Books: Gibraltar reading (part 2)

(Part one is here.)

The book: Scruffy, by Paul Gallico

The edition: Penguin paperback, 288 pages

About the book: a fictional account of ape history in Gibraltar during World War Two, of the people who cared for them, and of the efforts made to safeguard them. Includes an extremely misbehaved ape, a love story, two births, several deaths, a drunken pilot and a very big firework. (Can’t say more without spoilers, but hope it’s enough to pick your interest.)

My thoughts: hilarious. Probably the funniest book I read this year. No, really, you may think “it’s just an ape story, nothing much”, but it is a jewel! And it does something strange: it has characters that are at once stock figures, and very lively. I cannot explain it, because they are all mostly stereotypes, but still they really come to life through the page. Recommended? Definitely yes, go check it out this minute!

The covers you can find online are less pretty than the ones I have. Too bad the picture quality here is so bad 😦

The book: The Rock, by John Masters

The edition: Sphere paperback, 383 pages, including bibliography

About the book: this book is strange in format and hard to define: half history, half fiction. Each chapter includes historical information about a period of Gibraltarian history, followed by a fictional episode set in that period. The narrative is not continuous, although there are elements (especially families and their histories) that return again and again.

My thoughts: such a peculiar format is hard to make right. I don’t think the level is the same throughout the book, there are some parts that stick better than the rest, and I do have a small doubt about the accuracy of the non-fiction part. Still, as a whole it works very well, the author is a good narrator and history makes sense in his stories. Recommended.

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Bottom line: two authors I want to read more from. If you know them, can you recommend any titles?

“Fumblerules” for writing in English

I’m sure most of you know this text already, in one of its various forms, but one of the rules came up recently in a conversation and I thought I’d just republish the list here, for future reference and because it’s fun.

ON HOW TO WRITE GOOD

1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They are old hat).
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
8. Be more or less specific.
9. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than unnecessary; it’s highly superfluous.
14. One should never generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Don’t use no double negatives.
17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary.
22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice.
23. Kill all exclamation points!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
25. Profanity is for assholes.
26. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth shattering ideas.
27. Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
28. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
29. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it effectively.
30. Puns are for children, not for groan readers.
31. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
32. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
33. Who needs rhetorical questions?
34. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
35. Proofread every space and letter carefully to see if you any words out.

I went on to look for the original source, and according to the alt-usage-english.org site one of the first lists was compiled by none less than William Safire. (Later lists are a bit more effective in my view, but still. And he had this genial one: “Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.”)