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!

In Praise of Pronouns

I admire a beautifully-turned sentence. It doesn’t have to be decorative but it must be clear. Alas, grammar errors proliferate on the internet and spill over into the publishing industry.

You can’t imagine how boring it is to find yourself silently editing a novel you’re reading for fun.  Writers and editors seem especially perplexed by pronouns.  Mind you, a grammar workshop could cure the problems.

I am reading an advance copy of Karen Thompson Walker’s new novel, The Dreamers.   (It’s a good read.)  Alas, in Chapter 3, the relative pronouns, who and whom, are confused.

“…two of the girls reconcile by phone with the faraway boys who they loved so much in high school and who they had thought, until now, they’d outgrown.”

Of course the correct form is whom, because the relative pronoun is the direct object.  Who is used only as the subject.

It should be:

…whom they loved so much in high school…

…and whom they had thought, until now, they’d outgrown.

In the first relative clause –  every clause has its own verb –  they is the subject, loved is the verb, and whom is the direct object.  In the second relative clause, they (they’d) is the subject, [had] outgrown is the verb, and whom is the direct object.

Here’s a chart:

who – only used as subject!
whose —possessive
to or for whom – indirect object
whom – direct object
whom – object of prepositions, by, with, after, about, etc.

It’s too late to send a friendly correction but I hope the editors found the errors in time!

AND NOW ANOTHER PRONOUN ERROR.   Anna-Marie McLemore’s Blanca & Roja has received enthusiastic reviews.  I ordered this retold fairy tale because it sounds rather like Rena Rossner’s The Sisters of the Winter Wood, one of my favorites of the year.

In the very first sentence I found an error.

Everyone has their own way of telling our story.”

It’s never good to lead with an error.

Their is the pronoun error.

The subject, everyone, is singular indefinite pronoun, and of course the verb,  has, is singular, too.  The subject and verb must agree in number.   But then the writer switches to their, the plural possessive personal pronoun,  to refer back to the singular everyone.   The possessive pronoun should agree in number with the noun it refers back to.  In other words, it should be singular here.

Here are three correct versions of the sentence.

Everyone has his own way of telling our story.

Everyone has her own way of telling our story. 

Everyone has his or her own way of telling our story.

And if you don’t like the use of “his” or “her,” you can substitute “All” for “Everyone.”

All have their own way of telling our story.

I have seen nothing else untoward in the  few pages I’ve read.  Do I give the book a chance, or return it to the bookstore because of a grammar error?

Do you, too, silently correct grammar?

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