Better Prose

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Whether you write at work, at home, as a hobby, whatever, you likely welcome tips on how to improve what you write. It’s human nature.

That’s why I was struck by a recent review of a book, “Dreyer’s English.” The review had the intriguing title, “Flossing Your Prose.” Here’s how it began:

I spy a trend: copy editors’ memoirs-cum-style guides. Four years ago, Mary Norris—a longtime copy editor for the New Yorker—published the splendid “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.” Now comes the copy chief at Random House with the rather more grand-sounding “Dreyer’s English.”

I hasten to say that the grandness of Benjamin Dreyer’s title is at least half ironic and self-deprecating, as is his subtitle: “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” But the name of the book does accurately reflect its difference from Ms. Norris’s. Hers is three-quarters memoir, one-quarter guide, and his is roughly the opposite ratio.

And accordingly, Mr. Dreyer has a lot of useful information to impart. In the first sentence of this review, he guided me to lower-case the “c” in the word following the colon; write “editors’ ” rather than “editors” or “editors’s” (or, heaven forbid, “editor’s”); and use “cum” (Latin for “with”) to indicate a thing with two identities, without italics or fear of offending anyone’s sensibilities.

Writing in such an utterly correct way feels good, I must say. It reminds me of something Mr. Dreyer quotes an author friend as saying—being well copy-edited is like getting “a really thorough teeth cleaning.” The result may come off as just a trifle stilted, but I’m in sympathy with what Mr. Dreyer writes later on: “There’s a certain tautness in slightly stilted prose that I find almost viscerally thrilling.” (That post-colon “There’s” gets capitalized because it kicks off a complete sentence.) Want more? You can read it here

Be Kind

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I recently took a great course on mindfulness meditation. In the last one of the 24-lesson video, the instructor suggested that the best way to sum up his 12 hours of instruction was to suggest that the world would be a better place if we all were just a bit kinder to each other.

That’s why I was stuck by David Brooks’ recent op-ed, “Kindness is a Skill.” While we all might have the intention of being kinder, we all could use some help in doing so. Here’s how he began:

I went into journalism to cover politics, but now I find myself in national marriage therapy.

Covering American life is like covering one of those traumatizing Eugene O’Neill plays about a family where everyone screams at each other all night and then when dawn breaks you get to leave the theater.

But don’t despair, I’m here to help. I’ve been searching for practical tips on how we can be less beastly to one another, especially when we’re negotiating disagreements. I’ve found some excellent guides — like “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable” by Daniel Shapiro, “The Rough Patch” by Daphne de Marneffe and “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker — and I’ve compiled some, I hope, not entirely useless tips.

He offers 14 tips. Here is my favorite: The best icebreaker to start such a gathering, have all participants go around the room and describe how they got their names. That gets them talking about their family, puts them in a long-term frame of mind and illustrates that most people share the same essential values.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Our World – Our Minds?

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It’s not much of a stretch to say that stories about big tech have dominated the headlines in recent years. We’ve all read them – and many of them are less-than-flattering.

That’s why I gravitated to a new book: “World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.” While I have my own – strong – opinions about what the big says, I found John Herrman’s review of the book clarifying in explaining the import of this book. Here is how he begins:

The technology critic is typically a captive figure, beholden either to a sorrowful past, a panicked present or an arrogant future. In his proudest moments, he resembles something like a theorist of transformation, decline and creation. In his lowest, he is more like a speaking canary, prone to prophecy, a game with losing odds. His attempts at optimism are framed as counterintuitive, faring little better, in predictive terms, than his lapses into pessimism. He teeters hazardously between implicating his audience and merely giving their anxieties a name. He — and it is almost always a he — is the critical equivalent of an unreliable narrator, unable to write about technology without also writing about himself. Occasionally, he is right: about what is happening, about what should happen, and about what it means. And so he carries on, and his audience with him.

Franklin Foer, thankfully, recognizes these pitfalls even if he can’t always avoid them. Who can? The melodramatically titled “World Without Mind,” Foer’s compact attempt at a broad technological polemic — which identifies the stupendous successes of Amazon, Google and Facebook, among others, as an “existential threat” to the individual and to society — begins with a disclaimer. Foer’s tumultuous stint editing The New Republic under the ownership of the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes ended with mass resignations and public acrimony. “There’s no doubt that this experience informs the argument of this book,” he writes. He is likewise entangled through his proximity to publishing: The author’s friends, colleagues and immediate family members — including his brother, the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer — depend to different degrees on the industry Amazon consumed first. The book is dedicated to his father, Bert, a crusading antitrust lawyer.

In this slightly crouched posture, and with a hint of healthy self-doubt, Foer proceeds quickly. We, the consuming public, have failed to properly understand the new tech superpowers, he suggests, leaving little hope for stodgy and reluctant American regulators. The scope of their influence is obscured by the sheer number of things they do and sell, or problems they purport to be solving, and by our outdated sense of what constitutes a monopoly. To that end, Foer promotes the concept of the “knowledge monopoly,” which he qualifies with a mischievous grin. “My hope is that we revive ‘monopoly’ as a core piece of political rhetoric that broadly denotes dominant firms with pernicious powers,” he says, rather than as a “technical” term referring to one company cornerning a market. (His new monopolists, after all, aren’t raising prices. They’re giving things away free). Want more? You can read the full article here

For Duty and Honor: Reviewed in Wings of Gold Magazine

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THERE IS DUTY. THERE IS JUSTICE. AND THEN THERE IS VENGEANCE…

A vicious terrorist attack leaves nearly seventy U.S. sailors dead, and the entire United States Navy looking for answers.

In the volatile waters of the Arabian Gulf, the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group – under the command of Admiral Heater Robinson – stands ready to unleash the full fury of a nuclear aircraft carrier against America’s enemies. When it becomes clear that the government has no intention of punishing the murderers, Robinson decides to take justice into his own hands, no matter what the cost.

As a storm of terror descends upon the United States, CIA operative and U.S. Navy SEAL Rick Holden faces a moral dilemma of his own. The military elite in Washington have chosen Holden to halt the cycle of madness.

His orders: assassinate the strike group’s commander, Admiral Heater Robinson.

One of the Greats!

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For people who love books, 2018 was a year of mixed blessings – many great new books arrived, but it was also a year when we lost one of the greats, V.S. Naipaul.

While there have been many wonderful obituaries of this wonderful writer, one in particular is most memorable to me. Here is how it begins:

V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate had so many gifts as a writer — suppleness, wit, an unsparing eye for detail — that he could seemingly do whatever he wanted. What he did want, it became apparent, was to rarely please anyone but himself. The world’s readers flocked to his many novels and books of reportage for “his fastidious scorn,” as the critic Clive James wrote, “not for his large heart.” In his obvious greatness, in the hard truths he dealt, Naipaul attracted and repelled.

He was a walking sack of contradictions, in some ways the archetypal writer of the shifting and migratory 20th century. His life was a series of journeys between old world and new. He was a cool and sometimes snappish mediator between continents. Indian by descent, Trinidadian by birth, Naipaul attended Oxford and lived in London, where he came to wear elegant suits and move in elite social circles. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m speaking literally.”

It is a mistake to compress any gifted writer, perhaps especially Naipaul, down to his politics. His gifts as an observer are simply too large. But political themes came fully into view. His instinctive defense of the locals who led restricted lives under colonialism came into crushing conflict with his bleak view of their societies. Not for him the upbeat, pastel-colored Caribbean novel of uplift. He was pessimistic about the idea of radical political change.

A touchy sense of shame cut through his fiction. “My most difficult thing to overcome was being born in Trinidad,” he said. “That crazy resort place! How on earth can you have serious writing from a crazy resort place?” He may have won the Nobel Prize in 2001 but, from the start, he was a laureate of humiliation. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Markets!

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Suddenly economic populism is all the rage. In his now famous monologue on Fox News, Tucker Carlson argued that American elites are using ruthless market forces to enrich themselves and immiserate everyone else. On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are telling left-wing versions of the same story.

In an era of tribal emotionalism, you’re always going to be able to make a splash reducing a complex problem to a simple narrative that separates the world into the virtuous us, and the evil them (the bankers). But I’d tell a third story about our current plight, which is neither economic populism nor free-market fundamentalism.

My story begins in the 1970s. The economy was sick. Corporations were bloated. Unions got greedy. Tax rates were too high and regulations were too tight. We needed to restore economic dynamism.

So in 1978, Jimmy Carter signed a tax bill that reduced individual and corporate tax rates. Senator Ted Kennedy led the effort to deregulate the airline and trucking industries. When he came into office, Ronald Reagan took it up another notch.

It basically worked. We’ve had four long economic booms since then. But there was an interesting cultural shift that happened along the way. In a healthy society, people try to balance a whole bunch of different priorities: economic, social, moral, familial. Somehow over the past 40 years economic priorities took the top spot and obliterated everything else. As a matter of policy, we privileged economics and then eventually no longer could even see that there could be other priorities.

For example, there’s been a striking shift in how corporations see themselves. In normal times, corporations serve a lot of stakeholders — customers, employees, the towns in which they are located. But these days corporations see themselves as serving one purpose and one stakeholder — maximizing shareholder value. Activist investors demand that every company ruthlessly cut the cost of its employees and ruthlessly screw its hometown if it will raise the short-term stock price. Want more? You can read the full article here

One Trillion

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The stock market – especially tech – has been down a bit, and it’s easy to forget that not that long ago Apple was valued at one trillion dollars.

There has been a great deal of breathless reporting on this milestone, but much less thoughtful analysis. That’s why I was taken by Jack Nicas’ piece. Here’s how he began:

SAN FRANCISCO — In 1997, Apple was on the ropes. The Silicon Valley pioneer was being decimated by Microsoft and its many partners in the personal-computer market. It had just cut a third of its work force, and it was about 90 days from going broke, Apple’s late co-founder, Steve Jobs, later said.

Recently, Apple became the first publicly traded American company to be worth more than $1 trillion when its shares climbed 3 percent to end the day at $207.39. The gains came two days after the company announced the latest in a series of remarkably profitable quarters.

Apple’s ascent from the brink of bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable public company has been a business tour de force, marked by rapid innovation, a series of smash-hit products and the creation of a sophisticated, globe-spanning supply chain that keeps costs down while producing enormous volumes of cutting-edge devices.

That ascent has also been marked by controversy, tragedy and challenges. Apple’s aggressive use of outside manufacturers in China, for example, has led to criticism that it is taking advantage of poorly paid workers in other countries and robbing Americans of good manufacturing jobs. The company faces numerous questions about how it can continue to grow. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here.

A Novel in No Time

Books George Galdorisi

No time to write? Sure there is. With all the technology at our command we can write where we’ve never been able to do so before.

One piece by Kit Eaton helped pull all that together for me…it was even inspiring! Here’s how he began:

It used to be that when a moment of inspiration struck writers, they would have to rush over to a stone tablet, or find parchment and ink, to record their thoughts. Later, writers had to find paper and a typewriter, or a laptop or desktop computer, to get busy with their storytelling.

Nowadays, they can write into a smartphone and tablet app almost anywhere when an idea seizes them. So what are some of the popular apps for scribes?

Storyist is the writing app I use most often to write this column, books and other articles. The app is a full-featured text editor, giving people the ability to customize fonts, colors and page formatting, embed images, and more. The app also has predesigned page formats to help write screenplays, manuscripts and novels.

To help build a novel, Storyist provides different types of “story sheets” to work on. You can use the sheets to note information about characters, plot points, scene settings and other details. This part of the app is surprisingly powerful, and I have found that the preformatted sections of the story sheets (for example, the Smells heading under the Settings story sheet) help me think about characters and scene settings.

Want more? You can read it here.

Rut Cure

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Ever been in a rut? I know I have. It happens to all of us. You lose your motivation and just get stuck. Most of us usually climb out – but if often takes longer than we like.

That’s why I was taken by a short piece entitled, “How to Stay Motivated When You’re in a Rut.” Here’s how it began:

It’s few weeks after the holidays, and we’re all feeling the same thing: “It’s been Saturday for about 3 days and thus, I’m not prepared for Monday.”

But that’s O.K.! Whether holiday-induced or not, the occasional sluggishness of having to put in effort at work when you’re not feeling it is a perfectly natural part of having a job, like feeling burnout or feeling stalled in your career. No one bats 1.000, and no one is motivated every workday of the year.

The situation isn’t hopeless, though, and don’t write off today as a loss. Even if you’re not feeling 100 percent, there are ways to structure your day today — or any day you’re feeling a lack of motivation — to maximize your productivity. (Or, at least, minimize your losses.)

Want more? You can read the full article here

A Novel in No Time

Books George Galdorisi

No time to write? Sure there is. With all the technology at our command we can write where we’ve never been able to do so before.

One piece by Kit Eaton helped pull all that together for me…it was even inspiring! Here’s how he began:

It used to be that when a moment of inspiration struck writers, they would have to rush over to a stone tablet, or find parchment and ink, to record their thoughts. Later, writers had to find paper and a typewriter, or a laptop or desktop computer, to get busy with their storytelling.

Nowadays, they can write into a smartphone and tablet app almost anywhere when an idea seizes them. So what are some of the popular apps for scribes?

Storyist is the writing app I use most often to write this column, books and other articles. The app is a full-featured text editor, giving people the ability to customize fonts, colors and page formatting, embed images, and more. The app also has predesigned page formats to help write screenplays, manuscripts and novels.

To help build a novel, Storyist provides different types of “story sheets” to work on. You can use the sheets to note information about characters, plot points, scene settings and other details. This part of the app is surprisingly powerful, and I have found that the preformatted sections of the story sheets (for example, the Smells heading under the Settings story sheet) help me think about characters and scene settings.

Want more? You can read it here