On Not Bothering to Read Everything

What ho!  Happy January 5!  We have made it through the first few days and so far have kept our  New Year’s resolutions—one of the most fun things about the calendar’s rolling over.

So far, my easiest resolution to keep is by far the oddest, but I promise it will bring you calm and mindfulness.  Are you ready?


You don’t have to read everything. Really, you don’t.  If you suspect something will annoy you, skip it.  If you are an expert on a subject, you needn’t bother to seethe over the opinions of every counter-expert.  Often it’s the most trivial details that ruffle feathers.

And so I stare beadily at the headlines, hoping for a psychic flash on whether an article will prove enlightening or irritating.

Take books about grammar.  I enjoy a brisk debate about whether the nominative absolute is dead.  I love understanding relative pronouns and explaining the difference between “who” and “whom.” I  have given many people copies of Strunk and White, Dreyer’s English Grammar, Patricia O’Connor’s Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing, and similar books

But do I need to read every new book on grammar? No, but it is time to reread Strunk and White.  (It’s been too long.)  New books on grammar can take only two directions:  they either uphold the traditions , such as the proper form of relative pronouns and the use of the subjunctive, or they  insist that all such grammatical forms are antiquated and should be outlawed. 

Recently The New York Times published a review of David Shariatmadari’s new book, Don’t Believe a Word.  It may be a very good book, but I daren’t read the review.  The subhead says, “David Shariatmadari’s book delves into issues like grammar snobbery, quirks of human and animal speech, and the transformation of even the simplest words.” 

I love a good self-improvement book about grammar snobbery,  but the subhead hints that it may be the reverse.  What if it’s a book about throwing out the rules?  If it’s my kind of book, somebody tell me, okay?  Otherwise, I don’t want to know!

6 thoughts on “On Not Bothering to Read Everything”

  1. My beloved cousin Mary Margaret sent me a copy of Dreyer’s English for Christmas and, in an accompanying note, urged me to turn to p. 21, which concerns spacing after periods.
    After earning a master’s in literature, double-spacing after tens of thousands of periods, I spent more than two decades at a daily. In my first week I was instructed to stop it. When I asked why, my city editor replied tersely, “we’re trying to save on newsprint.”
    Mary has a career that involves a great deal of writing for broadcast journalists and I’m now semi-retired, writing for my hometown weekly. Rarely does a week go by that we aren’t sending examples of deplorable copy flying between Chicago and Western Massachusetts.
    Here’s a recent example:
    “Fire officials told 22News the vehicle got stuck up a hill and ignited on fire.”

    1. How lovely to correspond about grammar! I must get out Dreyer’s along with Strunk and White.

      Double-spacing was a basic rule we learned in typing class, and certainly I’m surprised to hear your newspaper banished it. Our poor newspaper is lucky to survive at all, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no spaces between the words in the near future!

      So odd that we learn the rules and then have to break them for our daily jobs. But I’m sure working for a newspaper was exciting.

      Oh dear–ignited on fire. That’s a good one.

  2. Ellen asked me to post this comment, because (sigh) somehow the blog will not allow her to comment. She says,
    “I feel you don’t even have to finish all the books you start, especially if you feel you’ve gotten what the author or their book apart from them has to say to you .”

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