How to Mispronounce “Dr. Seuss.”

Dr. Seuss poses with The Cat in the Hat and other books, c. 1957Offering a great example of information without context, The Week‘s Amanda Green says we should not pronounce “Dr. Seuss” as “Doctor Soose” but as “Doctor Zoice.”  She’s wrong.

The professional pseudonym of Theodor Seuss Geisel is Dr. Seuss, and all the English-speaking world pronounced it “Doctor Soose.”  If you pronounce it “Doctor Zoice,” you’ll sound like a fool.

It is true that the middle name of Theodor Geisel — “Seuss,” which was also his mother’s maiden name — was pronounced “Zoice” by the family, and by Theodor Geisel himself.  So, if you are pronouncing his full given name, saying “Zoice” instead of “Soose” would not be wrong.  You’d have to explain the pronunciation to your listener, but you would be pronouncing it as the family did.

However, if you’re referring to the author of books for children, you pronounce it “Doctor Soose.” For his pseudonym, Dr. Seuss accepted this pronunciation of his middle name.

Since you may have arrived at this page from anywhere (and may not be a regular reader of this blog), I should tell you that I’m the author of Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004) and The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats (2007).  I also wrote the bio. and timeline for Random House’s Seussville website.  The beginning of that bio. includes the pronunciation information (“Zoice”), which I learned from Judith and Neil Morgan’s excellent Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel (1995).  If you read one secondary source about Seuss, their book is the one to read.

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8 Stray Pieces of Knowledge (Imported)

What happens to the odd bits of knowledge you accumulate while traveling? Unless you write them down, much vanishes. So, here are a few things I learned while traveling in Switzerland, France, and Norway during the past ten days.

1. The Basilisk originates in Basel, Switzerland.  You know the basilisk from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and likely also know that Rowling has borrowed the creature from mythology.  The mythical beast has its origins in Basel, as a guardian of the city.  You can find it on a bridge and in other public places there.  One of the city’s radio stations is Radio Basilisk — a discovery which prompted my question to my brother-in-law, Michel… and in turn led to this piece of information.

Basilisk, on Basel's Wettstein Bridge

2. There Are No Trees Above 2000 Meters — in the Swiss Alps. (The tree line varies from place to place, climate to climate.) While hiking down from above the tree line, Michel mentioned this as we approached a few hearty trees. Why are there no trees above that height? I’ve looked it up, and I discover that there are many possible causes, including rainfall, acidity of the soil, and tolerance to draught and cold.

Trees at about 2000 meters. Photo taken (by Phil Nel) while descending towards Refuge Giacomini, Anzeindaz

3. Your First Language Is a Foreign Language.  My sixteen-month-old niece Emily can understand more than she can speak — which, my sister points out, is true of anyone learning a language.  You always understand more than you’re able to express.

4. “Quisling” Is More Than a Synonym for “Traitor.”  Vidkun Quisling was the collaborationist ruler of occupied Norway during the Second World War. A few months after the end of the European war, he was convicted of war crimes and executed. In what might be described as poetic justice, Quisling’s house now houses Oslo’s Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities.

5. Norway Elected Its Monarchy in 1905.  Usually one thinks of countries either curtailing the power of monarchy or, via a revolution, overthrowing the monarchy.  Not Norway.  When they gained their independence, they voted for a new monarchy — having abandoned the old one when they left their alliance with Sweden. Indeed, Prince Carl of Denmark only agreed to become king if the people of Norway held an election. They did, and voted him in. He took the Norwegian name Haakon, becoming King Haakon VII. During the Second World War, after the Germans invaded, he told the Norwegian government that if they were to cooperate with the Nazis, then he would abdicate. They unanimously voted not to cooperate, and King Haakon became a strong symbol for the Norwegian resistance.

6. The Scandinavian Languages Were Once All the Same Language. About 1000 years ago, they began developing in different directions — Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Faroese. One result is that people from different countries in the region can understand one another even if they don’t all speak precisely the “same” language.

7. The Root of Metaphor Means Carry Over. Mavis Reimer pointed this out in her paper — the Latin metaphora means “carrying over.”

8. Stian Hole’s Garmann books offer series of sharp vignettes from the perspective of their grade-school-age protagonist. They are not so much narratives as they are glimpses into his interior life, presented via collages that amplify his emotional experience. There’s something about the juxtapositions that recal the efforts of the twentieth-century avant-garde, especially John Heartfield. One long-term result of the conference — I hope — will be me learning more about Scandinavian children’s literature.

Stian Hole, Garmann's Summer (2006; English translation, 2008)
Stian Hole, Garmann's Street (2008; English translation, 2010)
To give credit where due, the initial sources for each of the above (later amplified by me looking stuff up, etc.) were: Michel Calame (1, 2), Linda Nel (3), Mavis Reimer (4, 7), Nina Christensen (8), and several people likely including Nina and Kristin Ørjasæter (5, 6).
The photos: Basilisk, by HEN-Magonza (via Flickriver); trees by Philip Nel (via my camera’s phone); images of the Garmann books pilfered from here and here.

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Harry Potter, the American translation

Lana Whited, ed., The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter (2002)In remembrance of a great university press, I’m posting:

  1. my essay, “‘You Say ‘Jelly,’ I Say ‘Jello’?: Harry Potter and the Transfiguration of Language,” and
  2. a full list of each difference between the Bloomsbury (UK) and Scholastic (US) editions of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books — well, to be accurate, the first three Harry Potter books, and part of the fourth.  (Only four had been published at the time I wrote the essay.)

My essay appeared in The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, edited by Lana Whited and published in 2002 by the University of Missouri Press. In late May, University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe announced the closing of the press, a non-profit enterprise which operated with a $400,000 annual subsidy — which, to place that in perspective, is $2.1 million less than the head football coach’s annual salary.  (For further perspective, the university last month announced a $72 million upgrade to its athletic facilities.) Mr. Wolfe fired the staff, and — following public outcry and authors leaving the press — said that no, he wasn’t really closing the press, but reinventing it … without consulting any of the current staff (who had been fired).  So, until Mr. Wolfe invents another rationale for shutting it down, an organization named “the University of Missouri Press” will exist.  The name and geographic location are all it shares with the entity that published The Ivory Tower and Harry Poter. In its belated announcement (in a release thick with corporate doublespeak), the faux University of Missouri Press seems an afterthought designed to minimize all the negative PR that met the original press’s closure. (Mr. Wolfe seems to be saying: Did I say closing the press?  No, not closing, exactly — er,… reinventing!  I meant reinventing!  See!  The press is stil here!)

However, in reality, the publisher of works by Langston Hughes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Mark Twain is closing.  The future of any book under the “University of Missouri Press” imprint (or “brand,” as the organization now calls it) is doubtful.  So, I thought I would make my sole work published by this press available for free, right here.  (A pdf is below.)

Since that piece has been in print for a decade, of greater interest may be this page-by-page comparison of the UK and US editions of the first three Harry Potter books, a comparison I am here making publicly available for the first time.  My hope is that others may benefit from this without having to go through the labor that I did — treating the texts like variants of a medieval manuscript, and making careful notes on the differences.

I intended to do a complete page-by-page comparison of the first four (book five didn’t appear until the year after the article’s publication), but my side-by-side readings of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire found far fewer differences — indeed, some words changed in earlier books were not changed in Goblet of Fire‘s US edition.  As this was proving less interesting (and Goblet is much longer!), I did not make a complete list of the differences between the editions of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

A note on my notes: “in verse” means that the text was formatted as verse, but not that it is in fact poetry.  The books used are the original UK and US editions of the Harry Potter books (corrections have been made in subsequent editions).


Harry Potter and the Transfiguration of Language:

Comparison between UK and US versions

BLOOMSBURY

SCHOLASTIC

Philosopher’s Stone Sorcerer’s Stone
“neighbours” (7) “neighbors” (1)
“get-ups you saw on young people” (8) “getups you saw on young people” (3)
“buy himself a bun from the baker’s opposite” (9) “buy himself a bun from the bakery” (4)
“normal cat behaviour, Mr. Dursley wondered”(10) “normal cat behavior? Mr. Dursley wondered” (6)
“Dudley had learnt a new word (‘Shan’t’)” (10) “Dudley had learned a new word (“Won’t”)” (6)
“realise he was being watched” (12) “realize he was being watched” (9)
“swapping rumours” (13) “swapping rumors” (10)
“sherbet lemon” (13 twice, 14 twice) “lemon drop” (10, 11 thrice).
“sounding half-exasperated, half-admiring” (14) “sounding half exasperated, half admiring” (11)
“motorbike” (16 X4, 17, 19, 24 X3) “motorcycle” (14 X4, 16, 19, 25 X3)
“he had hands the size of dustbin lids” (16) “he had hands the size of trash can lids” (14)
“Young Sirius Black lent it me” (16) “Young Sirius Black lent it to me” (14)
“wearing different-coloured bobble hats” (19) “wearing different-colored bonnets” (18)
“on a roundabout at the fair” (19) “on a carousel at the fair” (18)
“frying pan being put on the cooker” (19) “frying pan being put on the stove” (19)
“held together with a lot of Sellotape” (20) “held together with a lot of Scotch Tape” (20)
“asking his Aunt Petunia how he had got it” (20) “asking his Aunt Petunia how he had gotten it”(20)
“a cine-camera, a remote-control aeroplane” (21,28) “a video camera, a remote control airplane” (22, 31)
“and a video recorder” (21) “and a VCR” (22)
“hamburger bars, or the cinema” (22) “hamburger restaurants, or the movies” (22)
“Sellotaped glasses” (23) “taped glasses” (24)
“revolting old jumper of Dudley’s (brown with orange bobbles)” (23) “revolting old sweater of Dudley’s (brown with orange puff balls)” (24)
“a glove puppet” (23) “a hand puppet” (24)
“jump behind the big bins outside” (24) “jump behind the big trash cans outside” (25)
“gigantic beetroot with a moustache” (24) “gigantic beet with a mustache” (25)
“a cheap lemon ice lolly” (24) “a cheap lemon ice pop” (26)
“had a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory wasn’t big enough” (24) “had a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory didn’t have enough ice cream on top” (26)
“and crushed it into a dust-bin” (25) “and crushed it into a trash can” (27).
italics for writing on snake’s sign (26) no italics for writing on snake’s sign (28)
“Smeltings stick” (30 X2, 33 X2) “Smelting stick” (33, 34, 38 X2)
“who was holidaying on the Isle of Wight” (30) “who was vacationing on the Isle of Wight” (34)
italics for letter (34, 36, 43) handwriting for letter (34, 42, 52)
“cine-camera” (32) “video camera” (37)
“favourite programme” (32) “favorite program” (37)
“small window in the downstairs toilet” (34) “small window in the downstairs bathroom” (40)
“speeding towards the motorway” (35) “speeding towards the highway” (41)
“video” (35) “VCR” (41)
“a packet of crisps each” (37) “a bag of chips each” (44)
“yer mum’s eyes” (39) “yer mom’s eyes” (47)
“mint humbugs” (49) “peppermint humbugs” (62)
“Harry had learnt from Uncle Vernon” (51) “Harry had learned from Uncle Vernon” (64)
“hamburger bars and cinemas” (53) “hamburger restaurants and cinemas” (67)
“looked like a gummy walnut” (54) “looked like a toothless walnut” (68)
“a dustbin and a few weeds” (55) “a trash can and a few weeds” (70)
“in the wall above the dustbin” (55) “in the wall above the trash can” (71)
italics for items on sign (56, 63) no italics for items on sign (71, 72, 82)
“look at yer mum!” (61) “look at yer mum!” (79) [remains the same]
“apothecary’s” (62) “Apothecary” (80, 81)
“He Who Must Not Be Named” (65) “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” (85)
“realised where they were” (66) “realised where they were” (86)
“Harry’s trunk on to a trolley” (68) “Harry’s trunk on to a cart” (90)
“Harry pushed his trolley after them” (69) “Harry pushed his cart after them” (92)
“Mum, can’t I go” (70) “Mom, can’t I go” (92)
“woman, call yourself our mother?” (70) “woman, you call yourself our mother?” (92)
“Er — OK” (70) “Er — okay” (93)
“smash right into that ticket box” (70) “smash right into that barrier” (93)
“leaning forward on his trolley” (70) “leaning forward on his cart” (93)
“his trolley was out of control” (71) “his cart was out of control” (93)
“where the ticket box had been” (71) “where the barrier had been” (94)
“Harry pushed his trolley” (71) “Harry pushed his cart” (71)
“Mum” (72, 73 — several times each page — 75) “Mom” (95, 96, 97 — several times each page –99)
“Anything off the trolley, dears?” (76) “Anything off the cart, dears?” (101)
“Famous Witches and Wizards” (77, 78) “famous witches and wizards” (102, but not 103)
Albus Dumbledore card in verse (77) Albus Dumbledore card, different format (102-03)
“had a bogey-flavoured one once” (78) “had a booger-flavored one once” (104)
spell indented a normal amount (79) spell italicized, very indented (105)
“Maybe…get a rabbit out of it” (87, plain text) “Maybe…get a rabbit out of it” (117, italicized)
“chips” (92) “fries” (123)
“mint humbugs” (92) “peppermint humbugs” (123)
“jelly” (93) “Jell-O” (125)
“Me dad’s a Muggle.  Mam didn’t tell” (93) “Me dad’s a Muggle.  Mom didn’t tell” (125)
“a cosy, round room” (96) “a cozy, round room” (130)
Dear Harry, (it said, in a very untidy scrawl)” (101) “It said, in a very untidy scrawl:Dear Harry” (135, handwriting)
“about football” (107) “about soccer” (144)
“West Ham football team” (107) “West Ham soccer team” (144)
note from McGonagall, in verse (122) note from McGonagall, with signature (164)
“about the size of a football” (124) “about the size of a soccer ball” (167)
“Hallowe’en feast” (127) “Halloween feast” (172)
“jacket potato” (127) “baked potato” (172)
“Urgh — troll bogies” (130) “Urgh — troll boogers” (177)
Potter for President” (136) “Potter for President” (184)
            “Down in the stands, Dean Thomas was yelling, ‘Send him off, ref!  Red card!’‘This isn’t football, Dean,’ Ron reminded him.  ‘You can’t send people off in Quidditch — and what’s a red card?’” (138)             “Down in the stands, Dean Thomas was yelling, ‘Send him off, ref!  Red card!’‘What are you talking about, Dean?’ said Ron.‘Red card!’ said Dean furiously.  ‘In soccer you get shown the red card and you’re out of the game!’‘But this isn’t soccer, Dean,’ Ron reminded him.”  (188)

 

“had been looking for a fortnight” (146) “had been looking for two weeks” (198)
“bread, crumpets, marshmallows” (146) “bread, English muffins, marshmallows” (199)
“Happy Christmas” (147) “Merry Christmas” (200)
“Sellotaped to the note” (147) “Taped to the note” (200)
“mum” (147) “mom” (200)
“Weasley jumper,” “hand-knitted sweater,” us a jumper” (147) “Weasley sweater,” “hand-knitted sweater,” us a sweater” (200-201)
“present also contained sweets” (147) “present also contained candy” (201)
italicized note (148) handwritten note (202)
“Weasley jumper,” “Harry’s jumper,” “lumpy jumper,” “forced the jumper,” “by his jumper” (149) “Weasley sweater,” “Harry’s sweater,” “lumpy sweater,” “forced the sweater,” “by his sweater” (202-203)
commas in list of food items (149) semi-colons and commas in list of food items (203)
“These fantastic crackers” (149) “These fantastic party favors” (203)
“flimsy paper hats” (149) “flimsy paper hats inside” (203)
“on a silver Sickle embedded in” (150) “on a silver sickle embedded in” (203)
“grow-your-own-warts kit” (150) “Grow-Your-Own-Warts kit” (204)
“her eyes are just like mine” (153) her eyes are just like mine” (208)
“‘Mum?’ he whispered.  ‘Dad?’ (153) “‘Mom?’ he whispered.  ‘Dad?’ (209)
“is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone!” (161) “is the only known maker of the Sorcerer’s Stone!” (219)
description in verse (161) description in prose (220)
Philosopher’s Stone” (161 X2) Sorcerer’s Stone” (220 X2)
“Philosopher’s Stone” (161, 162 X2, 165, 166, 167, 169, 189, 195) “Sorcerer’s Stone” (220 X2, 221, 226, 227, 228, 231, 259, 267)
“snuff-box” (191) “snuffbox” (262)
“Alas!  Earwax!” (218) “Alas!  Ear wax!” (301)
“impressed at how mad his hero was” (218) “impressed at how crazy his hero was” (302)
“Dumbledore’s barking, all right” (219) “Dumbledore’s off his rocker, all right” (302)
“D’yeh like it?” (230) “d’yeh like it?” (304)
“Thanks for the fudge and the jumper” (223) “Thanks for the fudge and the sweater” (308)
Chamber of Secrets Chamber of Secrets
“top-of-the-range Nimbus Two Thousand” (8) “top-of-the-line Nimbus Two Thousand” (3)
“house Quidditch team” (8) “House Quidditch team” (3)
“never given him a proper present” (9) “never given him a real present” (5)
“Of course, he thought bitterly, Uncle Vernon was talking about the stupid dinner party” (10) Of course, he thought bitterly, Uncle Vernon was talking about the stupid dinner party” (5)
“Happy birthday” on same line (11) “Happy birthday” at new paragraph (7)
            “‘Jiggery pokery!’ said Harry in a fierce voice.  ‘Hocus pocus … squiggly wiggly …’” (13)             “‘Jiggery pokery!’ said Harry in a fierce voice.  ‘Hocus pocussquiggly wiggly –’” (9)
“‘Wish they could see famous Harry Potter now,’ he thought savagely” (13) Wish they could see famous Harry Potter now, he thought savagely” (10)
“fruitbats” (22) “fruit bats” (22)
“a bowl of tinned soup” (22) “a bowl of canned soup” (22)
“stone cold” (22) “stone-cold” (22)
“You Know Who (27 & passim) “You-Know-Who” (29 & passim)
“one man ended up in hospital” (29) “one man ended up in the hospital” (31)
“Dad’s mad about everything to do with” (29) “Dad’s crazy about everything to do with” (31)
“peering through the windscreen” (29) “peering through the windshield” (31)
“jumble of wellington boots” (29) “jumble of rubber boots” (32)
“‘It’s brilliant,’ said Harry” (29) “‘It’s wonderful,’ said Harry” (32)
“I sleep at the –” (30) “I sleep at the — at the top –” (32)
quotation marks for items on clock (31) Italics for items on clock (34)
“at the washing-up in the sink, which began to clean itself” (31) “at the dishes in the sink, which began to clean themselves” (34)
typo: “Geoge groaned” (32) “George groaned” (35)
“Mum fancies him” (32) “Mum fancies him” (36)
“little fat Father Christmases with fishing rods”(33) “little fat Santa Clauses with fishing rods” (36)
“nothing like Father Christmas” (33) “nothing like Santa Claus” (37)
“shaking it off until –” (33) “shaking it off — until –” (37)
“of frogspawn on the window-sill” (35) “of frog spawn on the windowsill” (40)
“still in their pyjamas” (38) “still in their pajamas” (43)
“And mind you get out at the right grate” (41)throughout, ellipses (41-42) “And be sure to get out at the right grate” (41)throughout, dashes (49)
“and felt his glasses shatter” (42) “and felt the bridge of his glasses snap” (49)
“pulled the doors to” (42) “pulled the doors closed” (50)
“business elsewhere today.” (44) “business elsewhere today –” (52)
“Come, Draco!” (44) “Come, Draco –” (53)
“Molly’s frantic — she’s coming now.” (46) “Molly’s frantic — she’s coming now –” (55)
Brilliant!” (46) Excellent!” (55)
“second-hand robe shop” (47) “secondhand robe shop” (57)
“strawberry and peanut butter ice-creams” (48) “strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice creams” (58)
“broken wands, wonky brass scales” (48) “broken wands, lopsided brass scales” (58)
“mind the books, now” (48) “mind the books, now” (59) [stays the same]
“He and his school fellows” (50) “He and his schoolmates” (60)
“to pay for that lot” (50) “to pay for all those” (61)
“opened the boot” (53) “opened the trunk” (66)
“trolleys for their trunks” (54) “trolleys for their trunks” (67) [stays the same]
“‘if it’s a real emergency, section nineteen or something of the Restriction of Thingy …’Harry’s feeling of panic turned suddenly to excitement” (56) “‘if it’s a real emergency, section nineteen or something of the Restriction of Thingy –’‘But your Mum and Dad…’ said Harry, pushing against the barrier again in the vain hope that it would give way.  ‘How will they get home?’‘They don’t need the car!’ said Ron impatiently.  ‘They know how to Apparate!  You know, just vanish and reappear at home!  They only bother with Floo powder and the car because we’re all underage and we’re not allowed to Apparate yet….’”Harry’s feeling of panic turned suddenly to excitement” (69)
“wheeling his trolley around” (56) “wheeling his trolley around” (69) [stays the same]
“villages with tiny toy churches and a great city alive with cars like multi-colored ants” (57) “a great city alive with cars like multicolored ants,  villages with tiny toy churches” (72)
“pulled off their jumpers” (57) “pulled off their sweaters” (72)
“Harry pulled his jumper back on” (58) “Harry pulled his sweater back on” (73)
“windscreen wipers” (58) “windshield wipers” (73)
“MIND THAT TREE!” (59) “WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!” (74)
“crumpled bonnet” (59) “crumpled hood” (74)
“he had hit the windscreen” (59) “he had hit the windshield” (74)
“luggage from the boot” (60) “luggage from the trunk” (75)
“‘Brilliant!’ yelled Lee Jordan” (66) “‘Brilliant!’ yelled Lee Jordan” (84) [stays same]
“Good on you” (66) “Good for you” (84)
“Post’s due any minute” (68) “Mail’s due any minute” (86)
“My Gran sent me one” (69) “My gran sent me one” (87)
“ENQUIRY” (69), “enquiry” (70) “INQUIRY” (88), “inquiry” (89)
“telephone box by a werewolf” (73) “telephone booth” (94)
“Spellotaped wand” (76) “Spellotaped wand” (97) [same in both]
“double portrait, can’t say fairer than that” (76) “double portrait, can’t do better than that” (98)
“diagram of a Quidditch pitch” (83) “diagram of a Quidditch field” (108)
“back on the Quidditch pitch” (84) “back on the Quidditch field” (109)
“walking on to the pitch” (85) “walking on to the field” (110)
“But I booked the pitch!” (85) “But I booked the field!” (110)
today on the Quidditch pitch” (85) today on the Quidditch field” (111)
“A pitch invasion” (86) “A field invasion” (111)
“Common blood.  It’s mad” (89) “Common blood.  It’s ridiculous” (116)
“Oh no — can’t I go and do the trophy room” (91) “Oh n — can’t I go and do the trophy room” (119)
“Harry didn’t fancy his shepherd’s pie” (91) “Harry didn’t enjoy his shepherd’s pie” (119)
“Ah, here’s the scallywag!” (92) “Ah, here’s the scalawag!” (119)
“pulled on his pyjamas” (93) “pulled on his pajamas” (121)
“Took ages to shift the slime” (93) “Took ages to get the slime off” (121)
“who had been looking peaky” (94) “who had been looking pale” (122)
“shooting through the air like jump jets” (94) “shooting through the air like missiles” (123)
Kwikspell letter (97) Kwikspell letter in cursive (127)
“he spluttered” (98) “he sputtered” (128)
“Hallowe’en” (100 & passim) “Halloween” (131 & passim)
“trying to go to the loo” (101) “trying to have a pee” (133)
“You’ve missed out ‘spotty’” (103) “You’ve forgotten pimply” (135)
“yelling, ‘Spotty!  Spotty!’” (103) “yelling, “Pimply!  Pimply!” (135)
“remove his hairnet” (108) “remove his hair net” (142)
“the copies of Hogwarts: A History” (112) “the copies of Hogwarts, A History” (147)
quotation marks for italicized words of SH (116) italicized words of Sorting Hat (153)
“into a dirty great spider” (117) “into a great big filthy spider” (155)
“doors to the cubicles” (118) “doors to the stalls” (155)
“floating on the cistern of the toilet” (118) “floating above the tank of the toilet” (156)
“we’ve got what we needed.” (123) “we’ve got what we needed –” (163)
“student in the year” (123) “student of the year” (163)
Madam Pince sentence at top of 124 Madam Pince sentence part of same para (163).
“in her cubicle” (124) “in her stall” (164)
“But not toenails, OK?” (125) “But not toenails, okay?” (166)
“crowd to speed them upwards” (126) “crowd to speed them upward” (167)
“careering out of Harry’s way” (129) “careening out of Harry’s way” (171)
“Harry a pair of pyjamas” (131) “Harry a pair of pajamas” (174)
“He Who Must Not Be Named” (133) “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” (178)
“squeezing into the cubicle” (138) “squeezing into the stall” (183)
“Bicorn horn and the Boomslang skin” (139) “bicorn horn and the boomslang skin” (186)
“faster than you could say ‘unfair’” (140) “faster than you could say ‘Unfair’” (186)
“stopping a dirty great snake biting Justin’s head off” (147) “stopping a massive snake from biting off Justin’s head” (196)
“‘Sherbet lemon!’ she said.  This was” (152) “‘Lemon drop!’ she said.  This was” (204)
“brass knocker in the shape of a griffon” (153) “brass knocker in the shape of a griffin” (204)
“put him in the right house.” (154) “put him in the right House –” (206)
“in the high-backed chair behind the desk” (156) “in the high chair behind the desk” (208)
“there isn’t anything, Professor.” (157) “there isn’t anything, Professor….” (209)
“a new, hand-knitted jumper” (159) “a new, hand-knitted sweater” (212)
“Crabbe and Goyle-sized feet” (161) “Crabbe- and Goyle-size feet” (213)
“of the bubbling, treacle-thick potion” (161) “of the bubbling, glutinous potion” (215)
“the khaki color of a bogey” (161) “the khaki color of a booger” (216)
“ENQUIRY AT THE MINISTRY” (165) “INQUIRY AT THE MINISTRY” (221)
“bearing its Out Of Order sign” (171) “bearing its out of order sign” (229)
“before I came down hard on them” (176) “before I came down hard on him” (235)
“seemed to have come over rather giggly” (176) “seemed to have been overcome with giggles”(236)
“ink bottle smashed over the lot” (177) “ink bottle smashed over everything” (237)
“OK” (180) “OK” (242) [stays same b/c of previous line]
“… If it all stopped …” (182) “– if it all stopped –” (244)
“who asked him to grass on Hagrid” (185) “who asked him to squeal on Hagrid” (250)
“if he was rubbish at them” (187) “if he was lousy at them” (252)
“Headmaster was here” (194) “headmaster was here” (262)
“There’ll be killin’s next!” (195) “There’ll be killin’ next!” (263)
“any — ah — ‘killin’s’” (195) “any — ah — killins.” (264)
“about a fortnight after Dumbledore” (198) “about two weeks after Dumbledore” (266)
“and off they went, crocodile fashion, with Harry, Ron, and Dean” (198-99) “and off they marched, with Harry, Ron, and Dean” (267)
“swallowed hard and looked sideways” (200) “swallowed hard, and looked sideways” (270)
“its headlamps ablaze” (203) “its headlights ablaze” (274)
“worst scene he had ever clapped eyes upon” (204) “worst scene he had ever laid eyes on” (276)
“but from respect of Hagrid” (206) “but out of respect for Hagrid” (278)
“Harry saw the wing mirror snap off” (207) “Harry saw the side mirror snap off” (280)
“nearly thrown into the windscreen” (207) “nearly thrown into the windshield” (280)
“and I trust you are all revising hard” (210) “and I trust you are all studying hard” (284)
“close your eyes straight away” (222) “close your eyes right away” (302)
can carry round in my pocket” (228) can carry around in my pocket” (310)
“forbidden forest” (230) “Forbidden Forest” (311)
Riddle’s screams italicized (235) Riddle’s screams italicized & in all caps (319, 320)
“You were brilliant, Fawkes” (236) “You were fantastic, Fawkes” (321)
“There has been no lasting harm done” (243) “There has been no lasting harm done, Ginny” (330)
“I said, come!” (248) “I said, come” (338)
Prisoner of Azkaban Prisoner of Azkaban
“Owl Post” (7) “Owl Post” (1) [same in both]
“a torch in one hand” (7) “a flashlight in one hand” (1)
“(A History of Magic, by Adalbert Waffling)” (7)[typo -- see page 52, book 1] “(A History of Magicby Bathlida Bagshot)” (1)[Bloomsbury has a typo -- see page 66, book 1]
“moved his torch closer to the book” (7) “moved his flashlight closer to the book” (1)
“summer holidays” (7, 8) “summer holidays” (1, 2) [same in both]
“at the start of the summer holidays” (8) “at the start of the summer break” (3)
“already in a bad mood with him, all because he’d received a telephone call from a fellow wizard one week into the school holidays” (8) “already in an especially bad mood with him, all because he’d received a telephone call from a fellow wizard one week into the school vacation”(3)
“opposite ends of a football pitch” (9) “opposite ends of a football field” (4)
“The row that had followed” (9) “The fight that had followed” (4)
“put the torch” (10) “put the flashlight” (5)
“hid the lot under a loose” (10) “hid the lot under a loose” (5) [same in both]
“had come face to face with him since at” (11) “had come face-to-face with him at” (6)
“Muggle Artefacts” (12) “Muggle Artifacts” (8)
It’s brilliant here in Egypt” (13) It’s amazing here in Egypt” (9)
typed names for signatures (13-14) actual cursive signatures (10-11)
“to clip onto your broom for long journeys” (15) “to clip on your broom for long journeys” (12)
“at the newsreader on the television” (18) “at the reporter on the television” (16)
“A special hotline has been set up” (18) “A special hot line has been set up” (17)
“The newsreader had reappeared” (18) “The reporter had reappeared” (17)
“staring furiously at the newsreader” (18) “staring furiously at the reporter” (17)
“presents whilst glaring at Harry” (24) “presents while glaring at Harry” (25)
“he’d better skip pudding and escape” (25) “he’d better skip dessert and escape” (26)
“and a bit more … that’s the boy” (26) “and a bit more … that’s the ticket” (27)
“wrenched up the loose floorboard and” (27) “wrenching up the loose floorboard, and” (30)
“for the catch on the door” (28) “for the latch on the door” (30)
“nervously flattened his fringe again” (32) “nervously flattened his bangs again” (35)
“lamp posts, letter boxes, and bins” (32) “lampposts, mailboxes, and trash cans” (36)
“’Arry Potter put paid to You-Know-’Oo” (34) “’Arry Potter got the better of You-Know-’Oo”(39)
“Harry nervously flattened his fringe down again” (34) [in same paragraph] “Harry nervously flattened his bangs down again” (39) [new, one-sentence paragraph]
“scattering bushes and bollards, telephone boxes and trees” (35) “scattering bushes and wastebaskets, telephone booths and trees” (41)
“eat whatever he fancied” (42) “eat whatever he fancied” (49) [same in both]
“from the left above the dustbin” (42) “from the left above the trash bin” (50)
“outside cafés” (42) “outside cafes” (50)
“player’s face when they lost a point” (43) “player’s face when they lose a point” (50)
FIREBOLT ad (43) FIREBOLT ad complete with logo and font! (51)
“of 0-150 miles an hour in ten seconds” (43) “of 150 miles an hour in ten seconds” (51)
“paid for their ice-creams” (48) “paid for their ice cream” (58)
“‘Er –’ said Ron.  The truth was that” (49) “‘Er –’  The truth was that” (59)
“and then scarpered for the door” (49) “and then scampered for the door” (60)
“your Rat Tonic” (50) “your rat tonic” (61)
“as they tucked into a sumptuous chocolate” (52) “as they dug into a sumptuous chocolate” (63)
“Good job too” (52) “Good thing, too” (64)
“to know he’d heard them rowing” (53) “to know he’d heard them arguing” (65)
“You-Know-Who” (54) “You-Know-Who” (66) [same in both]
“an unmoving queue for the traffic lights” (57) “an unmoving line at the traffic lights” (71)
“Next moment, they had fallen sideways” (57) “In a moment, they had fallen sideways” (71)
“joined them, Harry and Mr. Weasley led the way to the end of the train” (58) “joined them, Harry and Ron led the way to the end of the train” (72)
“the witch who pushed the food trolley” (59) “the witch who pushed the food cart” (74)
“Get out of it!” (62) “Get out of here!” (78)
“large stack of cauldron cakes” (63) “large stack of Cauldron Cakes” (79)
“taking the cauldron cake Harry had passed” (63) “taking the Cauldron Cake Harry had passed” (79)
“Crabbe was the taller” (63) “Crabbe was taller” (80)
“long, gorilla arms” (63) “long, gorilla-ish arms” (80)
“to take any rubbish from Malfoy this year” (64) “to take any crap from Malfoy this year” (80)
“sped yet further north” (64) “sped yet farther north” (80)
“into the folds of the black material” (66) “into the folds of its black cloak” (83)
“a great scramble to get out” (68) “a great scramble to get outside” (86)
“staircase which lead to the upper floors” (69) “staircase that lead to the upper floors” (88)
“each of the long house tables” (71) “each of the long House tables” (90)
“in the nature of a Dementor to understand” (72) “in the nature of a dementor to understand” (92)
Dementor always capitalized dementor in lowercase (unless initial word)
“leaving their frames to visit each other, but he always enjoyed watching them” (77) “leaving their frames to visit one another, but he always enjoyed watching it” (77)
“Everyone went quiet” (78) “Everyone got quiet” (101)
“Professor McGonagall broke off” part of same paragraph (84) “Professor McGonagall broke off” begins paragraph (109)
“right, well, I’d better pop my clogs then!” (85) “right, well, I’d better kick the bucket then!” (110)
“just don’t like being rubbish at something” (85) “just don’t like being bad at something” (111)
“That lesson was absolute rubbish compared to my” (85) “That lesson was absolute rubbish compared with my” (111) [“rubbish” same, preposition different]
“or clamped them together with bullclips” (86) “or clamped them together with binder clips” (112)
“the grey Hippogriff away from his fellows and slipped off his leather collar” (88) “the gray hippogriff away from his fellows and slipped off its leather collar” (115)
“glad not to meet anybody on their way” (92) “glad to meet nobody on their way” (120)
“But ’sonly a matter o’ time” (92) “But ’s only a matter o’ time” (120)
“he whirled right way up” (100) “he whirled upright” (131)
“I once met one that had lodged itself” (101) “I’ve even met one that had lodged itself” (133)
“So the Boggart sitting in the” (101) “So the boggart sitting in the” (133)
“Neville’s small splutter of terror” (101) “Neville’s small sputter of terror” (133)
“Red Caps” and “Kappas” (107) “Red Caps” and “kappas” (141)
“the Quaffle (a red, football-sized ball)” (108) “the Quaffle (a red, soccer-sized ball)” (143)
“‘Cracking Keeper,’ said Fred” (109) “‘Spanking Good Keeper,’ said Fred” (144)
“didn’t talk to each other all lesson” (112) “didn’t talk to each other for the whole class”(149)
“a mad urge to knock the goblet out of his” (118) “a crazy urge to knock the goblet out of his” (157)
“‘He’s barking mad,’ said Seamus” (125) “‘He’s a complete lunatic,’ said Seamus” (167)
“trifles such as thunderstorms” (131) “trifles like thunderstorms” (174)
“to stop Crookshanks sneaking up” (131) “to stop Crookshanks from sneaking up” (174)
“the changing room” (131) “the locker room” (175)
“walked out onto the pitch” (131) “walked out onto the field” (175)
“told Harry, in a hollow, dead sort of voice, that he” (137) “told Harry (in a hollow, dead sort of voice) that he” (183)
“they only knew half of what was” (137) “they knew only half of what was” (183)
“For Harry knew who that screaming” (138) “Because Harry knew who that screaming” (184)
“jerking awake only to dwell again” (138) “jerking awake to dwell again” (184)
“It was a relief to return on Monday to the noise and bustle of the main school” (138) “It was a relief to return to the noise and bustle of the main school on Monday” (184)
“Ron finally cracked, flinging a large” (138) “Ron finally cracked, and flung a large” (185)
“Harry amongst them, but –” (139) “Harry among them, but –” (186)
Italics for Marauder’s Map (144) Beautiful font for Marauder’s Map (192)
“against the wall opposite” (146) “against the opposite wall” (196)
“a jar of Cockroach Cluster” (147) “a jar of Cockroach Clusters” (197)
“Happy Christmas!” (149) “Merry Christmas!” (201)
“You know that the Dementors have searched my pub twice?” (151) “You know that the dementors have searched the whole village twice?” (203)
“that flyin’ motorbike he used to ride” (153) “that flyin’ motorbike he used to ride”(206)[same]
“twelve years which would make him” (158) “twelve years that would make him” (212)
“down the front of his leather waistcoat” (161) “down the front of his leather vest” (217)
“under an arm and heaved him, Harry helping, back into the cabin” (161) “under an arm and heaved him back into the cabin” (217)
“After a brief pause, Hermione said timidly” (163) “After a pause, Hermione said timidly” (220)
“urgh, look what they did to it” (164) “ugh, look what they did to it” (222)
“Another jumper from Mum” (165) “Another sweater from Mum” (222)
“had sent him a scarlet jumper” (165) “had sent him a scarlet sweater” (222)
“walking round and round the Firebolt” (166) “walking around and around the Firebolt” (223)
“by this news” (167) “by the news” (225)
“if that stupid great furball” (168) “if that big stupid furball” (226)
“offering the end of a large silver one to Snape” (169) “offering the end of a large silver noisemaker to Snape” (227)
“‘Tuck in!’ he advised the table” (169) “‘Dig in!’ he advised the table” (228)
“still wearing their cracker hats” (170) “still wearing their party hats” (230)
“collected his Firebolt” (171) “collected the Firebolt” (231)
“Lessons started again next day” (174) “Classes started again next day” (235)
“the shortest life-lines she had ever seen” (174) “the shortest life line she had ever seen” (235)
“Rune dictionaries” (180) “rune dictionaries” (244)
“She — er — got a bit shirty with me” (181) “She — er — got a bit shirty with me” (244)
“They drank the Butterbeer in silence” (182) “They drank the butterbeer in silence” (246)
“Close to, Harry saw that she looked almost” (185) “Close-up, Harry saw that she looked almost”(251)
“have a go on the Firebolt” (188) “have a ride on the Firebolt” (253)
“for the Quidditch pitch together” (188) “for the Quidditch field together” (253)
“Only we need to practise” (188) “We need to practise” (254)
“Patronus and wishing it was stronger” (189) “Patronus and wishing it were stronger” (255)
“Ron wants a go on the Firebolt” (189) “Ron wants a go on the Firebolt” (255) [same]
“set off for the changing rooms” (191) “set off for the locker rooms” (258)
“prepared to leave the changing rooms” (191) “prepared to leave the locker rooms” (259)
“Snitch was glittering way above the pitch” (193) “Snitch was glittering way above the field” (261)
“sprinting onto the pitch, Ron in the lead” (194) “sprinting onto the field, Ron in the lead” (262)
“‘Good on you, Harry!’ roared Seamus” (194) “‘Good for you, Harry!’ roared Seamus” (263)
“acting like Scabbers has gone on holiday or something” (196) “acting like Scabbers has gone on vacation or something” (265)
length of AAARRRGGHHHH shorter, presumably for typesetting (196) length of AAARRRGGHHH longer, presumably for typesetting (265)
“Disorientated in the total darkness” (196) “Disoriented in the total darkness” (266)
“Sir Cadogan had been sacked” (199) “Sir Cadogan had been fired” (269)
“and then I yelled, and he scarpered” (200) “and then I yelled, and he scampered” (270)
“Why did he scarper” (200) “Why did he run?” (270)
“‘Brilliant, you can help me!’ said Neville” (204) “‘Great, you can help me!’ said Neville” (277)
“SPLAT!” (206), “SPLATTER!” (207) “SPLAT.” (280), “SPLATTER.” (280)
“horrible slimy things in jars” (208) “slimy horrible things in jars” (282)
“talent on the Quidditch pitch” (209) “talent on the Quidditch field” (284)
Italics for words of Moony et al (211) different font for each of Moony et al (287)
Hagrid’s letter italicized (215) Hagrid’s letter handwritten and tearstained (291)
“whose mind was so hopelessly Mundane” (220) “whose mind was so hopelessly mundane” (298)
“their houses was at breaking-point” (222) “their houses was at the breaking point” (301)
“called Cho Chang.  Harry felt” (224) “called Cho.  Harry felt” (304)
“Wood paced the pitch” (224) “Wood paced the field” (305)
“rest of the school spill onto the lawn” (224) “rest of the school spilling onto the lawn” (305)
“‘Changing rooms,’ said Wood tersely” (224) “‘Locker rooms,’ said Wood tersely” (305)
“They walked out onto the pitch” (225) “They walked out onto the field” (305)
“of Slytherin tearing up the pitch” (225) “of Slytherin tearing up the field” (306)
“she’s streaking up the pitch” (226) “she’s streaking up the field” (307)
“the dirtiest match Harry had ever played in” (227) “the dirtiest game Harry had ever played in” (309)
You do not attack” (228) — italics “YOU DO NOT ATTACK” (309-10) — all caps
“zoomed back into the middle of the pitch” (229) “zoomed back into the middle of the field” (312)
“pouring over the barriers onto the pitch” (230) “pouring over the barriers onto the field” (312)
“trying to cram in a bit of last-minute revision” (236) “trying to cram in a bit of last-minute studying” (321)
Trelawney’s prediction in italics (238) Trelawney’s prediction in small caps (324)
Hagrid’s note in italics (239) Hagrid’s note handwritten (325)
“yeh here … go on, now …” (242) “yeh here…. Go now….” (329)
“it looked like it ends up in Hogsmeade” (247) “it looked like it was heading for Hogsmeade” (336)
“fastened over Black’s wasted wrist” (249-50) “fastened over his wasted wrist” (340)
“Then Lupin spoke in an odd voice, a voice that shook with some suppressed emotion” (252) “Then Lupin spoke, in a very tense voice” (343)
“‘Professor Lupin,’ Harry interrupted loudly, ‘what’s going–?’” (252) “‘Professor,’ Harry interrupted loudly, ‘what’s going on –?” (344)
“I haven’t been Sirius’s friend for twelve years, but I am now … let me explain …” (253) “I haven’t been Sirius’s friend, but I am now — Let me explain….” (343)
“‘Then it’s time we offered you some proof,’ said Black.  ‘You, boy — give me Peter.  Now.’” (266) “‘Then it’s time we offered you some proof,’ said Lupin.  ‘You, boy — give me Peter, please.  Now.’” (362)
“Peter for what he was straight away” (267) “Peter for what he was right away” (364)
“your parents’ house straight away” (268) “your parents’ house straight away” (365) [same]
In Chapter 20, “Sirius” used instead of “Black” In Chapter 20, “Black” almost always used
“‘Are you mad?’ said Harry, his voice easily as croaky as Sirius’” (278) “‘Are you insane?’ said Harry, his voice easily as croaky as Black’s’” (379)
“‘Run,’ Sirius whispered.  ‘Run!  Now!’” (279) “‘Run,’ Sirius whispered.  ‘Run.  Now.’” (380)
“Sirius, he’s gone” (279) “Sirius, he’s gone” (381)  [same]
“of his paws was fading to silence” (279) “of his paws faded to silence” (382)
            “Face down, too weak to move, sick and shaking, Harry opened his eyes.  The blinding light was illuminating the grass around him … The screaming had stopped, the cold was ebbing away …Something was driving the Dementors back … it was circling around him and Sirius and Hermione … the rattling, sucking sounds of the Dementors were fading.  They were leaving … the air was warm again …” (282) “Facedown, too weak to move, sick and shaking, Harry opened his eyes.  The dementor must have released him.  The blinding light was illuminating the grass around him…. The screaming had stopped, the cold was ebbing away….Something was driving the dementors back … it was circling around him and Sirius and Hermione…. They were leaving…. The air was warm again….” (385)
“saw an animal amidst the light” (282) “saw an animal amid the light” (385)
“into Buckbeak’s fierce orange eye once more” (293) “into Buckbeak’s fierce orange eyes once more” (400)
“fumble with the rope tying Buckbeak to the fence” (293) “fumble with the knot of rope tying Buckbeak to the fence” (400)
“‘I know it sounds mad,’ said Harry” (298) “‘I know it sounds crazy,’ said Harry” (407)
“bouncing along the corridor in tearing spirits, laughing his head off” (304) “bouncing along the corridor in boisterous good spirits, laughing his head off” (417)
“Says he can’ risk it happenin’ again” (308) “Says he can’t risk it happenin’ again” (422)
“Last night … I thought it was my dad” (311) “I thought it was my dad” (427)
“So you did see your father last night, Harry … you found him inside yourself” (312) “You know, Harry, in a way, you did see your father last night…. You found him inside yourself” (428)
In Chapter 22, “Sirius” is used In Chapter 22, “Sirius” remains “Sirius” [same]
“could increase, but it certainly had done” (313) “could increase, but it certainly had” (429)
“carrying a letter which was much too big” (314) “carrying a letter that was much too big” (431)
Sirius’ letter in italics (315-16) Sirius’ letter in italics (243-33) [same]
in case this falls into the wrong hands” (315) in case this owl falls into the wrong hands” (432)
some doubt about the owl’s reliability” (315) some doubt about his reliability” (432)
from Gringotts vault number seven hundred and eleven — my own” (315) from my own Gringotts vault” (433)
“bottle of hot Butterbeer in one go” (316) “bottle of hot Butterbeer in one gulp” (433)
“‘What d’you reckon?’ Ron asked the cat” (316) “‘What do’you reckon?’ Ron asked the cat” (434)
   
Goblet of Fire [a partial list] Goblet of Fire [a partial list]
“great bullying git” (51) “great bullying git” (53)  [same]
“‘Oh,’ said Ron, cottoning on.” (51) “‘Oh,’ said Ron, cottoning on.” (54) [same]
“a group of middle-aged American witches sat gossiping happily beneath a spangled banner stretched between their tents which read: The Salem Witches’ Institute” (76) “a group of middle-aged American witches sat gossiping happily beneath a spangled banner stretched between their tents that read: the salem witches’ institute” (82)
“he heard an intruder in his yard.  Says they were creeping towards the house, but they were ambushed by his dustbins” (142) “he heard an intruder in his yard.  Says he was creeping toward the house, but was ambushed by his dustbins” (159)
“What did the dustbins do?” (142) “What did the dustbins do?” (159) [same]
“what are exploding dustbins worth?” (142) “what are exploding dustbins worth?”(160) [same]
“Spotted dick, look!  Chocolate gateau!” (162) “Spotted dick, look!  Chocolate gateau!”(183) [same]
“through the doorway to the girls’ dormitories” (169) “through the doorway to the girls’ dormitory” (191)
“of West Ham football team” (169) “of the West Ham football team” (191) [“football” remains same; “the” is added]
“smelled strongly of petrol” (172) “smelled strongly of petrol” (195) [same]
“down to the Quidditch pitch tonight” (477) “down to the Quidditch field tonight” (550)
“walked out onto the pitch” (477-78) “walked out onto the field” (550)
“The Quidditch pitch was no longer smooth” (478) “The Quidditch field was no longer smooth” (550)
“you’ll have your Quidditch pitch back” (478) “you’ll have your Quidditch field back” (551)
  “‘Sher-sherbet lemon!’ he panted at it” (483)  “’Sher–sherbet lemon!’ he panted at it”(557) [same]

 

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Research, Writing, and Getting a Life

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber EyesOne of the many pleasures of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (2010) is its evocation of the thrill of research. As he traces the history of his family’s netsuke (small Japanese ivory and wood carvings), de Waal describes great-great-great grandfather Charles Ephrussi’s art-collecting in nineteenth-century Paris as “‘vagabonding’ … done with real intensity”:

Vagabonding was his word. It sounds recreational rather than diligent or professional…. But it does get the pleasure of the searching right, the way you lose your sense of time when you are researching, are pulled on by whims as much as by intent. It makes me think of the rummaging that I am doing through his life as I track the netsuke, the noting of other people’s annotations in the margins. I vagabond in libraries, trace where he went and why. I follow the leads of whom he knew, whom he wrote about, whose pictures he bought. In Paris I go and stand outside his old offices in the rue Favart in the summer rain like some sad art-historical gumshoe and wait to see who comes out. (72-73)

That’s exactly right. Writing a biography — or, truly, intense research of any kind — is detective work. It’s extremely absorbing, getting a lead, following it to a new source, finding connections between lives and ideas. You are on a quest, and you must keep going until you finish!

New York Times Magazine, 15 April 2012But dedication to the quest also takes its toll. As Charles McGrath reports in today’s New York Times Magazine profile of master biographer Robert Caro, researching and writing the third volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson had taken so long that Caro and his wife went broke. She sold their Long Island home, found them a cheaper apartment in the Bronx, and got a teaching job to help pay the bills. The biographer — obsessive, driven, seeking every last detail — often depends upon a patient, supportive spouse. It’s no coincidence that my forthcoming biography, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature, is dedicated to Karin. Who else but one’s partner would put up with such fanatical devotion to a book?

This process recalls a line in a recent Times Higher Education piece on academics: “the idealised academic has no ties or responsibilities to limit their capacity to work.” This is equally true of the biographer. For both the professor and the biographer, there is no boundary between life and work. Your life is your work and your work is your life. Or, in the case of the biographer, your work is someone else’s life.

I’m not arguing that one’s work should be all-consuming, though I would note that Caro’s work on LBJ and Edmund de Waal’s absorbing family history are both excellent because each writer is so very thorough, obsessive, and meticulous — in both the research and the writing. McGrath notes that Caro and his editor Robert Gottlieb “argue about length, but they also argue about prose, even about punctuation.”  As Gottlieb says,

You know that insane old expression, “The quality of his defect is the defect of his quality,” or something like that? That’s really true of Bob [Caro]. What makes him such a genius of research and reliability is that everything is of exactly the same importance to him. The smallest thing is as consequential as the biggest. A semicolon matters as much as, I don’t know, whether Johnson was gay.

Beyond providing a helpful context for my own battles with Walter (my editor for the bio), this explains my own process to me. It’s not just about perfectionism. It’s about getting it right. And everything matters: Structure, word choice, punctuation, which detail gets retained and which one gets cut.

Caro had to cut 350,000 words from The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. He tells McGrath sadly, “There were things cut out of ‘The Power Broker’ that should not have been cut out,” and then shows him “his personal copy of the book, dog-eared and broken-backed, filled with underlining and corrections written in between the lines. Caro is a little like Balzac, who kept fussing over his books even after they were published.” It would be an understatement to say I can relate to that. Though I had to cut far fewer words from my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, there were things cut that should not have been cut. And I’ve seriously thought of marking up a published copy (due this September) to fix those omissions, or infelicitous changes in phrasing introduced during the copyediting (the copyeditor was unusually fond of passive voice). In looking at the proofs, I thought: Why did I allow the excision of Johnson’s favorite book, George and Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody?  My main reason was (and is) the fact that I can include it — and its satirical style’s influence on Johnson — in one of the afterwords for the 5-volume The Complete Barnaby. It’s hard to let this go, and I’m fortunate to have the luxury to hang on a bit longer. As de Waal writes near the end of his book, he has the feeling that he should “Just go home and leave these stories be. But leaving be is hard” (346).

Most of all, when reading Caro or de Waal, I think: my God, I wish I could write like them! I’m not in their league. Indeed, my league couldn’t find their league on a map. Describing the motorcade in Dallas on 22 November 1963, Caro writes,

Lyndon Johnson was far enough behind the Presidential limousine that the cheering for the Kennedys and the Connallys — for John Connally, some of it, for his onetime assistant, who had become his rival in Texas — was dying down by the time his car passed, and most of the faces in the crowd were still turned to follow the Presidential car as it drove away from them. So that, as Lyndon Johnson’s car made its slow way down the canyon, what lay ahead of him in that motorcade could, in a way, have been seen by someone observing his life as a foretaste of what might lie ahead if he remained Vice-President: five years of trailing behind another man, humiliated, almost ignored, and powerless.  The Vice-Presidency, “filled with trips . . . chauffeurs, men saluting, people clapping . . . in the end it is nothing,” as he later put it. (“The Transition,” The New Yorker, 2 Apr. 2012, 35-36)

Masterful.  I favor tighter sentences myself, but his epic style works well with his subject. We readers know that, in a few moments, President Kennedy will be assassinated; later that day, LBJ will become president. And Caro knows we know. So, he allows our knowledge to inform the scene, and instead focuses on creating Johnson’s (likely) experience at that moment — enduring the relative powerlessness of the Vice-Presidency.

De Waal writes lyrically and with great insight into what it means to be human. Early in the book, he observes, “Melancholy, I think, is a sort of default vagueness, a get-out clause, a smothering lack of focus. And this netsuke is a small, tough explosion of exactitude. It deserves this kind of exactitude in return” (16).  Later, he considers his great grandparents, in Vienna, in the early 19-teens.  The “more assimilated Jews [the great grandparents] worry about these newcomers,” he writes: “their speech and dress and customs are not aligned to the Bildung of the Viennese. There is anxiety that they will impede assimilation.” At the end of this paragraph, de Waal concludes, “Maybe, I think, this is anxiety from the recently arrived towards the very newly arrived.  They are still in transit” (188). Describing his grandmother’s decision to burn letters from her mother (in part, he suggests, because they may mention the great-grandmother’s lovers), de Waal confesses, “There is something about burning all of those letters that gives me pause: why should everything be made clear and brought into the light? Why keep things, archive your intimacies? … Just because you have it does not mean you have to pass it on. Losing things can sometimes gain a space in which to live” (347).

This is the big conundrum of the researcher. To throw out or to keep? I tend towards the latter. (If I throw it out, I might need it later.) But de Waal is right: being encumbered by research (books, articles, photocopies from archives, etc.) grants one little space to live. Further, the time required to sustain research affords little time to winnow out and throw out. It’s hard to manage your archives and move forward with the next project — to say nothing of grading, teaching, editing, committee work, or, say, having a life.

So we keep things. However, as Robin Bernstein observes in her Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (2011), things are bearers of stories.  And, as de Waal notes, “It is not just that things carry stories with them. Stories are a kind of thing, too” (349).

They are. And they’ve been on my mind because — for any of my readers who may be in or near Manhattan Kansas next week — I’m giving a talk on this very subject, at 4pm, Tuesday, April 24, in the K-Sate Student Union’s Little Theatre.  The title is “Collaborating with the FBI, Reading Other People’s Mail and Taking Children’s Literature Seriously: Tales from Writing the Biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.” Free and open to the public. My talk will run about half an hour. There’ll be lots of stories.

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Wordplay: A Mix About Language

Wordplay: A Mix About LanguageIn North America, those of us who are teachers or students are thinking about school.  In August and September, the summer holidays end, and a new term begins.  To commemorate (or commiserate?) this season last year, I posted Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom: A Back-to-School Mix.  This year, I’m posting a mix about language.  Enjoy!

1)     The New A B C  Lambert, Hendricks & Ross (1959)      3:06

Leading the mix itself and its “ABC” section (which concludes with track 7), it’s the vocalese trio of Dave Lambert (1917-1966), Jon Hendricks (b. 1921), and Annie Ross (b. 1930).  From their album Lambert, Hendricks & Ross! (a.k.a. The Hottest New Group in Jazz!).

2)     ABC-DEF-GHI  Big Bird (1970)      1:48

On Sesame Street, Big Bird (voiced by Carroll Spinney) tries to pronounce the alphabet as a single, 26-letter word.  From Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music.

3)     African Alphabet  Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Kermit the Frog (1991)      1:51

In another one from Sesame Street, the voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo join Kermit the Frog (voiced by Jim Henson).  This song can also be found on Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music.

4)     Alphabet of Nations  They Might Be Giants (2005)      1:27

“West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe!” They Might Be Giants’ alphabetical trip around the world, from their second children’s album, Here Come the ABC’s.  If I weren’t restricting myself to one song per artist, I would definitely include other TMBG songs in this mix.

5)     “A” – You’re Adorable (The Alphabet Song)  Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae (1949)      2:25

I don’t know much about Gordon MacRae, but Jo Stafford was a popular vocalist in the 1940s and 1950s.  With husband Paul Weston, she was also half of the deliberately off-key comedy duo Jonathan and Darlene Edwards.  This song appears on the compilation Small Fry: Capitol Sings Kids’ Songs for Grown-Ups.

6)     Alligators All Around  Carole King (1975)      1:54

From King’s great collaboration with Maurice Sendak, Really Rosie — an animated TV special that first aired on CBS in 1975.

7)     Crazy ABCs  Barenaked Ladies (2008)      3:49

Steven Page mocks Ed Robertson’s attempts to write a new alphabet song.  Appears on Snack Time!, the first BNL children’s record. Word is that the group (now sans Page) is working on a second children’s record.

8)     Dictionary  Muckafurgason (2004)      2:14

Having concluded the “ABC” section of the mix, we turn to the dictionary, courtesy of New York trio Muckfurgason.

9)     The Books I Like to Read  Frances England (2006)      2:13

“These are the books I like to read / Because reading suits me. / With every page I turn, the pictures coma alive.  / Imagination takes what’s possible to new heights.”  And the song name-checks both Harold and the Purple Crayon and Green Eggs and Ham!  From Frances England‘s Fascinating Creatures.

10)  A Noun Is a Person, Place, or Thing  Lynn Ahrens (1973)      2:57

The first of 6 songs from Schoolhouse Rock on this mix.  Since I encounter students (yes, college students) who do not know what a noun is, I often wish that these were still airing during Saturday morning cartoons.

11)  C Is for Cookie  Cookie Monster (1973)      1:29

“Hey, you know what? A round cookie with one bite out of it looks like a ‘C.’ A round doughnut with one bite of it also looks like a ‘C.’ But it is not as good as a cookie. Oh, and the moon sometimes looks like a ‘C,’ but you can’t eat that.”  Words of wisdom from the Cookie Monster.  The song appears on Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music, and (I expect) on many other compilations.

12)  Silent E  Tom Lehrer (1972)      1:31

One of several songs that Lehrer did for Sesame Street. Available as a bonus track on Tom Lehrer Revisited.

13)  All Together Now  The Beatles (1969)      2:11

This always sounded to me a bit like a combination of a nursery rhyme and a reading primer. From the end of Yellow Submarine, where the Beatles appear on screen and talk to the audience:

14)  Onomatopoeia  Todd Rundgren (1978)      1:35

From Rundgren’s Hermit of Mink Hollow.

15)  The Noise Song  Tex Ritter (1953)      1:48

Putting onomatopoeia into practice, Mr. Tex Ritter tells us all about noises — those made by cows, pigs, ducks, sheep, railroad trains,… even college boys.

16)  Tonguetwisters  Danny Kaye (1951)      2:17

Though I expect this song appears on more than one compilation, it appears here via the 3-CD set The Great Danny Kaye.  Can anyone sing this lyric at the pace that Kaye does?  I doubt it.

17)  Tip of My Tongue  Fatcat & Fishface (2008)      2:41

Appears on the New Zealand group‘s album Dogbreath, and again on the compilation The Bestest and Horriblest.

18)  Wordplay  Jason Mraz (2005)      3:09

Cheerful pop from Jason Mraz.  Appears on the album Mr. A-Z.

19)  A Word a Day  Phil Silvers & Rose Marie (1952)      3:32

A song of malapropisms, a term named for Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals (1775).  This particular song, however, is from a different play — the Broadway musical Top Banana (1952), with music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer and book by Hy Kraft.

20)  The Ballad of William Archibald Spooner  Logan Whitehurst & the Junior Science Club (2006)      0:55

From Logan Whitehurst’s final record (Very Tiny Songs, completed just before he passed away), a tribute to the man who gave us the term “Spoonerism.”

21)  Bob  “Weird Al” Yankovic (2003)      2:29

A Dylanesque tribute to palindromes or a palindromic tribute to Dylan?  Either way, the results are funny.  From Yankovic‘s Poodle Hat.

22)  Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla  Jack Sheldon (1976)      3:00

The second Schoolhouse Rock number on this mix addresses pronouns.  Actor, jazz trumpeter, and singer, Jack Sheldon also sang the Schoolhouse Rock numbers “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill.”

23)  Green Eggs and Ham  Moxy Früvous (1992)      3:45

From the band’s debut — a 6-song cassette.  This Canadian quartet were my favorite group of the 1990s.  Their live shows were something to behold. Below, an example of their improvisational stage shows. The song itself starts at around 4:30.  Warning to our underage listeners: in the live performance below, Jian Ghomeshi drops a bunch of F-bombs at around 7:40 or so.  The audio-only version (above) is clean.

24)  Mother Goose Étude #6  F’loom (1998)      1:20

From the band‘s self-titled debut album.

25)  Nursery Rhyme Rock  Wynona Carr (1956)      1:59

Gospel, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll — Carr sang it all.  This is from a collection titled Jump Jack Jump!

26)  The House That Jack Built  Aretha Franklin (1968)      2:21

Continuing the nursery rhyme theme, here’s a #6 pop hit for Aretha Franklin.  The B-side of “Say a Little Prayer,” the song appears on 30 Greatest Hits (Atlantic, 1985).

27)  School Days (When We Were Kids)  Louis Jordan (1949)      2:34

The jump blues of Louis Jordan (and others) helped create the sound that would become known as “rock ‘n’ roll.”  From The Best of Louis Jordan (MCA Records, 1975), a solid single-CD collection of his work.

28)  Patty Cake, Patty Cake (Baker Man)  Fats Waller and His Rhythm (1938)      3:16

The final song in our “nursery rhyme” sequence appears on A Good Man Is Hard to Find: The Middle Years Part Two (1938-1940).  One in Bluebird/RCA’s fantastic series of Fats Waller CDs — now, alas, out of print.

29)  Maroon  Ken Nordine (1966)      1:40

The song for which Barenaked Ladies named their 2000 album appears on Ken Nordine’s spoken-word/jazz classic, Colors.  I’ve placed it here because, like nursery rhymes and playground chants, the song is as much about the sound of words as what they mean.  And, linking us to the next song, the theme of the record is Nordine trying to describe colors — the sort of task for which one might want to unpack some adjectives….

30)  Unpack Your Adjectives  Blossom Dearie (1975)      3:01

The mix concludes with four Schoolhouse Rock songs.  I generally don’t like to use so many songs from the same record (in this case, a 4-CD set), but since each track is performed by a different artist, I’ve given myself a pass here.  Here, the late Blossom Dearie — of “Peel Me a Grape” fame — teaches us about the adjective.

31)  Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here  Bob Dorough (1974)      3:02
Bob Dorough — who had previously worked with Miles Davis on “Blue Christmas (To Whom It May Concern)” — sang (and wrote) a number of Schoolhouse Rock songs, including “Three Is a Magic Number.”

32)  Verb: That’s What’s Happening  Zachary Sanders (1974)      3:00
“A verb tells it like it is.” In addition to teaching us about verbs, this cartoon features an African-American superhero — not a common sight on television either in the early 1970s or today.  Zachary Sanders also sang the Schoolhouse Rock song “Electricity, Electricity.”

33)  Interjections!  Essra Mohawk (1974)      3:01
“Darn! That’s the end.”  Essra Mohawk also sang the Schoolhouse Rock song “Sufferin’ Til Suffrage.”

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How to Talk Nonsense

John Tenniel, Mad Tea Party

Last Friday, in my English 703: Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature class, the students and I spent 5 minutes talking nonsense.  We’d been reading theories of nonsense, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books — I thought it would be both fun and educational to put those theories into practice.

So, based on our readings of Tigges, Anderson and Apseloff, and others, I had them enumerate some of nonsense’s formal qualities: language as game; use of puns, double meanings, inversions, opposites; playing on idiomatic language, taking figurative language literally; and so on.  Then, we prepared for the nonsense chat. I set it up as a conversation with me on the one side, and a student on the other.  These were the rules: (1) I asked them to raise their hands when they felt they had an entry point.  (2) When the student could sustain the nonsensical banter no longer, she or he was to pass off the conversation to the next person whose hand was raised.

If speaking nonsense isn’t your forte, you could modify the above exercise as follows: make the teacher both referee and equal participant (i.e., not obliged to hold up the entire side of the conversation).  Speaking nonsense comes quite easily to me.  (Try to contain your surprise.)  You see, my brain naturally comes up with multiple options in reply.  Most of the time, I chose the “sense” reply, and ignore the other options.  If I’m in a social situation, I listen to the other options, and will move back and forth between humor and seriousness, depending on my audience.

Anyway, back to class.  We sustained the conversation for 5 minutes, no problem.  (I wish we’d recorded it — some of our exchanges were quite funny.)  After we finished, I asked them about the experience of talking nonsense.  What had they learned?  This conversation was interesting.  As one student point out, it’s using language not to communicate, but to compete.  As another said, it’s an isolating experience — echoing a comment from nonsense scholar Wim Tigges, whose “An Anatomy of Nonsense” (1987) we read.  Speaking nonsense does, of course, heighten one’s awareness of language’s formal qualities: in order to speak it, you sustain syntax in order to subvert sense.  As Tigges puts it, “nonsense is not the absence of sense, but rather a frustration of expectations about sense” (25).  It plays on the tension between meaning and its absence.

I love to discover pedagogical “stunts” that work (I dislike such stunts for their own sake).  This, I am pleased to report, was a useful exercise.  It educated while it entertained.

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Commonplace Book: Children’s Literature, Part II

Oh, I could do this all day.  Except that, well, I couldn’t — too many other things to do.  So, here are ten more.  And then I’ll stop.  For now.

“Welcome!” he said.  “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!
“Thank you!”
— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998; in the UK and the rest of the world, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [1997]), p. 123.

I have often thought that if the people who write books for children knew a little more it would be better. I shall not tell you anything about us except what I should like to know about if I was reading the story and you were Toby Speed, Brave Potatoes, illus. Barry Root (2000)writing it. Albert’s uncle says I ought to have put this in the preface, but I never read prefaces, and it is not much good writing things just for people to skip. I wonder other authors have never thought of this.
— Oswald Bastable, in E. Nesbit, The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899), Chapter 2.

But potatoes never listen.
Potatoes have no ears.
Toby Speed, Brave Potatoes (2000), illustrated by Barry Root

I see the Master as a man having terrible choices to make; whatever he chooses will do harm, but maybe if he does the right thing, a little less harm will come about than if he chooses wrong.  God preserve me from having to make that sort of choice.
— John Faa, in Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass (1995; Northern Lights in the UK), p. 128.

“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly.  “Not even one.”
“Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of will power.”
“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad.  “I am going home now to bake a cake.”
— Arnold Lobel, “Cookies,” Frog and Toad Together (1972)

His mind is concrete and fastidious,
Jon Agee, Dmitri the AstronautHis nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous,
His beard it resembles a wig.
— Edward Lear, “How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!”

Dmitri hardly had a chance to relax before somebody recognized him.
“Aren’t you Barney Abernathy from Cincinnati?”
“No!” said Dmitri.  “I’m Dmitri the astronaut.”
“Oh,” said the man,” I’m so sorry.”
— Jon Agee, Dmitri the Astronaut (1996)

“You once told me that fish are meant for fish,” Bagley said.  “Do you still think that?”
“Well, I’m not really sure anymore,” she confessed, looking up again.  “The truth is, I was just spouting what I’d always heard.  It’s the inside of things that matters.  Not the outside.  I see that now.”
— Tor Seidler, The Wainscot Weasel (1993)

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
— Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (1932)

A dream is to look at the night and see things.
— Ruth Krauss, A Hole Is to Dig (1952)

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Commonplace Book: Children’s Literature

The responses to yesterday’s “Commonplace Book” post prompts me to list here ten favorite lines from children’s literature.  (And please see yesterday’s post for quotations from Crockett Johnson and Dr. Seuss, and yesterday’s comments for great lines from E. B. White and Louis Sachar.)

To get very far he was going to need a lot of books.  B is for Books.  He could find plenty of big words in a pile of big books.  He was ready for anything.
— Crockett Johnson, Harold’s ABC (1963)

Crockett Johnson, "How to write a book," illus. from Ruth Krauss's How to Make an EarthquakeYou can write books about anything.  For instance, fruits.  The first page could be a banana and the second page could be an orange and the third could be cherries, and like that.  If you can’t write yet, you could just draw.  Then the book could be especially for someone who can’t read yet.
— Ruth Krauss, “How to write a book,” in How to Make an Earthquake (1954), illustrated by Crockett Johnson, p. 27.

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing wax —
Of cabbages — and kings.
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’
— Lewis Carroll, chapter 4 of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there (1871)

We like our toys.
We take CARE of our TOYS.
We do not want our toys to become broken.
We want to keep our toys for along time.
Cousin Stinky has come over to play.
“Where are your toys?” he asks.
Munro Leaf, "Grown-ups aren't weird monsters," from How to Behave and Why“What is ‘TOYS’?” we ask.
“We do not know what that word means.”
Lane Smith, The Happy Hocky Family (1993)

Grown ups aren’t some kind of weird monsters that have fun making us do things we don’t want to do.  They just know a whole lot more than we do because they have been here longer.
— Munro Leaf, How to Behave and Why (1946)

You must never feel badly about making mistakes, as long as you take the trouble to learn from them.  For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.
—  The Princess of Pure Reason, in Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), p. 233

“Do you like educational games?” Hodgkins asked cautiously.
“I love them!” said the Nibling.
I sat down and didn’t know what to say.
— Tove Jannson, Moominpappa’s Memoirs, translated by Thomas Warburton (1968), p. 147

Hodges is considered by many to be the finest pastry chef in the city.
Too bad his duck is so crazy.
— Tim Egan, Friday Night at Hodges’ Café (1994)

For we pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self-denial, anxiety and discouragement.
— L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908),Chapter 36

The Scarecrow was now the ruler of the Emerald City, and although he was not a Wizard the people were proud of him. “For,” they said, “there is not another city in all the world that is ruled by a stuffed man.”  And, as far as they knew, they were quite right.
— L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

Yes, that last one was in honor of today’s midterm elections here in the U.S.  And, of course, one could add many more quotations to this list.  Among those who ought to be represented here are: Francesca Lia Block, Dr. Seuss, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Langston Hughes, Florence Parry Heide, J.K. Rowling, and the list goes on and on!  Do feel free to add your own below.

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Commonplace Book

People once kept commonplace books — personal, portable anthologies of favorite quotations.  Today, the “Favorite Quotations” section on Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple CrayonFacebook offers a brief, public version of the commonplace book.  This practice has, I think, mostly faded.  At any rate, here are ten quotations that would be in my commonplace book.

But, luckily, he kept his wits and his purple crayon.
— Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
— often attributed to Groucho Marx

Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.
— Julius Erving, as quoted by David Halberstam, in Clyde Haberman, “David Halberstam, 73, Reporter and Author, Dies,” New York Times, 24 Apr. 2007

Jay-Z, Black Album

This is the life that I chose or, rather, the life that chose me.
— Jay-Z, “December 4th,” The Black Album (2003)

It’s like Duke Ellington said, there are only two kinds of music — good and bad. And you can tell when something is good.
— Ray Charles

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
— Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures (1957), p. 15

UNLESS someone like youDr. Seuss, The Lorax
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.
— Dr. Seuss, The Lorax (1971)

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
— Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—” (c. 1868), in Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (1954), p. 248

Nobody’s perfect.
— spoken by Joe E. Brown, Some Like It Hot (1959, dir. Billy Wilder), screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
— Leonard Cohen, “Anthem,” The Future (1992)

I do like resonant quotations.  I think I will do a “commonplace book” post in the future featuring only quotations from children’s literature.  I suspect that this has already been done on other children’s lit blogs, but of course commonplace books are personal, idiosyncratic endeavors.  So, even if it’s been done before (and I’m sure it has been), my children’s literature commonplace book will at least be different, eh?

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Stephen Fry vs. Language Pedants

If you’ve not already seen Matt Rogers‘ brilliant kinetic typography video of Stephen Fry‘s critique of linguistic pedantry, then you’ll want to watch it.  And if you have already seen it, then you’ll want to watch it again.

Before my fellow teachers raise an objection to Stephen Fry’s injunction that writers be less constrained by rules, I think it important to note that Fry does acknowledge that there are times when greater formality is appropriate, even necessary.  As he puts it, “You slip into a suit for an interview, and you dress your language up, too.  You can wear what you like linguistically or sartorially when you’re at home or with friends, but most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances.”  The reason for doing so, as he says, is that “wildly original and excessively heterodox language” might, to an employer or an examiner, convey “the implication of not caring.”

Left implicit here is the related point that a writer needs to know the rules in order to break them.  Fry’s mastery of the rules is part of what makes his own bursts of heterodoxy and originality so effective.  The need to know the rules underwrites my own tendency — as a teacher — to enforce them, and sometimes to do so with perhaps greater strictness than Mr. Fry would recommend.  When I encounter a student who does know the rules well enough to break them, I do let the artful informality stand.  Indeed, one of the exams I graded last night had some rhetorical flourishes that conveyed the writer’s superior command of the rules.  Alas, many others conveyed confusion over such basics as the uses of an apostrophe.  But, in an exam situation, I’m less stringent than I am when grading a formal paper.  Time constraints prevent adequate proofreading.  So, while I may mark such an error, I’m highly unlikely to deduct points on an exam.  On a formal paper, however, these errors would certainly affect the student’s grade.

But I do love Fry’s argument for “verbal freshness,” in no small part because it embodies the principles that it advocates.  In his critique of the usage police, he asks of them, “Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it?  Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk to?  Do they?  I doubt it.”  But Fry does, and more power to him.  Here’s to vibrant heterodoxy!

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