Grammar Lesson #1: It’s vs. Its

Okay, so I’m rereading Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (description on the Bookshelf), a book about punctuation. You’d think the book would be a little dry, right? Well, you’re wrong.

Truss’s prose overflows with British wit and sarcasm, and I just reached a passage that actually made me laugh out loud. I decided I should share it with you, so I’m including the excerpt below. All you need to know is that the target audience for this book comprises mostly grammar sticklers, such as Truss…

“To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as ‘Thank God its Friday’ (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence. The confusion of the possessive ‘its’ (no apostrophe) with the contractive ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian ‘kill’ response in the average stickler. The rule is: the word ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) stands for ‘it is’ or ‘it has.’ If the word does not stand for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ then what you require is ‘its.’ This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best,’ you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot, and buried in an unmarked grave.” (44)

On that resounding note, make sure you proofread carefully–especially if a grammar stickler will be reading your work!

Works cited:

Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. New York: Gotham Books, 2003. Print.

Situations Matter

Heads up, psychology fans: award-winning professor of social psychology at Tufts University, Sam Sommers, has written a book that is available for pre-order now at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594488185/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_alp_IlMNnb0C4315B! It’s called Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World. Here’s a synopsis:

“The world around you is pulling your strings, shaping your innermost instincts and your most private thoughts. And you don’t even realize it.

Every day and in all walks of life, we overlook the enormous power of situations, of context in our lives. That’s a mistake, says Sam Sommers in his provocative new book, SITUATIONS MATTER (Riverhead Books, 12/29/11). Just as a viewer overlooks the frames around paintings, so do people overlook the influence of ordinary situations on the way they think and act. But frames – situations – do matter. Your experience viewing the painting wouldn’t be the same without them. The same is true for human nature.

In SITUATIONS MATTER, Sommers argues that understanding the powerful influence that context has in our lives and using these insights to rethink how we see the world makes us more effective at work, at home, and with others. He describes the pitfalls to avoid and offers insights into making better decisions and smarter observations about the world around us.”

 

Not only does the book sound cool, but the author is a great guy. Dr. Sommers is intelligent, witty, and great at softball (let’s hope the psychology department can beat the chemistry department again this year!). He’s also tech-savvy, so you can “LIKE” his author page on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/?q=#/sam.sommers.author?ref=ts or follow him on Twitter (@SamSommers). Did you know he also writes a popular blog for Psychology Today called “Science of Small Talk”? It’s true! Get a preview of his writing skillz here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/science-small-talk (his blog posts are always entertaining as well as interesting and informative, so, after a little perusing, you’ll definitely want to pre-order Situations Matter).

As soon as I get my copy, I’ll add a review to the Bookshelf. But don’t wait on me…pre-order today!

More Must-Read Books

Check out the new Bookshelf shelf (ha, awkward), stocked with miscellaneous book recommendations from yours truly. 🙂

I’ve been reading a lot lately, but I’ve been disappointed with some of my latest YA fantasy selections. So, for a change of pace, I picked up a few books outside of my typical niche, and I was very pleased to find that both Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen were great reads. They both made me want to sit around in my pajamas reading the day away, which, to me, is the mark of a “must-read.”

Take a peek at their synopses on the Misc. shelf!

Art & Fear

I recently started reading the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (it will be added to the Psychology page of the Bookshelf in the near future!). Here’s the description on the back of the book:

“What is your art really about?
Where is it going?
What stands in the way of getting it there?

These are questions that matter, questions that recur at each stage of artistic development–and they are the source for this volume of wonderfully incisive commentary.

Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way.

This is a book about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.”

 

I know my psychology colleagues would probably have a thing or two to say about the ‘Free Will’ issue, but, personally, I think that believing in Free Will is empowering for individuals, and I refuse to take the behaviorist perspective on the matter (take that, B.F. Skinner).

Regardless, I’m not reading this book to try to figure out whether my choices matter. I know they do. I’m reading this book because I know what it feels like to struggle as an artist, to doubt myself and my abilities, and to get stuck dreaming instead of writing. As Rita Mae Brown says, you should ‘never hope more than you work.’ That’s sage advice, but it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. Why is that?

I think the title is particularly intriguing–Art & Fear. For all of us creative souls, art is love, art is passion, art is self. But fear can still get in the way. Fear of what, you ask? Fear of anything–fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of ourselves and our own potential. Even when we know it’s not rational, our fear can still prevent us from being the best artists we can be.

More on these ideas later, as I continue to read. For now, I’ll leave you with the quote that starts the second chapter: “Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.” ~Stephen DeStaebler 

(Do you agree?)

There’s this place called “The Library”…

So many books, and so little time. Not to mention so little money. We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, it must not be a grad student” (okay, maybe I tampered with that one just a bit). But you get my drift. My “Books to Read” list is ginormous, but my budget? Not so much.

So the other day I was thinking (as I sometimes do), and I reflected on how much I love Barnes & Noble. Especially lurking–in a non-creepy way (I guess I should have chosen a different verb then, huh?)–in the children’s/young adult section. My own creative works are aimed at young adults, and sometimes middle grade audiences, so reading all those books I love (see the Bookshelf page!) is technically considered “research” for my writing (cool, right?). I mean, how am I supposed to write young adult fantasy if I don’t know what’s already on the market, what’s selling, and what’s old news?

This is why my “Books to Read” list goes on for days; there’s so much out there that I want to get my hands on, but I don’t have the money to buy the complete works of Lemony Snicket, Tamora Pierce, Rick Riordan, etc. This problem got me thinking: “I wish there was a place just like Barnes & Noble, where I could go and sit and read for as long as I wanted without having to buy anything…and, hey,”–this is where I really started thinking crazy–“maybe I could even borrow a couple of books for free and return them at my convenience!”

Yeah, so basically I reinvented the concept of a library…how clever of me.

In theory, libraries are great establishments. So why is it that I never go to the library to borrow books? I suppose part of it is a generational thing–I don’t want to date myself, here, but I did have a set of encyclopedias when I was young that I used to look up information for school projects, but it didn’t take long before those were replaced by encyclopedias on CD-rom (how futuristic!) and I started to become a “tech-savvy” kid. DOS prompts were traded for Microsoft Windows, and, before I could say “floppy disk,” the internet had come along and I had convinced my parents that IMing my friends would do much more for my typing skills than letting Mavis Beacon yell at me.

Now, as we all know, Google has become a verb (is Bing next?), and we’re all nano-seconds away from obtaining avalanches of information (both credible and not-so-credible) about any topic we could imagine, all with a few strokes of a keyboard/taps of a touch screen. This explains why I no longer feel the need to go to the library to do any sort of research. If I’m working on a psych manuscript, all I need is to link to PsycINFO or Google Scholar through my university’s library website and I can view PDFs of peer-reviewed articles to my heart’s content. Note that the library is still involved, here, but in a digital way. It’s great for accessing scholarly journals, but, at the present time, books still need to be checked out the old-school way.

Am I just too lazy to get up and go to the library? I don’t think that can really be the issue, because I’m never too lazy to go to Barnes & Noble and stroll (better verb) through the aisles of children’s literature. I think part of my problem has to do with my stereotypes of what libraries are and what they’re used for (and even who they’re used by). My schema (or mental representation/set of associated features) for The Library includes: a librarian, library cards, check-out desk with a slot for book returns, shelves of books in plastic jackets, a dusty smell, alphabetizing, Dewey decimal system (ha I pulled that one out of nowhere!), silence, carpets, the crackling of a binding when a book is opened for the first time in a long time, and tables and chairs strategically placed in corners. Perhaps most importantly, when I think of The Library, I think of old books–a few classics in a sea of ancient stuff that I probably haven’t heard of, nor care to read. “The Library” doesn’t make me think of technology, or popular fiction, or NY Times bestsellers; it doesn’t make me think of e-books or audiobooks or graphic novels. In short, I see Barnes & Noble as containing all of the new stuff that I want to buy and read, and the library as a place I would go if I’d like to find a really random old book that I’m supposed to use for a class report.

But is my schema accurate? Are my stereotypes justified? Probably not. I mean, the last time I went to a public library might have been that field trip in elementary school, the one where I was captivated by Animalia and then a kid “leaned against” (or so he claimed) the fire alarm and we all had to stand outside to wait for the fire trucks.

I guess there’s only one way to find out–I’ll have to visit a public library soon and see what I’ve been missing. Who knows–maybe libraries have kept up with the times more than I realize, and maybe my Barnes & Noble dream won’t be too far off the mark.

One thing is certain: if libraries have changed, my schema will have to change, too.

Climb Up to the Treehouse: New Book Jacket Summary Added

To read about my creative works-in-progress, or for a list of cool (and kid-friendly) links to author/book series website, visit the Treehouse!

“The Writer Who Couldn’t Read”

This NPR feature is a must-see for anyone interested in the brain and its role in our creative endeavors. It tells the story of a Canadian author who woke up one day, after unknowingly having suffered a stroke in the night, and discovered that he could no longer read. Naturally, he thought his writing career was over.

It wasn’t. 

Watch the video and read about his amazing story here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127745750

We Give Books: Help Children In Need for FREE

We Give Books is a great organization that donates books to children in need, all over the world. It’s easy for YOU to make an impact: simply go to the website (www.wegivebooks.org, or click on the image below to open a new window), select a campaign that you’d like to support, and then read a children’s book online for FREE. For every book you read online, one book will be donated to the campaign of your choice. It’s that simple!

So what are you waiting for? Everyone loves children’s books. The selection of books on this website will continue to grow, so check back often–preferably in the company of the little ones in your life! Show them how they can have fun reading AND making a difference in the lives of other children, all with a few clicks of a mouse.

Update Your Summer Reading List With Spells and Secrets

Check out the Children’s/Young Adult Fantasy page of The Bookshelf for a couple of new additions (or ‘editions’! har har). The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas will be especially appreciated by the younger end of the 9-12 spectrum, while The Black Book of Secrets by F. E. Higgins is a darkly satisfying read for older kids, teens, and even discriminating adults! These titles have enriched my summer reading list–entertaining me during my recuperation from two separate neck surgeries–and F. E. Higgins has even earned herself a place on my list of go-to authors.

Next up on my reading list is the (aforementioned) seventh book in the Artemis Fowl series, followed by Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror by Jennifer Boylan. Falcon Quinn may be Jenny Boylan’s first children’s novel, but she is widely known as the bestselling author of the memoirs She’s Not There and I’m Looking Through You, both of which captured my interest with their anecdotes and humor and moved me with their honesty and authenticity. Jenny Boylan resides in my home state of Maine and is an English professor at one of the finest colleges in the country, so I cannot wait to read Falcon Quinn. Stay tuned for these upcoming reviews.

Thanks for reading, as well as for your understanding regarding my lack of research posts this summer. My medical leave will end in September, and then it will be back to the thrilling world of academia for me! So don’t fret–more discussions on the intricacies of the relationship between psychology and creativity will inevitably follow…

Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter: Coming Soon…

…to a bookstore and movie theatre near you! Two exciting releases to look forward to…

 

(1) Eoin Colfer fans are getting ready for The Atlantis Complex, the 7th installment in the popular Artemis Fowl series. It releases on August 3rd, and you can preorder it here: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Artemis-Fowl/Eoin-Colfer/e/9781423128199/?itm=3&USRI=eoin+colfer. (see my Bookshelf page for a little review of the entire action-packed series!)

(2) And, of course, as any lover of children’s fantasy will know, Part I of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be taking cinemas by storm this November. (I, for one, am rereading the entire HP series in preparation :-P)  Visit the official site for the trailer: http://harrypotter.warnerbros.com/harrypotterandthedeathlyhallows/

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