In an intriguing and unquestionably obsessive history of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, a timeless advocacy for clear writing, Mark Garvey traces back to its originality and documents the engaging exchanges between Jack Case (editor) and E.B. White (writer) on the art and craft of writing the book. Garvey also recounts its wide success to the mass audience as well as its harsh rejections from the English departments. Reading Stylized is hard to resist rereading the little book.

Status on Book and Final Project

My writing on Professional Web Typography is going well. The content is shaping up. I hired a copyeditor to help me with proofreading. I also began to work on the design of the site. Once the editing is done, I’ll invite some friends to look at the book. If everything goes as planned, I should have the book live at the end of April.

My research for the final project on Understanding Vietnamese Typography is so far so good. I have been learning quite a bit about Vietnamese grammar and diacritical marks. I am sure this project will help type designers and typographer understand Vietnamese typography. I can’t even wait to begin to work on the web site, but that won’t happen until the fall. So I still have plenty of time to work on the content.

Spring break is next week. Since I don’t attend any class, my schedule will be the same. I came in the art building the first time last night since last semester to speak to students about web presence. Thanks to Jim for inviting me to speak and treating me to dinner. I used the opportunity to practice my public speaking. I did well (I think). I was not nervous at all, but my stomach was hurting afterward. Maybe all that butterflies was trembling inside of me while I gave the lecture.

The Serial Comma

An intriguing read from the comma queen, Mary Norris, on serial comma:

The serial comma is the one before “and” in a series of three or more things. With the serial comma: My favorite cereals are Cheerios, Raisin Bran, and Shredded Wheat. Without the serial comma: I used to like Kix, Trix and Wheat Chex. Proponents of the serial comma say that it is preferable because it prevents ambiguity, and I’ll go along with that. Also, I’m lazy, and I find it easier to use the serial comma consistently rather than stop every time I come to a series and register whether or not the comma before the “and” preceding the last item is actually preventing ambiguity. But pressed to come up with an example of a series that was unambiguously ambiguous without the serial comma I couldn’t think of a good one.

I have been putting the comma back (before the “and”) in my writing. For many years, I don’t include the serial comma because it appears to be cleaner. Then again as Norris points out, “The bottom line is to choose one and be consistent and try not to make a moral issue out of it.”

Don’t Kill Them

True parenting advice from Ijeoma Oluo:

As he gets older, there will be times where just trying to get him to take a bite of his fucking food will be a battle. You will want to pry his mouth open with one hand, and shove the food down his throat with the other. Don’t do this.

These days if the boys don’t want to eat, I honor their wish. They just have to stay starving until the next meal. One issue solved.

Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace

In the first reading of Joseph Williams’s Style, I have learned two essential writing tips: avoid nominalization (turning careless into carelessness) and embrace concision (deleting needless words). To demonstrate concision, Williams trims a paragraph in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style from 199 words to 148 to 101. Then he cuts it to the bone with just 38 words. Because Williams packed so much writing techniques into this book, a second or third careful read is required.

Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing

A classic book offers classic advice on Writing with Style. John Trimble’s clear explanations backed up with carefully selected examples make it a useful and delightful read. The short chapter on diction is solid gold.


Vijay Iyer – Break Stuff

After making many wild experimental records, the Vijay Iyer Trio returns to jazz-oriented Break Stuff. With Marcus Gilmore’s fluid rhythmic patterns and Stephan Crump’ sturdy tempo complementing Iyer’s various voicings (from rigorous to arpeggio), the group co-constructs a wide range of repertoire. From the fragmented reimagination of Thelonious Monk’s “Work” to the African-inspired reinterpretation of John Coltrane’s “Countdown” to the intimate, heartfelt recreation of Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count,” the results are tightly conceptual and yet pleasantly accessible.

BadBadNotGood with Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

More than two decades into the game, Ghostface Killah remains unstoppable. Last year he dropped an excellent concept album detailing his return after being locked up for 36 Seasons. Yesterday he and the BadBadNotGood released Sour Soul. In the live instrumental setting, the BBNG trio lays out the smooth, elegant jazz-hip hop arrangements for Ghost to tear down. “Gunshowers,” for example, begins with the soothing electric guitar strumming. Then the thumping bass kicks in before Ghost rips through with his swag on word: “I bust boundaries son, you just do what you’re taught / My vocab is powerful, spit shit subliminal / Slang therapist, my whole style is criminal.” At times, the laid-back beats could hardly keep up with Ghost’s endless energy. As a result, one of the highlights of the album is “Tone’s Rap,” in which Ghost slows down his flow to the spacious backdrop and muses on his pimping game. Before the instrument takes over, he claims, “Pimping ain’t easy, but it surely is fun.” He could say that about his rapping career as well.

Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words

Bruce Ross-Larson’s Edit Yourself is like a little diet manual for writing. Ross-Larson shows you how to trim off all the fats in your writing and to focus on the core message. It’s a book to keep within reach when editing your writing. I’ll use it as a reference for my eating habit as well.


Grammar for the Soul & Grammar Moves

In Grammar for the Soul, Lawrence Weinstein proves that improving your grammar can enhance the quality of your life. Like yoga, mediation and exercise, he believes “Grammar can become a place to get in spiritual shape.” Learning grammar is my goal for personal growth this year; therefore, I find Weinstein’s take on inspirational grammar motivating.

With Grammar Moves, Weinstein and Thomas Finn turn Grammar for the Soul into a textbook that students would be interested in learning about grammar. What makes this book intriguing is that each grammatical element gets a personal trait. For instance, the colon is associated with being assertive and commas are associated with being organized. These connections help figuring out how each punctuation works.

Both books are worth rereading when you have a couple of hours to waste, like flying in a plane.