Usage peeve: series out of parallel.

January 23rd, 2015

I love the eclectic Quartz newsletter that hits my inbox every morning. I don’t mean to pick on Quartz, but this morning’s edition contained a prime example of a usage peeve of mine — when a series of items is rendered out of parallel grammatically:

Quartz parallel

Here’s the problem: when you read “the company suffered food safety scandals in Asia, rising competition from ‘fast casual’ restaurants in the US, and…” you EXPECT the next thing to be a noun phrase conveying something else that the company suffered. In sum, “the company suffered A, B, and C.”

Yet then you encounter the verb “saw,” which presents a different construction — one that ought to run “the company suffered A, [verbed] B, and saw C.”

Good writing chooses one construction or the other rather than mashing the two together.

The fix here is incredibly simple:

“the company suffered food safety scandals in Asia, saw rising competition from ‘fast casual’ restaurants in the US, and had half of its Russian outlets closed by the government.”

I see this issue constantly. Please join me in stamping it out.

ADDENDUM, Saturday, 24 January 2015: My lovely friend Ann Marie Gamble suggested this page on parallel form for anyone wanting more instruction and examples.



January 8th, 2015

Books on Shelf

I asked my Twitter friends to “Please tell me ONE book you’re concerned that I may not have read yet.” This is what they told me:

Great Books You Might Have Missed

(And now I’m going to go figure out the easiest way to embed a Storify page into a WordPress post . . . )

(Also need to dig up the photo credit for this image — coming shortly!)

The beauty of mise-en-place.

January 5th, 2015


Anyone who’s been following this blog for a long time may recall my affection for the creative dictum of Chef Fernand Point:

Every morning the cuisinier must start again at zero,
with nothing on the stove.

That is what real cuisine is all about.

This item from NPR complements it nicely, I think:

For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef

The piece talks about how professional chefs live by the concept of mise-en-place, which guides them to organize everything in their kitchen workstations ruthlessly. Having an ideally-ordered workspace allows chefs to do their grueling work, even at the highest level espoused by Chef Point, without becoming overwhelmed by it.

Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Glenda Burgess for pointing to the NPR piece. She and I have been talking about various ways that we can organize our own writing lives to eliminate clutter and noise and get the real work done — which is what mise-en-place is all about.

What are you doing to organize your workspace and workflow better, here at the start of this new year?

Photo by Don LaVange, used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Review: Maigret in Montmartre, by Georges Simenon

January 3rd, 2015

This is the first Maigret novel I’ve read, but the second Simenon overall — after Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, which I read a couple of years ago. Three Bedrooms was too claustrophobic and had too much navel-gazing even given its narcissistic protagonist in the throes of a midlife crisis. This Maigret book, by contrast, showcases a Simenon who has a much more evenhanded touch with his characters: the dialogue flows, the details included are only the telling ones, and you get a real sense not only of Paris at its seedy, sodden worst, but also of the routine work of police detectives and the distinctive human traits of the call girls, pimps, morphine addicts, and other people they encounter.

Do be aware that it is a period piece — the misogyny is ripe, and the homophobia is overripe — and that there are a few bumps in the road that could have been smoothed out with a few more minutes of careful editing. But that was not Simenon’s way, was it? Considering the overall smooth delivery of such racy subject material (which must have seemed very edgy indeed in 1959) and the attractive subtlety of Maigret himself, it’s easy to understand how Maigret became so popular among millions of readers around the world in Simenon’s heyday.

Related post: Simenon and Fleming on Writing.

Maigret in Montmartre at Amazon

My Home-Office Circuit Workout

December 3rd, 2014

Do you spend a lot of time stuck at your desk? Do you work from home? I do, and I like to kill two birds with one stone by doing dumbbell circuit workouts right in my home office.

  • Bird 1 is my need for frequent breaks to refresh my mind for more writing.
  • Bird 2 is my quest to constantly improve my fitness.

Actually, they’re friendly birds and should not be killed, but rather fed and petted. Allow them to sit on your wrist and eat from your hand — they love that.


Anyway, a friend from Twitter asked me to share my workout, so I thought I would write it up here for anyone who’s interested.

Of course of course of course I’m NOT a certified trainer, I don’t know your medical condition or history, and I can’t be relied upon — or held liable — as a source of expert advice. I’m just telling you what I do, and encouraging you to explore what you can do. By all means, consult your doctor and maybe a certified trainer before you begin any course of exercise. And do take it easy as you progress. Slow and steady wins.

My routine is a variation on the Cosgrove Complex developed by trainer Alwyn Cosgrove. Basically, the Cosgrove Complex — also known as the “Evil 8″ because it includes eight exercises — takes a trainee through several different movements in succession. The point is to hit most or all of the body’s main muscle groups in a single round of exercise that takes only a minute or two, and then to stack up those rounds into a short workout that helps you build or maintain strength while also giving you substantial benefits in terms of cardiovascular conditioning and fat burning.

My variation, which I devised after a bit of tinkering with the original, includes these seven exercises:

  1. Deadlift
  2. Romanian deadlift
  3. Bent-over row
  4. Overhead press
  5. Overhead squat
  6. Lunge
  7. Bicep curl

You can see a sample of Cosgrove’s original routine in this video.

If you’re quite fit, you can go heavier, complete more rounds, move directly from one round to the next without rest, or any combination of these. If you’re just getting started, you want to go VERY light — lighter than you even think is reasonable — and not do so many rounds.

For the first round, you might start with 5 repetitions of each exercise. Then you’d reduce it to 4 reps for the next round, 3 reps for the next, and so on. For maximum “evil,” you can do one or both of two things:

  • Once you get down to one rep, do more rounds to take you back up the ladder from 1 to 5 reps
  • Start at a higher number of reps, e.g. 6 or 8, and thus do that many rounds as you eliminate one rep per round

I found the Cosgrove routine at this page on T Nation:

Screw Cardio! Four Complexes for a Shredded Physique

Ignore the beefcake photos: doing this routine won’t make you a bodybuilder, nor do you need to be a bodybuilder to start. As you read toward the bottom of the page, you’ll see the Cosgrove Complex already referenced, along with a few other variations developed by other trainers.

Keep in mind that you can easily adapt this routine to suit yourself and the equipment you have. For example, I often do my version of it with 5# or 10# dumbbells rather than a barbell. For that matter, you could do all of the exercises using nothing other than your bodyweight — as in this 6-minute circuit workout from personal trainer Jessica Smith.

Great things about workout routines like these:

  • They don’t take long to complete.
  • They don’t take much (or any) equipment.
  • You can do them just about anywhere.
  • They’re totally modular. You can do a quick circuit of 5 rounds with 5# dumbbells to get your blood pumping, or you could do the full-monty 8-down-to-1, 1-up-to-8 circuit with a 45# barbell and work up a serious sweat.
  • They work great as part of a bigger circuit with anything else you may already be doing for a quick exercise break: pushups, planks, crunches, selected yoga moves, etc.

Will this work for you? How will you put it to use?

Bird photo from Flickr user lovekatz, used under a Creative Commons license.

Commonplaces: Exley on football.

September 22nd, 2014

Why did football bring me so to life? I can’t say precisely. Part of it was my feeling that football was an island of directness in a world of circumspection. In football a man was asked to do a difficult and brutal job, and he either did it or got out. There was nothing rhetorical or vague about it; I chose to believe that it was not unlike the jobs which all men, in some sunnier past, had been called upon to do. It smacked of something old, something traditional, something unclouded by legerdemain and subterfuge. It had that kind of power over me, drawing me back with the force of something known, scarcely remembered, elusive as integrity — perhaps it was no more than the force of a forgotten childhood. Whatever it was, I gave myself up to the Giants utterly. The recompense I gained was the feeling of being alive.

~ ~ ~

I had wanted to make the pilgrimage [to former Giants head coach Steve Owen’s funeral] because it was Owen, as much as any other, who had brought me round to the Giants and made me a fan. Unable to conceive what my life would have been without football to cushion the knocks, I was sure I owed him sorrow. It occurs to me now that my enthusiasms might better have been placed with God or Literature or Humanity; but in the penumbra of such upper-case pieties I have always experienced an excessive timidity rendering me tongue-tied or forcing me to emit the brutal cynicisms with which the illiterate confront things they do not understand.

–Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes

Academic books potentially coming your way.

September 20th, 2014

book boxes

To my academic friends: I just cleared out the storage container you see on the left of the image above, which led to the the many boxes of books stacked in my living room that you see on the right of the image.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be going through all of these boxes.

  • Some of the books will go onto the family bookshelves.
  • Some of them will go onto the shelves in my office.
  • Others will go straight to Recycled Reads.

And then there will be the leftover academic books that fit into none of the three categories above. Most of these will be history, but there will be a fair amount of religion and international relations as well. As I come across these, I’ll post about them here (and share those posts via Facebook and Twitter). If you see books you want, you can inform me via Facebook, Twitter, comments here, e-mail, smoke signals, or whatever. I’ll send you the books you want, with the understanding that you’ll PayPal me the cost of shipping.



September 15th, 2014

Written 11 September 2014

The mourners stand silent
The cortege passes slowly
No longer a row of coffins
Now long in the ground
Nor ever merely a list of names
Rather, a procession of lives
A profusion of stories
Now never to be told
Of birthdays uncelebrated
Of triumphs and petty jealousies
Utility bills and hospice care
Basketball games and divorces
Ice cream and beer on the 4th of July
Seder feasts and christenings
Children never to be conceived
Grown children without parents
Spouses, friends, cousins — mourners
They take the first rank along the route
They have no choice
While the rest of us stand behind
All of us numb — still, somehow —
To contemplate what was lost
At the hands of violent men
Perverse in their grasp
Of what it means to be human
And what it means to submit
We have been made to submit
To reality in the form of loss
— hopes, comforts, illusions —
We no longer cry every day
Nor shake our fists at the heavens
Now we proceed

Weird formatting from Poster.

June 22nd, 2014

In a fit of mobile creativity, I wrote the previous post, “Favorite firestarter books,” using the Poster app on my iPhone.

Clearly, the markup from the app didn’t really work — it didn’t create italics or make bullet points the way I thought it would once the post was published.

Any thoughts from the audience here? Does the problem lie with Poster, or WordPress? And how would I fix it — besides, obviously, going back into WordPress from the desktop browser and changing all the formatting by hand?

Thanks in advance for any tips.

Favorite firestarter books

June 21st, 2014

I’ve been thinking about the books that start a fire (or open a door — pick your metaphor) for a whole subject.

Example: Joseph Campbell’s *The Power of Myth* might set you on a course to read more from Campbell, Carl Jung, myths from around the world, comparative religions, and so on.

Example: *The Diary of Anne Frank* might get you started reading the history of the Holocaust, *Man’s Search for Meaning*, and novels like *Night*, *The Painted Bird*, *Sophie’s Choice*, *The Periodic Table*, and *The Book Thief.*

Other possibilities that come to mind:
+ The Black Swan
+ Pepys’ Diary
+ the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian
+ The Once and Future King
+ The French Lieutenant’s Woman
+ The Second Sex

What books have done this for you — started a fire that led you to other books on related topics?