J.R.R. Tolkien

Polished Prose

I’m sure that all of us who love writing enough to be blogging have heard lots and lots of unsolicited advice from other people. Some of it is probably good advice. Some of it is definitely condescending advice. But my goodness, there certainly is a lot of it out there.

The one piece of advice that has stuck with me the most, though, is the one that says if you want to write, you need to read. You need to read a lot.

This advice has been very, very easy for me to follow. As easy as falling off a log, as they say. When people ask me how I have time to read, what I want to ask them back is how they have time to breathe.

If you read a lot, you may recognize my unspoken reply as a reference to Harper Lee’s one and only, To Kill A Mockingbird.  Scout, the narrator, says, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” If you read a lot, hearing from other readers can be a much richer experience. Because, honey, you are in the know.  You get it. Things that other people say, no matter how off-hand they are, may well refer to one of the most powerful or most witty or most resonant books you’ve ever read. And that makes conversation, and life in general, richer and deeper. And who doesn’t want a little of that?

Those of us who love to read the way we love breathing live in the trembling hope that reading the work of great writers helps to make our own prose better. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this: namely, that it’s very, very easy for us to see when other people get it wrong.

For example, this morning I read a blog entry which referred to “Ann of Green Gables.”  Now, if you’ve ever actually read L.M. Montgomery’s book, you know good and well that the title is Anne of Green Gables, and that Anne Shirley, the main character, places a very strong emphasis early in the book on being called “Anne spelled with an e.” Having her name spelled without an e is hurtful to dear Anne Shirley, and to anyone who’s read and loved the book.

Or another, someone commenting on a blog wrote, “Here, here!” Um, no. If you’ve read and loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, you know that when young Bilbo Baggins is completely discombobulated by an unexpected visit from a wizard and a whole lot of dwarves, he shouts out, “Hear, hear!” and when the dwarves ask him what he means, he continues with “Hear what I’ve got to say!” So anyone who has read The Hobbit and knows it well will never, never use the wrong form of hear/here in a blog comment. (Also: Mr. Tolkien used “dwarves” and so I’m using it here. So there.)

The problem is, I think, that I and everyone else just don’t realize what it is we don’t know. I mean, the person who typed “Here, here” probably never considered that he was just getting it plain wrong. He probably still doesn’t know, unless he’s reading this blog, which I doubt. He may not even care. And, on top of that, it is rude to correct total strangers. Which is why I’m addressing  this topic in my own little blog entry instead of joining in the comments.

But if you love reading the way you love breathing, you know a lot of books well and are not prone to making certain errors in your own writing. And you also realize that the people who are getting things wrong are a lot more famous and have many more followers and comments than you do.

So who cares about other people’s little errors in their blog entries?

Only fusspots like me.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy