Tuesday, February 21, 2012

eats, shoots and leaves

A week or so ago, I read what I'm quite sure is the most popular book about punctuation on the shelves today.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a humorous look at the correct way to apply all commas, apostrophes, colons, semicolons, periods (or "full stops" in British English), and the like. Author Lynne Truss has a "zero tolerance approach to punctuation" and wants to stand up for all other punctuation "sticklers" in the world. It is simply inexcusable, she believes, to still see shop signs reading "Apple's" or movies titled "Two Weeks Notice." And if it disturbs you, you are perfectly within your right to complain or, pulling out a big black marker, correct the error (with the joy of knowing Truss would applaud you if she knew). People are simply becoming too lax in their writing. Rules are becoming too hazy. 

Because Truss is English, however, American readers must realize that some of her rules don't apply to us or are changed slightly. For example, whereas Americans always set their periods and commas inside quotation marks (unless they're citing a source or using a question mark), British writers can correctly write a sentence like this one:

Sophia recognized in Lord Fellamar the "effects of frenzy", and tried to break away.
Or this one:

Sophia asked Lord Fellamar if he was "out of his senses".
There are other small differences between American and British punctuation rules and, as I mentioned before, some of the marks even go through a name change as they cross the Atlantic. Our "periods" become their "full stops," our "exclamation points" are their "exclamation marks," and our "parentheses" are their "brackets." Do I understand why the rules are different when we both speak English? Not at all. Does it make the book confusing? Not really. Would I prefer it if all the rules applied directly to American English? Well, yeah. That would have been nice.

Disregarding the American/British divide, there are some punctuation rules I still don't quite understand after reading the book. Truss elaborates on all her rules, but some applications of punctuation just don't have finite rules.

For example, when using a possessive apostrophe with a singular word ending in "s," do you add another "s" after the apostrophe? Truss writes that in this situation, the rule is murky and allows for "acceptable exceptions." 

Current guides state that with modern names, an "s" is required after the apostrophe, like this:

Lynne Truss's book

With names from the ancient world, it's not required:

Achilles' heel

With names ending in an "iz" sound, it's also not required:

Mr. Bridges' score

And Jesus is also always allowed the exception:

Jesus' disciples

But these rules aren't set in stone and often fall to personal preference. In many American newspapers, Truss notes, journalists don't add that extra "s," but other papers, like The Washington Post, insist their writers use it.

Personally, I always add the extra "s." It just feels right to me (plus it's the rule that writing authority Fowler's Modern English Usage abides by). Just as I personally find semicolons pretentious when they're used a lot within a text (often because they're used incorrectly) and believe an Oxford comma almost always improves a sentence.


This is a great book for anyone who cringes at punctuation mistakes or has argued over semicolons, Oxford commas, or exclamation points (like Elaine, perhaps?). And of course I would also recommend it to those who are confused by punctuation or want some clarification. Truss is very thorough and will get you thinking about all those underused (colons) and overused (commas) marks you never really considered! Plus, not only is it educational, but it can make you laugh as well. Very much recommended.

* If you were wondering about the title of the book and the gun-handling panda on the cover, they come from a joke about bad punctuation: 

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
'Why?' asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
'Well, I'm a panda,' he says, at the door. 'Look it up.'
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. 'Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.'

* And by the way, reviewing a book about punctuation is a sure-fire way to freak yourself out that every comma or quotation mark you're placing is incorrect. I apologize for any punctuation errors in this post and urge you to remember that everyone makes mistakes, even those of us who like punctuation enough to read a book about it!

TITLE: Eats, Shoots and Leaves
AUTHOR: Lynne Truss
PUBLICATION DATE: 2 January 2003
VERDICT: 3/5 stars.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

classic beauty

I can remember sitting in my art history class a few years ago, listening as my professor lectured on a Renaissance painting (I can't remember which), when a boy raised his hand. 

"Why are all the women in these paintings so big?" he asked. "I mean, why do they seem overweight? Wouldn't the artists pick more physically perfect models? You can see the cellulite on their thighs."

My professor explained that the standards of beauty were different then. Just as pale skin was once prized, (what we consider) more voluptuous figures were at one time the ideal. Perhaps because wealthy women were more likely to spend their time indoors- sedentary, reposed, munching on delicacies. Perhaps because very full hips signify that a woman's body is fit for bearing children. Perhaps because they simply found full figures more attractive.

Certainly though, it can be a strange sight for modern viewers. We've grown so accustomed to waif-like fashion models that art featuring women with round bellies and full hips (and we might assume, too, that the women in the paintings were enhanced in their own way) looks almost absurd.

Italian artist Anne Utopia Giordano decided to play with this observation. Taking a number of classic nude paintings, she morphed the bodies into a modern day ideal of the female figure. The stomaches are flattened, the breasts made larger, the hips and thighs more slender and sleek. In my opinion, the trick works in both ways: some of the women look more beautiful to me (such as The Birth of Venus by Cabanel, above); others appear too hard-bodied and slim (like The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, below). 

Interestingly, I first saw these images on a blog, A Cup of Jo, where a number of readers were disagreeing in the comments section. Many found the original images far more beautiful and called them "womanly," "real," and "the bodies of real women." Others found the photoshopped pictures more appealing, saying they were not "hungry-looking" (as supporters of the originals had been stating) but gorgeous and toned. The most interesting comments came from those offended by some supporters of the original paintings. "I take offense to a comment above that implies that only one of the figures is 'womanly,'" one woman wrote, ". . . All women are womanly. And not all 'real women' have curves." 

This is something I hadn't quite thought about before. You see so many people arguing for a healthier female body image today, which is great, but then they go on to say one should embrace curves, full hips, sturdier thighs, and bellies because they are "womanly." It does, sometimes, seem that these arguments are a detriment to slimmer women. Because like that commenter asserted, all women are "real women" with "womanly" bodies, no matter their size. Women should learn to love their bodies, whatever size they are (so long as they are still in good health, of course, and neither gorging on food or abstaining from it). And they shouldn't criticize others' bodies by calling them "not real" or "unwomanly." All women are women (quite a difficult concept, I know).

If you're interested in seeing more of these side-by-side comparisons, click here to see the Huffington Post's article on Giordano.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

happy valentine's day!

Whether you're celebrating it with family, friends, your sweetheart, your pup, or even just yourself--

Happy Valentine's Day!


Monday, February 13, 2012

happy birthday to me!

Yummy cupcakes my mom had sent to me.

A surprise from my roommate on our bathroom mirror! And those are balloons, not . . . well you know :)

Snow! My birthday gift from the weather gods.
I turned 22 today! And although I've got an unpleasant sore throat (entirely my fault for not thinking and kissing my sick boyfriend this weekend) and it's a Monday (the second worst day of the week), I've received so much love from friends and family that it's sure to be a wonderful day.

Not to mention it snowed! You're welcome, Missouri.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

the greece art show

To promote the study abroad program, every student who studied in Greece this past year was asked to put up a display in my school's art building/gallery. The opening was last week and they'll stay up till the end of February. 

A lot of the students are majoring in architecture, so their displays were covered in architectural sketches and designs. For me, photos were obviously the medium of choice. I used ribbon and mini clothespins (from Walmart!) to hang them up and I'm so happy with how it turned out-- colorful, laid-back, and (thankfully) very inexpensive. 

But not everything I hung up was a photo. Can you spot the ones that aren't like the others? 

My lovely display.

I did more watercolors!

Aren't they beautiful? :) I'm so proud and definitely inspired to try more in the future.

Venice (San Giorgio Maggiore, I believe, or my History of Art & Architecture II class failed me).

Our apartment in Aigina. I miss it so much! Especially the view from my window (the top left).

Friday, February 10, 2012

the night circus

A few months ago I read The Night Circus, the debut novel of Erin Morgenstern. It wasn't perfect and it wasn't quite what I expected, but it definitely left an impression.

The story centers on a circus, but it's not like any circus you've ever seen. There's so much more to it than popcorn, elephants, tumblers, and magic acts. The circus is made of incredible, awe-inspiring tents that so mesmerize their spectators, a special club forms made of people who love the circus so much, they practically worship its eccentricities. The circus is also the setting for a behind-the-scenes, mysterious duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. Both are trained by famous older magicians, but neither knows the true reason for their duel. As they compete to create the most wondrous feats, they somehow fall in love. But both know that only one can win the duel.

The circus itself is just magical. I would start naming off some of the more enchanting tents but I don't want to spoil their magic for anyone who hasn't read the book yet. I love that it's only open between nightfall and dawn and that almost everything within it is colorless. I love all the mystery surrounding it and how it's so special, attracting its own unique group of obsessed fans. Morgenstern does a great job describing her magical setting and leading the reader through it. From the first few lines of the novel, I was hooked:

"The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not." 

Such a great, intriguing start to a story. I also love the non-linear structure of the book, the present tense used throughout (which doesn't feel self-conscious, as it sometimes can), and the sections in second-person that put the reader in the shoes of a circus guest.

However, as much as I loved all that and loved the circus itself, The Night Circus did bother me occasionally in its plot. The duel was never well explained, even at the end when its mysteries ought to have been revealed. Although their role in the story is very important, the two men training the magicians remain in the background throughout and their reason for engaging in the duel is left unclear. Even the love story felt unexplained, leaving the reader to assume Celia and Marco's attraction to each other is built purely on physical attraction and respect for the other's talent. 

I think Morgenstern is very talented, but it did seem like description and setting elevated the book to a place it shouldn't be based on its plot. Still though, it was a very good read and the most magical book I've read this year. I wouldn't be surprised if I dream of the circus tonight and that, I think, shows the true beauty of this book.

TITLE: The Night Circus
AUTHOR: Erin Morgenstern
PUBLICATION DATE: 13 September 2011 
VERDICT: 4/5 stars.
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