“The Elements of Grammar for Writers” Review

3-star rating

This little book is outdated in some ways, yet it has certain charms and retains some value.

Written in 8 BG (“Before Google”)—that is, in 1990, when BG still referred to the Brothers Gibb, personal computers were a new thing, and the internet was mostly a gleam in technologists’ eyes—it’s amusing to see references to hand-written student papers and reminders to make sure you use a new typewriter ribbon when getting a paper ready to turn in.

It was also clearly written primarily for college student writers facing the near-future prospect of having to write papers for employers, not just professors. And it relies on memorization of some rules (only a few, mercifully) and tables and appendices in which the reader can look up grammatical terms and irregular verb forms, because, of course, at the time there was no Google to ask and get 3,578,227 possible answers in 0.0286 seconds.

These quaint antiquities aside, this little book’s first five chapters, and parts of the sixth, do have some value. For example, Chapter 1 kindly clarified for me exactly what a comma splice is, and Chapter 2 reminded me that what I’ve been calling a gerund (like “calling” just now) is actually a verbal, not a verb. Well, dang!

Professors Funk, McMahan, and Day, the authors of this little tome, are still at it. The 9th edition of this book’s replacement is available on Amazon, but at nearly $50 a copy, I have a hard time believing it has the same value as this one, also available on Amazon for a mere $4.59.

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“A Heap o’ Livin'” Review

3-star rating
"A Heap o' Livin'" book cover

This 1916 book could just have easily have been titled “A Heap o’ Preachin’” or “A Heap o’ Homilies,” given its content. But author Edgar A. Guest knew his audience, and wrote for them.

His readers from over 100 years ago expected the simple ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump rhythm patterns of the poems they may have read as children, and Guest delivered. They expected the simple rhyme patterns (such as ababcdcd or aabbccdd) of those same poems, and Guest used them.

They expected poems on the themes that resonated with them—honesty; integrity; humility; generosity; the values of hard work and work for its own sake; the joys of boyhood, manhood, and fatherhood; faith in a Creator and His ultimate plan; patriotism; bearing up without complaint in the face of life’s trials; and so on—and that’s what he wrote.

To read the rest of this review, please click this link.

“Notes from Bisbee” Review

4-star rating

Bisbee, Arizona, is one of those towns—every state has one—that gets called “unique.” Or “colorful.” Or “quirky.” Which can be a polite replacements for other terms. As it turns out, Arizona is blessed with two such communities: Bisbee, in the southeastern part of the state, and Jerome, half-way between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. Both are former mining towns that had to reinvent themselves when the mines closed. Both became havens for artists and folks who didn’t quite fit anywhere else.

Of course, no town would function if all the residents fit that description, so there are plenty of people in Bisbee who are simply more flexible and forgiving of the quirks of the more unusual residents. Debrah Strait is one of that latter group.

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“De/Compositions” Review

3-star rating

I first encountered De/Compositions: 101 Good Poems Gone Wrong as a text book for an undergraduate English course I had to take to build up my humanities credits before I could be accepted into a Master’s Degree program in English at the University of Central Oklahoma. Author W. D. Snodgrass’s idea, to take 101 highly-regarded poems, from Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare to Donald Hall’s 1990 “The Man in the Dead Machine,” and turn them into something less than great, is an interesting one, particularly as an academic exercise. He groups the poems into five general categories—abstract and general versus concrete and specific; undercurrents; the singular voice; metrics and music; and structure and climax—and focuses his “de/composition” work in these areas.

Snodgrass, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, is both a good enough poet to do this, and one not good enough. Why do I say that?

On the one hand, when “de/composing” each poem, he maintains its poetic structure, in particular its form and its rhyme and beat patterns, while reducing the qualities that made the poem stand out. With some poems, he even provides alternative versions with different beat patterns or number of beats per line. In a few cases, he even shows early drafts by the poet him- or herself, so the reader can see how the poem developed.

All of this is fine, even excellent… for an advanced poetry student who has the time and guidance to study each poem and absorb the lessons the “de/composition” teaches.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.

“Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail” Review

3-star rating

It’s important to keep in mind what this little book (barely 60 pages long) is, and what it is not.

Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail book cover

What it is: a Hallmark gift book with a 1973 copyright date; a slim collection of Native American song lyrics, poetry, legends, and reproductions of paintings. The translations date as far back as 1923.

What it is not: an in-depth or representative study of Native American culture, art, or literature.

What this book reveals should not be a surprise: that Native Americans experience the same feelings of love and desire for, and devotion to others; that they use song to prepare themselves for battle; and that their songs reflect the important times, activities, and events in their lives. The editor’s very limited commentary also reflects some of the attitudes of white Americans about the “Indians” that held at that time.

C. Merton Babcock edited a wide variety of books, including collections of Shakespeare, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Longfellow, and Hurston, and other books on topics ranging from the Koran to communication theory. It’s easy to wonder how Hallmark was able to enlist such a scholar to do a book like this, and why he agree to.

Do not over-analyze this little book. It represents just the merest sip from the vast lake of the artistic, literary, and cultural works of the first peoples of the Americas. If that sip whets the reader’s curiosity and encourages him or her to learn more, it has done something good.

“Balfor’s Salvation” Review

3-star rating

Middle books in a series can be hard to write. Ask me how I know. Balfor’s Salvation is the second book in Susan Trombley’s Shadows in Sanctuary series.

Balfor's Salvation cover

In Lilith’s Fall, the first book in the series, Stacia Dornan is part of a human team that joins with a band of umbrose to rescue the umbrose’s Prince Balfor, who’d been captured by the umbrose’s enemies, the adurians, and was being tortured. During the rescue, Stacia is seriously injured but she and Balfor are placed together so that, despite being barely conscious as well as in great pain, they make a tenuous connection by briefly holding hands.

Balfor’s Salvation begins some years later. Humans and umbrose want to expand their commercial ties, thanks largely to Lilith from book one being the concubine of Balfor’s number two, Duke Ranove. Somehow Balfor remembers Stacia from his rescue and wants her to be his primary contact. This slender thread brings them together, and predictably it’s lust at first sight.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.

“From the Top Down” Review

3-star rating
From the Top Down book cover

The subtitle to this book by Susan J. Ellis is “The Executive Role in Successful Volunteer Involvement,” and that’s true as far as it goes. For executives in businesses or organizations in which volunteers make up only a small fraction of the total workforce, this book is an excellent resource. Ellis devotes full chapters to budgeting for volunteers, the impact and financial value of volunteer contributions, understanding the volunteer/employee relationship (especially how it can go wrong and what to do to prevent or fix it), legal issues, and managing volunteers at all levels, from those performing basic tasks to those supporting the executive suite. For these topics and others, the book provides a wealth of information and keen insights, including how to address and change dismissive or fearful attitudes among employees about the volunteers who are working with them.

However, there’s a whole range of other organizations the book barely even mentions: those in which volunteers make up the vast majority of the workforce and the paid staff represents the minority. These organizations include veteran or military-affiliated groups, medical condition or other single-issue advocacy groups, and many others. They have chapters or similar teams spread across a wide area, such as the entire U.S., supported by a small organizational headquarters, often located in a state or national capital. An entire, separate book could be devoted to these groups.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.