Dreyer's English, Benjamin Dreyer

A few days ago I wrote about having no guru, master, or teacher. I was wrong. I don't attend a specific school, but teachers, masters, and gurus are all free at the public library and Benjamin Dreyer filled those roles for me as I read, enjoyed, learned, and laughed through Dreyer's English, a book I recommend to every writer and reader as well as pretty much anyone who enjoys smart, funny people talking about interesting things. My wife tired of me laughing and reading sections to her, but she often tires of me and who can blame her?

Just about everyone has written about this book by now and what more can I say about it? My first thought when considering writing about it was this: don't. It has all been said by wiser and stupider (page 263, #22) people than I. Still, deciding not to write out of the fear of repeating what has already been said is the height of cowardice. But now that I'm here, what do I have to say other than that Dreyer is funny and made me smarter?


There is a section in which he describes working with Richard Russo on Straight Man, my favorite book and the funniest I know, followed closely by Russo's Nobody's Fool and Jess Walter's The Financial Lives Of The Poets. All of those make me stop and laugh out loud, not just smile and keep reading. That Straight Man still has this effect on me after at least half a dozen readings testifies either to its hilarity or my simplicity. I'd like to think it's the former. I'm sure that's what all us simple people hope.

(I liked the section enough to type "Hello," He Smiled: The Richard Russo Story in full, a time-consuming process far more useful than it might seem.)

Dreyer's English had me laughing at least as often as any of those and just as hard. This from a guide to clarity and style, though it's important to note that it is, as advertised on the cover, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (emphasis mine). Well, in that case.

I can't cherry-pick things to quote here. There are too many. Get the book from your library. If you're a writer, buy a copy — I suspect I will — and within a few pages you'll understand. It's good right from the get-go and it stays good.

The footnotes are especially funny though, no laughing matter, my eyes skate right over the tiny asterisks. There's a terrible word to pronounce, but I looked it up so as not to write asterices or some other atrocious mistake that sounded Latin and highfallutin (page 137). I'm not utterly correct, but hope springs eternal for my education, edification, and whatever word begins with e and ends in tion that would round off that triple.

Of course the problem with having read such a book and especially with writing about it, is that I'm imagining all that might be made better about this post were I to better pay attention to all Dreyer has told me. That and if I could pull of jokes as he has. Perhaps I just need a few footnotes, but alas, no.

That's enough out of me. Go read him. Buy the book from the link above and make me a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. Or something like that.

Two Books

My project isn't unusual. It's to figure myself out, to find out who I am and who I might become, to plot a path into some future. You know, the usual. One way I do all this is to read books.

Last week, on the advice of someone I respect, I began reading This Is Marketing by Seth Godin, a guy I've not read before but about whom I was vaguely suspicious. He seemed a guru with too many slick answers, but I was willing to give him a shot.

I tried to see what the book had to teach me, but I've taken the bookmark from between pages eighty-six and eighty-seven and placed it into a new book, Handmade: Creative Focus In The Age Of Distraction by Gary Rogowski. Though the bookmark is only between pages twelve and thirteen I feel better already. Rogowski talks of sawdust, Robert M. Pirsig, learning, and hiking. It's as though I can touch each thing to which he is referring.

In eighty-six pages, Seth Godin gave me two things to touch. Two. I kept waiting for more than platitudes. Maybe I'm just not familiar enough with marketing to get the book. Then again, I'm not much of a woodworker and Rogowski already has me in his hands. He keeps talking plainly and telling stories. He doesn't seem all that concerned about persuading me. He's convinced and that's enough.

I wanted to learn from Godin and maybe I have. Moving the bookmark from his to Rogowski's book tells me a lot. I'm not sure just yet what all of that might be, but I'm getting a strong, strong feeling that might just be some kind of understanding.

Soul Coughing

I'm tired from being sick, a little tired of being sick, but kind of okay that my body has forced me into a bit of a stupor. Two days this week I have spent on our living room couch, largely confined to soul coughing, reading Anne Lamott, napping, reading The New Yorker, thinking, sniffling, blowing my nose, reading The Sun Magazine, listening to a bit of music (but not much because my ears are stuffed and muffle the nuance of most anything), reading Laurie Halse Anderson, napping a bit, and then reading Donald Hall. I've mostly stayed off my phone and been on the computer only to write and read a few good articles. These have been my days. Well, all that and the usual amount of existential panic. I get that whether or not I'm sick.

This panic (which a more reasoned observer would likely call anxiety) stems in part from the fact that I'll soon quit my job and need another job. I can't think of much I want to do for a job. This apathy could be the sick and tired talking or me just being so burned out by the job I have, but it is a feeling and way of thinking that I have had for longer than this illness, longer than this calendar year, longer than my daughters have been alive, longer than I have been married. It doesn't help to have so enjoyed these days of being sick on the couch, to have savored them more than most any other days this year. I've read an absolute ton, done some writing, and had some ideas become maybe a pixel or two clearer. I still live with my usual panicked anxiety, but if I could live like this, even with the terrible, wet cough, I think I'd be happy.

There are jobs to which I will apply, even some teaching jobs to which I might send applications out of desperation. My hope is that one leads to something more interesting and something more interesting after that. Maybe I'll trip into some connection with writing. It could happen.

This sickness started over a week ago and continues. I stopped taking medicine for it. Rest seems the only cure. I'll get better. That or I'll die. Those are the two choices. It will take some time to figure out which way things turn out this time. To quell my existential panic about these things I remember that I've always gotten better and that evetually we all die. It will all happen.

For now I'm going out for a slow walk. Winter, like this cold, is hanging on longer than it should. The sky is too blue for the cold, and yet there it is. I'll pull on a hat and my fleece. The dog will get excited and whinny. Yes, I'll tell her, let's go together. She won't care where we are headed, whether spring has truly arrived, the quality of my wet cough, or jobs. She feels not the least bit of existential anxiety. Not ever.

Home I'll return to the couch. She will stand next to it, lick my hand or feet, and wag her tail. I'll pet her neck and scratch her behind. She will go lie on her blanket, I'll read more. Or maybe I'll stare out the window, perhaps into the future. When it's all too much, when the soul coughing wracks my chest and will, I'll lie me down to sleep and pray for something my soul to keep.

Book, Book, Book, Book, Says The Chicken

Donald Hall's A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety sits on the kitchen table here while I type. I was reading it while eggs hard-boil on the stove but put it down when I thought to write my own words instead of reading those of someone else. The eggs are from Wegmans as I am not at all ready to create my own eggs, either by raising chickens or laying them myself. Words though, I can squeeze them out with alarming regularity.

I've read Hall's prose since a friend recommended Life Work in the only way guaranteed to get me to read: I thought about you while reading this. My ego brought me right in. I've read that book three times and will likely read it again soon. Notes Nearing Ninety (I prefer the subtitle to the title) is a hodge-podge but, as I wrote earlier to Jerry, I like a good hodge-podge almost as much as I enjoy saying hodge-podge.

On the coffee table is Anne Lamott's Almost Everything: Notes On Hope. Like most everyone, I first read Lamott's Bird By Bird which is lovely in every way and have enjoyed the other books but also been disappointed that they aren't Bird by Bird. Still I can use some hope or even just notes on the subject and the book is good. Lamott's style is quirky and she makes me laugh at just the right times. Occasionally she leaves me so stuck on an idea that I read two pages and have to go back both to linger with the idea and figure out what I've missed while ruminating.

On the passenger seat of my car at the repair shop is Meet The Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames which is better written than I expected. The subtitle is Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living and that sort of thing appeals to me. In a chapter of Lamott's book she says we can't fill the hole within from without. I've got one of those gaping holes. I suppose we all do. Mine is a sinkhole that has recently opened to new depth. I like the idea of simple living instead of refinancing the house to afford all the things I want to buy and throw down that hole hoping to fill it up.

The eggs are hardboiled now. I've taken the pan from the stove, drained the hot water, filled it with cold water, drained that and refilled several times, and now transferred the pan, water, and eggs to the fridge with high hopes the shells have been shocked off and will be delightful to peel. Otherwise I'm going to go kill some chickens.

The fourth book, on the table with Donald Hall, is Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything open to a recipe for black bean soup calling for hard boiled eggs. I like Bittman's stuff and especially liked, even if I don't follow it, his Vegan Before Six idea through which he reclaimed his health. Instead of prescriptions he healed through good decisions. What an idea.

The books, especially the first three but maybe Bittman's too, feel connected and I'm enjoying reading them all at once. I go through several of Hall's notes, a chapter of Lamott's spirituality, and then a chapter of frugal living. There's a cycle through which I'm moving or hope to move. It gets me through boiling eggs, leads me to write a note of my own, and ends in enough black bean soup that you should come over and have some. Then we can read and maybe write books.