking about are also people, with feelings, whose livelihoods may be adversely affected by your offhand words, which on the internet NEVER go away." Read More 
Post a comment

If It Ain't Hard to Do, You're Not Doing It Right

"I've been working hard to improve my writing skills," writes a fan and aspiring writer. "But the harder I work at it, the harder it gets, and the more I realize how arduous it is to write one good sentence. It is as if I cannot write well without exerting myself. And that exertion sometimes stifles my thought and causes me to quit. Is this how it's supposed to be, Charlie? Does every writer struggle to write well?" Read More 
Post a comment

Should Everyone Get Their Lunch?

"Hello, Charlie," writes Roman, a fan of my Verbal Advantage. "Throughout the program you use the noun person with such possessive pronouns as his or her depending on the context. I was wondering if it wouldn't be better to use their instead?

That's not an easy question to answer, I replied.  Read More 

Post a comment

Why No "Be" Verbs in Broadcast News?

Why do broadcast news journalists, especially on TV, scrupulously avoid any form of the verb to "be"? And why do they use present participles (the -ing form of verbs, as in "She was running"), or gerunds (the -ing form of a verb that functions as a noun, as in "She liked running"), to accomplish that avoidance? A curious question becoming a big problem: newscasters sounding like headlines. That not good, as this excellent article shows: http://www.newslab.org/2012/01/17/tv-news-needs-verbs/.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Talk Is the Enemy of Writing

Some time ago I received this query from a reader: "Recently, I made my brother mad advocating that I don't use words in my writing if I don't use them comfortably in my conversation. I was following William Zinsser's plea from his book On Writing Well. However, in Glenda Winders' feature on your book The Accidents of Style you said that 'too many writers think they are supposed to write the way they speak, and what happens is they come out sounding silly, lazy, and full of accidents of style.' I'm confused."

This was my answer:  Read More 
Post a comment